Monday, 15 September 2008

Shank's Pony

This evening I decided to walk home from work. No real reason, other than that it was a nice evening - not raining, not too cold, and not too hot either as I had a jacket and wouldn't have wanted to carry it. I used to do it occasionally, but as it happens not since the day of the Tube bombs, when I had to.

According to the AA's route planner, it's 6.6 miles (10.6km) door to door, by approximately the route I ended up using. It took me exactly an hour and three quarters, which means I walk at 3.77mph. According to Wikipedia, the average human walking speed is 2 to 3mph, so I'm rather faster. That seems about right, as even my father says he virtually has to run to keep up with me. I think this is because I wore high heels so much when I was a teenager, learned how to stride out, then kept that speed even though once I moved to London I defaulted to trainers (currently very bouncy sparkly Skechers) to get anywhere.

It's a fairly nice walk although some areas are not altogether salubrious, but all well-lit and populous. I am now tired in a pleasant way, and rewarding myself with a bowl of lemon chicken and egg fried rice from the Chinese takeaway. I should do this more often.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Even more knitting spilling over into mainstream culture this week. On Friday morning, the illustrious Today Programme on Radio 4 deigned to notice that it is becoming quite popular again "recently". They aren't half slow! Interviewees were knitwear designer Lise-Lotte Lystrup and the guy whose company runs the Knitting & Stitching Shows (including Ally Pally, which isn't far off). There's an article about it here, and the interview itself can be played about halfway down the page.

However, whilst I was pleased to hear my dear hobby on that bastion of radio programming as I was ironing my office clothes, and in fact was very late to work because of it, I did get annoyed enough with Evan Davies to start shouting at the radio. No, this is not because of the credit crunch, not everything is, even though as ex-economics correspondent you probably think it should be. I'm afraid, Evan, that this resurgence does slightly predate the recent market troubles. And as you hopefully now know, it's not exactly money-saving.

Annoyance on Friday turned to horror on Saturday as I saw this travesty of a shop window in Covent Garden:

That's Diesel, who have clearly employed a marketing department who have heard one phrase only about knitting, and don't feel the need to look it up to see how it's spelled. Actually, I've just Google searched "knit and pearl" and there are 2.36m hits, which is worrying, compared to less than 1m for "knit and purl".  Or am I the one who's getting it wrong, along with all of Ravelry and the blogosphere?

Anyway, they've even got their own branded wool for the window. I'd be impressed, if I hadn't been so irritated in the first place.

Not that my tolerance was up to much yesterday, seeing as we'd been to Shunt the night before and I was suffering badly with the after-effects of too much cheap red wine, only mitigated by enough paracetamol to run the risk of even more liver damage.

Bad Lucy. Shunt was as amusing as ever. What did we have there this week?

An enchanted forest at the entrance:

Followed by an astonishingly photo-real and erotic series of portraits of a woman undressing herself, through her hoop skirts and corset (in fact called "The Fear of Falling" by Sophie Lewis and Emma Critchley):

Crazy Japanese kids Yes-Yes-5638 programming noise-art, and no PCs allowed evidently:

The KissBox - put your blindfolded heads in here...

...and start snogging for the whole bar to watch on live feed:

(And no, I didn't, though we did have some amusing discussions on how popular and ergonomically feasible BlowJobBox and DVDABox would be.)

Pinball Geoff was back:

Including table football in the dark:

Water pistol-wielding ninjas policing hygiene in the loo - they even gave me a mint imperial:

I may have been drunk whilst trying to take this self-portrait:

Best of all, awesome Mongolians! Playing fantastic music!

They are called Hanggai and are over here for the Thames Festival this weekend (to which I utterly failed to go, even to Johnny Woo's cabaret). They were utterly rocking and the crowd loved them. I mean, seriously, holy crap they were good. If only we could book them for the wedding...

Look at his shoes!  And go listen to their stuff on Myspace!

And finally, a complete WTF moment walking around Soho:

Monday, 8 September 2008

Ravelry Rubberneckers Swap Questionnaire

*Waves to Melissa from the Rubberneckers*

What form of fibre manipulation do you prefer?  Knitting.  Me and the crochet are passing acquaintances but I don't have time to get good at it.  Oh, and I spin, because I can't resist the fluffiness, and wow, I can MAKE YARN, which gives me the warm fuzzies.

What fibres do you prefer?  All of them.  I guess I probably am a fibre snob in that I don't own any pure acrylic these days, but I have nothing against it and consider man-made fibres to be helpful in certain blends.  Otherwise there's pretty much no fibre I wouldn't be overjoyed to receive, although I have a crush on camelids (llamas, alpacas etc) and angora bunnies.

What colours do you prefer?  All of them, although my liking for yellow can be variable so I always cite that as one to avoid.  I'm not all that keen on muddy green/brown/orange colours either (olive, mustard, khaki etc) though warm browns are fine.

Are you allergic to any fibers, perfumes, drugs, or food?  Not really, unless you come round and actually rub a cat in my face (so the cat having hugged the yarn is fine).  I find scratchy wools, mohair and angora mildly uncomfortable to wear immediately next to my skin, but I wouldn't call it an allergy, and would happily knit/spin/wear those fibres as accessories or as garments with a layer underneath.

Do you have a wishlist? If yes, where can it be found?  No.  It's a shame you can't see my shopping cart full of Socks That Rock at Blue Moon Fiber Arts though!

Do you have a blog? Where?  Yep.  You're reading it.

Is there anything else you collect (other than yarn)?  This is going to sound weird, but field guides (birds, wildlife, plants, rocks etc) - these are my favourite things to bring back from holidays, but I also love ones for places I've never been.  I also love guide books and find it fascinating to read really old or foreign guides to my own city, London, and see how similar/different a tourist's view is to my own life here.  I also find vintage knitting patterns/magazines highly entertaining in terms of photography/fashion/wording, although I haven't knit from one.  Non-books: I immensely enjoy adding to my stash of beads, ribbons, card stock, stickers and other craft supplies - not that I get round to doing much jewellery or card making, but when I do get the urge, I like to be ready!  Also sparkly stitch markers, cool postcards or badges, geeky science toys... all these things make me happy.

Any books, yarn, patterns, or needles that are out there that you are dying to get your hands on?  Call me a cheap date, but I'd love to try some KnitPicks yarn, because I hear good things but they don't ship internationally.  I'd also love to give dyeing a go, so undyed yarn and dye would be fab, especially Kool Aid because you can get the expensive dyes here, but not that, and I'd rather start off cheap and non-toxic!  Sock yarn is probably the most likely to get used - I like other weights too and am a sucker for laceweight, but have never actually made anything from my laceweight stash yet as I'm too scared.

Edibles?  Yes please!  Although (takes deep breath and finds somewhere to hide) I don't like Hershey's chocolate.  I've tried to like it, honestly I have, but to me, that's not what chocolate tastes like and it's icky. Naturally I defend anybody else's right to eat it, as long as I don't have to.  Oh, and assuming, dear swap partner, you're not in the UK, there are some Customs rules to be borne in mind although they generally don't cause a problem.  You can see what's restricted by country of origin here.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Food Interlude

You may, if you wish, now accuse me of trying desperately to bump up my post count with memes.  You'd be right.

I saw this on a couple of blogs (Stash Haus and somewhere else before that but can't remember) and thought I'd give it a whirl.  The list shows things I have eaten (bold), haven't yet eaten (normal) and would not eat (italic - bold if eaten once and never again, normal if no intention to ever eat this).

I consider myself fairly well travelled food-wise, as it were, and fairly adventurous, but we shall see...

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (the chili would ruin it for me)
4. Steak tartare (yum!)
5. Crocodile (not yet, although even my vegetarian boyfriend has, in New Orleans)
6. Black pudding (took a while to pluck up the courage, but it's pretty good)
7. Cheese fondue (I dislike melted cheese in anything; solid cheese I adore)
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari (this is almost in italics - I'm not a fan of eating molluscs generally, but will tolerate when there's nothing else)
12. Pho (oh, to die for in the heat of a Saigon market or even on the Kingsland Road)
13. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (sorry Americans, I can't even begin to imagine how disgusting that would be)
14. Aloo gobi (but I prefer aloo saag)
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (of course)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
(ethical considerations make me hesitate to order it these days)
24. Rice and beans
(presumably this is AKA "rice and peas")
25. Brawn or head cheese (heh, more than once - the boyfriend won't kiss me after I've eaten this)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I don't do spicy)
27. Dulce de leche in ice cream
28. Oysters (had to be tried, but they taste of something best saved for the bedroom, and cold and slimy at that)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas (yeah baby!  Spicy hot = no, horseradish hot = big yes)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (those pesky molluscs again)
33. Salted lassi or sweet lassi (mango lassi please)
34. Sauerkraut (antipathy more to do with unfortunate intense hangover + liver dumplings + sauerkraut as provided by a loving Austrian mother, not mine)
35. Root beer float (but coke floats yes)
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (oh yes... not that I condone smoking)
37. Clotted cream tea (I am from Dorset, and see this post)
38. Vodka jelly (plenty, but I don't see them featuring heavily in my life these days)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (no different to prawns in my opinion, but the opportunity has never arisen)
43. Phaal (just no)
44. Goat's milk (often - it does taste of goats though, doesn't it?)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more (I am decadent)
46. Fugu (would love to!)
47. Chicken tikka masala (oh come on, this is Britain's national dish)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (I refer you to Anna's poem)
50. Sea urchin (mollusc!)
51. Prickly pear wine
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone (mollusc!)
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal (seriously, never, although I have eaten their hamburgers)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (but I prefer it non-dirty, and essentially just gin)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (sadly no, not even in Montreal, can't think why we missed that one)
60. Carob chips (why?)
61. S'mores (what on earth are they?)
62. Sweetbreads (not yet, but no objection to offal at all - see head cheese)
63. Kaolin (presumably for indigestion?)
64. Currywurst (but I prefer brat- or bockwurst, ohne currysauce)
65. Durian (I am weird, I like durian and I even like the smell, which led to amusing behaviour in Bangkok)
66. Frog's legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears, or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain (but no to pressed plantain again, it's very dry)
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (I really like absinthe - at uni I used to drink it with cola as well as in the traditional method - I even tried to brew my own once from wormwood and what a mistake that was)
74. Gjetost or brunost (sounds good!)
75. Roadkill (but only pheasants so far - no objection to expanding my experiences here)
76. Baijiu (sounds wicked)
77. Hostess fruit pie (never heard of them, but they look synthetic)
78. Snail (they just don't taste of much, so what's the point, oh and mollusc!)
79. Lapsang souchong (tea of choice!)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (hell, yes!)
85. Kobe beef (first time as a uni post-final exam celebration, yum)
86. Hare (no, but rabbit is yummy)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
(I adore horse meat)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam... has never passed my lips)
92. Soft shell crab (I don't like the shell - yes to dressed crab)
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano (sounds lovely!)
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (no, but civet coffee yes)
100. Snake (it's on my list to try, seriously)

So what else have I eaten of note that's not on the list?  Bone marrow.  Jellyfish.  Shark.  I'd like to try dog some day - we missed out in Vietnam, and I also missed cuy in Ecuador; we visited the wrong regions for both.  Frankly I'll eat anything that's not endangered (or a mollusc), and I love exotic street food.

How about you?

Monday, 1 September 2008


Knitting, as we know, has become "cooler" over the last few years (five maybe? more?) and inevitably popular culture has caught on, to a degree. I thought it was about time I commented on a couple of manifestations of this and how I feel they represent my chosen hobby/lifestyle, and, of course, just plain whether or not I enjoyed them.  This will be long, I'm afraid, with no pretty sock pictures.

Books first. There are, as far as I'm aware, two fairly well-known novels with knitting as a central theme: The Friday Night Knitting Club and Divas Don't Knit. I must admit upfront that I am prejudiced against chick-lit, and I perceive both of those as being firmly within that genre. Aside from preferring a fairly serious read to fluff, I find the whole concept of gender-specific literature just unbelievably patronising. A good book should not need to pander to trite assumptions of what a "chick", presumably short for a "young, strong-minded female" should read - and god forbid she should be strong-minded enough not to obsess about shoes and men... But that's a whole post full of rant for another day. I really did try to set that aside and take the novels for what they were, so let's get down to business.

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

Shall I be frank from the start? I hated this book. There, I said it. Hated it. This did actually make for quite a compulsive read, in a "how bad can this get" way, and yes, every time, it managed to get worse, culminating in one of the most dreadful "plot" twists in modern writing. But, oh, it's faults are not limited to that. For a full run-down, I turn to a rather vitriolic e-mail I send to Gail and Ting at the time, with a blow-by-blow account of exactly why I hated this book. Those of sensitive dispositions, or anyone who enjoyed the damn thing, may wish to look away now.

My first objection: has the author ever picked up a pair of knitting needles? Perhaps, and perhaps I do her a great disservice, but I really don't think she has. To me it comes across as that she may have once set foot in a yarn store for research purposes, she may even have interviewed a knitter, she's probably nicked some vaguely philosophical concepts about it from somewhere, but no more than that. I get no particular sense of reality from the knitting. All that has essentially been established about knitting, per her universe, is:
  • Knitters occasionally knit together, but mainly want to eat cake instead. Whilst this may in fact be true, for me, there is some desire to actually do some knitting too.
  • All knitters, without exception, loathe purling with a passion normally reserved only for the Nazis, and would do anything to avoid it.
  • Cashmere is somewhat desirable in an undefined way.
  • Knitting needles come in several materials, namely bamboo or rosewood (this is why I think she might have spoken to a knitter once) but also in types known as "round" or "bendy", by which I can only assume she means circs rather than the ones I've heard of made of a slightly flexible plastic compound, to be easier on the hands if you have arthritis or RSI.
  • A knitter who is capable of making a jumper would choose to jack all that in and only ever do garter stitch squares, and that knitter would then jack the whole lot in to study for law school.
  • Knitters knit jumpers, cardigans and scarves, with no desire to knit or mention socks or lace. Whereas these things seem to be the twin obsessions of the real on-line knitting community.
  • A jumper is a suitable KAL project for beginners and experts alike, and no-one complains or has trouble at all, they just get on with it industriously, because knitting makes you calm and serene.
  • None of them use the internet because knitting absolutely is the only thing they do.
  • All knitters are taught by their grandmas at a formative age and never stop in between.
  • We would never buy more yarn than we needed for that specific project. Ha!
Secondly, it seems to be possible to design and knit a full length dress in tiny gauge from scratch in about a week, then redo it because your client wants a different colour, all whilst running the LYS and being a single parent. Oh yeah, and whilst she also does her own accounts. Every night. I can comprehend, given my own background, that a knitter can also do accounts, but if I were running a business even I wouldn't bloody well do my double entry bookkeeping, in pencil, in a ledger for god's sake, nightly, it would seem not even with the benefit of a calculator. I was dying for the scene where she does her own state and federal, personal and corporate tax returns, in her own blood, on time, without having to queue at the IRS at midnight to hand them in before the deadline, and without crying or eating her own head. Sadly that scene was missing from my copy.

Thirdly, the Julia Roberts thing. For those who haven't read the book (and I'm probably not selling it to you), Ms Roberts is mentioned several times - once when a superfan/stalker randomly turns up at the shop shrieking incoherently, and I think (my memory is fading) again when the starlet herself comes in. But would a cameo by her Julia-ness be enough for the inevitable movie tie-in? Of course not! So our heroine is described in a manner which seems eerily reminiscent of... guess who? So of course JR is playing her in the forthcoming film. I know JR is a "famous knitter", but really, couldn't they have been a bit more subtle? Clearly not. Given the presence of Julia Roberts in a film usually guarantees that I'll hate it, I won't be going along to the premiere or anything.

Fourthly, I hated all the characters, even more than I hated the plot, such as it or they were. Everyone's breeding, or hopelessly romantic (ie empty without a man), or slightly kooky, and all ever so slightly religious - they all go off to consult god at one point. Ick. And it's just one "issue" after another, ending with the big one, although I wasn't exactly sad when our heroine (spoiler!) carked it. Good bloody riddance although it did give the child even more of an opportunity to be precocious and nauseating. The dialogue was bad beyond description, so I won't even try.

And who has knit night on a Friday?  Don't you have anything better to do for the weekend?

I know it's a piece of popular fiction and not specifically a book for knitters, and probably if any of us were to write this book, it would be incomprehensible to one not "of the fold", but still... It is entirely the view of a non-knitter of what they presume us to be doing. And that's fine, but I am disturbed that the author of a novel about knitting would not have gone beyond that viewpoint. If you are going to make a certain topic the centre of your book, do some proper research. You don't have to be an expert, but bear in mind people who are will be reading, and criticising. Heavily.

Divas Don't Knit by Gil McNeil

Given my, ahem, strong feelings on the above, I embarked upon this read with some trepidation. Was I going to raise my blood pressure again?

Actually, no. It wasn't that bad. Not great literature, but not execrable. Fairly dull, but tolerable. So what's the difference?

Well, I get the impression that Gil McNeil can actually knit. There are even some (very basic) patterns on-line to go with the book, although not very exciting and not credited to McNeil. The reason why I think she actually knows what she's talking about? Because when the film star character in this one (they seem to be mandatory) is discussing colourways of a particular mohair yarn, she mentions particular colour names including Jelly, Marmalade, Candy Girl and some others; real colours of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, as we know (and no, I don't blame her for not naming KSH per se - even I don't require that all details be there to the detriment of non-knitterly readers). I'm pretty sure there is less actual discussion of knitting in this one compared to TFKKC, but it's a damn sight more realistic. Therefore I found it easier to accept the knit shop premise, and actually read the story without being continually pulled up, spluttering with indignation.

It also has a sense of humour, sadly lacking in TFKKC. Moreover it actually deals with a fairly interesting central issue (and only one or two others, mundane ones at that, rather than an endless litany of life-stopping woes) in that the heroine's cheating bastard of a husband is killed in an accident before they can divorce, so she is forced to maintain a saint-like image of him to their two children.

Ah, the children. Admittedly I only have a sample size of two, which is far from statistically significant, but why are both heroines single mothers? I shall hazard a guess. A chick-lit novel must have a single female lead, allowing for romantic happenings (amazingly, blessedly infrequent in DDK). However, knitting is inherently mumsy, so children must be present. The result: a single mother. Perhaps I'm reading too much into these, but if I find another example, I shall feel vindicated.  I'm child-free, I can't relate.

I can't say I actually enjoyed DDK - I'm just not in the market for this kind of book - but I didn't hate it. If you had to read one of these, read this one.

The Diary by Matthew Pollard

Enough of the books. In early August Purl Pirate and I went to something rather more radical - a knitting opera. Well, sort of. We went to see The Diary, a short performance as part of the Tête à Tête independent opera festival at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Here's the synopsis:

"Set in the 1960s, our anti-heroine, Vanessa, sits alone in her bedsit, knitting and thinking. Her diary tells us the story of her isolation from the changing West End around her. Drug-fuelled orgies to which she isn’t invited, music that she can’t groove to, fashions that she can’t afford; all conspire to cross her stitches. Knit one... Purl one… With a needle in one hand, yarn in the other, there is only one way to cast off this confusing world."

Intrigued by the mention of fibre arts, we thought we'd give it a go. You should, by the way, try out the phrase, "I'm going to a knitting opera tonight," on your colleagues - it results in much hilarity.

So, unintendedly, did the opera.

Picture a tiny dark stage with a sofa and a telly. A frumpy girl sits knitting garter stitch out of some hideous acrylic on big needles. There is a piano and a glockenspiel and a male and female singer (I thought the point of opera was for the actors to sing, but whatever). Scene/song 1 revolves around work a watercooler conversation whereby our heroine reveals that she only sits at home and knits all weekend, every weekend, morosely. Her male colleague thinks that this is a sad, boring way to spend your time, which seems to be true in this character's case. Clearly she is unpopular at work and friendless. She needs to change her life but cannot see a way to do so. Scene 2 has her commuting on the tube. Some bloke pinches her arse and she is not sure whether or not she likes it or should be offended, or should ask him out (she doesn't and he gets off) and whether or not her even considering this makes her a slag. She goes home and sinks into a deep depression. She considers trying to kill herself by (and this is where disbelief took over) somehow managing to slit her wrists with her knitting needle. Right... Scene 3 has her suddenly deciding to make an effort. She dolls herself up and heads out to the "disco". She enjoys flirting with men. She invites one back to hers, ties him up with her yarn, then stabs him through the heart with her needle. Fin.

At least it was extremely short - probably less than 15 minutes. Apparently this was a cut down version of a longer piece, hence the references to the 60's, drugs etc in the synopsis, none of which were included here. I can't imagine the longer version has any more coherence though.

Just how sharp do they think knitting needles are? I suppose with some effort (and possibly a run-up) one could stab somebody through the heart with one (bear in mind these were big plastic ones, not thin metal) but you'd have to have them pretty well immobilised, I would imagine, not just tied up. I won't experiment though, or even speculate about how a metal DPN through the ear might be more effective...

Anyway, we were speechless. Flabbergasted. Laughing our arses off. Seriously, Mr Pollard, what the fuck?

I think I will have to stop there to give my overused spleen a rest for the night. Suffice to say I am still waiting for that insightful look into knitting in the mainstream media - I'll stick to reading people's blogs instead.

Later: I've had a chance overnight to think about what's missing here, for me. What I would like to see, and what I haven't seen yet, is a strong female (or male for that matter) character who just happens to knit, just because she enjoys it. Not because life has thrown her into running a yarn shop. Not because she has to be supermum. Not because she wants to hang out with film stars as an occupational hazard.  Not because she's sad and lonely.  Not because she's quirkily creative (although that would be an improvement on the other things). Just because it's what she happens to do in her spare time, like another character would enjoy cycling, or playing squash, or reading. Is that too much to ask?