written and posted by members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets' Society

Friday, 3 December 2021

Listening Skin

I found myself with two perfectly familiar strangers in the attic room of a three-storey house somewhere in the North West of England. Candles were lit ahead of our arrival, trailing wisps of burning incense wrinkled and fogged the snug room, the musk of patchouli and sandalwood licked our nostrils, and crammed into every available alcove or set upon petite side-tables were crystals of every colour and family, playing sidekick to proudly displayed statuettes of the Buddha, of Shiva the Destroyer, odes to the Divine Mother Earth and Father Sky.

Warmed and bathed in the firelight of a chimney stove, bejewelled and exotic seat cushions were laid in a circle on the floor. In the centre of these cushions, drums, cymbals and singing bowls were arranged for us as though they were instruments of war, and we were the warriors steadily piling into the room to take up our weapons of choice before entering into battle. And though we would not leave the room again for a while, it was true that we were preparing for a foray of sorts, an advance towards an undisclosed and as yet unconquered territory.


This was the rendezvous point of our shadow circle, where we would meet to continue our shamanic drumming practice; the practice of chanting, drumming and creating music together in order to release unnecessary weight and trapped emotions, to free ourselves from the burden of mental constructs and the strangleholds of egos, and if we were lucky, possibly even slip into trance-like states, where we might catch a glimpse at another face of reality, a face rarely looked upon, the counterpart to our known domains: our respective shadow dimensions.

Jameson, one of the two strangers, and a lifelong drummer who now wore hearing aids, sat down on a cushion and prepared himself for that evening’s circle. Jameson held a gibbon-stare and possessed a pair of pointy ears. He focused intently on nothing, humming a strange tune as he ran his fingers across the head of his drum, a single-headed hand drum, whom he referred to as Gruff.

He said he had named all of his drums. This one was called Gruff because the head was made of goatskin. Gruff was one of his first drums, and he spoke of it only in the present-tense and only in affectionate terms, like anyone would of one of their oldest living friends. The fact that this friend wasn’t a living one at all but an inanimate object wearing the dead skin of a goat that had long since passed out of existence didn’t seem to trouble him.

‘Skin never dies.’ Jameson barely blinked as he spoke, nor did he break eye contact. ‘It never loses its ability to absorb and respond to sound. Don’t be too hasty to label the drum as some mere lifeless thing. Gruff responds to any touch I lay upon him. Simply listen, and you’ll hear how alive he is.’

Jameson insisted that any self-respecting drum owner ought to purchase animal-skin drums exclusively as a matter of principle, they’d be robbing themselves otherwise. Manmade artificial skins were devoid of a special quality, poor substitutes for the real thing, pale imitations that fell short of delivering anything close to the sound that lived-in skin could provide.


‘Have you ever listened to a song and had it place your hairs on end?’

I nodded. ‘Of course.’

‘That’s your skin, listening and responding. The French call it frisson. The largest organ you own is reacting to soundwaves. Tingling with the vibrations of waves breaking upon it and entering it. And this organ completely envelopes you, from top to bottom, stretched tightly over your entire body, exactly like that of a drum.’

‘There is intercourse between my skin and the drum’s skin. A communion of sorts. We are two musical objects having a conversation with one another, creating and transferring energy.’

He wiggled his ears, pursing and flexing the pointed tips of them. They reminded me of satellite dishes swivelling to catch out wandering transmissions.

‘Don’t be fooled in thinking we hear through our ears alone.’ He said. ‘Sure, when I strike the drum, the sound of the initial impact travels through the ears, but the resonance of that sound carries throughout the body. Our bodies are magnificent resonance chambers, they don’t get the credit they deserve – they are the greatest devices of listening we own.’

‘We think of sound as something we hear, but in terms of physics, sound is just vibration travelling through matter. The ability of sound to affect matter cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to our own physiologies and psychologies.’

‘Music has the power to play acupuncture with our emotions, sudden and loud sounds demand our attention, activating our animal instincts irrespective of our consent, rushing floods of hormones are released in mothers the instant they hear the pitch of their babies’ cries, the shock waves of bombs can level whole buildings, and it is a well-accepted fact of reality that a single sound carries different meanings between individuals based on their own lived experience. We inhabit environments housed in an ocean of relentless sound, and we are forever moulded by them, whether we are conscious of that or not.’

Jameson plucked out one of his hearing aids and presented it in his hand.

‘The hearing aid helps those of us who are so-called hard of hearing by amplifying the world of sound that can be detected by the human ear. But the world of sound heard by the human being is an incomplete picture of the total universe of sound that exists.’

Jameson went on to explain that we human beings had an upper and lower limit to the range of frequencies we could hear. Any soundwave outside of these limits would fail to register an audible impression whatsoever.

‘Take the dog whistle. A dog hears when it is blown where we cannot. To some extent, you could say we were all deaf.’ He argued. ‘At least, that’s the case when you pass the boundaries of our known parameters. But I assure you, we might be deaf to certain zones of this world, hard-of-hearing to the total universe of sound, but we are still its recipients, daily bombarded by it, and our bodies are always listening.’*


‘But we already know this of course.’ It was at this moment that Hare, the other member of the circle, jumped in. ‘We’ve been acting as our own barometers since birth.’

Hare was a shamanic teacher, and the owner of the attic we occupied, a bespectacled woman whose hair was a beehive of endless possibilities.

‘You can feel it when you enter a room, the energy that resides there.’ She elaborated. ‘You can detect it in your insides, or as a certain air pressure, whether heavy or light, whether you can cut the tension with a knife, it’s as though you can sense the very shifting of molecules, know intuitively whether they are tightly compacted or free to roam – sometimes, there is no logical reason that some spaces feel oppressive whilst others feel liberating, but our bodies never lie.’

‘Energies fluctuate on a spectrum according to the experience as it unfolds. Both people and places are great storehouses of energy. You are magnetised to some, repelled by others. Some are more settled and consistent, whilst others are scattered, erratic and fraught between two conflicting energies at once.’

Hare leant forward and whispered, almost conspiratorially. ‘It is surmised that railway stations fall into states of disrepair so rapidly because they are constantly in a tug of war between intensely polarised fields of energy. Caught between joy and sorrow. After all, a train station must play host to joyous homecomings and hard goodbyes, partings and reunions.’

‘There is much more to reality than meets the eye or reaches the ear.’ Jameson returned, a wide smile creasing his face. ‘That’s why when I conversate with my drum, I am aware that I am committing an alchemical act, the moving parts of which might not be perceptible to me or even logically understood, but I’m safe in the knowledge that I’m working with the universe to manipulate energy to my benefit. Perhaps there are limits to what my ears will pick up, but regardless, the sound I conjure becomes my medicine. You see, hard-of-hearing does not have to equate to hard of listening.’

Jameson tucked his hearing aid back behind his ear and winked at me.

‘The problem this world has faced is that it has been so hard-of-listening as of late.’ Hare spoke, sat with her legs crossed and her eyes closed. ‘People have a habit of clinging religiously to the parameters of their known worlds, they live according to their explored boundaries and mistake their contracted perspectives for the totality of reality.’

‘The expanse of a person’s consciousness is defined by their limiting beliefs. Listening, that often overlooked and underappreciated art, is the active process of placing the constraints of our preconceptions to the side, and of focusing one’s attention on both the noise and the silence, in order to find out what is actually being told.’

 And on that note, Hare began to bang her drum, softly at first, inviting us to join. Jameson and I bowed our heads and paid gratitude for the occasion. Then, we picked up our instruments, focused our attentions and played.

The beauty of the drumming circle is that it invites strangers to come together and recognise a shared humanity. The music created is not written down or rehearsed, it wells up out of pure improvisation, played once and never repeated again, for play’s sake and not profit. Just as the cells in our bodies wire and collaborate together without instruction, the drummers respond intuitively to one another, each adapting to support and elaborate upon the other’s beat and rhythm. The only necessary requirement is the will and openness to listen.



Josh Lonsdale

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Numbers are fantastic

I attended a County Primary school in the 1960s and as a result I have a good general background in numeracy and literacy. We were taught times tables, (of course there was no use of calculators back then), and I remember very well, being encouraged to learn and recite my times tables from 2 to 12 off by heart. Post decimalization generations may ask why up to 12. Well there were twelve pennies in a shilling and many products were sold in dozens. A gross was twelve dozen - 144. 

That basic training and practice has always stood me in good stead and I am still able to recall a calculation instantly - no effort required. I am frequently amazed by younger people on TV quiz shows who cannot do simple multiplication in their heads. Of course, I am in awe of Carol Vorderman and Rachael Riley who perform mathematical gymnastics with incredible speed. Long live Countdown, a true test of numeracy and literacy. 

We were also taught the principles of linear maths and volume using wooden blocks. The sets provided were made up of longs: strips comprising between three and twelve small cubes; flats comprising joined up longs and blocks: made up of stacked flats. They were both fascinating and useful, giving young students an appreciation of the actual dimensions of volume. Sheer genius. 

At senior school, I developed a love of Algebra. From my introduction to quadratic equations, I was hooked and would seek out books of them to practice. What a swat! I really loved them. Someone should develop them as a quiz in newspapers. Much better than Sudoku. 

I never really got to grips with Logarithms. I just couldn't see the point and was far happier when moving into further education that the calculator was in common use. My dad's much leafed Ready Reckoner, always on his desk, was always a source of intrigue. My older brother used a slide ruler at college and although it interested me, he never let me use it, so it's application still eludes me.

If called to add up columns of figures, I still work it manually. I suppose that as a child of the sixties, I am fortunate to have more strings to my bow than later generations, who are so reliant on technology to do the working out for them. I hope that this mental exercise will help keep Alzheimer's Disease at bay. I still delight in the eloquence of the nine times table, one side up, the other down, maths at its simple best. 



Multiplication
A love of mathematics is a joy forever
the sheer delight of calculation
addition, subtraction,
multiplication or division,
The eureka moment when 
algebraic computation
becomes a second language
rolling off the tongue. 
When trigonometry
becomes elementary;
when graphs and pie charts
give up their mystery.
When columns all
add up satisfaction;
when restaurant bills
are shared out equally
the hard-earned skills
amassed through education
are equal to the sum of all life's trials. 

Thank you for reading. Adele

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Listening - Pounds, Shillings and Pence


 “You were not listening!”  Mrs S raged, dark eyes blazing with hatred. I shook, whimpered and cried as she smacked me hard, many times, across the back of my legs with her wooden ruler. I was only seven and a half, fairly new to this school and Mrs S terrified me. I felt the eyes of a class full of seven and eight year olds upon me, staring at my distress. Tears streamed my face, my legs were stinging and I didn’t dare to move until Mrs S dismissed me.

My crime? The inability to do the ‘money’ sums. Pounds, shillings and pence sums were beyond me. I hadn’t done this at my old school. I tried to tell Mrs S. She never listened to me. She wasn’t going to help me. Did she believe that if she smacked me hard enough, I would magically be able to do this work?

My young life had completely changed. I had been a happy, confident little girl, doing well at  school with teachers I adored and a group of friends. I was uprooted, due to our family being in the licenced trade, and moved from all that was familiar to a different pub in a different town, this new school where I felt like an outsider, even at such a young age. I loved my new baby sister.  I was completely lost in all this new stuff.  Looking at life through my adult eyes, that’s a great deal for a seven and a half year old child to cope with. I don’t remember any intervention, apart from my Nanna Hetty suggesting to my mother that she ought to speak to Mrs S or have me change schools. I’d been having nightmares about Mrs S while I was staying with my grandparents during a school holiday, and told Nanna Hetty about my miseries. Nanna Hetty was my paternal grandmother. I adored her, just as I did my maternal one. Grown-ups can have their differences and my mother would have taken Nanna Hetty’s  views as interference. I was stuck. Dad was getting the pub sorted, under new management, and Mum had to get into a routine with the new baby and me, but I didn’t know where I fitted in. They told me just to do my best at school, but I already was. I did listen to Mrs S, but I didn’t understand and was too scared to say so.

Family friends came to visit one day and brought with them a girl a bit older than me. I don’t know who she was and I can’t even remember her name, but that day, she was my guardian angel. We were playing together. I overcame my shyness and asked if she could do pounds, shillings and pence sums. Yes, she could, and would she teach me? Yes, she would, and she did. Slowly, explaining everything, she taught me so well, I was bursting with confidence at my new ability and for once, I wasn’t dreading school.

Two things happened in my favour, though years apart. Twelve months after this move, we were off again to pastures new and I was leaving this dreadful school and Mrs S and the teacher I had after her.  A feeling of belonging never occurred there for me. The other big thing was Decimalisation. Hooray! It might have been just for me.

Perhaps it was fate, perhaps it was setting my demons to rest, but many years later, I found myself working in the same school I had hated, sometimes in the same classroom that used to be mine, where Mrs S smacked my legs. Mrs S had passed away long since, or she’d be about a hundred and thirty years old. My favourite job in my entire working life is the years I spent there. It is a happy school with confident children and teachers who go the extra mile to care for them. Corporal punishment is a thing of the past, thank goodness.


My poem, in Haiku,

I was listening
But I failed to understand
And ended up scared.

She filled me with fear.
She was a witch with dark eyes
And a darker heart.

Hard, wooden ruler
Across the back of my legs.
I still didn’t learn

But I had nightmares
Caused by my raging teacher
Who would not help me

When I was seven,
A shy, new girl, feeling lost
And so unhappy.

Pounds, shillings and pence,
I just couldn’t calculate
And sobbed in distress.

PMW 2021


Thank for reading, Pam x

Monday, 29 November 2021

Listening

The pictures are better on the radio. It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s based on, what to me and millions of others, is a reality. I can immerse myself in the sound and my brain creates an image that is my version of a story, news, documentary, sport, music. Anything you like.

I have a mental image of, for instance, radio presenters that I have listened to for years and have no idea of what they look like – and don’t want to know. When I listen to Test Match Special I know exactly what Simon Mann and Alison Mitchell are like and I’ve never seen them.

Radio sets me free. I don’t have to sit in one spot for an hour or more. I can be walking, cooking, ironing, painting, tidying or whatever while my mind is totally engaged on Desert Island Discs or the match at St Andrews. I am, of course, lying about me ironing.

Mullard MA247 (courtesy of LeFevre)
I’m free to make my own mind up about characters in a play or series. I bet my idea of Miss Marple is vastly different to what you and anybody else thinks. Who would deny that the radio version of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is vastly superior to the tv version.

I remember the thrill of first finding the pan-galactic encyclopaedia late at night back in around 1979. I don’t remember what I was doing but whatever it was I stopped doing it immediately as the galaxy of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent engulfed me. I can’t remember reactions like that happening in front of a television.

By the by, there was a letter to the BBC from a listener who thought that ‘as a source of information it is misleading’.

That listener was, in fact, from another country which leads me onto how radio is a universal ( well, worldwide ) medium. I’m just old enough to remember turning the dial of my radio trying to get coverage of the Ashes from down under. But things have changed over the last few years as digital radio enables coverage of stations from all around the world in crystal clear sound.

There is an amazing website called Radio Garden in which your screen can be filled with an image of Earth with thousands of green dots on it. Each dot is a radio station and when you click on a dot you can listen to that station wherever it is in the world. There are no borders or boundaries. Each dot also includes choices of various radio stations in that city or area. It does feel a bit like the old turning of a dial.

Radio Garden website
Another aspect of getting your information from the radio rather than tv is that people being interviewed are more relaxed and forthcoming about what is happening to them. There is a difference between a single reporter with a tiny recording device that is discreet and the same reporter with a camera crew. It could be a matter of life and death.

And talking of camera crews is there anything more annoying than a documentary about, for instance, Oliver Cromwell in which behind the presenter there are a couple of actors galumphing about trying to look like the New Model Army. Just give me the sound of Melvyn Bragg and guests on In Our Time.

I have the same feeling when staying at hotels and over breakfast there is a tv with the morning news. Presented from a sofa. I remember being gobsmacked once when some bloke with a sheath of papers in his hand was sort of leaning backwards interviewing a Professor on a screen behind him about something very serious. It just made me laugh. Leave it to the Radio.

I don’t often have the opportunity to reproduce this poem;

Pressing On

in space
radio waves
have the speed of light

by nine a.m.
on the 6th October 2008
electromagnetic waves
at a frequency of 103.2 Megahertz
generated by current
oscillating in a circuit
modulated by Sylvia Hills
slipped their way
through the rings of Saturn

by midday
we can’t be precise
due to the initial effect
of the earth’s atmosphere
on the speed of sound
the planet Neptune
could tune to Preston fm
there are no listening figures
as yet

so ignoring Pluto
and who doesn’t
that’s it, we here,
past the planets
6 trillion miles
a light year
we’re in the Oort Cloud
the edge of the Solar System
new listeners are on a planet
orbiting Proxima Centauri
just proxima enough
at 25 trillion miles,
give or take,
to first hear Sylvia
while we’re broadcasting
the next Preston Guild

(first published in Acumen, 21st May 2010) 

Terry Quinn

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Marmalade

Another Saturday, another blog (and by the way, belatedly, happy Lancashire Day). Went to Birmingham, saw lots of snow, got freezing cold, watched a football match in which the Tangerines should have made marmalade of poor opposition but our finishing was off, we were denied a clear penalty and the home side bundled in a late winner. "So it goes", as Kurt Vonnegut remarked. 

making marmalade
Upon the final whistle we got held behind by West Midland Constabulary for  twenty minutes to allow the Birmingham fans to wander off into their second city night. After that it was a long, hungry ride home. Paddington Bear might have added "A wise bear always keeps a marmalade sandwich in his hat in case of emergency." I wish I had paid more attention to the hirsute little Peruvian.

And that tart reportage is about all you're going to get this week on topic, apart from a new poem partly, but only fleetingly, inspired by a Beatles song - you know which one ("Picture yourself on a boat on a river etc etc").

girl with the marmalade eyes
Bear in mind that this was the product of a late night scribbling session, another work-in-progress, and on reflection (if I ever get the time) subject to change to improve it.

Marmalade Eyes
Blue eyes sparkle like twinkling stars
sapphire bright irises, light and cheerful

Green eyes smile like welcoming pools
cool emerald isle lakes, dive in and swim

Grey eyes shine with wisdom and grace
the generous glow of worldly understanding

Brown eyes smoulder with subtle passion
chocolate to the depths with alluring flecks

but
Marmalade eyes are glaucous and slarkey
both sweet to behold but sticky like amber
so beware: return their deceptive glaze with 
care or end up ensnared in some terrible jam 

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Marillen Marmalade

Marmalade pronounced in the German way is “Mar–mey-lad-ay”.

At some stage while at Junior school. my mother introduced me to her Aunt Berta, taking me by train, to see her in Slovenia. I instantly fell in love with her – and being childless herself, this was reciprocated twofold. From my early teens on, two weeks of every holiday was spent in her rather grand villa, an Art Deco design built in the 1920’s for her by her wealthy parents as a wedding present.

Unfortunately when the second world war intervened, Slovenia became subsumed as part of Yugoslavia by a communist regime and what was once her sole large property had to be shared. Great Aunty Berta, being canny and the daughter of a very shrewd business family who had owned a string of fancy hotels and spa resorts, merely paid lip service to the communist officials who had come to inspect the living arrangements with a view to them subdividing the property and installing their own party favourites. She merely forestalled them, dividing the house into perfectly adequate accommodation that suited her while obeying the rules of the local apparatchiks. Thus, she kept the whole of the first floor for herself, with its grand wrap around balcony, the ground floor was given over to her in-laws, the lower ground floor to a succession of ‘worthy’ hand selected students and similarly, the attic area to another family, who had a daughter, Darija with whom I became firm friends.

Aunty Berta undertook to educate me ‘properly’ and from her, I learned how to set a table using much of the fine china, baccarat crystal glasses, silver cutlery and all manner of tableware and linens. It was from her, that I learned the finer things in life – waking every morning after a deep sleep on fine linens and cashmere blankets, to her bringing me a breakfast tray laden with goodies. This included a soft boiled egg which had been decanted from its shell, into a china cup and smashed up, ready to for me to eat – “No lady should have to take the shell off her own egg” , she admonished me.


But best of all was her ‘Marillen marmalade” – the most sublime of apricot jams I have ever tasted. As soon as she deemed that I was old enough to be initiated into the mystery of making that most perfect of concoctions, I was put to work, first helping her pick the apricots from her orchard which had to be ‘just ripe’, then stoning them, weighing them, mixing them with lemon juice and sugar from a large sack in the pantry before boiling them up and transferring the liquid gold into large Kilner jars. While were waiting for the apricots to get ripe, there were gherkins to be picked and pickled, string beans (’fisollen’) to harvest and bottle and peppers and tomatoes to lay out and dry in the sun.

My Aunty Berta had no qualms about extending my summer holiday until all the shelves in her pantry were literally groaning with the fruits of our labours. Unsurprisingly, I frequently arrived back at school for the autumn term, up to two weeks late. She felt that the education for life that she was imparting to me , was far more valuable than anything a school could give me. And who was I to argue? To my young eyes, she was the image of our very own queen of England and just as regal and gracious – and she had dined with Agatha Christie while on honeymoon on the River Nile – which is where the bed linen had come from. Truth was, she could charm anyone, and I was in thrall to her. She has long since passed, but is one of the many people I am looking forward to meeting up with again when it is my turn to make that final journey.

Aunty Berta taught me all her rules of manners and etiquette. Remembering how she once showed me how a lady should eat an orange or a banana if presented with such fruit as a dessert, (always with a fruit knife and fork, never by peeling with the fingers unless at a picnic!), I think she may well have approved of these first ten lines from D H Lawrence, on how to eat a fig. However, she would have been very contemptuous of the rest of the poem and would have decried it as far too vulgar…


From: Figs by D H Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied,
heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.
But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the
flesh in one bite.


Yvonne

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Pulling The Wool

I must apologise up front for the fact that very little of  this Saturday Blog will be about knitting. It hasn't featured prominently in my life and I don't have a lot to say on the topic. In fact it all fits into the following paragraph...

The first time I knitted anything was when I was six, at infants' school. Somehow I managed to make a pullover for my teddy-bear. I used brown wool that I suppose my mother had given me. My friend Janet Hill had to do the casting on and off for me. Teddy actually wore the pullover for a while, so it must have ended up as a reasonable approximation - unless he was just being kind, as was I in my teens when my mother used to knit me ghastly, unfashionable items of knitwear, baggy things with different length sleeves. Six was also the last time I knitted anything. And that's that. I feel as if I'm pulling the wool.

So let me head off at a slight tangent and talk about a couple of legitimately wool-related things:-

Thing the first is knitwear. I don't have much of it as I don't like to be too hot, and woollen items tend to be thick and on the prickly side. (Of course I'm excluding tangerine and white football scarves and hats.) I have a sleeveless pullover in natural 'black sheep' wool, in reality a mid grey; and a thicker 'sloppy joe' jumper in a darker 'black sheep' wool - though I haven't worn the latter this century as far as I can recall - must be a global warming signifier. They both came from the Black Sheep farm shop at Ingworth in Norfolk. I do love black sheep.

I don't like bright woollens (football regalia excluded) and I hate knitwear with pictures on! You'll never catch me sporting a 'Christmas' jumper. They are anathema to me. 😲

knitted in their own wool
Thing the second is the Merino sheep. I had always believed that sheep would shed their fleeces if they were not sheared - just as hairy cats moult in spring so as to be cooler in summer. I thought that was nature's design. Not so, apparently, with domesticated breeds of sheep. If they are not shorn in spring then one year's growth becomes two and so on. Of course that usually doesn't happen unless a sheep escapes and goes rogue. It has been a particular and attention grabbing problem with a series of Merino sheep in Australia. The Merino has a naturally dense and soft fleece, for which it is prized. So much so that in Spain where it originated, there was a strict law for centuries preventing its export. However the world moved on and now Merinos and Merino crosses are found on every continent, including the antipodes.

The problem for Australian Merinos when they stray off into the wild is that distances are so vast, there is a good chance they won't be relocated again for years, if ever - and in the wilderness of the outback their fleeces just keep on growing...and growing...and growing - to the point that they become so thick and heavy the poor sheep can hardly breathe, let alone move.

There have been a few cases of monster Merinos being found after years in the Australian Wilds and they required not only shearing but medical attention and rehabilitation for weakened joints. Take a look at the graphic below. When one considers that an average Merino fleece weights about 4.5 kilos, the fleeces taken from famous 'back from the wild' Merinos like Shaun, Shrek, Baarack and Chris (yes, they all get good press and pet names) have weighed in at between 20kilos and 41kilos - suggesting that they've gone between five and ten years without being shorn. And there may have been even weightier ones who've just collapsed under 50 kilo fleeces and died lonely Merino deaths undiscovered in the outback.  

monster Merinos and their yield
The quantity of good yarn an average Merino yields would be enough to knit seven natty jumpers. The quantity taken from the back of Chris weighed in as the world's heaviest fleece at 41 kilos and would have furnished enough yarn to knit over seventy jumpers. I thought you'd like to know that. If you want to see pictures of Shaun, Shrek, Baarack or Chris just Google e.g. 'Chris the Merino sheep'. I didn't want to post the pictures on my blog as they may have upset the readership.

I'll cast off another new poem, a bit on the dark side this one (I don't know why), ripe for a re-knitting probably:

Unravelling
   Hard to know when the snag occurred.
     Unremarked that first catching at the hem
       and you walked away never once looking
          back although you clearly guessed, as you
             overstepped at intervals the trail of thread
                that was unravelling upwards as you went.
                   Maybe you thought you'd get free of it all one day?
                      Who's to know and who's to say? It took years of course.
                          but in the end when once unwound to its full extent except for 
                             the collar knotted at your neck which tightened in a noose, your eyes
                                blazed terror like a spooked sheep, and you kept on walking, walking, walking
                                   till you choked and fell - but with such composure and singularity of purpose still.
                                               
            
 Thanks for reading. Stay warm, S ;-)

Friday, 19 November 2021

Knitting

I never thought I would be writing about knitting. As a child my mum used to knit a lot and she tried to teach me, but it wasn’t something I considered ‘cool’ enough for a lad who went to a dodgy school in Liverpool to do.

I imagined it was for older ladies and in fact my mum belonged to a knit and natter group of largely older ladies, making knitted squares which could be sewn together with others to make blankets for those in need of warmth and more comfort.

When one year I asked for an Everton scarf and hat, I imagined I would get one of the fashionable ones from the Everton club shop, but no, my mum knitted me a distinctly unfashionable blue and white one instead.

Also, when I ran my second- hand bookshop in Ambleside in Cumbria, the shop was located just opposite the place where the coach stop was. Regularly coach trips would arrive for the morning or afternoon and often a significant number of people who got off the coach would come into the shop and many would buy books, thus helping trade tick over. I recall one coach load was all older ladies, about forty of them(maybe it was a W I outing) and several of them spied my shop and this led to most of them crowding in. 

One by one they came up to me and asked if I had any books on knitting or any knitting patterns? My response each time was negative (I didn’t) and I said we have books on most subjects, but just not knitting. In not stocking them I had thought there wouldn’t be much demand and anyway it was a boring (to me) subject.


I guess you can get my thoughts about knitting by now? Boring, not cool, for older ladies and generally annoying. But I am wrong. It took my daughter to show me how wrong I am. 

She started to learn to knit in her teens and she makes lovely small knitted toys and presents for people. Not only that but the process of knitting is something that helped her greatly when she had some OCD issues, as it was very calming and productive. (There is an obvious satisfying outcome.) Even more than that she is now using knitting and creative skills to help other women in a community group that she leads which enables women to cope better with trauma and other challenging situations they face.

So, knitting is good for young people, good as a way of mixing the generations, good for helping people through anxiety or stress and good for producing lovely hand made small gifts which can be personalized. (Who would have thought it? Not me as a teenager.)

Greek modelling a classic red Himation (not even blue)

Classic knitting

She knitted him a Himation
it was her latest design
Psyche confronts Eros
a spartan marriage undone


Tension                                            Abbreviations                                Yarns
carry out a tension check        BO - bind off                                    colossal
before commencing                  CO - cast off
as he wanted                                 M1R - make one right
a football                                         PR - previous
s                                                          RIB- ribbing                                    Patterns
c                                                          RT- right twist                                 loopy
a                                                          RC- right cross
r                                                          SL- slip
f                                                          ST- stumble
until everything                           SP - spear (him now or                 Instructions
unravelled                                      you’ll be ancient history)             mythical

Thanks for reading, and keep knitting. 
David Wilkinson

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Knitting - get creative

When I was a very small girl, my Auntie Effie would come to visit and sit while mum and dad had a well earned night off. She always came with a bag of yarn and knitting needles, sometimes with beads too. She was a well seasoned kniiter, I would sit watching in wonder as she designed and knitted fabulous bespoke outfits for my collection of dolls. 

Barbie, Midge and Sindy would soon be decked out in stunning dresses and hats in bright colours. Pink and black a-line stripes, lemon and white with looped hems and one in particular, a smart green suit with gold beads knitted through the skirt and round the neck of the jacket. She was so wonderfully creative. 

When I asked her to teach me to knit, there was a technical problem. Auntie effie was left handed - unlike me. To her credit she persevered with me and soon I was knitting and I even managed to tuck one needle under my armpit, as she did. It was a technique that helped me knit more quickly, The way she taught me to pass the wool in and out of my fingers helped me keep a steady tension. She turned me into a great knitter and being a child who rarely sat still, the respite it gave to my parents was very welcome. 

In my teens and early twenties I kniited for myself. I chose complex and unusual patterns and my sweaters were a bit of a talking point among my group of friends. "Is that one of yours?" they would ask. I was always proud to respond in the affirmative. I was always buying new wool and there was usually a sweater on the go. 

When I was pregnant with my son, I embarked on a new project: a full layette. A jumpsiut with zip front in white with pale blue and pale green flecks. A sweater, pants with shoulder straps and a matching hat. I tried very hard to knit booties but fell short with every attempt. I needed a lesson or two from Effie but by then she had passed. 

I actually started kniting the jumpsuit in hospital after he was born. All the other mums were amazed at how quickly it was completed. I took him home wearing it. 

My dad's niece knitted and as Matthew grew she made him two gorgeous aran jumpers, one cableknit and one red and cream striped. They were treasures. I think I still have them in a drawer somewhere.

I began knitting his christening shawl and struggled to support the sheer weight of it as my baby bump grew bigger. I machined white satin ribbon all around the edges and now it is a family hierloom. I was so proud of my achievements. I also made him a Sam the Scarecrow - he loved it until he wore it out. 

Over the years I have knitted baby bankets, teddies and beanie hats for nephew's babies. There is nothing better than giving someone a gift that they cannot buy in a shop.  I haven't knitted for a long while but my daughter tells me that her friend is expecting. Her nana used to knit but she passed recently so I suppose it's time to get out the patterns, kneedles and yarn. It's time to get knitting. 


 



Auntie Effie

She knitted cack-handed 
but her patience prevailed
she taught me a craft
that would keep me sane. 
When deep in depression
I picked up my yarn
and click-click-clicked
my way back again.  


Thanks for reading. Adele

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Oh What a Tangled Mess

16:22:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , , 1 comment

When I was about seven or eight the fashion magazines were full of glamorous young women sporting knitted twinsets. For those readers younger than about sixty, that’s a short sleeved jumper and matching cardigan, often teamed with pearls.  In my eyes they looked very posh. 


We were a working class family with a difference. We (or rather, my mum) had a knitting machine. This was a very up to date, very slick piece of machinery. Quite a status symbol, although it wasn’t bought for that reason. You attached the wool, pulled the shuttle back and forth, and watched in awe as the garment grew.  Mum had knitted with a ball of wool and a pair of needles for as long as I could remember, and like most children of the fifties, my brothers and I were frequently kitted out in knitted jumpers, scarves, cardigans and balaclavas. When the knitting machine arrived it opened up a whole new world. Mum could knit skirts, dresses, jackets, all in double quick time, and I soon became the proud owner, at eight years of age, of a knitted twinset.  


It was at about this time that I became the object of some class bullying, led by one particularly spiteful girl. Although I didn’t have a name for it then, I was sent to Coventry, and spent a very miserable few weeks (months? It seemed an age) suffering, literally in silence. Now, I don’t remember a direct correlation between the appearance of the middle class twinset and the start of the bullying, but, looking back, this particular girl had accompanied me on a photography session with our ‘nature’ teacher (who obviously interpreted ‘nature’ very liberally - and thereby hangs another long tale..). I’d been proudly wearing the twinset, and I vaguely remember some sarcastic comment, so, who knows? If it hadn’t been the twin set it would have been something else, I’m sure. For whatever reason - and I never did find out - this girl was determined to make my life miserable. 


My first glimpse into this particular craft world, came with a French knitting set.  Every little girl had one. It consisted of a cotton reel with 4 nails in the top.  The wool was twisted around the nails, with the help of a crochet hook, and a long thin snake began to twist its way  through the hole in the bottom of the reel. I never did discover what to do with the finished article. I think it usually ended up as a rather pathetic scarf for one of my dolls. 





From there I progressed to proper knitting and larger items. The pairs of knickers I knitted for my favourite doll, Suzy, must have been very hot and uncomfortable, but I never once heard her complain. At about the age of sixteen I bought some flesh coloured wool (why??) and set about knitting myself a jumper. It was the most unsuitable item to be worn on a Saturday night at Tottenham Royal, as not only was it hot, but it was also short, figure hugging and looked, from a distance, as if I were naked from the waist up. To add to its ‘appeal’ I had added a small pocket which sat directly over one breast, and had a delicately embroidered flower in the middle.  I got a lot of attention that night, and never wore it again. 


There are so many knitting stories I could relate here, some of them successes, some disasters, and, by far, the majority ending up half finished in carrier bags, shoved in cupboards.  When I was about twenty I had a craze of knitting from old patterns, and made my husband a complicated 1940s zip up cardigan in dark green, followed by a totally ‘made up as I went along,’ 1940s style sleeveless vest, with text and patterns all across the back. One line I remember knitting was, ‘Keith Maniac from Guatemala,’ which was an in joke between us. Dave wore it with pride. I can see why he was anxious to marry me.  When I was expecting our first baby I got hold of a fiddly French pattern and knitted a babygro in the finest wool. It took a while, not only due to the thinness  of the wool, but also because my husband insisted I knit ‘Up the Rovers’ across the back.  Strangely, said son has always supported Blackpool. 


At about this time it was my brother’s 21st birthday. I asked what he’d like and he requested a vest like Dave’s. John had given me a list of things he’d like on the back. The only one I remember was a guitar. I set off with numerous balls of wool, some picture references, a wad of graph paper, and needles poised.  My brother was 65 last birthday. Each year, he asks plaintively if it’s finished yet. It might be, very shortly, if only I could find the carrier bag with the half completed jumper and 27 balls of tangled wool. 


The Ins and Outs and Ups and Downs of Knitting by Jill Reidy 


Clock ticking

Needles clicking

Wool spinning 

Mum grinning

Getting going

Jumper growing

Stitches slipping 

Energy dipping 

Needles flying

Mum sighing

Wool tangling

Ends dangling

Eyes darting 

Ladders starting

Needles sticking

Clock still ticking….



Knit one 

Pearl one 

Knit one 

Pearl one 

Increase 

decrease 


And repeat…. 


Thanks for reading ……….. Jill