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.

Quafftide

quaffing viking

Well my dears, another day and another word. This time it’s “quafftide”, from 1881, in “A supplementary English glossary” by T Lewis O Davies, and referring to a time for drinking.

Quaftyde approacheth, and showts in nighttyme doo ringe in loftye Cithaeron

So not as in a “tide of drink,” pleasing as that image may be; more like eventide or yuletide. I am particularly pleased that it therefore derives from Old English tid, meaning  period or division of time, as Bosworth-Toller , the on-line dictionary of Anglo-Saxon, explains:

tíd e; f. Tide (as in Shrove-tide, etc.), time, hour; tempus, Wrt. Voc. i. 52, 39: hora, 53, 17. I. marking time when, time at which anything happens, time or date of an event, time, hour Be ðam dæge and ðære tíde nán mann nát . . . Gé nyton hwænne seó tíd ys, Mk. Skt. 13, 32, 33.Ðá com his tíd ðæt hé sceolde of middangearde tó Drihtne féran, Bd. 4, 3; S. 567, 13: 4, 9; S

http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/finder/3/tid

My Chambers dictionary says that “quaff” means to drink or drain in large draughts, and that its origin is obscure. I would have liked to think of the old Saxons or even Vikings celebrating quafftide after gathering on a harvest or putting the Picts to rout, or whatever.

Nevertheless, it seemed highly appropriate for a Friday.

However, it did start me thinking, always a dangerous event, about how malleable the language is. I am quite a fan of neologisms, and anticipate the shocking revelations of new words included in the dictionary each year with keen interest. I was very taken with “omnishambles” back in 2012, for example.

What it actually made me think was that people have forever made language fit the occasion, and then reinvented terms in later generations. I need a term for having a bout of drinking so I will reconfigure two relevant words and Bob’s your aunty’s live-in lover. There are lots of terms for  this in English: pub-crawl, out on the lash, painting the town red, having a bevy, booze-up, bash, or piss-up to name a few. In fact there is a whole sub-language relating to the consumption of alcohol: getting a round in, or having one for the road, a swift jar, a tipple, nightcap or nip. It must be a minefield for foreigners. Meanwhile, my grandparents used completely different words for describing similar activities. In this sense language unites and divides us. I celebrate the notion that we are so alike in our habits, and yet confused by the strangeness of each other’s words. It’s like remembering that, for example, Iron Age people were just as clever as us but didn’t yet have the tech to live like us; the distinction matters.

Anyway, I muse enough.

Your homework is to tell me your terms for quafftiding like it’s 2015, and ideally also to relate an anecdote about such a party. It may involve Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters if you wish, and be purely hypothetical. No photocopiers should be harmed in the production of your story.

Post a link to any such tales in the comments below, and/or tag with EBLWords.

Bottoms up and Namaste!

Ludo ergo sum

On a more cheerful note from yesterday’s moan, I can also report to anyone still reading that I played many games over Easter with the Offspringses and Sigoth. My goodness, we do like games in this family. I don’t mean those boring video games either, I mean good, solid, frequently German, board games or card games.

When Sigoth and I were young sprouts playing about with this new-fangled notion called “home computing” we played some of the early games available: Donkey Kong was a favourite along with one involving running about in corridors being chased by a dinosaur. It was a ZX Spectrum game and may have had “Escape” in the title; it certainly had it in the raison d’être. Often Sigoth typed the game in directly, which was more interesting than the game itself, but such is life. The journey may exceed the destination.

One weekend a friend came to stay with us in our appalling basement student flat. It was genuinely appalling. There was a toad living in the bathroom under a fungal growth, and mice in every nook and cranny. It was cold and dark and damp. I was ill with bronchitis and had to sit up all night in the armchair for two or three nights because I was unable to breathe if I lay down. Feral dogs wandered the backyards, and one day we were trapped indoors by one which had decided not to allow us out into its territory. But in compensation there was also a kestrel hunting on the waste ground behind the terraces next to the little shop where the pints of milk were frozen solid in winter and rancid in summer. Oh, my dears, the views across the valley at night made constellations and rivers of light!

We therefore had to distract our friend when she visited because she was (and is) a gently bred soul. Mice and toads and feral dogs are not her beverage of choice. So we introduced her to Donkey Kong and she played it for hours, jumping in her seat every time she jumped a barrel on screen. It was more entertaining to watch than playing the game.

The same friend also loves board games and we play every time she visits, even though we no longer have a toad or a feral dog, and the mice only visit briefly in winter when the fields are frozen over.

There are a very wide range of games now available. We don’t play the old classics so often now the Offspringses have grown up, games like Monopoly or Scrabble or Cluedo. We play games like one of the Catan series, or Seven Wonders, or Carcassone or Alhambra or Inkognito or Dominion or Pandemic or Shadows over Camelot. Some of these games are co-operative games, where you play together to beat the game itself, for example by curing a deadly virus before it wipes out the human race. They require thought and discussion and strategy. They are, as young people nowadays are wont to say, mint.

We played, my dears, and then we played a computer-based game. Normally, as I have intimated, I find these quite boring when I don’t have a friend to watch bouncing in her chair with frustration. This one was a networked game though, called Artemis, and we piloted our starship across the known galaxy in a simulation that was completely unlike, for reasons of intellectual property, Star Trek. There were stars and nebulae and aliens and space stations. Otherwise hardly any similarities at all. It was hilarious fun.

Why do we do it? Not just this family, but humans? Why do we play? Honestly, humankind are all just big kids who never grow up. We drink milk (often) until we die instead of moving on to adult food when weaned, and we play like babies. Other species use play as a tool to learn. Humans use it as a tool to do anything but.

As a family we enjoyed pretending to be other people in another time and place, on a starship in a galaxy far, far away instead of being ourselves together. The escapism and shared enterprise (if I may call it that) allowed us to be one big happy family without having to work hard to be one big happy family. Real families and relationships take effort, but game play is easy, so long as it isn’t Diplomacy and everyone plays the game for its own sake rather than to win. We are British game players and it’s the taking part that matters.

Taking part – that is crucial. We play games to build our sense of community, society even. Sports replace war, as Desmond Morris liked to claim, and sports fans recreate tribal behaviours. When we beat South Africa 25-17 (I was there!) or when we place the final card that defeats the Evil Sorceror / cures the purple virus / completes the mission, we feel triumph and a rush of excitement and love for our fellow game players / fans. Even when the game is competitive, if it was well played we can all take some pleasure from something well-executed or nimbly done.

I love playing games. I love that they have no real point, and that somehow that is the point.

Namaste.