Thursday, August 30, 2007

Is that Ralph and Hughie up ahead?

I've got Ferry Dread. Tomorrow I drive to Aberdeen and board the overnight ferry to Shetland. This, my dears, is An Epic Adventure for Ms. Mole ( she who doesn't get out much). This is such an epic that I've been waking up extra specially early for the last week, just so that I could have extra time to spend lying wide-awake and worrying about my upcoming appointment with Messrs. Rrrrralph and Huuuuuughie, the Chunder brothers. Wide awake has now been joined by pre-boarding nausea with a light smattering of panic attacks. From bitter experience, I predict that by Monday, all this pointless fretting will have taken physical shape in the form of a huge throbbing spot on my chin which, dammit, I'm waaaaay to old to be sprouting.

The ferry, source of all this senseless fretting, is ploughing its way across the sea as I write, trailing streamers of vomit in its wake. People suck their breath in through their teeth when I tell them I'm sailing to Shetland. I think they're trying to tell me it's going to be a mite choppy. I'm not on it yet - I'm still frantically enjoying these last precious hours of non-moving floors and broadband availability and tapping out my last missive like the last warrior left alive tapping out their farewells in Morse.

There won't be any pictures for a while, not that this blog has been exactly heavily illustrated thus far, but if there's time tomorrow before I go, I want to show y'all the bag I made to hold my new knitting project which turns out to be a jumper for Himself, but not the tweedy, chuinky thing I'd envisaged but an altogether quieter, softer affair in dark green Jaeger dk. What the hell am I doing knitting a manly jumper in dk? If we're talking epic adventures, this is surely one. How long will it take? How many miles to Babylon?

I'm trying to do the maths, so talk amongst yourselves while I add up using all my fingers and thumbs. Er. It took nearly nine months to knit a jumper for youngest daughter. Her Daddy has to be about four times her chest size, so I reckon I'll be sliding it off the pins some time in 2010.

Think i'll go and lie down in a darkened room and worry about that too. It's not like it's going to be an exactly entertaining thing to knit, given that Himself didn't much care for the Kaffe Fasset 'look' but liked the shape. imagine a Kaffe Fasset without the patttern except round the cuffs, hem and neckline. Yeah? Zzzzzzzz. I might just have invented a cure for insommnia. Now you too can lie awake in the darkness, imagining that you're knitting miles and miles of dark green dk into a vast ribbon, extending off into the darkness, undulating gently, up and down, uuup and down, uuuup...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

towering crates

The studio is filling up with crates of paints, sketch books, brushes, books, artwork, portfolios and assorted stuff without which I think I'll perish in my new home in northern climes. Why I think I need two ipods, God alone knows, but hey. The big ipod holds everything I've ever loved, but can't dance to, and the wee one holds shit-kicking stuff to make me shift my lazy ass at the gym.

Well, that'll be the reason then, eh? However, the leashes and leads and cables I now need to feed and restore and download stuff to these little tyrants is becoming a Gordian knot of mythical proportions. Not to mention the leashes and cables that the laptop might require, and the mobile and the digital camera and, and, and... Heck, a watercolour palette and brushes look rereshingly old-tech by comparison. Haven't even begun to think about packing knitting stuff, which, considering my destination, is nothing short of heresy.

I feel like I've spent the last two days disengaging from life on the mainland. Casting off nautically and, ironically, knittingly. My fiddle sits in a corner of the studio, wondering if i'll remember to take it with me. Damn straight. I may not be able to play worth a damn, but with six weeks of solitude ahead of me, I aim to improve.

It's dark out here in the studio. It's nearly eleven o'clock at night. My four new spreads for the dragons books are drafted out on stretched watercolour paper and ready to go. Tick. The crates are nearly full. Tick. My sketches are off the walls and into a portfolio. Tick. I feel like a ghost in my own life, neither here nor there.

Tomorrow I'll have to engage with my wardrobe. For that, I'll probably require sedated.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Selkie rising

As I headed in to another event at the Edinburgh bookfest, and wiffling, as you do, the closer you get to going onstage, wiffling about everything and nothing in order to fill the gaping chasm between the private writer and the public Orfer. I recall that I was explaining that it's easier to swim in Loch Fyne at New Year than it is to go on stage and speak to hundreds of small children. The young woman organizing the children's book events suggested that perhaps I was more selkie than author, due to my obvious preference for wild swimming over wild weans. The idea went deep, hit some resonant nerve and tugged my thoughts off into a different direction from the oh-my-heavens-I-have-to-get-up-on-stage-and-be-wonderful kind of tailspin that they'd been in en route to the event.

I swam through the following two public events, then. Like the Bedouin saying about one's soul travelling as fast as a camel, here in Caledonia, perhaps our souls travel like seals. And besides, I'd rather be a seal than a camel any day. My compass is now firmly set to North and as the days tick past, I'm beginning to wonder what the taste of freedom might be.

Can't, for the life of me remember the flavour.

I was seventeen when I was last just me. Seventeen when I had my first little baby boy. Seventeen and totally unknowing of both myself and of what was out there. Now I'm forty-eight, not that much wiser, and like the selkie, I am about to cast off my assumed skin and swim back to the element from which I came. It's terrifying but at the same time, I am hastening towards it. The closer I come to leaving, the closer I feel as if I'm going to be swept up in an effervescent surge which is as exhilerating as it is irresistible.

On the other hand, I may spend the entire journey with my head over the ship rails giving it big rrrrrralphs.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

200 in a tent

It must be Book Festival time, then. I have studiously avoided going anywhere near Charlotte Square until today, mainly because the mere sight of its white tents make me hyperventilate with what has to be a cut-down version of stage fright.

Understandable, really. After all, would you want to stand up in front of 200 five-year-olds and talk to them for an hour? Without gin. Or props, or really anything other than native cunning, three litres of adrenaline and cojones of steel. Actually, although cojones are not the most feminine of attributes, today, as I growled at my tiny children, I sounded like a bloke. I have no idea what nastiness is brewing in my throat, but whatever it is, it has given me a deep and erotically enhanced voice. Or so I'm told. In my own ears it just sounds like Amy Winehouse on steroids, but without rhythm or melody. And besides, all I want is to be able to get my hands down my own throat and itch that scratch. Hack, hack, cough, cough.

Listen. Here it goes. Rrrrrr, achhhrrrght, urrrrrchrrrg.

I had a coughing fit as I was signing books after the event, and hacked and choked and spluttered to such an extent that I could see the rising panic in the eyes of the little boy who'd brought me a book to sign. I swear I could see him thinking - I'm NEVER going to be writer when I grow up, not if I end up like her. In the hideous, embarassing silence during which I kept apologizing for being this ghastly choking version of my normal self ( a silence which was broken with hack, hack, cough, coughing sounds) my post-event coffee and buns went untouched while I groped around in my bag for some disgusting anaesthetic throat lozenges of the variety which trash your tastebuds and leave the inside of your mouth feeling like a trench at Ypres. Plus, for the following hour after partaking of one of those oral thermonuclear devices, everything you consume tastes of hospitals. Yummy. Went out for lunch courtesy of publisher and tried to enjoy salmon ( fishy hospital ) drink champagne, ( fizzy hospital, anyone?)but my heart wasn't in it. I think my heart has left for Shetland, actually. Or if not my heart, then my soul - the blackened, shrivelled little prune that it is.

One of the sheer joys this week has been reading Finn Family Moomintroll to youngest daughter at her bedtime. Have decided that my true nature is deeply, irretrievably Snork Maidenish. I had Tove Jansson's books when I was 10, and re-reading them now is like stumbling through the door into a forgotten, light-filled attic room. The illustrations set off depth-charges in my memory; depth charges loaded with the inspirational equivalent of sherbet.

Fizzz, fizzz, bubble hiss. Hack, cough, rrrrr, acccchtgggh.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Shetland calling

Or not, as the case may be. Suddenly realised that I am rather alarmingly uninformed regarding what and where and with who I am supposed to be working during my upcoming residency in Shetland.

I didn't mention my upcoming residency in Shetland - otherwise known as Knitter's Valhalla? Perhaps I was silent on the subject less those of you who knit immediately email me with unfeasably long shopping lists which begin 'one sheep, preferably black' and end with - 'if you've got any spare room in your car, perhaps you could squeeze in a couple of hanks of undyed, hand-spun, peed on by virgins and extruded by cormorants extra-fine cashmere/llama twist -i'll owe you big. Mwah, mwah.

To that, meh.

So, yeah. Six weeks in Shetland beckon. I am there under my writer for children hat, but as you probably know, under that selfsame hat there also lurks the writer for adults, the illustrator who wants to save the world, the kintter with L-plates and the fiddler who ought to know better, but doesn't.

Quite a hat, my hat. Shetland is the first time since the second of December 1976 that I've actually had more than three days on my own. That's 2.12.1976. And that's a hell of a long time ago. The little boy who was born back then, who is now an adult, rather plaintively ( despite being almost thirty-one) enquired if I wanted any visitors while I was away. To which the resounding reply has to be - I'd rather floss with a circular sander, whilst eating bees and sticking pins in my eyes.

That'll be a 'no', then.

Who am I again? Will I know when I meet myself? I've been a mother for a long time, adding four more children to the original roll-call. Life, as I know it, involves an awful lot of shopping and cooking and listening. I do have approximately eight hours a day on my own to write and illustrate, but at the back of my mind, despite sitting sploshing on watercolours or sucking the end of my pen and looking every inch the lady artist, I'm silently working out what's in the fridge and what I can do with it, and how long I can avoid having to go and buy more damn food, and when I'm supposed to squeeze in time to make bread, cakes, scones, grind my own garam masala, make stawberry vodka for the winter, deal with the gluts of fruit and veg ( not this summer, though) make jam, jelly, creme de cassis, more bread, sourdough starter, pizza. And work. Do my vat return. Think up new books. Promote older ones. Go to the gym at 5.30 a.m.

God, I'm tired. Perhaps I could go to Shetland and sleep, but then I'd miss the whole experience and wake, sometime around the middle of October in time to go back to the above paragraph.

Meanwhile, as the days tick past before I go, I'm waking in the middle of the night with lists of things running through my head. In keeping with my true nature, my first list for Shetland began:

goose fat
smoked paprika
dried chillies
bay leaves

and then I found out that the place where i'm staying doesn't have an oven - it has a nuke. Nukes and me equal disaster. We had one for six weeks a long time ago, during which I managed to set it on fire baking a potato, and the ghastly quality of everything that came out of its pinging door made me a nuke-hater for life. So. Six weeks of a nuke and two electric rings. This, for a woman who puts her food list first among all the millions of other lists she'll have to write, this is cruel and unusual punishment.

On the other hand, it might just be the bit of grit that this oyster needs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

pass the password

How many numbers do you need to function in this weird world? I can just about remember my postcode, my three telephone numbers and my mobile number, but as to the rest? Pfffffff. Fergeddit.

Am I alone in having to reset my Paypal password every time I use the service? Or having bank guarantee cards spit themselves back out of cash machines, pin numbers come up wrong and even having my account 'locked' because I failed to come up with the correct answer to a security question which I'd chosen because it had such a non-ambiguous answer? And I'm not officially senior enough yet to have 'senior moments', so what's my excuse?

For the defence, I'd like the jury to note that I'm an illustrator and writer, not a paid up graduate of Bletchley Park. Despite being the daughter of a tax inspector, numbers are most emphatically not my thing - I can barely add up a column of figures with a calculator - which makes for some interesting times when I sit and do my own vat return every three months. Not to mention the complete mess I get myself into when I have to scale down a knitting pattern, or calculate something based on yarn length/weight in order to use a substitute yarn. Patterns that begin - cast on 187 stitches- bring me out in hives, especially when that instruction is followed by the words - in kidsilk haze. Which brings me to the shawl of shawls. Or at least, my first and only shawl to date.

It's finished. The knitting part, at least. Also the crocheted edge, which looks a lot nicer than it sounds. At the moment, it languishes in a plastic bag in the small lounge which is pretty heretical, given the many thousands of stitches and thoughts and woman-hours invested in its creation. I take it out of its bag and marvel at its resemblance to the summer seas of the northwest coast of Scotland. Not this year, you understand. Were I to make a shawl for this summer, it would be in silver and grey and deep oily blue. I stroke my shawl gently across my face, but I haven't worn it yet because until I dampen it, lay it out and pin it in place to reveal its hidden pattern, it's not really properly finished.

I'm not posting a picture just yet because I have to block it, and for that, I need a spare bed to pin it out on, and every bed in our house is taken. This is due to eldest daughter's thirteenth birthday celebrations which, apart from presents, are a group of three friends for a sleepover, due to arrive in a giggling, frothy tide in about three hours time. I picked up sleeping bags and brought them home, and all of them smelled floral. This, gentle reader, is the true difference between teenage girls and teenage boys. The girls' sleeping bags smell ilke lilies. Had it been a teen boy sleepover, the inside of my car would smell like a basil factory.

Monday, August 13, 2007

tomorrow's gonna hurt

Spent two hours from five thirty a.m. today, reacquainting myself with the gym. It's been a long, lonnnnggggg time, due to my trashed foot, but first up, I had a timely reminder of the dangers of excessive, obsessional running. Put your towels down, stop playing with the settings on your heart monitors and gather round while I kvetch. There's a gym member who, for privacy's sake, I'll call Madathena - She Who Runs No Matter What. She runs and runs and runs. Despite being built like a stick insect, probably weighing less than half of what I do and being old enough to know better, she thuds down on the plate of the treadmill like a stampeding hippo and you can hear her thumpy thumpetty footfall over the shrieks and manly gruntings coming from behind the shut door of the Spinning Studio. I use the word' Studio' loosely, you understand. Also 'spinning'. Studios I imagined were for painting in and spinning was the work of spiders, no?

Anyway. Back to Madathena. She runs through thick and thin. Or, in her case, she runs through thin and thinner. She runs through injury, after numerous operations from evil surgeons who appear to collude with her in her body dysmorphia, through obvious evidence from her emaciated frame that it would far rather she concentrated on consuming several tankerloads of pasta followed by three carrier bags full of nuts, in the hopes of returning herself to a half-human bio-mass. Madathena runs marathons as a way of life. We watch and shudder. Her shape, her painful limping gait, her obvious fanaticism is painful to watch. She's killing herself in front of our eyes. Some of us, like me, the Big Mouth, beg her to eat something, but her goal is to be thin and win. She looks ill, and I know from everything I've read that she is, the poor lamb. Inside and out.

So, first thing this morning, Madathena was sitting using her arms to turn the wheel on the arm bike thingy which is the last cardiovascular machine resort of people in wheelchairs, amputees and chaps who want to beef up their arms in new and creatively torturous ways. I lasted one month doing ten minutes a week on this monster and gave up, but then, I had alternative strategies due to not being injured like she is. Except for this lady, injury is a permanent state. She limps a lot, she has to bandage her hands because the skin is breaking down, she looks so tired and weary you just want to pick her up and take her home to tuck her in, oh, Ghoddddd, I could go on and on. So, I stopped by her arm bike thingy ( stop me if i'm getting too technical here) to chat and she was for once, quite cheery, and also, looking a wee bit healthier. She'd put on a little weight, had her hair done and she looked a whole lot better. I said so, but she denied looking good. She felt fat, ugly, hadn't run for ages, but had just had a toe amputated and was hoping to run in a few weeks. Amputated? I'm sorry? Reason being, she ran a marathon recently, was in lots of pain, and discovered she'd run her twenty six mile span with a dislocated toe. Remember, it's 5.30 a.m. and I haven't eaten yet. As I swayed and the gym went dark around me, I looked at this fanatic, this brutalized and broken woman and told myself to get a grip about my running thing before I turned into a demented, but not stick-thin, obsessive.

Of course, that lasted about ten minutes till I warmed up and a little demon crept into my ear and said - go on, try a wee run, what harm can it do? To which, the short answer is that despite eight weeks of no running, I ain't over the worst of it yet. I ran slo..w....l...y. for precisely two minutes ( I checked on the digital display) and promised myself to run two and a half minutes next time and build back up sensibly and yadda yadda. and now, ten hours later, my foot hurts and I feel like kicking myself. And how illogical is that, pray? I'd have to borrow someone else's leg to do that...

Tomorrow all my other muscles will kick in with their delayed whinge, and I'll barely be able to bend down without screaming out loud. I can't beleive how unfit I am - I was doing abductors and adductors which always feel faintly gynacological ( you NEVER see the blokes using these machines) and my legs flatly refused to keep pushing the weight I used to if not lightheartedly, at least, competently shift. Not today shweethoit, it said and turned into an official fail.

I must be ill, though. I stood in the yarn department of Johnnny Loulou and didn't buy anything ( apart from three more balls of Rowan denim to carry on with the mindless blanket till I get inspired to do something else) I'm in a Knitter's Quandary, which is every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds. It seems all wrong to get immersed in a huge new project before going to Shetland. I feel as if I should go there and let a project find me.

Man. Peace and love and cashmere...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

rain on meeeheee

How much rain is there up there? The Inuit reputedly have many different words for snow and at this rate, we Celts are going to have to invent a whole new vocabulary to cope with our new, increased levels of precipitation. Right now, we're having 'desprain' - the kind of rain that falls at the end of a summer during which skies have been unremittingly grey and swollen. Desprain is a despairing kind of rain, falling on the beaten and subdued heads of a population who have suffered much and are starting to rust.

Yesterday we had 'p'sain' also known as 'p'saindownagain'. The shorter form is in more common usage, but can sound a bit oathish. However, oaths are forgivable and singularly appropriate, given the current weather. More wetness and I will take to shouting at the sky in a fashion which will earn me few friends but possibly garner a free fitting for a khaki jacket which does up the back with long tapes.

Oh, sigh. Summer of broken promise. Summer of limping feebleness. Wester Ross was beautiful, but cold, windy and wettish. We stayed in a tiny log cabin right on the machair beside an exquisite beach, but it was way too cold to swim, so we went for walks as long as my pathetic foot could manage. Ten miles was the best, but taken at a pace which did little in the way of mood-elevation or cardiovascular improvement. We cycled a little ( I had three flat tyres - I mean, friends and neighbours, it's hard not to feel picked on under such assaults from the god of small discouragements...) and I spent rather too many nights awake and thinking dark thoughts in the complete blackness. 

My current bleakness may be a passing phase, it may be a sane response to the mess our world is in, or it may just be me trying to fight off the greys which descend to engulf me from time to time. Or all three. Or perhaps, having come to the end of two all-consuming knitting projects, I'm now in something akin to knitter's limbo. 

Sweater is finished ( sleeves were indeed unpicked and re-sewn in the front seat of a car hurtling up to Inverness on the first morning of our holiday, and worn one scant hour later by my delighted daughter. We had to buy provisions for our week in Wester Ross, and thus, we found ourselves parked outside what appeared to be the biggest Tesco supermarket in the Western Hemisphere. Oh, joy. There we were, blinking like a family of don't-get-out-much moles in the entrance to this shiny, glittering consumer hell and wondering where to begin or whether to simply lie down in the car park and sob.  As a daughter-location-device, the new sweater performed admirably. As I trawled the vegetable section, I could see the sweater out of the corner of my eye, dazzling in its primary colours, clashing so wildly it made my eyeballs sing. Subtle, it ain't. 

Shawl is twenty double crochet stitches from completion. Don't know if I can bring myself to do it. The anti-climax of finishing might be my personal tipping point, and like some completed Munro-bagger, I'll have to begin all over again. I think my next epic has to be a huge burly, manly thing for Him Outdoors. Dark blue, tweedy and probably so heavy it'll bring him to his knees every time he slips it over his head, it'll probably bring me to my knees financially when I buy the yarn. In the meantime, I'm knitting squares of denim yarn as part of the ongoing picnic blanket project which is my bastardized version of a picnic blanket from 'A Book of Blankets to Knit During the Dark Teatime of Your Soul' possibly subtitled 'Pointless Projects You'll Never Finish But Which Stop You From Reacquainting Yourself With Your Past In Which Tobacco Featured Heavily'. 

Rowan's denim yarn is beautiful - pleasing to handle, cool to work with in the summer ( oh, how we laffed) and crisp in its stitch detail, especially after knitting with kidsilk haze for the past few months. Last year I managed nine squares of a ninety square picnic blanket before hurling the lot into a shoebox  and putting it out of sight so that its uncompleted state wouldn't serve as another thing to beat myself up with. This year, I've managed to knit five. A grand total of fourteen squares out of ninety does not a picnic blanket make. Like I said, it's an ongoing project.