I’ve never really had a Bucket List. I can’t imagine me climbing Mount Everest, bungee-ing from the Eiffel Tower or orbiting the earth in a spacecraft simply for the sake of saying I’d finally done it. I mean, who am I going to say ‘I dunnit’ to? Are the overworked National Health nurses likely to be listening? A passing cleaner, perhaps? Maybe that giant spider in the corner wondering if what’s left of me might make a good meal.
But I have slowly been developing a Chuckit List. I won’t go into the whole thing now because it’s still coalescing. Suffice to say that when finished it will be a list of all those little skills I never had the time or patience to master before; those skills I never quite used but never quite lost either; those projects I started, maybe more than once, lost patience with and Chucked. I now find myself with time and not much else, and the thing about Chuckits is they’re cheap and time-consuming.
One of the Chuckits is to recover my French. I ‘did’ French at school for ‘A’ level and was quite good at it, then. I’ve never needed to use it since and would be horrified if expected to communicate with any kind of foreigner in anything but nice, safe old English. However, I seem to have retained a lot of it, at least for translation purposes. Books don’t sneer – or worse still, shrug at you when you get it wrong. French people do.
It occurred to me that the most entertaining way to re-learn French was to start reading French novels with the help of a giant dictionary. So I collected a handful of novels that looked fairly easy, and ‘gripping’ enough to keep the attention of an Anglophone with the attention span of a gnat. At the moment I’m working my way through Les vacances de Maigret. Fortunately I’ve never read Maigret in translation so the plot is new, and I’m genuinely looking forward to finding out Whodunit. So far, nobody’s Dun anything. Maigret’s walked into a slightly creepy convent (or am I just imagining it?) feeling melancholy and preoccupied. But it’s early days yet.
I’m writing out the translation as I go. The thing with French is, though – and that’s also what makes it so interesting – you (or at least, I) oftentimes can’t resolve it accurately into English. From the French you seem to get a clear picture of what Commissioner Maigret is seeing, but how to say it in English when it’s like nothing you’d ever need English for? For example:
Dans un bureau vitré, tout clair, tout net, percé d’un guichet, une soeur à cornette, assize devant un register, lui souriait et disait:
– Bonjour, monsieur 6…
Now, what I picture as I read is a little office in some way sectioned out of the entrance hall of a convent. It’s as if the whole office is made of glass but vitré may just mean there’s a big window. And the window is pierced with a kind of grille, which makes me think of those little inset windows in banks and building societies, behind which the bored tellers sit, safe from attack by mutant customers etc. The office is filled with light, and it’s very clean. Behind the glass but in front of some sort of register sits a sister (nun-type sister) wearing one of those elaborate, draped white hats nuns wear or used to wear in France, kind of pointed, like an ice-cream cornet. She smiles at him and says:
– Good day, Mr 6…
But how do you put that, succinctly, in English?
Anyway, it keeps me out of mischief.
Number 2 on the Chuckit List (I promise, no more than two) is knitting in the round. I’ve always avoided attempting such complicated items as gloves and socks, partly because it’s cheaper and easier to buy them than to buy the wool, and the pattern, and the needles and spend months trying to figure out how to turn the heel or achieve more than four fingers. However, I have decided to knit a balaclava.
Why a balaclava, you ask? Or, what is a balaclava?
Well, a balaclava is an unflattering helmet with a hole for the face. The idea is that it keeps head, cheeks and neck warm all in one garment. Wearing it, you look like a woolly cyborg, but never mind, you’re toasty. Women knitted mountains of them during the First World War to send off to troops on the front line. Mostly in France. Ha – a semi-circular post.
So, it will keep me warm and enable me to economise on heating but, and more importantly, it is a very complicated item to knit and requires two attempts at circular knitting, with a section of straight (i.e. two-needle) knitting in between.
I’ve just managed three rather wobbly ‘rounds’, having spent some time this morning watching a YouTube video of an über-soothing American lady with plump, comforting hands (the rest of her stayed anonymous) demonstrating how to join the two ends, which needle the stitch-marker should always be on and – most importantly – how to remedy an unwanted twist. The unwanted twist is the thing to avoid at all costs. If you get one you end up with a woolly version of the Mobius strip, only it’s taken you hours to make, whereas one of those twisted strips of paper takes seconds.
It’s a learning experience: if a fully-fashioned balaclava comes out of it I shall be most surprised. And so will the Post Lady if I forget to take it off when answering the front door. Though since the Post Lady turned up in a range of eccentric velour Christmas hats last year – one with rabbit-ears, I recall – worn with her post-lady hat on top, and blue-dyed hair – she may not bat an eyelid.