A funny thing happened on the way to the office

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Well my dears, here’s a strange to-do! The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that in my last post I included a photo of my legendary toothpick knitting challenge. To be fair I didn’t think many of you would look at it closely, but that just teaches me a lesson, good and proper.

It happened like this.

The day after I posted my whinge abut DPNs, I had to go across to Head Office for a Very Important Meeting. Naturally I sprang from my bed in the grey and chilly dawn, as eager as a squirrel after acorns, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I bustled in and out of hallways and showers and kitchens configuring breakfast, clothing and toiletries (not necessarily in that order). Within the hour I was booted, suited and ready to go, and so I went. Most importantly I took with me my briefcase  containing my knitting, along with some papers, tickets for the train and my phone.

The morning train to Leeds is a proper caution, packed with giggling schoolchildren from the kinds of families that can afford to send their children miles away to schools where the teachers may or may not have chins. Apparently commuting form the age of 11 makes a man of you; a very tired man, it must be said, but such is life. Then there are the grey-haired 30-somethings who toil in the industrial heartlands of York, wrangling whippets and wrestling puddings for a fiver a go. In addition the keen observer may note bespectacled academics heading for Leeds and the one and only EBL.

I found my seat and started to knit. There’s no mobile signal so emails and phone calls are out of the question. Knittingis the only answer, as in so many scenarios. The lack of signal doesn’t stop the kiddies trying, and we all enjoy being lulled by the endless rounds of “Benedict? Benedict? Can you hear me?” which punctuate the carriage air in tones of constant amazement, as if the Howardian Hills only arrived last night and the phones have always worked before.

The other thing punctuating the air that morning, or perhaps I should say glutinating (as in making it glutinous), was a perfume. Somebody, probably a female, was wearing a year’s supply of Rose Garden Extreme, and generously sharing it with the rest of us. I can only assume she, or possibly he, let us not make gendered assumptions, had had an unfortunate incident before leaving home and not had time to rectify the damage.

Anyway, I was breathing through my mouth and trying to think of fresh air and open skies, when a voice enquired hesitantly:

“Do you write that blog?”

I ignored it, obviously, because who would respond to that kind of a question at 7.32 in the morning? A nutter. That’s who.

The voice repeated its interrogation, adding “I saw your knitting. I recognised the wool marker and stitch counter.”

Well, that made it alright then.

I looked up to meet the eyes of a mousy individual in a dark wool coat and carrying a rather bedraggled back-pack. She leaned across the table and added “I really liked your post.”

Obviously an individual of sophistication and distinction was concealed by an outwardly anodyne appearance, and not the murderous serial killer I had initially assumed.

Apparently she lived not too far from me, and worked at one of the hotels just outside Leeds as a catering manager. I vaguely recognised her form other commuting days; the crowd is pretty much the same year in, year out. We had a very pleasant time swapping tales of stitches, websites and TV shows we both enjoyed, although I struggled to forgive her for “Call the Midwife” and I suspect she was confounded by my passion for “Waking the Dead”. We both agreed on the wonderful “Wolf Hall” though, as does anyone sane. It’s fiction, get over it.

It was rather strange meeting someone who effectively knew more about me than I did about them. I admit I felt a little vulnerable. I mean, I don’t use my birth-certified name here, in case you wondered, but I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to work it out if you wanted. Some of you do in fact know me in the human world anyway. Nevertheless I felt a ambushed, bamboozled, embarrassed and quite stressed.

In short my fanfollowerstalker and I chatted until we got to Garforth, when inexplicably my new found friend had to depart. Does anyone get off at Garforth when heading west? Really? Why?

That was when I knew I had fallen asleep and it was time to wake up and face the day. It was like that moment in “Dallas” – which I never watched, but even I have heard about.

It turned out I had no fanfollwerstalker after all. I felt some relief but also a little piece of my heart broke. How contrary!

Suppose you were suddenly famous (or else, remember the time just before you became famous). How would you cope when the first person come sup and asks for an autograph, metaphorically or literally?

Namaste.

DPNs

I recently changed my working hours so that I now work four long days and have Mondays off. It’s marvellous – although my workday evenings are now compressed into the following: stretch – eat – speak briefly to Sigoth – sleep. Usually I take the Monday to do jobs that need attention, which may be anything from sorting out a bill to (more commonly) catching up on jobs I have agreed to do for my local Quaker meeting. Sigoth also uses Monday for his Quaker jobs and so the days formerly known as “Monday” are now called “Quakerday” in EBL Towers. However, this weekend we spent much of Saturday and Sunday being Quakerly, so this Monday I am taking time out officially to do Leisure.

As a result I can proudly announce that today I shall be mostly knitting with toothpicks.

Well, that’s what it feels like. Youngest Offspring has requested a jumper and so that is what he will receive if it kills me. The one he wants is this one:

The thing is it requires 3mm double pointed needles for the rib.

Now, I love circular knitting. No seams to sew up. But I am not happy using double pointed needles (DPNs). It’s like wrestling with half an octopus that has porcupine in its family tree, an octopine as it were. It’s scratchy and jabby and catches in my own sleeves and requires my fingers to bend in inhuman directions. Doing such digital gymnastics with the slender 3mm variety feels like a nightmare involving a speed-eating competition at the kind of Chinese restaurant where they won’t give you knives and forks even when you ask nicely and admit you are an inadequate human.

This is what I am working with.

I swear - toothpicks!

Half an octopine (or possibly a porcupus)

See what I mean?

Now I know that some of you out there will be massively competent at DPN-whispering. I admit I am slightly less likely to twist the first row and produce a Mobius Strip using them instead of a circular needle. I admit they look cool and entitle the user to claim a minimum of + 3 Knitting Ability at a Knitting Master’s Convention. Yet with all that admittedness, it’s still enough to drive a body to crochet, where only one needle is involved; although somehow that’s almost as bad. As George Orwell said, two needles good, four needles (or, alternatively, one) bad.

Suffice it to say I am most keenly anticipating finishing the rib of the second sleeve and bidding the toothpicks farewell.

Do you have this kind of love-hate relationship with your hobbies? After all I am supposed to be doing this for fun, but there are parts of the process (and I find this is true of most of my other hobbies as well) which really make my heart sink.

Namaste.

Vikings

As I told you last time (pay attention there!), Sigoth and I went to York last weekend for the annual Viking Festival. There were Vikings Galore! We had a fabulous time. I would recommend it to anyone at a loose end in February half term.

One of the reasons for the trip was that I wanted to buy a dress. This was because, my dears, the invasion of Vikings included a generous array of traders in goods and materials vital to the business of re-enactors. I was amazed to discover that many of the stall-holders were themselves of the Scandinavian persuasion and had made the trip to York for the purposes of trade and profit.

Don’t think I can’t see you rolling your eyes. Yes, you. You know who I mean. Stop it at once. Regular readers will be aware that EBL has more than a passing interest in the history and culture of the early medieval period of English history, also known as the Dark Ages or Anglo-Saxon period.  Every now and then I bore you with some Old English texts, or harangue the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in September.

I belong to a society which studies the period and we have a stall. We attend the Stamford Bridge event, which is rather strangely organised by the local Viking re-enactment group. I say “strangely” because of course the Vikings lost that battle horribly. Harold Godwineson, aka King Harold II, the one with the arrow in the eye (if you can believe those who embroider history), chased them off in September 1066 before dashing south to confront William of Normandy.  The Vikings were more than decimated, needing only about 24 ships to take home the survivors who had arrived in an army carried by around 300 ships.

Here is our stall from a couple of years ago

Here is our stall from a couple of years ago

Anyway, we have a stall at the event and last year we all agreed it would be worth getting some costumes too, as it seems to draw in the punters. We have a couple of men’s outfits but no women’s so I agreed, along with another woman, to get some gender-appropriate gear. To do this, we needed to find suppliers, and who better than the traders at the Viking Festival?

Thus it was arranged. A group of us met at the Minster, ogled the stained glass on display in the Orb (again, if you can – go see this!), then repaired to a nearby pub for a lengthy lunch. We needed the lunch because we were planning activities for another event we shall be attending in May, when we shall demonstrate a number of Anglo-Saxon crafts and generally attempt to brainwash the public into understanding that the period was one of significant interest and importance. We are not overly optimistic; the Vikings seem to generate better PR.

AS DressIn short – here is the outfit. Sigoth has woven me a belt to go with it. It’s a late period costume; earlier dresses would have been in the style known as “tube-dress”, basically a tube of material held up by shoulder straps pinned in place. They were not especially stylish or flattering. As my friend said, everyone looked like a potato back then.

Of course, Sigoth and I also spent time at some of the special events over the weekend.

First up was the Beowulf by Candlelight in St Helen’s Church. Peter Carrington-Porter performed, without the aid of a safety net, a translated version of the poem. He recited for about 1 ½ hours the tale of Beowulf, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and Beowulf’s death.  Epic tales, epic times!

The next morning, before meeting the group for lunch, we attended the Strongest Viking Competition. Much hilarity ensued although the lads worked pretty hard. There were six events: log carrying; shield wrestling; Dane Axe holding; sword fighting; tug of war; and boasting. The logs were large and heavy. The wrestling was fast and furious (it basically entailed standing on a “shield” or plastic mat, and shoving each other hard with open palms). The axes held had to be extended with the arms at 90 degrees to the body, for as long as possible (the winner was in the region of 120 seconds) and I can tell you the upper body strength required for that was pretty impressive. Sword fighting and tug of war need little introduction. The boasting contest was scored by audience volume. As the boasts for more extreme the cheers got louder. The winner amazed us all by reciting some poetry! The gods love a man who can fight, who is string and who can recite it seems. During the intervals Thor and Loki performed a double act to keep the crowd happy. We were honoured by the presence of the gods among us.

To prove it here are some blurry pictures.

Viking log carrying

Speedy Viking with heavy tree

Viking shield wrestling

That last push saw our man fall off his plastic-mat-shield

Viking Axe holding

This was really hard!

Loki teaches sword fighting

The gods walked among us and taught young people how to disembowel

In the evening we attended the Grand Finale: the creation of the earth and then an attack by the Vanir on Asgard. There were lots of people dressed up in costumes running about in a field pretending to kill one another. Given that it was a February evening in Yorkshire it was freezing and my feet and hands were numb, but it was worth it for the fireworks from Clifford’s Tower at the end.

We missed lots of other events of course: the best beard contest (with categories for men, women and children), Dragon Boats, Viking Bake-Off and the march through town. Maybe next year.

It’s interesting how the Vikings these days are viewed so sympathetically. Of course, England has had its Viking king – Cnut. Just the one though. Perhaps if Harold Godwineson had lost at Stamford Bridge, Harald Hardrada, his opponent, would have seen off the pesky Normans and who knows where we would be now (well, it would be Greater Norway obviously). Or, if Harald had not invaded, HG would not have been so weakened in Hastings.

History turns on a pin and the gods laugh.

Namaste.

Knitting mojo

While I am away in York, through the miracle of technology, and scheduling software, I thought I would keep you company by telling you about my knitting. Let the good times roll.

It has been a while since I did much knitting, as my head has been in a different plane of existence form my hands, and I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything as tricksy as counting or remembering whether to knit or purl a stitch. I am pleased that the msits seem to be clearing at last, and I have now achieved two important goals.

The first was to finish my Killing jumper. For those unfamiliar with the garment in question (I believe there may be some people left in this unfortunate position), I am referring to a particular jumper which was the star of a Danish crime drama a few years ago. Naturally I set out to create my own copy, being a fan and all. It’s a pretty basic pattern but it was first time I knitted anything entirely in the round (no seams, just tubes) and I had a bit of a job sorting out how to keep roughly to the pattern while increasing and decreasing. I hope I got away with it – at least I now feel happy about a) making another next year in reversed colours, and b) wearing the article in public.

Look out if you are a Danish criminal - EBL is now fully equipped to bring you to justice

Look out if you are a Danish criminal – EBL is now fully equipped to bring you to justice

The second important thing was finally learning to crochet. This means I can now crochet about as well as the average crochet-enabled 5 year old, which is more than I have ever managed before. I went on a course in November, but understood even less than I thought I knew. My poor saintly aunt had tried to teach me as a child but it never worked. Somehow my brain didn’t bend that way. It’s like trying to write with the wrong hand; I’m just not ambidextrous.

But then something switched on in the grey matter and suddenly it made sense and I managed a circular object. It was untidy and uneven and ungood, but it was a real thing and I was very happy to have got that far.

crochet by EBL

A trumpet against the nay-sayers! This old EBL got there in the end

So this EBL learned a new trick against all the odds and almost 50 years of evidence to the contrary. Who says miracles can’t happen?

Have you ever had a sudden epiphany like that? Do tell!

Namaste.

The end of days

Well, perhaps I overstate it when I say “end of days.” However, it is certainly the end of the financial year and our Highways Authority is spending up like tarmac was going out of fashion. The main trunk road to the coast is closed off and traffic being diverted via the road at the end of our village lane. This very same road, now carrying more traffic than anyone would have believed possible, is only semi-open because of roadworks which have closed off one carriageway, and using a traffic light system to control flow. I say “flow” but I mean “stagnant pauses of sufficient duration to calculate pi to a new digit.”

Naturally when Sigoth and I decided to go into town this morning to look for essential items – such as circular knitting needles and pastries and coffee – we went the back way, through some other villages to avoid the snafu that is the usual route. We had forgotten in our haste and cleverness that the road through the next village was also closed while work is being carried out there.

We took the scenic route. It was several miles out of the way, but it beat going back home and then queuing in traffic.

Tomorrow we are going to York for the Viking Festival to hear Beowulf and to enjoy traditional Scandinavian activities, such as shopping and drinking coffee. We will take the bus, and leave the stress of finding the way to someone else. We would have gone by train but there are no trains running this week. Being half term the railway line to the coast is shut down while they do some work on the bridge over the Ouse in York and thus amputate the East Coast from mainland England.

It’s half term. It’s damp and grey. The families we saw in town were looking the worse for wear, seeking entertainment at reasonable price in a very small market town where the highlight of the town trail is a couple of small rooms forming a Victorian office allegedly responsible for inspiring Dickens to write about Scrooge. It’s not a barrel of laughs for most under-50s.

On the bright side, Vikings!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and that the weather, transport system and barbarian hordes in your vicinity are kind to you.

Namaste

WOTW: Bellman

I have suggested the occasional post about a lost word, in the hope of prompting some of you to join in the blogging goodness. Here we go again with another post  in the very occasional series of EBL’s Word of the Week.

It has to be said that the joys of sleep often elude me. I have been sleeping better lately but overall it’s not a pleasing picture, with long hours of gazing at the darkened ceiling. I have been cheered by the return of birdsong recently, emphasising the turning of the Wheel, and glad of some wakeful company while Sigoth slumbers on.

Back in the good old days – those days when the world was a better and kindlier place according to some, although I have my doubts – there was a band of men who wandered the streets at night calling out the hour and letting people know that they were safe. I can never decide whether I would appreciate that comfort, or find myself jolted awake just as I managed to nod off, heart pounding and hand reaching for the nearest defensive object.

These men were sometimes called Night Watchmen, and if like me you adore Terry Pratchett’s Discworld that will have all sorts of resonances with you. Another term for them was Bellmen.

Recently I came across a reference to them in my calendar of Forgotten English. Some of the words are not really forgotten in my opinion, just not commonly used; some probably should be forgotten; while the rest seem to have been overlooked by both Chambers and the Oxford English Dictionaries, so I remain sceptical as to their provenance. However, Bellman falls into the first category, by which I mean I have heard the term before with my very own ears, and apparently so has my computer spell-checker (although in that instance ears are not part of the equation).

What I hadn’t heard before was the rather endearing little poem by Robert Herrick (mid 17th century) which he wrote as a kind of blessing to his friends to keep them safe at night. It’s a bit like the prayer regarding long-leggity beasties I think. Anyway, it’s called “The Bellman”, and here it is.

THE BELLMAN (Robert Herrick)

From noise of scare fires rest ye free,
From murders benedicitie;
From all mischances that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night;
Mercie secure ye all, and keep
The goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
Past one o’clock, and almost two,
My masters all, ‘good day to you.’

Isn’t that sweet?

Tell me what helps you sleep: nightlights, the BBC World Service, hot milk and cinnamon, a teddy bear or hot water bottle, whisky, whatever… post a link to your blog in the comments below, and/or tag with EBLWords.

Sleep well, my dears, and ream of beautiful things.

Namaste.

Words to live by

Family_Day

The other night, between dashing from this thing to the next, I stopped to listen to the wireless. Well, it was Radio 4, and being so means it was definitely the wireless, and not the radio, despite the confusion of nomenclature. The programme was “Just a Minute”, hosted by the eternal Nicholas Parsons, wherein panellists speak for 60 seconds on a given topic without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Hilarity, as they say, generally ensues, and occasionally awe. I grew up listening to the likes of Clement Freud, Kenneth Williams and Willie Rushton being witty and erudite; today we have the joys of Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and Sheila Hancock.

Well my dears, I would be terrible at the game in question. I repeat and fade on an endless loop, like a 60’s pop idol, or an indecisive pilot circling forever above my linguistic destination and never quite arriving. I go into some kind of verbal holding pattern above my target topic and fail to land on the runway until the airwave traffic controllers have died from frustration or boredom, and occasionally both.

This week one of the topics was “Your family’s motto” and it was most certainly amusing. It also sparked a question in my little grey cells as to what the motto above EBL Towers, when it is finally emplaced, should be. For many years we have lived by “All you need is gloves” and, in extremis, “Never give up, never surrender!” Yet for all their many merits, these do not quite encapsulate the spirit and verve that is EBL en famille.

What are the crucial signs of one of the Bagladian clan, also known as Gentes Bagladii? Well you might ask, dear friends, but until now I would honestly have struggled to respond. It’s hard to think of a single uniting force beyond customs – most of us who are members of said clan of clans like history and science fiction and games and films and rock music and technology and art and stand-up comedy and good coffee, curry and chocolate (not necessarily all at once).  But these are ephemera. They are trivial in terms of what makes a family. They are simply things we can enjoy together.

“What this family needs,” I decided, “is a motto, to be our mission statement to the world.”

It will, of course, let the rest of you, the non-Bagladians, know what you are missing by being non-Bagladian in the first place, and serve you right. It will help you understand how to get the best from us and how to avoid the worst.

Yet the more I thunk and the harder I thunk the further away I found myself from an answer. After all, if you prick us do we not bleed? The answer to that is yes, fyi. Just don’t try it, because we have big, strong teeth, and you know what they are all the better for. But if so, in what way are we different, unique, special; because we all want to feel special, don’t we, and isn’t a motto a way of making that happen?

I briefly considered “By the grace of God and a toothbrush” which stood me in good stead for some years as a younger EBL learning her way about yon mortal coil. But not all of us believe in the big G so that wouldn’t do.

My grandmother had many favourite quips and sayings, some of which will haunt me to my dying day, such as “You’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die,” “Cheer up for Chatham – Dover’s in sight” and “Don’t-Care was made to care and locked in a box until he did.” I think her intention was to boost morale, but her confidence may have been misplaced. In any case they are hardly mottoes.

A motto is intended to express a higher principle or ideal to which one cleaves., and generally they seem to revolve around the virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. You can see why I am struggling here. EBL is pretty short in the virtuous arena. Pretty damn short.

To the world of whimsy! I am currently torn between “When the going gets tough, the tough keep calm and eat chocolate” and “Let’s always take whatever comes, and never try to hide, face everything and anyone, together side by side.”

Until I decide we will stick with our old favourite, “All you need is gloves” because, indeed, gloves are all you need.

What would be your motto?

Namaste.