The Battle Of Shapely Diamond

The above is not my Shapely Diamond Dishcloth, by the way. The above example is considerably worse than mine – which is pretty bad, but at least kind of straight around the edges and a nice pale gold colour – and this is heartening.

I seem to have discovered dishcloths. Dishcloths, the use and knitting of, seem to be very popular in America and Canada, less so here. Here, we buy those blue J-cloths in packets of 25 and throw them away as we use them. Dishcloths have to be washed and used again, but they are eco-friendly, sustainable and all that. In America and Canada, I gather, you can buy medium cotton yarn in every supermarket. Here, you have a job even to find knitting wool on sale nowadays, let alone cotton. You have to get if off the internet.

Canadian Sister got me into dishcloths, which she was being forced to manufacture by the Seniors group she belongs to, on the grounds that dishcloths will sell whereas lime-green and purple crocheted elephants probably won’t. I must admit, for the longest time, as they say in Canada, I imagined a dishcloth to be something off-whiteish and holey. Maybe rather slimy; the sort of item I vaguely remembered lurking around Nan’s kitchen sink. People actually buy those?

However, I have since discovered that dishcloth cotton comes in many bright colours, including interesting many-hued varieties called ombres. Furthermore, they work. They are really good at washing dishes. And, as Canadian Sister pointed out, although they are technically dishcloths, what they are, in fact, are samplers of many different and exotic knitting stitches. They are an opportunity to transform yourself into an Advanced Knitter without too much wastage of wool, an opportunity to express your creativity and show off your skills.

So there is more to a knitted dishcloth than meets the eye.

Once bitten by the dishcloth-knitting bug, as is always the case with my rapidly passing obsessions, I just had to buy a book on it. The book is called Kitchen Bright Dishcloths and features pictures of perfect, unwobbly, square-rather-than-unexpectedly-rectangular dishcloths. Perfect dishcloths. One cat vomited over it, projectile-ly, almost immediately, and another cat decorated it with claw-marks overnight but hey – they were just expressing their creativity. The patterns are still readable.

The last one in the book – for good reason – is called Shapely Diamond – and it is a beast of a pattern, 65 lines long and every line different. I am operating at a disadvantage, also, in having to learn American/Canadian knitting terms. One I puzzled over for ages was yarn over (in this country, wool forward). My sister managed a transatlantic phone tutorial in the various kinds of yarn over and make one – with neither of us able to see what the other was describing. We don’t have Skype, or Facetime or whatever. Lucky we have known each other a long, long time and are sort of psychic.

Anyway, I thought I would attempt Shapely Diamond just once. If you can manage that, I thought, you can manage anything. It was going quite well, and I had got past the half-way point with no major glitches. This is going to be a two-day dishcloth, I thought, and made the foolish mistake of going to bed. Next morning I picked it up again, but something had gone wrong. Somehow, many rows back, there had materialised – an Error. My diamond no longer looked exactly diamond-shaped. There was a wobbly step in it.

But, I thought, it’s only a dishcloth after all. No one’s going to see the thing, it’s just going to be washing dishes. And after all, as Leonard Cohen says, there is a crack in everything (that’s how the light gets in). And after all, you have never in your life successfully managed to unravel a pattern like this, for an unknown number of rows, and a) pick up all those weird loopy yarn overs and k2tbl’s – and b) find out which row of the monstrous 65 row pattern you had landed back on.

However, I found myself unravelling, and counting the rows as I unravelled. Eight rows. And I found myself picking up the yarn overs and the k2tbl‘s and crossing off the last eight rows from my checklist and (take a deep breath) starting again at that row, which might or might not have been the right one. And it worked! I had saved my Shapely Diamond. Not that the end result is in any way worth all that time and effort but at least I haven’t got to look at the thing for ever after and think there’s a mistake in it.

My life seems to be made up of fairly big disasters interspersed with (as in the example above) minuscule successes. Today the Jehovah’s Witness ladies came round. They seem to like me. I came out and closed the door behind me, so as not to let all nineteen cats escape. They told me about their cats. I feigned interest, and in the little leaflets about Family Life and God Knows The Future Even If You Don’t. And they showed me a verse from the Bible, and read it to me. I noticed they left most of a whole sub-clause out in the reading (a tiresome relic of having once been a legal secretary) and was so busy digesting this that I forgot to take any notice of the verse itself.

I think the Jehovah ladies thought I would have discovered Jesus by now. Instead I appear to have discovered dishcloths, but it’s a start.

And then I drove away the Jehovah ladies, more by accident than design, but another of those minuscule triumphs – by boring them to death about the six boxes of little shiny magazines that had just arrived and how, this very afternoon, I would need to stuff every one of the little shiny magazines with a navy blue flier with a picture of a bright yellow octopus on it, and then tomorrow I would have to load up my car with the little shiny magazines, take them into town and poke them through the first of seven or eight days’ worth of recalcitrant and badly-designed letterboxes; how I would have to face a succession of rabid Alsatians determined to remove my fingers, and weave my way through one overgrown nettle-and rubbish-infested front garden after another…

I can be very, very boring, I know, and once I start on one of my very, very boring jags I can’t seem to stop. (Ex was like this, too, it must be an Asperger’s thing). I mean, I can hear myself being very, very boring but somehow my mouth won’t stop talking, in fact the more panic-stricken I get about being very, very boring the more Mouth redoubles its efforts… like a kind of survival mechanism.

They backed off up my driveway and left me still talking, and clutching the two wilting Jesus magazines, and surrounded by boxes of little shiny other magazines, and navy blue fliers with bright yellow octopii upon them…

Another disaster, I suppose. Or another tiny triumph.

The past: a foreign country

This will almost certainly never happen – so don’t don’t hold your breath whatever you do – but I thought I might pen a fantastically successful ‘cozy’ (or ‘cosy’, if you’re English) detective series. This would solve all my financial worries in one swoop, in perpetuity, and be very good for my ego. However, I’m not much good at getting to the beginning of projects let alone the end, and this would be a very long project indeed.

But I am very good at preparing. I enjoy the preparing so much more than the doing. This is because doing – especially writing-type doing – is very hard work and that fierce concentration, that excitement, that passion – sucks the very life-blood out of you.

So, in ‘preparation’ I am reading a monster of a book by Dominic Sandbrook (in fact there are two books, this is the first) entitled Never Had It So Good: a history of Britain from Suez to the Beatles. My God, it’s a huge thing, I mean Bible-sized. You feel like you need a lectern.  My right thumb all but fell off with cramp after five minutes of reading.

That poster – You Never Had It So Good and the face of Prime Minister Harold MacMillan were part of my early teens. You couldn’t walk up Station Road without those hooded old eyes and those droopy old moustaches following your every move: MacMillan was the Big Brother of the early sixties.

But at that time I was just starting a new school, with all the terrors involved in that. Politics didn’t mean anything to me then and I had no idea that I was living through the seminal decade of the twentieth century. Whilst others were sitting around looking cool in coffee-bars or prancing round campsites in the West Country bedecked with flowers I was going up and down Station Road in my school uniform, burdened – yea, burdened – by hormones and a generalised sense of doom. I had no overview.

I would like to ‘write’ the sixties but the thing that worries me is the non-PC aspect. Can I really manage the awful, repugnant attitudes, the rampant racial prejudice, the ghastly belittling of women? Of course any writer worth their salt ought to be able to but it’s so very close to home. I was alive then. I didn’t know, but I was complicit.

We once had a temporary teacher of English. He was a young man – somewhat under thirty at any rate – and personable. We were a girls school full of frustrated teenage virgins (mostly) and you can imagine the electrical effect he had on us. Hysteria. We followed him everywhere, primping and giggling. But once in his lessons he threw a board-rubber – one of those great chunky wooden things – at a girl. It hit her on the forehead and she started to bleed. He was apologetic of course.

And once a Jehovah’s Witness girl stood up and confronted him. She was a timid girl, gingery, freckled and mostly silent – but he had just read out a couple of lines from T S Eliot’s Morning At The Window and it sparked something in her:

I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids

Sprouting despondently from area gates.

There is no such thing as the soul, sir, she said.

OK Susan, but let’s pretend there is such a thing as the soul, for the sake of the poem.

No sir, there is no such thing as the soul…

She was being courageously, terminally annoying. I’m not sure how I would have handled that situation as a teacher. What I think I would not have done even then was take her by the ear and drag her, tearful but unprotesting, to the headmistress’s office and dump her on the bench outside.

None of us thought a thing of it. He was our beloved, gorgeous English teacher. He was strong-jawed and handsome. His thick blonde hair was combed back in a kind of quiff. She was not popular, and he was a man.

In my new tome of a research book, I read an extract from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a famous novel of the sixties. I remember reading it at the time and thinking nothing of it. Arthur Seaton is sleeping with two married women, but tells himself:

If ever I get married… and have a wife that carries on like Brenda and Winnie carry on, I’ll give her the biggest pasting any woman ever had. I’d kill her. My wife’ll have to look after any kids I fill her with, keep the house spotless. And if she’s good at that I might let her go to the pictures ever now and again and take her for a drink on Saturday. But if I thought she was carrying on behind my back she’d be sent back to her mother with two black eyes before she knew what was happening.

Arthur Seaton is the hero of the novel.

arthur.jpg

Our handsome, bequiffed English teacher left after a term. He had in fact been a good English teacher as far as English was concerned, introducing us to challenging and relatively modern poems like Dylan Thomas’s Poem in October which I would never have come across otherwise. He broadened our minds. He threw board-rubbers at us. He took us by the ear and dragged us.

He left to become a Black And White Minstrel on TV. My parents loved that programme and, forever after, every time it came on our black-and-white TV I would look out for him, although of course you couldn’t tell under the black-face makeup. Apparently he was a resting actor. You didn’t have to be qualified in those days as long as you had a degree. It never occurred to me that it was offensive for white people to black up. It never occurred to me, to be honest, that Minstrels were supposed to be black people. They were just Minstrels to me, as Gollywogs were just a kind of teddy-bear alternative. Not people.

Which is another story, and one that I don’t feel up to telling at the moment.