Ran out of yarn!

It’s been a busy summer, and so I’ve not really looked at my needles very much. Yesterday, I didn’t have much to do, so I thought I’d get myself back into the routine. I decided to grab a ball of yarn that’s been sitting in my basket for nearly 18 months and turn it into something pretty and useful. The nights are closing in, slowly but surely, and it won’t be long before everyone’ll be wanting something chic and unique to put round their necks.

Unfortunately, this ball of yarn was not really large enough …photo

So, it goes round my neck about one and a half times. It can be fastened with a brooch I suppose, although I’ll probably add a button or two and wear it that way. Otherwise, I like this yarn! Just wish I had a bit more of it (I’m not even sure where it came from…)

I’m going to make a few more scarves to get back into a good rhythm. If anyone has a nice pattern with interesting stitching, I’d like very much for you to share it in the comments below!

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Reblog

Just a quick post to reblog this cartoon by Luke Pearson.

Luke is one of my favourite comic artists. I love his sparse use of a specific colour stock, and how he captures so much emotion in so few pen-strokes. His series about Hilda, an unconventional young girl, is absolutely joyous. The books are published on Nobrow so please look out for them.

This is such a moving cartoon in just 9 frames.

samaritans

The Samaritans save lives.

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Last night’s breakfast

I’m a bad feminist.

Too preoccupied with day-to-day hardships like having to get up and wash myself and eat and work and things, more often than not I only deal with questions of gender equality as and when they come up, on the fly.

I must give myself credit, though – in my job, they do come up fairly frequently. and I do make an effort to challenge discriminatory behaviour whenever I witness it; whether it’s calling out a kid using the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘rubbish’, or – more often – a colleague using sexist language.

It’s only a small effort, and I wish I could do more. The truth is, the environment I’ve been working in for the last 10 months is shockingly sexist. It’s at an independent boarding school – formerly a boys’ school but co-educational for long enough to make the archaic attitudes of some to be truly stomach-clenching. As is still a trend across the education system, the number of female teachers outnumbers that of male teachers, and yet all but one of the senior leadership team is male. I don’t mean to imply that I think competent women have been passed over for those jobs – I’m well aware of the other factors that lead to this kind of imbalance. Women tending to take time off or go part time in order to raise children, women lacking the confidence in their own ability and not putting themselves forward for promotion, men feeling pressure to earn more money to support their families when their wives take time off to raise children.

I’m not saying I think any of these tendencies are RIGHT, what I’m saying is that they HAPPEN. They are part of the invisible expectations that most of us simply take for granted when they are presented to us as being the NORM in our patriarchal society.

Boys outnumber girls quite considerably at this school – roughly 3:2 (I’m talking cisgender here, although there’s one openly trans girl that I know of. She’s a day pupil. I’m not sure the boarding system would show much inclination to accommodate her needs, should she wish to stay a night). The institutional sexism I’ve observed begins in the uniform policy. Girls MUST wear a skirt and boys MUST wear trousers. Girls MAY wear one set of earrings and MAY wear their hair long, provided it is tied back. Boys MUST NOT wear an earring and MUST keep their hair cut short. I’m not sure who will be harmed if boys wear earrings and have long hair, although there has of course been a terrible decline in society since such things became acceptable in wider society that I’m sure the school has ample justification. Dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTERIA.

Anyway, I don’t want to get too deep into that just here. I will just mention, however, that I don’t think it helps that the SLT is so disproportionately male. I think that’s silent reinforcement of the INCORRECT idea that men are more suited to senior roles than women are, and that it’s seriously problematic to have that kind of reinforcement of a negative idea in a coeducational facility. We’re supposed to be encouraging young people to succeed, while silently demonstrating that the contents of your underwear matter more than your GCSE results…

Last night, I was on duty in a girls’ boarding house. Normally on a Friday, the girls choose a film to watch instead of doing homework, and I sit in the office pretending to work (but really refreshing Twitter every fifteen seconds and feeling glum that all my friends are doing interesting things on a Friday night instead of supervising 30 surly teenagers), but last night I thought it would be nice to show them a classic film: The Breakfast Club. This American Life posted a podcast last week which contained an interview with Molly Ringwald about watching the film with her ten-year-old daughter for the first time. It’s a moving episode and I recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed the film.

If you don’t know the film, watch it now. It’s a day in the lives of five teenagers in detention on a Saturday. They are set the task of writing a paper about ‘who they are’, and over the course of the day this is what we find out. We learn the reason why they are in detention, and about the pressures and strains each of them experiences. There’s a jock, a nerd, a weirdo, a prom queen, and a criminal. In the simplest terms. But since when did life obey the simplest terms?

What makes the film wonderful is how unique and yet how similar each of the (white, straight, cisgender, more-or-less privileged – as I said to the girls, it’s nearly 30 years old so bear that in mind when there’s the odd bit of homophobia) kids really are.  They all have strengths and flaws. They all have parts of their life that are ‘dissatisfying’ (to a greater or lesser extent). They all experience pressure from someone or another. They all deal with challenges every day and sometimes they fuck up. And none of them has a straightforward relationship with their parents.

So, watching the film with a bunch of teenage girls was pretty interesting. They interpreted it in a different way to me, which I guess is natural … However, I was a bit dismayed by the predominant response. Almost all the girls spent the 100-odd minutes drooling over John (with the exception of one, who preferred Brian), and were unanimous in their opinion of  Alison (“why does she have to be so weird!”). However, most of their antagonism was aimed at the “princess” character, Claire (“oh em gee she’s such a bee”).

Now, considering the demographic of the girls watching the film, I thought this was pretty disheartening, to tell you the truth. Sure, Claire has flaws, and she is pretty self-centred: “I’m so popular …”

BUT, the way she behaves has a lot to do with her situation and the pressures that are put on her (in her case, by her friends). Compared with John, whose rape joke really makes me wince, or Andrew, who admits to mindlessly bullying another student, how does she come off the worst? And is she really any more conceited than Brian, who thinks he’s a better person than Claire but is pretty dismissive of the kind of kids who take shop?

As far as I’m concerned, the kids are just kids, dealing with stuff, making mistakes, learning from them, moving on. All of them do or say something utterly shitty, and all of them do or say something totally compassionate. So yeah, I was pretty dismayed when the girls I watched the film with were much more critical of the female characters than they were the male characters. It kind of made me think that their background is less forgiving of flaws in women than it is of flaws in men.

Or maybe it’s a good thing that they have high standards. I dunno. I’m gonna stop thinking about it now and make some tea.

Oh yeah, speaking of breakfast, Teleman’s album is finally out so join the Breakfast club yourself by getting a copy:

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Boom hat

As we all know, throwing stuff away is for losers and upcycling is totally rad.

5 years ago, some friends all clubbed in to get me a set of headphones for my birthday. They sounded really great – in fact, they were the best sounding headphones I’d ever had. They’ve now been discontinued by Sony though and I’m not surprised, firstly because they clamped my head like a vice and caused headaches if I used them for more than an hour, and secondly because 3 years ago, the left-hand earcup just snapped off at the joint, rendering them unusable.

photo

To replace them, I bought a cheap and excellent set of Sennheisers which I’ve been using happily for the last 3 years.

Anyway, these broken Sony MDR-V500s have been gathering dust on a shelf for three years, and during a PMT-induced bout of insomnia the other night I found myself pondering what to do with them. They still reproduce sound extremely well, but the location of the break – and the nature of the snug fit of the headphones – meant that gluing, taping, or otherwise re-affixing the cup would be a short-term fix and largely pointless. So I thought about trying to fix them into a headband or similar headgear. With this solution in mind, today I found a tiny screwdriver and dismantled the remaining part of the headphones. Here they are looking like a depressed Moomintroll.

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The next step in my upcycling master plan is to knit a beanie with interior pockets into which I can slip these earcups, that I can then use to play bangin choonz while looking uber-stylish all next winter, oh yeah. I guess I could also attach pockets to a sunhat too, then I can do the same all summer as well. The world is my upcycling oyster of amazingness. Here are some artist’s impressions mockups of how fab such hats will be:

Screen shot 2014-05-29 at 20.42.02 Screen shot 2014-05-29 at 20.43.19

And this is what I will be listening to on them:

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Tea and Coen Brothers Saturday

There’s really no reason to write this post because the title kind of says it all.

I’ve had a couple of weeks off and it’s been fantastic. I’ve caught up with a bunch of people that I love and met some new great people and helped do some fundraising and cooked loads of vegan food and fixed up my rusty old bike and seen some ospreys and crossbills and LBJs and danced to lots of brilliant music (well, sorta swayed from side to side a bit). I feel pretty ethically recharged, which I really needed after spending the previous week boiling in a state of rage and unable to escape the awful comments and opinions of someone who is stuck in the 19th century. Have you heard about the mutant mosquitoes that interbreed with regular mosquitoes, but then a genetic time-bomb inside them kills the offspring before they can breed (NB I only half-listened to this podcast while baking)? Well, I’m not sure about the implications of that but if there were any way of introducing the same mutation to UKIP voters? You know, to save the future? Maybe it could be transferred through the ink used in the Daily Mail…?

Anyway, as there’s nothing much I can do about the awfulness, I decided to just bury myself in things that I love. Last Friday I went to a Coen Brothers Tribute Night in Bristol, where a variety of artists performed their own take on music from Coen Brothers films. It was a great night. I particularly enjoyed Thomas Truax and Kirsty McGee, but that cuddly Hebridean numpty The Pictish Trail will always be my fave ❤

So lots of late nights and beer and dashing about have had two results: my bank account is empty and I’ve caught a cold. So yesterday I had no choice but to stay inside under blankets, knitting, drinking tea, and watching Coen Brothers movies. So here is a fascinating blog about tea for your intense reading pleasure.

O Brother Where Art Thou

It’s ages since I saw this film. Such a classic. Dramatic, hilarious, and uplifting. And it’s based loosely on the Odyssey so that gives me a vague segue into the tea I chose to accompany the movie …

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Tea number one is the wonderfully named ‘Magic Tea of the Druids’. I picked this up in Cardiff market last weekend. It’s a refreshing mix of green and black tea but I’m not awfully sold on the artificial strawberry and vanilla flavouring, which makes it smell like Nesquik. HOWEVER it does also include mistletoe so it’s OBVIOUSLY the magic potion from Asterix. It’s refreshing, but not something I can drink regularly.

The Hudsucker Proxy

Not awfully fond of this one, to be honest, although I can’t be entirely sure why. It has some great gags and the boardroom really reminds me of Monty Python, but some of the characterisation makes me wince. Wise ol’ Moses, the omniscient clockwork mechanic? The hard-nosed woman journalist with the gaping man-shaped hole in her life? You say the application of cliché only serves to deepen the satire, I say ‘yeesh’.

IMG_2448Nothing stock about this tea though. A present from a friend, it’s a Rooibos chai flavoured predominantly with fennel and also containing other herbs and spices that are in German so I can’t understand them. Plenty of fennel in it though, hot delicious fennel. I have a bunch of other teas containing fennel; this is probably the fenneliest. Including the fennel tea. Yeah. Maybe a little too much fennel in this. Can’t really taste the Rooibos. But I love fennel so the tea is a success.

Intolerable Cruelty

Oh, I really love this film, mostly because it fits in with the part of my life that I need to be shown that wealthy people have a big spiritual void in their life. Yeah, you can kind of see what’s coming, but THAT INTRO, and Billy Bob Thornton’s part is great, and it’s neat how the story comes together (as are all the Coen Brothers’ films – nothing is superfluous). Also it reminds me of Heartbreakers which I loved when I was 17.

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A zing with a sting (hey Twinings you can have that one for free), just like the fast- and sharp- talking characters in the film. ‘Energising’ peppermint and nettle. Yeah whatever, it’s good for digestion and it tastes great. I wanted to try this for ages, and it took some finding. What I mean is, they didn’t sell in in Co-op so I had to go to Sainsbury’s. But it was worth it.

The Ladykillers

I’d missed this one when it came out, but I liked it. Not as much as the original Ealing comedy, but it was an interesting re-imagining. Mostly I liked the reference to one of the greatest songs ever recorded:

And I accompanied this with a cup of Lady Grey, which was the wrong choice really as it was already quite late so I should have had something without caffeine.

I’m sure that the above description of films and tea have completely blown your mind, now just to keep in with what’s supposed to be the theme of this blog, here’s a picture of the cushion-cover-that-was-originally-supposed-to-be-a-hat that I finished while watching films and drinking tea (yes I am basically terrible at achieving my stated aims).

IMG_2451

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Stealing time?

Yesterday I did something that I haven’t done in a little while, which is lie to a friend to get out of a social engagement that I wanted to go to and had been genuinely invited to, because I’d been hanging out him and his lovely friends for a couple of hours already and I thought they’d probably have had enough of me. Gaahhhhh, stupid brain. Going to try to explain it away by saying that I was exhausted after another crappy week at work and that they were going to roast a duck and I don’t eat meat. But whatever.

I think generally my self esteem is improving, but for the last four weeks it’s been a bit up and down and I’m going to blame work being crazy and not having any free time to just kick back on my own and read or knit or listen to records or whatever. So many good records out in the last couple of months, like My Sad Captains and Angel Olsen and Eagulls and Cheatahs and Withered Hand and Future Islands, and I’ve been putting in so many extra hours that every morning I’m lying in bed hitting snooze four or five times thinking ‘I could just phone in sick and lie here playing records all day’. Steal back some time. I won’t do that though because it’ll make me feel worse afterwards. At any rate, I’m taking today off, even though there’s stuff I need to do. Got to be a bit kind to myself, because if I can put in 60+ hours in the week and still not get everything done then surely that means it’s too much work for one person, right?

Actually, a number of people at work have told me I’m doing a good job, and a couple have said I’m doing too much and I need to slow down. I find it’s so much easier to ignore positive remarks than criticism, though; a sentiment succinctly summed up in this lovely cartoon (originally posted here)

success failure

Today I’ve been taking it easy. Baking, playing records, even knitting a little bit, yay. It’s going very very slowly, and where I’ve had a break for several weeks, the tension has gone a bit ropey and some parts have snagged a bit, but it’s looking ok. Here’s an eyeful:

photoAnd speaking of Future Islands (mentioned them a couple of paragraphs ago, weren’t you paying attention?), it makes me so glad that a band I’ve loved for years, who are unique and moving and extremely hardworking, are finally getting a bit of exposure over their 4th album! I hope all the people commenting on this youtube clip are going back and buying their other albums (to be fair they are all pretty similar).

Lastly, you read my blog all the way to the end! Thank you x

 

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Shiawase … ?

*insert obligatory introductory sentence here making empty promises to do more knitting and talk about that some time*

I’ve got a nice little A level class. They’re the best. There’s only 2 kids and they’re both going to get excellent grades so it’s a nice, easy-going, low-pressure highlight of my week when I see them. 

We’re about to study issues around the topic of young people’s relationships, bullying, peer pressure, and that kind of thing, so we had a little bit of a discussion today, and I thought their answers were interesting, so I’m going to share them.

I asked, “When you were a child, were you happy?”

The girl answered, “Yes, because my parents bought me lots of nice things.”

The boy answered, “No, because my parents worked abroad a lot so I was on my own with the maid or private tutors.”

I thought that was interesting. Neither of them wanted to go into the philosophical question of ‘what is happiness ….?’ 

I always think I was a happy child. My parents were (are) very loving and attentive. We had the best holidays. I got on well at school, I played a lot with my brothers and friends, or I was happy on my own with books and games. Sometimes though I remember certain things and wonder if they were early signs of inner turmoil … Such as frequent nightmares, the odd sleep paralysis episode, and how I never quite got around to phoning my primary school friends when I went to a different secondary school to them … Too late now I guess. Oh well. I’m gonna stop introspecting and go and do some work.

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What year is it?

What’s the point of even sleeping?

This song has been going round my head all day. I haven’t slept well for a few weeks and it’s beginning to take on a life of its own in my head. Still, it’s Annie, and she’s incredible, so that’s cool.

This video reminds me of Nineteen Eighty Four. Anyone else?

Haven’t knitted for a while. Too much work to do. Too stressed. But I’m going to try to fit it in again. If you can’t find time, make it, right?

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Book

Advance warning: not only is this blog post not going to mention knitting, it is also going to contain some very confused, ill-expressed semi-opinions about self-identity, art, feelings, and stuff. It’s also going to include some fuzzed-over personal stuff that no-one is interested in, for the selfish reason that writing it down might help me make some sense of it at last.

nighthawksLast week, I started re-reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, because a twitter friend mentioned he was reading it and suggested (or joked about, anyway it doesn’t matter) a ‘twitter book club’, which sounds like tremendous fun, because let’s face it, we live in a social media age in which none of us ever has an experience for any reason other than wanting to ‘share’ it with other people.

My copy of Revolutionary Road has been collecting dust on a shelf since 2011, when I abandoned it after a hundred pages or so, consumed by an existential despair that I was no longer able to keep at arm’s length. 2011 was, for me, a year of not seeing things through. I couldn’t watch a movie – I’d get frustrated with the meaninglessness of it all within ten minutes and switch it off. I found it difficult to relate to other people and felt completely alien and isolated, while at the same time trying desperately hard to appear nonchalant and at ease in social situations. I drank too much (one of my more cheerful memories is of sitting alone on a riverbank at dusk, swigging lukewarm Carlsberg from the can and singing My Terrible Friend by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart to bats as they hunted mosquitoes over the water). I met someone I thought was wonderful and had an unacknowledged semi-relationship that we both pretended meant less than it did until it really did mean nothing to him and it fizzled out as quietly as it had begun (in retrospect maybe I should have told him that I thought he was wonderful, but then (and now, to be honest) I was characterised first and foremost by a crippling fear of rejection). I lived in a squalid houseshare with people I detested and tried my best to avoid. I convinced myself that I was a better person than they were because I cleaned up after myself and didn’t snort coke or eat artisan pizza or hang my own terrible paintings around the house like some kind of provincial hipster-wannabe. This was the context in which I first picked up Revolutionary Road.

In that context, there were passages in Yates’ prose that made me experience physical pain as I read them. Frank’s aloofness and superiority, affected so as to conceal a subconscious awareness of his own ordinariness, was far too close to home. His inability to relate to his wife and children; the desperation with which he wants to be liked and admired by his colleagues and neighbours, whom he despises; his hyperawareness of his actions and the reactions he desires from them – in my destroyed mental state at the time, these character flaws went from being tragic devices to confirmation of the worthlessness of existence. Are we not all like Frank deep down? Mired in circumstances, paying lip-service to pipe dreams, sneering at the drudgery to which we are ultimately married?

At one point, I was reading the novel on a train back to my parents’ place for Christmas, and I paused to compose disparaging tweets about a tracksuited tween who sat opposite me. Then, at some point in the journey he made some remark or offhand generous action that showed him to be a more compassionate person than I had allowed for, having summed him up solely on his appearance. I’ve never hated myself more. I shelved Revolutionary Road and a couple of weeks later got a prescription for Citalopram and a CBT journal (which I never kept, but should have).

Revolutionary Road was not, of course, responsible for that bottoming-out. However, since then I’ve always associated it with that feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing, and I’ve hesitated to give it another go, until now.

I’ve been amazed at how differently I feel about it now. Obviously, our own present circumstances affect how we interpret – and enjoy – art, but the gulf between how I was feeling then and how I feel now has been made clear to me in picking this book up again. I can feel some sympathy with Frank and April’s ennui and exasperation at a world that offers them less than they desire, without seeing myself tragically reflected in it. I don’t know, maybe it’s just that in the process of ageing, I’ve had to accept that there are limitations on my aspirations, and that the combination of idealism and disappointment will ultimately end up as cynicism, so it’s best to avoid hoping for too much.

Anyway … I’m only a third of the way through yet, so I will refrain from analysing further at this point. Certain qualities in the novel remind me of Hitchcock’s classic Rope; a psychological thriller in which a pair of Nietzschean sophists convince themselves that the murder of one of their peers is justified. In both works, the protagonists (antagonists?) convince themselves that they are different – superior – to others, and that allows them to behave in a manner that is forbidden to ‘lesser’ human beings. I suppose that all of us are guilty of such feelings sometimes, to a greater or lesser extent. I was also reminded of Lolita, which I suppose is more relevant as it’s more contemporary with Revolutionary Road – although here it’s the way in which relationships with others are used and abused to soothe and conceal those existential terrors that we all experience.

Right, I think I’ve got in over my head now and I’ve got things to do so I’m gonna hit ‘publish’ and get on, but not before segueing awkwardly thus:

Speaking of Nietzschean sophists, Fanfarlo’s third album finally dropped a couple of weeks ago and I think it’s great so here’s a song from it:

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Treehugger.com article

Just a brief post to share this excellent article from treehugger.com about the health benefits of knitting!

Particularly pertinent to me are points 1 and 6.

1. Knitting is used for therapy. It’s a powerful distractant, helping people manage long-term physical pain. For those who are depressed, knitting can motivate them to connect with the world. It is a conversation starter, allowing people to interact politely without making eye contact. It builds confidence and self-esteem.”

“6. Knitting offers a break from busy schedules and a refreshing detox from a technology-saturated world. It gives many of us a rare chance to be alone with our thoughts.”

The rest of the article is here.

Meanwhile, I have been working on a woolly hat depicting the artwork from Hefner’s 2000 single “Christian Girls”. I’ve completed a quarter of it but unfortunately I think it’s going to be too weirdly proportioned to wear on my head, but it’s a fun experiment and it’s been a while since I’ve intarsia’d, so it’s good fun.

Pictures of that at some point if it ever gets finished.

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