Friday, October 26, 2007

being unfaithful

Ah, Fiddle and Pins. Erm. Drink? Have a seat? Um... No, I'm fine. Well, yes, but.....

I've got something to tell you. You might want that drink after all. We've been seeing each other, fairly regularly since, what - June? July? Whatever. Oh, you've got the exact date when we first started, well, whatever.

So. It's been great. No, really. It's been uh....real. Oh, why am I so crap at this stuff? You'd think serial philanderers like me would have the exit strategies down pat. No. I didn't mean that. I'm being ironic. Sort of.

Whaddya mean I'm being immature? I've been away for what - a week, and already the accusations are flying? what did I do/ Or, more importantly, what did you think I did? God. Grammar is leaving me. So. i'll stop faffing about and give it to you straight. I've, uh....

Another drink? Ice? Lime? Think I'll join you.

Okay. Here we go. Last week I had an approach made to me by a very big and gorgeous blogsite/community thing. I have to admit, I was asking for it. gagging, even. I may have made some moves in its direction myself, but hey, I never thought I'd, so quickly.

Oh, be still, my beating heart.

And when it happened - it was like a thunderbolt. We're talking about thunderbolts in my in-tray, you understand. Wouldn't want you to get the wrong end of the stick and start thinking that I was sleeping around. Heck no. It's far, far worse.honey, I can't put it any plainer that I have been blogging promiscuously. Dipping in and out of anything and everything that takes my fancy. I never knew that it could be like this, though...

Yes, I know this is hard for you. I'll try and wipe that blissful smile off my face. No, it's not a smirk.

So. how did it begin? Just a little invitation from frecklegirl. Oh God. I was weak. i was flattered. heck, I'm human. I couldn't resist. I didn't use any protection. I just, uhhhh, went for it. And, damn, it was good. But hey, you don't want to hear that, right? Oh, but if it had happened to you - you'd've fallen for it too.

You wouldn't have? What d'you mean you don't knit? What's wrong with you?

I knew you wouldn't understand. that's precisely the reason I did it. Because this big gorgeous website/community/blog thing understood exactly where I'm coming from. I didn't have to say left a bit, up a bit, oh yeah, that's it, ohhh, mmmmhmmm. It knew. Intuitively.

So. If you're okay with me going off-blog for my weird knitting needs, then I'm happy to remain faithful to you in terms of my inner thoughts, wishes, dreams and all that stuff. I mean I'll still tell you about my knitting stuff, but I'll save the really passionate, perverse and full-on yarn and pins stuff for my Significant Other.

Ravelry, dot com. Was there ever a sweeter name? Listen to the wind, it calls raaaavelllllrrrryyyyyyy. Ooops. sorry. I get a bit distracted at times.

So. Yeah. More later. Work, the mainland and all that stuff is, as predictwed, swallowing me whole. Speak soon. Mwah, mwah.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tesco Dire (ct)

Now I know I'm back.

Last night found myself idly leafing through an unsolicited and unwelcome brick-like catalogue from that well-known superstore and laughing with an edge of hysteria at the volumes of utter crap within its one thousand unecessary pages. Did you know that you can buy forensic face-reconstruction kits for your children to play at being...what? Kay bloody Scarpetta?

Oh. My. God.

Or that the Disney High School Musical Studio ( 'learn moves and songs') is marketed for ages six plus? Six? SIX? High School Musical Mystery Date is slightly better - it's for ages 7 plus. I guess they can put on condoms by then, eh?

Have we grown so utterly desensitised to what childhood is about that we can tolerate this? Let's hope not. I'm going to log on to the page and ask some pointy questions. Care to join me?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the eye of the roost

Not sure if I'll be able to remain upright once this boat enters Da Roost which is the choppy stretch of water between Fair Isle

Geography not my strong suit. 

So. I'm in the bar, nervously necking g&t as if there's about to be a drought. We sail in forty minutes and an hour after that I'll find out if I'm going to survive this trip without redecorating my cabin.

Packing up all my earthly goods took far, far longer than I'd anticipated. This is in part because I had brought at least twice what I required sartorially, gastronomically and work-wise. Plus, I have contributed my small share towards Shetland's tourist economy in buying stuff to bring back to my little girls. And I have also received gifts aplenty. And yeah - I can't bear to throw anything out if it looks like it may come in useful at some future date. Oh jeez, my poor car.

Where 'stuff' is concerned, I need to cultivate a serene and chilled Buddhist ideal of non-attachment. I need to learn how to let go. What has also taken far longer than it should is my paranoia regarding leaving my car stuffed to the roof with goodies ( electric violin, artwork, computer, i-pods, notebooks,  favourite cashmere jumper, best of irreplacably best coats, hillwalking gear, oh heck I could never replace the current contents of my car) in the centre of wicked and sinful Aberdeen ( well, this is according to a good friend and Aberdeen resident who regularly warns us to strip our car of consumer durables every time we go visit him - me, I'd've left all manner of crap wilfully displayed on the dashboard, but not any more, no way, not now.) I'm stopping briefly enroute home to my wee girls so that I can take my youngest son out to breakfast for, bless his little pointy head, he has promised to rise up out of his student pit on Sunday morning at 8.00 a.m. to come and have breakfast with me.

I know. This is not normal student behaviour, especially not on the other side of Saturday night. I haven't seen him since I left to come to Shetland ( once the boat sails, I'll have to amend that to       'since I left to go to Shetland'. Past tense. I used to live on Shetland, once upon a dream) and I won't see him again until his Christmas break, so this breakfast will be doubly precious ; in a family of five children, having one child all to oneself is a rare treat. 

That is, if he gets up on time. 

Today and yesterday have been a long unwinding, rewinding of the steps leading up to my arrival, reversing and unravelling it and turning it into departure. Yesterday began with a pre-recorded interview about the residency with Mary Blance for Radio Shetland's book programme ( tx 1st November) The interview was recorded at her kitchen table in amongst her teetering mountains of review copies, ( Mary scales the peaks of literature while Andy, her other half, scales the peaks of Britain's mountain summits) her generous coffee pot, neon kettle and freezer that had to be turned off since its motor was making a bid for stardom on the airwaves. We spoke of everything, but only a fraction of this will make it to broadcast on the 1st November.

By which time, mainland life will have swallowed me whole. Living for a brief spell in Shetland has given me a real hunger for living on an island - a hunger that we do not have the means to satisfy right now. I'll come back to this later because it is a thread of wishing that has woven through my life ever since I was a little girl and first stepped foot on the island of Mull. There have been a few islands since then, but Shetland has sunk a deep hook in my heart. Later. Much later. We will find a way back to the garden.

The engines rumble and thrum underfoot. Time to neck my medicinal gin and head outside to watch the land disappear off the starboard side. And say a little prayer to the small demon of mal-de-mer ; please let me not redecorate my cabin. 

Friday, October 12, 2007

the sea will wave goodbye

The last three days have been full of farewells : to the children I've been working with for the past six weeks ; to the friends I've made ; to colleagues I've worked with and lastly, to this magical place. I'm saving my final goodbye for Shetland itself, for the land, for the shore and for the sea. Tomorrow, if there's time after I've packed, I'll take myself somewhere beautiful and say thankyou. Just Shetland and me without anything or anyone in between.

Leaving is very odd. I guess because I've looked forward to doing this residency here for so long, I'm wondering how life-after-Shetland will be. After all, I won't have it to look forward to any more. Being here has exceeded my expectations, but also has been utterly consonant with what I'd hoped I might find. Does that make sense?

One of the best things that I've found here is people who have said exactly what lies in their hearts. People who have opened up and let me in. To be allowed to share in the secret territory of another human heart is a gift. For this, and for many hours of laughter, conversation and occasional silences as comforting as a feather sofa, thankyou.

Saying goodbye to the two classes of children with whom I've shared six intense weeks of work was emotionally rigorous. My P7 class at Brae Primary had all collaborated on a book which they gave to me on my last day, and insisted that I read out loud to them. I got as far as page two and my voice went all squeaky and to my horror, I began to cry. Far from embarassing my children, my leaky, snuffly, squeaky metamorphosis seemed to delight them, and they became even kinder, even more honest and loving. I will miss them enormously - I can see their faces in my mind as I write. The next day brought more tears as I said goodbye to another class of P7's, this time at Scalloway primary school. Again, my shift into sniffling, voice-wobbling tearfulness seemed to amaze and delight them.

And I have to tell you that I'm now the proud possessor of more chocolate than I can eat in a year.

Later, Noelle and I were the entire cast of the Culture Club show on BBC Radio Shetland - one hour of 'magazine' format radio, with the pair of us having a blether on the airwaves, hopefully sounding as relaxed as if it was one of our many heart-to-hearts and chats which have whiled away the miles as we trekked hither and yon across Shetland and over to Fair Isle. Except, thankfully, without any Holy Fuuuuck moments like we had when our tiny airplane appeared to launch itself straight off a cliff into the sea on departure from Fair Isle. Frankly, it was the only thing to say under the circumstances. Trust me, you'd've said something similiar.

However, for this broadcast, Noelle and I were models of maidenly decorum.
Well, she was, anyway. I vaguely recall muttering something about writing children's books because I'd also tried to write adult novels and found myself completely unable to get my characters across the threshold of the bedroom and in between the sheets because language, for once, failed me. He put his...she felt her...they....nope, can't do it. You can hear us courtesy of the Beeb's listen again service which will stream us straight to your computer for one calendar week after broadcast. Then it gets consigned to oblivion.

So I'm here, in the dark, with the sea slapping at the wall outside my little shed, thinking that this is probably the last time I'll live quite so close to water. Tonight, when I came back home my spirits were heading into the fold-up-your-tray-tables-and -prepare-for-landing-mode but when I opened the big windows onto the sea, a seal's head broke the surface of the water only ten feet away from where I stood. The appearance of the Wild in the middle of my 21st century fit of the blues was exactly what was required to lift my mood.

Bye, bye seal.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Stitch & Bitch Shetland No. 1

Well, it worked. Shetland's inaugural Stitch and Bitch was an evening of delight. I have to say that on the bitching front, everyone was a little shy - as far as I could hear with my ears swivelling like radar dishes, nary a word was spoken that could be classed as 'bitchy' but I suspect everyone was on their best behaviour since it was the first night. Doesn't do to unveil your Inner Harridan right from the get-go. Timing is all.

BBC Radio Shetland gave us several advance mentions with hefty emphasis on the second half of the name, so that it came out like stch 'n BITCH, but whether due to that or due to the email campaign conducted by Shetland Arts or even the poster I drew, it worked. Twenty three women signed up to be counted. They turned up in the darkness of a rainy Shetland evening and sat down, then from baskets and bags, pulled out an assortment of wonders - Shetland shawls, Fair Isle socks, complicated things knitted on four pins ( they are called 'wires' here) then, somewhat intimidatingly, everyone got on with the business of knitting like experts. Everyone apart from me, that is. They were all so workmanlike, so professional, that I stopped blabbering like a fool and started counting frantically to cast on a double-stranded monstrosity of unevenly matched yarns then began to knit an 'easy' lace.

That bird never flew. That dog never ran. That lace doesn't exist. Easy? Oh, puhleeeeeaze.

Needless to say, I fell completely silent for about ten minutes of deep and total concentration, whereupon I couldn't stand not joining in with the chat going on around me, and that's when my 'easy' lace went to hell in a handbasket. Next but one to me was a Fair Isle knitter doing things that should be outlawed with three yarns, two pins and nary a glance at what her hands were doing.

Oh, weep. She even stopped and unhitched her 'makker's belt' and lent it to me to try and see if I could manage to knit any better with one of my wildly gyrating needles anchored in a belt. Hard to tell. I knit so badly, the only thing that I'm really sure would improve matters would be if I could have an extra pair of hands grafted on alongside the set I came with. Even then, I'm not sure that would improve mattters.

The evening was delightful, and having been one if its midwives, I felt really pleased and proud as our baby took its first breath. In the manner of the good fairy conferring her gifts upon the newborn princess, here are the blessings and wishes I would bring to heap upon its dear little head.
Long may it continue.
May it go from strength to strength, and may it hopefully acquire some male knitters to leaven the mix.
And if there is anyone out there granting wishes tonight - PLEASE can the magical essence of the Fair-Isle Knitter Who Didn't Look Down somehow rub off on me and transform me from being a cack-handed fumblethumbs into someone who knits beautiful and original things in her own lifetime. The 'in her own lifetime' is, I fear, key.

Monday, October 8, 2007

finally, six days to go

Wouldn't you know it - after five weeks of arsing about with dialup, tonight the world of broadband made itself accessible. In short, I plugged in and it played, dammit. Shouldn't moan, but, oh, REALLY. Why now, when I have to go home in six days? All those nights I could've been logging onto all sorts of stuff that normally I wouldn't have the time to look at due to the demands of home and hearth. Well, heck.

However, I don't want to overburden this blog with photos, thus rendering it as slow to upload a slow thing. As slow as I am on the last bit of a really boring hill. Do we have to? Are we there yet? Is this another bloody false top? God. Urrrgh. I hate hillwalking. My feet hurt. Can I take my rucksack off and pick it up later? Can you carry my rucksack? Can I lie down and make pathetic bleating sounds? Have you got any chocolate in your pocketses?

Yeah. That slow. So, having looked through my photos, I can say in all honesty, hand on heart that I am the world's crappest photographer. Landscapes are not my thing. I can do you a lovely bit of close-up grass, dripping peat bog or a nice cobweb, but anything further away usually has a drunken horizon and a distinct lack of focus. So. We won't be offering any of that, then. Except, I couldn't resist this bleak and colourless photograph of some dramatic stacks off the shore at Fethaland ; otherwise known as the walk with the big Bull.

Tomorrow is a Big Day. Tomorrow is the first night we roll out Stitch and Bitch in Shetland. Nervous? A little, but I'm hoping it comes together mainly because people are curious, friendly and have come along because of a shared love of the craft. Or the art. Or should that be the Craft and the Art? Oh heck. What to wear? And far more importantly, what to bring? I have six inches of boring dark green sleeve on my pins ( the Kaffe Fasset little circles motif reduced to a border thing) or I could come with yarn and pins and begin anew. Or...

And do I bring The Shawl so that everyone can fall about laughing at its gauche ineptness? Might be good for a laugh. Might get everyone to loosen up, if only to explain to me where I went wrong. So catastrophically wrong. Oh. My. God. Don't get me started... Perhaps if I talk my way through the shawl*, people would get some idea of where I'm coming from and why I think the idea of Stitch and Bitch is so brilliant.

Will report back tomorrow and if I can manage to take one decent photograph, will show and tell.

*Talk my way through the shawl? You could drive a truck through the shawl, so holy and mistake-riddled is it. Sigh.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

elastogirl goes to Ultima Thule

Finally hauled out the contents of a little cardboard box called the Pilates Bodyband Kit, subtitled 'for sad gits who delude themselves that nearly five decades of becoming one with your sofa, booze and fags can be undone by the mere application of the contents of this small box'. Yeah, well. I bought into it nearly two years ago and it has lain in silent reproach in a back bedroom which also goes by the other name of Mum's museum of unused body sculpting artefacts that we don't talk about. 
Must have been bored or a passing cloud drizzled a shower of diluted masochism instead of rain or something. I mean it's not like I spent the whole of this Sunday in navel-gazing, chocolate consuming and general lounging in a feckless fashion and was in dire need of Pilates to do penance for being so couch potato-ey. God. If only.
No. I was up early hurling kit in a rucksack, ready to hit the hills again, this after a hideously strenuous Saturday when I trekked the ten mile round trip to Uyea which is a tidal island of spectacular beauty, but on which one can come horribly unstuck if one gets the tides wrong. I arrived at high tide, so there was no chance of crossing over to the island, but just to gaze down, down, down to it ( did I mention that to get to the tidal bar you have to abseil down a slippy cliff? No? Guess what? Neither did my guide books, damn their eyes)
Anyway, I was pretty buggared before I got up early this morning and hauled myself over the island of Yell and onto the island of Unst and drove to the northernmost car park in the UK and walked out onto the headland at Hermaness. In the teeth of a gale. Across featureless peat bog of a particular stickyness to make each step weigh ten times more than it should. Then, with no warning, the peat bog gives way to sheep-cropped grass and then - whoa, jeez, to sky. Sky by the acre. There are no signs saying 'this is the Edge of all things' or 'mind out, fumbledyboots' or even '739 witless hillwalkers have fallen to their deaths here, so don't make yourself the 740th, eh?'
Steep, it was. Beautiful, too. According to the os landranger map ( sheet 1, ref 600165) this spot in the middle of the back of beyond even rejoiced in the name of Toolie, but hey, Unst has a village called Basta and nobody has altered the roadsign.
Down at the foot of the cliffs the sea was lashing the rocks, but this was made all the more awesome by taking place in total silence. The guidebook had promised puffins, gulls and deafening birdsong, but today was too windy to encourage such clamour. I skirted the cliffs until I came across two sheep doing the Head-Butt of Doom over the exact ownership of a particular blade of grass - a dance which was likely to bring not only the sheep but me as well rolling and bouncing across the grass only to tip to our deaths on the rocks below. I carried on, but headed inland for safety. And on and up Hermaness hill under the harsh chatter of ravens trying to persuade me to ferk off and leave their territory alone.
And what a territory it is. The most northerly point in the UK. There's a tiny lighthouse ( Muckle Flugga) out there on the guano-clad rocks, and beyond that, there's a little rock called Out Stack and that is all she wrote. That's the North. The Northiest Northness of Northern Scotland. 
So I turned back, headed up to try and find a tiny bit of shelter and toasted it's Ultimate Thulity with a wee dram. Then looked at my watch and realised I was going to have to leg it back to the car at a rate that wasn't consonant with navigating peat hags, but which might just get me back to the first ferry in time to make it and thus also make the second ferry back to Shetland.
So after a day like this, why the Pilates? I have no idea. The box held a video and three elastic bands. It signally failed to also hold a wee note saying Oy veh, and for this you paid how much? So I slung the video in and before I knew it I was in a world of Antipodean svelteness and new-age nose flutey music and I was doing weird things to my tush with a vast swatch of elastic.
Go figure. Some things you just can't put a price on...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

a flight to Fair Isle

I realise that 'fessing up to having been flown out to Fair Isle isn't going to earn me many friends among knitters, walkers or twitchers/birders, but hey. I was paid to do it, okay? Put that axe down, would you? And I guess if I mention that I met the last hand-knitter of Fair Isle sweaters to live on the island ( the sweaters made on Fair Isle are machine made, these days) and that I also met her lovely husband who spins the yarn for her on - take a deep breath - spinning wheels he makes himself, I imagine I'd better start running now. While I'm at it, I'd better change my name, burn my fingerprints off and go into the witness protection programme, hmmm?

Yes. I know how lucky I am. I had to keep on pinching myself as Annie and Stuart took me into their home and showed the kindness of their Fair Isle hospitality to this idiot from the South. I babbled like a fool, I yibbled for scotland and i generally behaved like a complete gushing twit, but I was stunned. It was like I'd been floating in space for years and suddenly was invited onto the bridge of the Mothership. It was as if time stopped, reversed and we were back in the 40's before the war. A time when Fair Isle was populated by crofters, knitters, spinners, shepherds and fishermen. Frequently all of these roles were played by individual people ; all of them - to use a hideous 21st C term - multitasking to get the day's work done. I'd wanted to meet a Fair Isle knitter because the woman who runs the yarn section in John Lewis in Edinburgh had raved about the Fair Isle method of using one hand to do the 'british' method of knitting, while the other hand busied itself with the 'continental' method. Presumably while one foot was drafting out War and Peace and the other was giving Shiatzu massages to the dog...whatever, I wanted to see this in action for myself. 

So. On arrival at this incredible island which rears out of the sea, all vertiginous cliffs and green sward on top and deepcut geos, with, I swear, the shortest landing strip I've ever seen - clean underwear, anyone? - we were whisked off in an elderly white Volvo taxi to the school, a trip of approximately 2.5 minutes. The plane was miniscule - six of us, including the pilot, crammed, and I mean crammed into a tiny twin prop beastie, not unlike Icarus's prototype before he improved the design. Oh. My. God. 

Handbags went in the boot/ trunk, which was, basically, the back of the plane with a tarpaulin stretched between it and the passengers. In with the handbags were boxes from Amazon dot co dot yoo kay, plastic kinder boxes full of food for the bird observatory on the island, cardboard boxes with perishables and cardboard boxes full of assorted foodstuffs and my portfolio with all of the roughs and some of the watercolour artwork for 'The Trouble with Dragons'. And a zip-up bag crammed full of picture books. 

Fair Isle primary school was our destination. School roll - six. Nursery - three. Total island population - seventy plus assorted guests, birders, more birders and tourists who come to learn how to spin with Stuart and assorted indigenous spinners. The sun came out to welcome us, so my impression of the island is a tiny nubbin of green-topped rock, thrusting out of the sea, full of light and birds in abundance. Not that I saw a whole lot, due to being fully employed with all of the schoolchildren for most of the morning and some of the afternoon. 

The children are the lifeblood of the island. When they grow up, they go off-island to high school in Lerwick. I asked the most imminent candidate for educational-exile how she felt about her upcoming uprooting. 'Can't WAIT,' came the reply. This beautiful child is the great grand-daughter of Annie and Stuart, knitter and spinner and wheel maker who allowed me into their home after I'd finished at the school.

Stuart's wheel-making studio is a back room in their house, full with a family of wheels made from irocco(?), walnut and even a recycled window frame. Wheels, I realised have the same character as violins - each one a personality of its own, each one a presence that belies their mere wooden nature. As we spoke, Stuart spun, showing how thick and how fine he could spin a yarn. Fiddle music on a stand behind him prompted me to say that my Dad makes violins, as does Stuart's son, Euan. He asked if I played, and I admitted yes, but very badly, to which he replied - oh, if you'd brought your fiddle we could have haed a tune. 

Next time. I'm going to practice and practice till I can limp along behind him. Post-Shetland mission statement number one. Practice fiddle, then book ticket back to Fair Isle.

Stuart also mends sad and battered wheels, and he produced two tiny hanks of what looked like pale brown sewing thread. He'd found them wrapped round the business end of a wheel he was mending. They were yarn, spun so fine that they were thinner than one-ply which is the gossamer spider-web they knit shawls from in this part of the world. At this point I felt like some kind of blundering idiotic fumblethumbs who not only cannot play fiddle but can barely knit unless it's with yarn the weight of steel hawsers. To which Annie's advice was - practice. She also said that the kind of twin handed, twin method knitting produces unevenly stranded yarns across the back of the work, so she was not wildly impressed by my handwaving, blurty explanation of something I hadn't seen but had only been told about by the lady in the yarn shop in John Lewis.

Post-Shetland mission statement number two. Practice knitting more. Better. Finer. Faster.

I laughed out loud when Annie looked straight into my eyes and said - I wouldn't have tried to learn to knit when I was your age. She meant she wouldn't have had the patience to work her way up from fumblethumbs to faintly competent and then to her current phase of Zen Master Black Makker's Belt Order of the Gossamer Weavers at the Gates of Dawn.

She's right, but I like challenges. What she didn't know that as well as wanting to join the order of the Zen masters BMBOGWGD, I also want to rewrite their constitution, invent a foot-operated row counter, have a yarn named after me and save the world. Compared to which, learning to knit Fair Isle, stranded multicoloured, multiple yarn patterns that don't bunch up like an maiden aunt with haemorrhoids is a mere bagatelle.

We flew out of Fair Isle with three hand-spun hanks of yarn gifted to me from Stuart. One in Fair Isle white 
(creamy white), mourit ( cafe au lait, but on the darkish side) and Fair Isle black ( the deepest, richest darkest cocoa with 70% cocoa solids dark brown). The hanks smell of air in the same way that air dried and wind-blown sheets and pillowcases do.

I know. This goes beyond luck and into a whole new territory. I am blessed.