Thursday, 28 June 2007


I'm in!

Unfortunately "getting into Ravelry" is currently not as important as "getting my house habitable", and there won't be much knitting going on in the near future. Still, a nice new toy to play with.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

After the flood, comes this

Thank-you to everyone who has been thinking of us. It means a lot to me and my family - simply to know that someone knows you are out there is very important, when your greatest fear is that you might be left behind with no-one to help you. But now the actual floodgates have been brought under control (until the weekend, anyway), my figurative floodgates are spilling wide open: this is the first of what I suppose will be a series of posts to channel that outpouring. And those who have better things to do than wade through these maunderings will not offend me if they overlook this and wait for me to get my knit on again. On Wednesday, I returned to the house to have a look. Remarkably, the flood had filled the basement but not breached the floorboards. The water had entirely receded: the only sign it had left of itself was a powerful musty smell and a terrific jumble of all the things it had whirled about in the basement.

We were extraordinarily lucky, not only in that the flood was confined to the cellar, but also in the way we were flooded (yes, it turns out that there are better and worse ways to get flooded): the water which got us was ground water from the rising water table, not the filth that was rolling along the river behind our house. Since I've been able to bear to look at the news pictures, it's very clear that other people have suffered and are suffering a good deal worse than we are. And since we rent, our landlord is responsible for the repairs (that's responsible legally, rather than responsible as a personality trait, sadly: he had to be told by my boyfriend to contact his insurer, but hopefully things will pick up now they're involved).

In a shameful way, I was almost disappointed - not because I wanted my home to be devastated, but because after the terror and the strangeness of being caught up in a natural disaster, and the terrific effort of escaping, I expected terror and strangeness in the climactic return to my house. But the high water mark of a flood isn't the end of it, of course. Maggie Tulliver in Mill on the Floss was a lucky girl in one regard: she spent all her heroics without having to participate in the clear-up. This evening, I read one of the stories in Tales from Moominvalley, "The Fillyjonk who Believed in Disasters". In it, the Fillyjonk's dread of a terrible event is finally satisfied when a storm takes her house; but on returning to her home the next day, she finds that more has survived than she expected. She is disappointed, too:

The old kind of fillyjonk was lost, and she wasn't sure that she wanted her back. And what about all the belongings of this old fillyjonk?

All the things that were broken and sooty and cracked and wet? To sit and mend it all, week after week, glueing and patching and looking for lost pieces and fragments.

To wash and iron and paint over and to feel sorry about all the irreparable things, and to know that there would still be cracks everywhere, and that all the things had been in much better shape before... No, no! And to put them all back into place in the dark and bleak rooms and try to find them cosy once more...

In the end, everything of importance was fine - including my stash, which was one of the first things I moved upstairs, on the grounds that while there are many more expensive things around, my collection of wool is actually irreplacable. It took a shockingly long time to realise that our possessions were imperilled, never mind ourselves. I spent Monday working at the library, out of sight of the windows - so although I knew it was raining heavily, I wasn't aware of the persistent deluge going on all day until first my neighbour, Chris, and then my boyfriend (who is working freelance in Bath this week) rang to ask if our area was flooded. I checked the Environments Agency website, got no flood warnings for our postcode, and blithely reassured everyone that things were going to be fine before going about the school run.

The rain continued to bucket down. By the time Jay and I had got down the hill from school to nursery to pick up Maddy, I realised that things were getting pretty bad and we'd probably better stock up on dry and tinned goods in case we ended up stuck at home the next day. At nursery, the nurses Becky and Claire were giddy with nervous laughter about getting back to their homes in Rotherham. We left anticipating a long journey home, but expecting to find a safe place to dry off at the end of it.

After waiting half an hour for the tram and then taking the best part of an hour to creep through the heavy traffic to Hillsborough corner, I thought we'd better stop on the tram and get some provisions from our local shops rather than take a detour to Tesco. When the tram terminated two stops early and I saw that the power was out all the way down Middlewood Road, I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. But I did take a picture from the bridge at Hillsborough Corner (that's the photo I blogged from my mobile, so it's a swollen river rather than my street; although if I'd been able to photograph my street, garden and basement, the images would have been similarly dramatic).

That photo marks the end of my detatched curiousity and the beginning of rising panic and fear. Jay and I walked back to our street, pushing Maddy in her buggy and talking about the hot buttered toast we'd have for tea. As we walked across the bridge crossing the river that runs behind our house, some kids walking in the opposite direction told me, "you'll have to carry your pram." I thanked them, and felt irrationally annoyed with them for telling me - well of course I would carry the buggy if there was a puddle. Only there wasn't a puddle: the river had burst its banks and was flowing across the bridge. I was able to lift the buggy clear but Jay had to wade through alongside me, crying as the foul water poured into his wellies (unfortunately he was wearing these socks, but I'm trying to see it as an opportunity to try out a grafted toe or something).

After this, my appreciation of the situation's severity began to escalate pretty rapidly. The bottom of the garden (which, sensibly enough, slopes down to the river) was a foot underwater, and the water was halfway up to the house. We got inside. I checked the basement - the water was lying 6" deep so I went down to switch off the freezer and tumble dryer but didn't turn the power off at the fuse - I was still thinking of eating toast and watching telly in the living room. So I popped the kettle on and rang my mum to check what I should do next, then left my tea to brew while I checked the basement again. This was not more than thirty minutes later: the water now looked to be waist height. At this point I swept the children upstairs, rang the fire brigade and cried incoherently that I couldn't get to the fusebox, rang Nathan and cried again, and then I set about getting organised.

This I did in a fairly erratic fashion. I moved things upstairs by the armful, frantically grabbing at toys and books; I turned off every appliance I could get to (the fusebox was inaccessible at the far side of the basement now); I had to hunt out all the "emergency things", the torches and tealights, that I'd squirelled away in unlikely places; I closed cupboards and doors with a feeling of finality, assuming that the water would be coming in shortly. Then I remembered that we would need drinks and food, so I found milk, juice, oatcakes and chocolate and tried desperately to convince Jay that we were having a fun picnic in his bedroom. But every time I left the room he got frightened and called for me; once when I came upstairs he grabbed me and asked me, "Will we all still be together if one of us gets dead?" And I told him that we would always be together, just as I have told him before that the people who love us are always with us.

By this stage I was very worried too: looking out of the window at the seething torrent running along the river bank, and the brown water standing in the garden, I knew that while I could do my utmost to protect my children, if the water took them, I could not save them. It is probably indicative of the complacency I felt about living by water that I wasn't entirely sure of the river's name until all this happened, but when that river is swollen to the full height of the bank, and water is rising inexorably up into your house, the implacable power of water is a terrible and unignorable thing. No power, no running water, two frightened children, a fusebox on the verge of drowning, a basement full of water, and with the street now streaming with water, no way out again. I could hear the contents of the basement banging on the living room floor. I rang the fire brigade again, I rang my Mum and Dad, I rang Nathan. I told Jay how brave he was and he cried frantically that he didn't feel brave anymore.

I was suddenly very sorry that I'd brought us all back here. "Home" had been such an important idea a couple of hours ago, but once you are trapped there it becomes far less of a homely place to be. The helicopters were circling overhead. Firemen were evacuating the other end of the road, but there were so many people in the same predicament, we had to just sit tight until things became dangerous enough to necessitate rescuing us - on my own, I could never get my children back across the flooded bridge. So when neighbour Chris appeared at our door to walk us to a safe place, I'm fairly sure I've never been so happy to see a big-necked man in a trenchcoat. I threw a few things into a rucksack and strapped Maddy into her sling while Chris gave Jay a reassuring hug, and then we set out into the wet.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Wet blocking

I live in a town in Northern England called Sheffield. You may be aware that it has been a bit rainy in Sheffield. In fact, it's quite likely you've heard that Sheffield (along with a considerable portion of the rest of Britain) is currently in large part submerged. When I left my house at 8 pm on Monday night, the basement was full of water and the street was a torrent. My wellies got filled with unspeakable slime, but with the help of good friends, I and the kids got to a safe (and elevated) place. Full story when I have access to a computer again. The photo above isn't very illustative but it's the only one I took before I realised that getting out was more urgent than getting pictures. If you have been affected, I wish you the very best of luck getting your life and your home back together. Thanks to everyone who left kind thoughts in the comments. If you are visiting Knit Wrong from the Sheffield Forum knitting group, firstly I hope you're ok, and secondly, please accept this post as my apology for being a no show tomorrow night.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Mind yourself

I like making new friends. I always hope that these relationships will grow and flourish with time and attention, and look forward to getting to know my new friend better. But, even though I fancy myself to be a good judge of character, every once in a while a nascent friendship will be floored when my new friend makes some revelation which hints at unspoken depths of difference. Perhaps we will be happily chatting, and they will suddenly express their deep admiration for Daily Mail pro-ranter Melanie Phillip's gentle phrasing and good moral judgement. And I that will be it: bar a bit of polite extricating, it's the end of the affair, and if I think of my Phillips-loving acquaintance again, it will only be to wonder at how tragically flawed my estimate of them was.

Ever since Knitty magazine introduced a regular article on "mindful knitting", I've begun to fear that my affection for Knitty has encountered its fatal obstacle. Tara Jon Manning was announced as a regular fixture in the Spring issue this year. I skimmed the essay, glanced at her blog and decided it wasn't for me. I suppose I thought something so obviously silly couldn't last long. I mean, she actually writes that,
Renewal is a doorway to a sense of fresh and awake.
Fresh and awake are adjectives. One might have a sense of freshness and awakeness - as they're nouns, it would at least be grammatically acceptable, although still a fairly insipid point and horribly phrased. But perhaps this is just an editorial lapse. Perhaps Manning doesn't habitually confound things and attributes. Or perhaps she had a very good reason for doing so, which I have missed because I am not a mindful knitter. I don't want to think about every stitch. Most of them won't even bear thinking about - which is fortunate, since most of my knitting time is snatched in between tasks, and if I decided to meditate on my knitting I'd quickly have my reveries cut into by the smell of burnt dinner. More than that, I simply don't expect knitting to be a spiritual journey. I like making stuff. I like learning stuff. I enjoy the action of knitting. That's enough for me.

But in the latest Knitty, Manning is back and with more of the same, this time on the subject of "stuck". Manning is not really feeling the knitting. By the end of the article, she's still not really feeling the knitting, but it has motivated her to tell a story about letting her-three-year-old son play outside, unsupervised, while she potters about inside thinking about how stuck she is. Being an unsupervised three-year-old, her son has a small mishap and Manning rushes outside to find a very distressed child snagged by his trousers on wheelbarrow. Now, I am as distractible as anyone. Last week, I looked up from my knitting to see that baby Moomin had eaten half a crayon. I felt pretty bad about this, and I'm sure Manning felt pretty bad about the wheelbarrow incident. However, you wouldn't necessarily know that from what she writes:
So, now my world is mirroring my state of mind back to me. The lesson is not lost on me – et tu Zane?
It's not an accident, you see, it's a lesson. And Manning sidesteps the fact that the accident was caused by her distractedness by implying that it was actually a consequence of the world mirroring her state of mind back to her. As if it weren't enough for us all to be blogging about our knitting - now reality itself steps in to provide a commentary. (I wonder what brilliant construction to put on the crayon-eating. Perhaps, as knitting was EATING INTO my writing time, so my daughter was LITERALLY EATING the writing implement.)

Although with the way Manning writes, perhaps an installation of boy-with-wheelbarrow is preferable to wading through the mangled corpses of the metaphors she strews so recklessly about. Is being stuck like being in a traffic jam, or like playing a child's game, or does it perhaps bear more resemblance to being in a becalmed boat? I don't know, and I am not convinced that stirring all these different images about together brings Manning any nearer to understanding and escaping the condition of being stuck. By the end, when she writes that "It looks like the light is changing; I think someone is about to shout 'Go!'", I had a very puzzled moment of thinking, "Hang on, wasn't it an oar she was after?"

Actually, Manning does have something to say about metaphors. She says:
We are very fortunate that our beloved handcraft of knitting allows for a multitude of metaphors. The leap to a first sweater might be undertaken during a time of personal growth and expansion. A “mistake” can hang us up, or it can be viewed as a “design element” that makes our work absolutely one of a kind.
Unfortunately, while "mistake" and "design element" stand in for each other, they do so not metaphorically but euphemistically - rather than rather as lesson and mirroring from earlier in the piece might be taken as euphemisms. Mindfulness seems like a euphemism too - for the ultimate in tedious, uninsightful solipsism. Of course, if it works for you, by all means do it. But don't proselytise about it, unless you want to see me quietly backing out of the door.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Joinimir Joinimirovich Yarnakov

What's that unholy tangle sitting atop the London Review of Books? This is the moment when I thought, "hm, perhaps the famous Russian join is more of a faff than it's worth."

And this is the point where I thought, "hey, actually this is pretty tidy."

And at this juncture, I had decided to make the Russian join my join of choice from now on. It's not just my blurry photography that makes it hard to spot: the join is only discernible as an inch or so of double-thickness yarn, but unlike the method of knitting a few stitches with the new and old ball together, I don't get any irritating tension problems around the join, and best of all, I don't have any ends to weave in.

If you would like to try this magical business, I can't do better than point you to the tutorial provided by The Boy Who Knits, which is the one I learned from. And if you already have this spiffy little trick at your disposal, I am delighted to be joining you in this small paradise of yarn joining.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Digging around in the muck for brass

You can tell a Google search is going badly when your query returns your own blog on the first page, and you know you haven't posted the thing you're looking for. And what am I looking for? Well I'm almost ashamed to tell you... Here's my search. Please don't all fall down in surprise that I appear to be only person clamouring for this particular knitwrong. (Actually, I think I have tracked down a source for the pattern, just not a free on-line one; if anyone can tell me whether The Big Book of Knitting is good for more than the one fake pelt pattern, I'd really appreciate having your opinions before I spend my money.) I don't have a firm plan yet, but rest assured that whatever I come up with will be as brassy as hell. Something that definitely is not brassy is Matilda Jane. She's lovely and I don't think I'm going to work on anything else until she's done. Thanks to Badger for the short-row tip in the comments - I found a handy-looking experiment devised by Nona which I'm going to try out for myself and work out which method I like best.

UPDATE: Hillevi at the Knitty Coffeeshop pointed out this chart from Garnstudio, which looks like a winner to me! The next person searching for "leopard print Fair Isle chart" now has a useful result. Thanks Hillevi, and everyone else who helped me out in my quest for brassiness, especially the tireless Seahorse.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Shame, pain, and Matilda Jane

The shame part: I'm sorry I've been away from the blogosphere. I spent the best part of two weeks shut away in the attic with my books and no time for knitting. I decided to leave the blog until I had some progress to report, and I regret to say that I was simply too jealous of everyone with time to knit to look at any other blogs (I'm just catching up now; you've all been extremely busy). Then, once I'd done a decent amount of work and could have picked up the needles again, I managed to cause the pain part of this post:

The bandage is covering a cut resulting from a very exciting accident involving a reversing bus, a parked van, a helpful neighbour (me) running to fetch the van's owner, and a pothole, in which the aforementioned helpful neighbour (me) tripped, breaking my fall with the heel of my hand (irony bonus: the bus was reversing because of roadworks to fix the potholes). Upside: I had medical instructions to leave the kids' baths and the washing up to my partner for a week. Downside: it hurt quite a lot and I couldn't knit or type either. But on Friday, I could take the bandage off, and by yesterday evening, I was halfway through the yoke of Matilda Jane.

I nearly started on something else entirely. I was sulking around, feeling fed up with everything I was working on and wishing for something brainless and satisfying (besides ripping). "A simple top-down raglan cardigan!" I thought. My next thought was to design it myself, and the thought immediately after that was that I had absolutely no intention of doing more thinking than necessary while my higher brain functions are supposed to be devoted to the nineteenth century novel. So I poked about on the internet and I priced up Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece and looked at the Knitting Pure and Simple patterns, and thought that actually I'd like something a bit less simple, and so I sulked for a bit longer.

And then I remembered the Matilda Jane pattern, and the bag of Rowan Wool Cotton that arrived last week for a prospective Fair Isle project, and suddenly I was knitting again. Matilda Jane is just the right pattern for now. It's thoroughly addictive: I ended up leaving it on the kitchen table and knitting a few rows every time I went in to do something. It uses short rows to shape the neck, and lifted increases for the raglan shaping. This is the first time I've used that increase, and I love it: it's so neat and satisfying, and somehow working into the back of a stitch gives me the feeling of knowing the intimate life of my knitting. It's also the first time I've used short rows without making a hell of a mess. (Disclosure: there is a bit of a mess, and despite close attention to the big VK book, I'm never totally sure that I'm doing them right, but for now I'm happy enough that there are no holes.)