Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Amled, Prince of ... Jutland?

Hello, everybody, and once again welcome to the Apple Basket!
I just love lilacs ...
I do hope you have had a lovely week filled with crafty goodness and satisfying challenges. This week, we have a well-known legend, a bit of cosy knitting, and some book stuff.

The Apple of the Week:
I have been listening to the ChopBard podcast, ‘the cure for boring Shakespeare’, this time the Hamlet episodes. As ever, Ehren Ziegler does a great job of explaining, commenting, clarifying, de-mystifying, and in general making the text of the play that much more approachable. Not that I personally suffer from Shakespeare-phobia: having never been pushed into reading any of it at school, I am not traumatised by homework and paper-writing in this context. (The reason why I didn’t read Shakespeare in school is that when I went to high school / gymnasium, I did Latin & Greek, and in those days that meant no English – or German, for that matter – after the first year. Just the classical languages, and French. Bit of a waste, really – but I digress.)
But, if you are at all interested in Shakespeare, I highly recommend this podcast; you can find it on iTunes.
Anyway, Hamlet: I listened to the episodes, read the text, and made Victor watch the Royal Shakespeare Company film version, a.k.a. the David Tennant & Patrick Stewart version, with me.
After all this, I got out Saxo to re-read his take on the story. This is the first history of Denmark, written by Saxo Grammaticus (‘the learned’) who may have lived 1150-1220; the book was written in Latin and titled Gesta Danorum, The Deeds of the Danes. His story of Amled bears many resemblances to Shakespeare’s play; and I decided to render it into English for your pleasure, with a few comments here & there.
My text is not a scholarly translation: it is based on the scholarly translation into Danish by Peter Zeeberg, published in 2000 (so, a translation of a translation without referral to the original text: this is almost as shameful as marrying your husband’s brother). I will be assuming throughout that you know Shakespeare’s Hamlet and/or have a copy of his text at hand; if you have never read or seen the play, stop reading right now, and go do that. I’ll wait.
... Ready? Great, let’s to it.
The whole text of the chapter about Amled and his uncle runs to somewhere between 5000 and 6000 words; so I will chop it up into several parts to not make one huge post. Also, I’ve cut out a couple of paragraphs in the beginning; for this purpose, we do not need the whole of Amled’s father’s speech to the Norwegian king before their duel.

SAXO: The Deeds of the Danes (Gesta Danorum)
Book 3, chapter 6

1                           At that time, [king] Rørik appointed Ørvendel and Fenge, whose father Gervendel had been earl of the Jutes, as his successors in Jutland. But when Ørvendel had ruled for three years and during that time with brilliant success had embarked into piracy, king Koller of Norway wanted to show that he could equal him in fame and great deeds, and he found that it would look good if he could defeat him in battle and thus cast a shadow over his shining reputation as a pirate. He then searched the seas far and wide to find his fleet, and found it at last. There was an island in the middle of the ocean, and here the pirates put in with their ships, each on either side. The beauty of the beaches lured the chieftains ashore, and the outer charm of the place made them want to look inside to the inner freshness of the spring glade, stroll through meadows and thickets and wander about in the secretive deep of the forest. At some point along their way, Koller and Ørvendel suddenly faced each other alone without any other witnesses.
2-3                      Ørvendel and Koller agree on a duel to avoid unnecessary bloodshed; Ørvendel kills Koller and gives him a lavish funeral, out of respect. He then sets after Koller’s sister, Sæla, an accomplished pirate and warrior, and kills her, too.
4                          Now he spent three years at war with many great deeds, and during those years he set aside the grandest trophies and a choice part of his bounty for Rørik to gain a better friendship with him. This turned into a close relationship which enabled him to marry the king’s daughter Gerud, and by her he had a son, Amled.
5                          All this prosperity made Fenge so envious that he decided to backstab him. Not even from those closest to him can a good man know himself to be secure. As soon as he found an opportunity to murder his brother, he satisfied his murderous urges with a bloody hand. And to the fratricide he added incest, for he also took over his dead brother’s wife. Having allowed himself one misdeed, a man rushes headlong into the next: the one bears in it the seed of the other. And he was so brazen as to lay a cunning veil over his gruesome act and think up an excuse for his crime that made it look like a good deed, and masked the murder as a sacred duty. For he said that Gerud, who in truth was so mild and good of heart that she had never done the slightest harm to any person, had been the victim of a violent hatred on her husband’s part. It was to save her that he had killed his brother, for he believed it unworthy that such a uniquely gentle woman who harboured no evil, should suffer rude behaviour from her husband. And he succeeded in convincing everybody of this. For at court, where sometimes jesters are favoured and slanderers honoured, there a lie is readily believed. And Fenge was not afraid to use his murderer’s hands in sinful embraces and commit a double sacrilege with a single misdeed.
6                          When Amled saw this, he was afraid to awake his uncle’s suspicion should he behave too sensibly, so instead he began to act dumb: he pretended that his mind had suffered grievous harm, and in this cunning way he managed to not only hide his good sense, but also to save his life. Day after day he lay, languid and lazy, by his mother’s filthy hearth and rolled about in the most horrible dirt and waste on the floor. His dirty, smeared face was an image of madness and ridiculous stupidity. Everything he said seemed insane, everything he did showed profound torpor. In short: you would not call him a man, but a farcical miscreant sprung from a mad fate. Often, he sat by the fireplace, rooting around in the embers with his hands while he fashioned wooden hooks and hardened them in the fire. At the end, he gave them a kind of barbs so that they would better hold on. When asked what he was doing, he answered that he was making pointy weapons to revenge his father. That reply caused quite a lot of mirth, for nobody cared about his laughable, useless occupation – although that one did indeed later on help him to fulfil his plans.
7                           But this artful work caused some of the more quick-witted of those who saw it, to harbour a first suspicion that he was more sly at that. For his diligence at this humble work did indeed point at a hidden talent for crafting, and nobody could really believe that a man who worked so elegantly with his hands could lack for faculties. To this was added that he had made a habit of gathering these sticks with their scorched points in a pile that he guarded with the utmost care. So, there were those who maintained that nothing was amiss as to his mind, and imagined that he concealed his good sense behind an assumed simplicity and hid his deeper intentions and plans underneath this cunning smokescreen. The safest way to discover him would be to set a stunningly beautiful woman upon him in some remote place and let her seduce him. For man has from nature such violent erotic urges that no cunning tricks can keep them hidden. And in this case, too, the need would be too great for him to hold it back by any wily means, so if his dullness was assumed, he would immediately when the opportunity presented itself, follow his desires. So they got hold of some men who would take him far into the woods and present him with such a temptation.
8                          Among these men was, by coincidence, a foster brother to Amled, who had not forgotten how they had been brought up together. For him, the memory of their shared childhood weighed heavier than the order he was here given, so when he now came out as one of the chosen escorts for Amled, he did it rather hoping to warn him than intending to entrap him. For he had no shadow of a doubt that if Amled betrayed the merest hint of reason – and particularly if he openly slept with a girl – he would be done for. Amled himself was very well aware of this, too, so when he was told to mount a horse, he purposefully placed himself with his back to the horse’s head and facing the tail. And the reins he laid around the tail as if he intended to steer the horse at that end when it ran off. With this kind of artful invention he managed to evade his uncle’s wiles and disturb his devious schemes. It was quite a risible sight, the horse galloping along with no reins and the rider steering it by the tail.
9                          Along the way, Amled met a wolf in a thicket, and when his companions claimed it to have been a young horse, he let fall a remark that there weren’t too many of those in the employ of Fenge – a subtle but witty criticism of how his uncle spent his fortune. When the others exclaimed that this was rather a sensible reply, he declared that he has spoken thus on purpose so that it couldn’t be said of him that he lied. He wanted people to think of him that he would never lie, and so he mingled his slyness with truth in such a way that he kept to the truth when speaking, without the true things he said revealing how clearly he thought.
10                        Later, when they were walking along the beach, his companions came across the rudder from a stranded ship, and when they told him it was a giant knife they had found, he answered: ‘Yes, that one can cut a huge ham!’ – By which of course he meant the immeasurable sea to which the immense rudder fitted well. Something similar happened when they passed some dunes: here, they tried to convince him that the sand was flour, to which he replied that it was ground when the storms whipped up the sea. The others praised his answers, and he himself assured them that it was very cleverly spoken.
To be certain that he would dare give his desires free rein, they on purpose left him in a deserted spot, where then he met the girl – it seemed that she appeared by coincidence, but in reality she was sent by his uncle. He would indeed have ravished her then, had not his foster brother with a silent sign indicated to him that it was a trap. For when he considered how he could send a secret warning and restrain the young man’s risky desires, he found a straw on the ground and stuck it into the behind of a horsefly coming by. He then sent it off in the direction where he knew Amled to be – by which he did the oblivious young man a great favour. And the sign was received with an acumen equal to the one with which it was sent. For when Amled saw the horsefly and on closer inspection spotted the straw that it bore in the rear, he realised that this was a silent warning of treason. The suspicion that he was headed into a trap frightened him, and to be able to pursue his intentions without any risk, he took the girl up in his arms and carried her far off into a trackless marsh. When he had had intercourse with her, he entreated her not to tell anybody about it. She promised this as eagerly as he asked it of her. The girl, namely, felt a deep affection for Amled since days gone by, for they had been childhood friends and had as children had the same minders.
11                          They then escorted him back home, and when they started making jokes with him and asked if he had slept with the girl, he admitted to have ravished her. They asked next where he had done it and what he had had to lie on, and to that he replied that he had lain on the hoof of a horse, the crest of a cock and the roof of a house. When he was going out to be tested, he had brought bits of each of these things to avoid having to lie. Those words caused great mirth among those surrounding him – despite that his witticism had not removed him one bit from the truth. The girl, too, was questioned about the matter, but she claimed that he had done nothing of the sort, and they believed that answer, especially because none of the companions had seen what happened.
At this time, the man who had placed the marker on the horsefly wanted to show Amled that he was the one whom he had to thank for the ruse that had saved his life, and so he said that he had recently done him a great service. And the reply of the young man was not stupid at all: to reassure his helper that he appreciated the effort, he said that he had seen something flying by at great speed with a straw and with chaff behind. This reply made the others roar with laughter, while Amled felt smug because it was so clever.

So. We have the basic premises: the two brothers, the duel against the Norwegian king, the one brother having the good fortune and the girl.
The names of the characters are, of course, different from the ones Shakespeare uses – apart from Amled/Hamlet. While the names of Gertrude and Osric – and let’s not forget poor Yorick – are Nordic/ Germanic, and Rosenkrans & Gyldenstjerne are Danish (even though they have been slightly Germanised), names like Claudius, Laertes, Polonius, Horatio, &c are obviously taken from the Greco-Roman tradition. This is not surprising, when it comes to Shakespeare.
Never mind about that, the story itself is very recognisable.
We may note, in §5, that Saxo does absolutely not condone the marriage of Fenge and Gerud; according to ecclesiastical law since the 7th century, the blood-relatives of a deceased spouse were prohibited just as if they were your own (from the Catholic Encyclopedia, And Rørik is supposed to have ruled precisely in the 7th century; so we may here be seeing a conflict between old laws and new laws, Fenge adhering to the old rules under which it was normal and legal to marry your dead brother’s widow.
§6: Amled’s madness, presenting itself much as one would expect: a lack of personal hygiene, odd behaviour and seemingly random speech that conceals the truth.
§7: And how often is the failure to restrain sexual desire taken as proof of sanity and a rational mind?
I have no idea how to explain the sign devised by our proto-Horatio in §1o; I mean, seriously, a horsefly with a piece of straw up its arse?? Good thing it worked, though.
§11: So, Amled tricked the would-be trickers, and got the girl. At least, this proto-Ophelia gets out of the deal unscathed (and not, apparently, worried about keeping her virginity). There seems to be a fundamental flaw in this plan to prove Amled’s sanity, as evidenced by its failure: if he was supposed to be alone with the girl, how could they ever know what happened? These people are obviously not as clever spies as Polonius and Claudius – of course, the surroundings make it somewhat difficult, but again, they were the ones to lead him into the forest. And the girl happily lies for Amled (no pun intended); maybe they were relying on her to tell the truth. More fools them, in that case.

So far, so good. Next week, there will be more deviousnesses, while both sides try to outmanoeuvre the other.

Cat being cute in tall grass
The Knitting
I haven’t got all that much knitting talk this week – I have been knitting quite a lot, but most of it has been on a shawl design in progress. Last week, I mentioned planning to make a Bitterroot Shawl for my mother and ordering the yarn for it; well, while waiting for this yarn, it occurred to me that designing a shawl would be more fun than knitting from a pattern. So, I got out some of my Arwetta Classic in another colour, off-white, and started swatching, trying out, checking to see if what I imagined actually came to look like I wanted it to – you know, the whole initial knitting, frogging, and re-knitting process. And when the wine red yarn finally arrived on Thursday, I dove into that. If all goes well, there will be a pattern out at some point.

There was a slight hitch when I tipped a cup of coffee over the off-white yarn I was working with ... I soaked and rinsed the yarn, still in the balls (they are not ball-shaped, the Arwettas, quite oblong, but still) and left them to dry in the windowsill, hoping that the sun would take care of the remaining discolouration. It hasn’t so far; I may knit the thing up anyway and wash it thoroughly – and then dye it, if it still refuses to be white. We’ll see.

In the meantime, between the soaked yarn and the arrival of the new, I got around to finishing the second cafetière cosy; so now my coffee pots have matching overcoats.

The print copies of WeWMDfK? came out this week – I had held off reading the essays because I prefer reading on a page to reading on a screen (there is some irony in that, somewhere); so now, I’ve read and enjoyed them all. And, of course, faved and queued (even more) patterns on Ravelry.

The Books
Well, naturally, I’ve been mostly in Hamlet mode this week; but there is always time for more books :o)
The final chapter of Jane Eyre was on CraftLit this week; so now, that is all done. It is a bit melancholy to close a book that you have enjoyed reading – or, as in this case, listened to; it is like saying goodbye to friends.
One of the many brilliant things about books, though, is that they are not gone when they are done: you devour a book and thus keep it with you forever. Like the New Guinean cannibals who used to eat their ancestors to keep them in the family – not that reading books will give you spongiform encephalitis, of course.
Even though they can infect your brain, in a way, with new ideas and thoughts that take hold and alter your mind. But that’s really the point, isn’t it – the mind-altering factor is a huge part of the reason for reading books in the first place.

And it’s a lot safer than having a secret branch of the CIA try out spiked LSD on you to awaken psychic powers, leading to mental domination, telekinesis, and pyrokinesis. That is what goes on in Firestarter by Stephen King; a lot can happen in the modern-day America according to King, of course, with his blending of realism and the supernatural.
There is a poll going on Goodreads in the MCT (Mystery, Crime, Thrillers) group on whether you prefer your plots to be believable, partly believable, or completely unbelievable; I was unable to choose an answer to this, partly because of books like Firestarter. In my quotidian frame of mind, I do not think that a little girl can start a fire with her mind – but within the framework set up by the book, it does seem believable; and what is more important, the actions & reactions of the characters in the book are completely realistic.
My take on this may be influenced by my extensive reading of myths and legends, historical texts, fantasy, sci-fi &c: the willing suspension of disbelief comes easily to me, and I accept the parameters of the world I am dealing with at the moment, be it the ‘real’ world in a different age or a completely fictional world. Within those parameters I do want coherence and reason, creating what J.R.R. Tolkien called secondary belief: the acceptance of the world presented in this particular story. Only when this fails, he said, does the reader need to play along, to willingly – and consciously – suspend his/her disbelief.
Reading old sci-fi can be quite an exercise in this playing along: I listened to Upon the Dull Earth (and other stories) by Philip K. Dick, in which, for one thing, robots are a feature of the 22nd century. No surprise there; the funny thing is how humanoid these robots are: a car is driven by a robot driver, a humanoid device moving and speaking like a person – in another story, a robot doctor is recognisable as a robot only by his tinny voice. This seems very far from the incorporeal and omnipresent Jarvis of Tony Stark, very old-fashioned. On the opposite end of the spectrum of viability are the space travels: in the story with the robot doctor, a man travels to and from Proxima Centauri where he works, a distance of 4-point-something light years, in three weeks of travel time.
The stories are interesting, both as museum pieces, in a sense, and for their rather bleak ponderings on the human condition.

That’s about it for this week; my running (well, run-walking, you know what I mean) started off well, until I caught a cold on Thursday. I had a slight scratchiness in my throat that I put down to hay fever, so I went out anyway – and then later in the day, I was slammed. Sore throat, runny nose, headache, slight fever: the whole shebang. So, no running on Friday or today; I hope to be ready to resume my schedule on Tuesday. This will mean a repetition of week 1 in the plan, but so be it.
Bye for now, then – I hope you have a fabulous week; stay happy, stay healthy, and keep those needles moving!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Life, the Universe and Everything

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
Summer has arrived: we have had two official summer days – i.e. temperatures above 25° C – filled with glorious sunshine, birdsong from early morning till late at night, and the scent of blossoms everywhere.

When I started this blog almost a year ago, one of the topics I wanted to write on was running – and then I got into one injury after another: achilles tendonitis, peroneal tendonitis, a hip bursitis, and had to lay off running for quite a while. And then I chickened out from starting up again while it was so cold in the winter and spring; even though I know full well that running in the cold is far less chilling than simply going out in the cold.
But now, I am back!
Well, back as in: I have been out today, doing Day 1 of Week 1 of the beginner program in Claire Kowalchik’s Complete Book of Running for Women. This program takes you out for 30 minutes four times a week on a run-walk schedule that gradually builds up more running time and less walking time. So, for Week 1 it is R2, W4, repeat till end of round. Week 2, as I remember it, is R3, W3, repeat.
And so on, until you get to R30 in Week 10 – provided you don’t get into to trouble along the way, of course: it may be necessary to stay in a certain week or even go back, if you miss too many runs or develop any pain. It is far better to repeat weeks in the schedule than to stick to it just for the sake of sticking to it.
The thing is, your initially laboured breathing quickly picks up, and your muscles adapt readily to the added requirements – but tendons are notoriously sloooow to build up strength, and to heal after injuries; so it is essential to not go forward too fast. It is so tempting – trust me, I know this from experience – to barrel on and build up distance and time, once you get over the huffing and puffing of the first few runs; particularly if you are encountering other runners all over the place or reading about long distance running or thinking of signing up for a 5k (ask me how I know). And then you tend to ignore a soreness, because ‘no pain, no gain’, right? Wrong. Do not ignore pain – muscles get sore, of course, when they are forced into doing more than they are used to, but that goes away again – but be wary of lingering soreness, pain that shows up during or after a run, swelling and suchlike.
And do your strength training; in fact, do that before you even start running. A strong core and strong tendons go a long way towards preventing injuries that will keep you from running for weeks.

So, how did this first run go? Well, during the first 2 minutes I looked at my watch quite a few times to see when I was allowed to slow down and catch my breath, and I felt like a complete noob. The second 2-minute run was already easier: by this time I was warmed up, and life was good. During the run/walk and immediately after it, I was happy and ready to take on the world; of course, by the time I had stretched and showered and was ready for coffee and breakfast, tiredness had set in, and a part of me doubted the whole venture. I knew, though, that this fatigue would lift: I wasn’t ready at that point to go running again, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be come Tuesday.
And on the whole, I feel more like me when I run regularly, so this is all good.

The Knitting

The ever eloquent Franklin Habit had an essay this week – discussed, of course, on Ravelry – about the perceived dichotomy between knitting and crochet; his point was, not surprisingly, that the hostility sometimes encountered is silly and futile. The title of the essay is Play Nice, which rather says it all.
It seems to me that this divide is a new phenomenon and maybe more American than European; at least in Denmark, it used to be that knitting & crocheting went together. If you did one, which most people did, you did the other as well.
Both of my grandmothers did needlework (obviously); when I was a child, though, I only ever saw my maternal grandmother knit – and my mother knits, but doesn’t crochet – while my paternal grandmother crocheted. Only years after she died, my father mentioned that she used to knit, too, but had had to give it up after breaking her wrist in a car crash. So, for me, there was a kind of divide; and I, in my youthful folly, preferred to associate myself and my crafting with the civilised, educated suburbanity presented by my maternal grandparents – and thus knitting – rather than the uneducated, chain-smoking rusticality on the paternal side. 
Besides, in the 80’s, crocheting was generally regarded as something left over from the 70’s – not least the infamous granny squares in dubious colour schemes. Knitting, for some reason, better managed to climb out of that hole and take on the bright colours and batwings that we shudder to recall. Not that I would ever knit anything like that ... hmm, moving on.

When you are young, you have eons ahead of you in which to do or not do anything you please; then you hit forty and have to seriously consider the question of what, if you are lucky enough to reach eighty, you would be sorry to have left undone or untried.
Because now is the time to start doing those things.
One thing on my vague mental list is crochet; on a day-to-day basis, I have no sense of urgency about learning crochet, but this memento mori exercise reminds me that I would consider not having given it a proper go a waste.
After all, there is nothing to lose: if I find I enjoy it – great, I will have a new skill set and enhanced opportunities. If I don’t enjoy it – no problem, yarn can be unravelled and reused, and time spent learning something new goes toward delaying decay and dementia.

But first, I need to pare down my list – and pile – of wips. I know, I have been whining for weeks about having too many ongoing projects, and it’s all my own fault; after all, it’s not like the knitting fairies cast on new things in the night and leave them for me to finish.

Wingspan in bamboo-cotton leftovers
I did finish the Comfort Of A Friend shawl last Sunday, and the Wingspan on Monday, which ought to have helped. But then I had left the bag of goodies from the Saltum wool festival within eyesight and reach, so I cast on the jumper for Victor. And while listening to the latest CraftLit episode, I caved and cast on the Jane shawl. 

Jane's Ubiquitous Shawl
Still seven wips: the three pairs of socks are still there, as well as the coffee cozies, though I have now done the first one.

During this week, I have been finishing up the Hitchhiker for my mum – remember that one? I started it back in October as a Christmas present, in my own logwood-dyed yarn; and then my mum came around and asked for a wine red Haruni (or something similar), so I tried dyeing a wine red that turned out more heathery purple, and made her a Cassandra. In the meantime, she saw my Hitchhiker and admired it; so I decided to give her the blue one for her birthday. Anyway, I got slightly bored with it: all garter, in a solid colour, with only the beads to liven it up. It still has a hugely practical shape, and my mum always likes blue, but still ... so I ended up, on Friday evening, ordering wine red yarn to make a Bitterroot as well.
Hitchhiker with beads
Did I mention her birthday party is on 1st June?
The yarn will be here in a few days’ time – tomorrow is a holiday, so they won’t be sending it until Tuesday at the earliest – and in the meantime, I will get as much finished as I can, because 8 or 9 days to do the Bitterroot is not too much.

The Books
If ever you need to read a book about gender equality, I recommend that you choose Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett, the third book in the Discworld series. This revolves around the eighth son of an eighth son, who turns out to be a daughter, but not before a dying wizard has conferred his staff and so his powers to her. The problem is that the Unseen University does not admit girls to be trained for wizards: women become witches, if they have any magic – but this girl, Esk, has a lot of wizard-style magic and it needs to be reined in. Granny Weatherwax (a witch) accompanies the girl to the capital, Ankh-Morpork, and general craziness ensues. And, as always, lots of observations about people and their quirks. And absolutely brilliant wordplay; one example: when they arrive in Ankh-Morpork, Granny finds them lodgings in the thieves’ quarter, because she has heard that good fences make good neighbours.

I finished Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks; this is called ‘a novel of love and war’, but the war story is far better than the romance. The parts of the novel set in World War I work really well, while the first part, as I have mentioned before, is too long; and the parts set in 1978, while supposedly providing a context for the war story, are rather dull.
The book thus breaks apart into a gripping tale of danger, death, and defeatism experienced by the young men sent into the horrifying madness and slaughter of the battlefields and trenches – and the pedestrian ramblings of the women on the fringes of this war story.
The protagonist of 1978, Elizabeth, is, we are not surprised to discover, the granddaughter of Stephen who went to France, had the affair in 1910 (first part of the book), and later fought in the war. I guess we are meant to follow her search for the truth and the meaning of her own life with, if not bated breath, then at least interest.
Well. Based on this book, I wouldn’t pick up another one by Faulks – except that my sister tells me that A Week in December is good. So I plan to maybe read that one in, say, seven months’ time.

I came across C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, a 1938 story of a journey to Mars – or Malacandra, as its real name is in variants of the Solar language; only our planet is out of the loop, so to speak, having been excluded because of the presence of an evil divine entity of some sort. Hence the ‘silent’ planet. The protagonist, Ransom, is a linguist (or philologist, as he terms himself) and apparently modelled upon Lewis himself and his friend Tolkien; he is kidnapped by an old schoolmate working with a ruthless scientist and taken aboard a space vessel to Mars.
Mars has for a very long time held a fascination of its own: Curiosity roams, looking for signs of water and life; speculations and experiments abound as to the feasibility of colonisation by humans.
In the Doctor Who storyline, hostile Martian ice warriors attempt to conquer other planets and are generally opposed to humans; in Lewis’ universe, however, the three species of Martians are friendly and civilised each in their own way, and humans tend to be in the wrong. Particularly the scientist behind the space travel – that takes about a month, by the way – behaves like the typical white European encountering ‘savages’, refusing to learn their language, and to understand that they are intelligent; he even presents one of them with a string of glass beads as a compensation for taking their ‘sun blood’, i.e. gold. Faced with Oyarsa (an angel, perhaps), he fails to understand what is said to him; much like Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, who cannot understand the words of Aslan.

According to The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, the journey to Mars takes about six months, and the first expeditions take place in 1999 to 2003 (in a new edition of this work, originally from the 1950’s, the dates have been pushed 30 years). Mars itself is not ideal for humans, though: the atmosphere is thin, and the initial expeditions meet ignominious ends.
In this universe, Mars has an ancient civilisation that opposes colonisation but eventually dies out, anyway: the Martians are exposed to human chickenpox and are almost completely wiped out. A neat tie-in to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: an indigenous population is killed by a disease to which the invaders have long since developed resistance, like the peoples of South and Mesoamerica who fell in droves to smallpox and measles.

On an entirely different note (or maybe not: after all, the question is always about what it means to be, if not human, then a decent being), I listened to The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, narrated by the author himself. The subtitle of this book is Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking; it is a foray into the strange world of self help literature and motivational seminars, with a critical eye on the trendy methods of becoming happy, productive, social, &c. Burkeman also seeks out modern-day Stoics, Buddhists and a silent retreat in his quest for the negative path to happiness; ‘negative’ as opposed to the cult of positive psychology, and ‘negative’ as in: there is no one path, no bullet-point list of items to check, thereby ensuring everlasting bliss.

It will suffice to mention a couple of items from the popular lists and the problems they entail: visualising and goal-setting.

There is evidence that visualising achieving your goals does not, in fact, make you perform any better, despite what the life coaches tell us.
Consider the studies that ask a group of people to visualise eating Smarties and then places actual Smarties in front of them: these studies show clearly that persons having visualised eating the Smarties ate fewer real Smarties than the ones who had been asked to think about something else beforehand. The brain tricks itself into believing that the body has already done what it only visualised doing; and so, when the opportunity arises to actually do it, the body resists taking that particular action ‘again’. Effective, if you want to lose weight.
Visualising is desirable, it seems, when you want to not do something, in this case, not eat (as many) Smarties. But if your aim is positive, if you want to perform a certain task, then maybe visualisation is not a good idea. Imagining scrubbing the floors will only cause you dismay when you see that they are still dirty; basking in the virtual glory of the Booker Prize will not make that first page any less blank.
When you visualise reaching your goal, you trick your brain into believing that you are already there – and then you have to go back to square one to actually start doing all the work that will take you there. Which will make it much harder, because in a sense you have to start over.
Negative visualisation may be the key, what the Stoics called ‘premeditation of evils’, in other words, imagining everything that could possibly go wrong with your scheme. Everything that could realistically go wrong, that is: it is not helpful to imagine a meteor falling on your newly laid vegetable bed, but considering how to prevent slugs and moles from eating your produce is a lot more useful than refusing to think about such horrid things in an effort to stay positive and upbeat.
You can daydream all you like about that gorgeous knitted frock coat – but you still have to cast on and knit every single stitch of the bloody thing. And what’s more, visualising the stunning beauty of it will not make it perfect: only a highly critical eye on colour, measurements, shape, details and mistakes will ensure success. And a willingness to frog and re-knit when (not if) necessary.

Another, related exercise or requirement from the life coaches is goal setting. You will never achieve anything, they tell us, if you do not set definite, time-specific goals. Make lists, plot in dates, and Get Things Done.
But what if you sort of halfway change your mind along the way? What if you discover that what you thought you wanted isn’t right for you after all? Is it allowed to not reach your goals, or does that count as failure? Can you drop a plan halfway through and make a new one, or is that wavering?
I have found several times, when compelled to do this kind of exercise, that I can set the goals and the deadlines for myself – and then I try to shirk the duties implied. Because that is exactly what happens: things that I usually like doing and will quite happily do for hours on end, when the mood takes me, transform into chores, homework in the most soporific sense of the word, when they are plotted into a set of Goals. The whole undertaking seems artificial and contrived, and I lose the sense of what I want and where I am heading.
Not setting goals does not, of course, mean that you should necessarily amble aimlessly through life, ignoring opportunities and squandering your assets, both material and mental; but let your goals be loose and flexible, be always willing to re-evaluate and adjust to specific circumstances, whether internal or external.

Setting up clear goals for yourself and visualising achieving them thus may be not only a waste of time and effort, but can prove to be counter-productive and possibly even harmful to your productivity as well as your happiness.

Burkeman uses as an example of goal orientation that turned out to be extremely harmful the Mount Everest disaster in 1996, in which eight people died; one of several books on the subject is Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (that was sitting on my shelf, so I read it). Of course, when you are on Mount Everest, everything is extreme; so insisting on reaching your goal, in this case the top of the mountain, can kill you. Some of the people who died were mountain climbers who had previously been close to the top and turned around because of bad weather or the lateness in the day, and this time refused to be denied, forgetting or ignoring that when you are on the summit, you are only halfway there: you need to get back down from what is called the Death Zone (above 25,000 feet) before nightfall, and before you run out of supplementary oxygen and get into serious trouble.
Far from all goals are that hazardous, obviously; this is an extreme example. But the point is valid: fixating on reaching a specific goal at all costs can end up costing you too much.

So, be flexible, rational, wise and caring – and don’t forget to love your nearest & dearest.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Countrywide knitting

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket! This week, we have a lot of travelling to various events, and a lot of knitting related goings-on.
The book talk will be left for next week; I have quite a lot of that, too.

Let’s begin with last weekend’s outing to Copenhagen: we went along five people; Andreas had decided not to join us, but instead stay at home in peace & quiet with the cat.
So, we all piled into my dad’s car and started off late Saturday morning; in the afternoon, we spent about an hour at a Viking fortress called Trelleborg, one of the fortified towns and gathering sites built by Harold Bluetooth in the 10th century CE. There were several enactment people still there, when we arrived, around the copies of Viking houses in a sort of mini village; a couple of men practising sword & axe fighting and children gambolling under the watchful eyes of their mothers.
The reconstruction of a longhouse

View from the ramparts

Sheep now inhabit the longhouses

The fortress was built in a triangular area where two streams converge, so that it could only be attacked from one side, the one where they had dug a moat. Very helpful, right? Round in shape, with 16 longhouses inside the walls and 8 or 10 on the outside, this was a gathering place for men from around the countryside to man the fleets going to, say, England.
The lower parts of the ramparts are still there after 1,000 years; the longhouses are gone, of course, but the outlines of them are marked with stones, and a copy sits outside the area proper. We climbed the ramparts, imagining doing this fully armed while men at the top poke at you with pointy sticks. Not fun. Very well made.

Having declared proper camping to much hassle for one night – and the weather was not to be predicted, anyway – we stayed in camping cabins at a site in Rødovre; my parents in one cabin, and the boys and I grabbed cabin no. 42 – of course. And cute little cabins they are, newish and neat, with just enough room for three or even four; a bedroom literally the width of the double bed (you climb in and out at the foot of the bed), and up a ladder an open loft with another double bed.
After settling in, we drove into town to eat and watch the life, and ended up shopping and coming back to the campsite for a late dessert instead of going to a cafe: across the street from the restaurant (we sat outside) had been a street musician butchering show tunes on a clarinet accompanied by tinned rhythms from an electric piano – so our ears did not need any more background noise.

There was a festive mood in the city on Sunday: the sunshine was warm, everywhere were trees greening and blossoming, daffodils and tulips in colourful bloom, and from buses and official buildings flags were flying in celebration of the anniversary of the end of the German Occupation in 1945. Added to this were banners proclaiming the 200th birthday of the renowned thinker and theologian Søren Kierkegaard; and on all of the stages in Tivoli young musicians were playing. So, happy times all around.

After cleaning out the cabins, we drove into town and managed to find a free parking spot – brilliant. We wanted to go to Tøjhusmuseet, the Arsenal Museum (arsenal as in weapons storage, nothing to do with football), where they now have actual tableaus instead of just rows upon rows of weapons, including a partial model of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. But they didn’t open until 12 o’clock (though the website had said 10); so we trudged on and came to Glyptoteket instead, right across the street from Tivoli. This was built by the brewer Carl Jacobsen, father of Carlsberg, to house his collections of objects stolen rescued brought home from Greece, Rome, and Egypt; a brilliant place to visit for a classicist (me) or someone who has just been to Egypt (my parents), or anyone interested in art and antiquity (there is a modern collection, as well, which I haven’t seen yet). Entrance is free on Sundays, so we just went in, spent the hour we had, and left again to go to Tivoli.
The guitar group met at 12.30 and then were free until 3.30; after lunch, my dad and Thomas decided to go to Tøjhusmuseet after all, and Victor met up with the other guitar boys, while my mum and I discussed children, family members and other people over hot chocolate. Very traditional, but everybody was happy with the arrangement. 
We met up again for the concert in Glassalen, and then headed home. Not too many people were there, sad to say: those who were happy to just catch random performances were kept outdoors by the lovely weather; so only relatives and other really interested audience were present. But they played well, as always – says the completely unbiased reviewer ... But they do, actually. Very well.

Victor in the middle (more to the right in this picture)
- and to the left in this one.

So, all in all, we got quite a lot from the weekend: Vikings and weapons, classical art and classical music, camping grounds and Tivoli gardens, road trip and city life.

Spring this year has behaved like a very strange lover, distant and reserved, almost hostile, for a long time – and then all of a sudden turning around and saying ‘Let’s get married! Right now!’ And then, when you don’t answer at once, retreating once again into brooding and sulks. Reminds me of Rochester (Jane Eyre reference: if you don’t get it, read the book. Or listen at CraftLit or JustTheBooks.).
And this Wednesday, we had our first thunderstorm of the season.
The day opened with gentle rain that drew back during the afternoon, leaving a humid and heavy sunshine; and then, in the early evening, it all came back – and more.
The cloud cover took on a greenish tinge, flashing to purple behind the white streaks across the sky. Thunder cracked and rolled overhead, making a mockery of the traditional counting to assess distance, when several lightning flashes cut over one continuous rumbling. Rain beat down, steaming off roads and roofs, spilling over gutters, and occasionally giving way to hail.
The cat was not amused.
But the air was cleansed and afterwards smelled deliciously fresh, everything being newly washed.

I was in Skive the other day and finally got a chance to check out a LYS, Duddine. That took some self-discipline: among many other lovely yarns, she has Manos del Uruguay ... luckily, I had no inkling of what to use it for, so I managed to not buy any – yet. But now I know it’s there, within reach (and I am quietly contemplating what could be done with this yarn, particularly the purple-blue-green-white colourway ...).
I did get me some tools, though, as this LYS does not reject on principle the things that the owner doesn’t want to use, like 2 mm dpns (not mentioning any names here, again; but the lady working at Duddine knew who I was talking about, and had quite a story of her own to tell).
When she saw the wooden KnitPros I had found, she showed me the KnitPro Karbonz – another thing I have seen on Ravelry but not in person till now. So, now I have me a set of 2 mm carbon fibre dpns; they are light and stronger than wood, so this is quite exciting. I am trying them out on the striped socks; there is a slight – not catch, exactly, but feel of where the metal tips join the carbon stick, which takes a little getting used to in a straight needle. In circulars, of course, there are joins, and that is how it is; this is just slightly different. But they are very comfortable in my hands, and the tips are nice and pointy. And I feel that I can trust them not to snap – this may be in part a placebo effect from knowing that they come in 1.5 mm, as well, which cannot be done in wood: if carbon needles that thin can survive, then mine can, too.

And more yarn shopping: yesterday, my sister and I went to the Wool Festival in Saltum, a small town in Northern Jutland. I drove up the motorway, left my car at a parking lot for car poolers near where my sister lives, and we went on together (there is a point to this, so bear with me).

The festival in Saltum sits in the town centre, quite differently from the Craft Fair in Viborg in September, which is placed in two big stadium buildings outside the main streets. Here were two large party tents with stalls for yarn, wool, finished products, ceramics (bowls and buttons, mostly), beads, more yarn, spindles – did I mention yarn? And the LYS in the middle of the high street was open, of course.
How to catch a sheep by the leg

One of the tents; my sister in her blue cape 

Bindestuen across the street
So, we watched a sheepdog at work, browsed, fondled, admired, shoved through crowds, picnicked outdoors with latte and a packed lunch, browsed some more, and shopped.
I found the buttons for my Comfort Of A Friend shawl, new yarn for the upcoming jumper for Victor (I had found some in my stash, but didn’t really love the colour, a slightly dull blue), yarn for Jane’sUbiquitous Shawl (so I can actually start it while the book is still running on CraftLit), and some sock yarn – and I managed not to buy more than I could afford.
The yarn for Victor is a heavy fingering weight sock yarn from Bindestuen, the LYS in Saltum. Bindestue is an old Danish word for a room to sit and knit (or crochet) and so a rather appropriate name for a LYS, I think. The yarn is lovely, soft and surprisingly inexpensive; I added it to the Ravelry database as Bindestuen Strømpegarn, so now it’s there, too.
For the Jane shawl, both my sister and I chose Samarkand from Garn Garagen, in lamb’s wool and silk – so soft. And again, surprisingly inexpensive. This is a very light fingering weight, 575 metres per 100 grams; I got the colourway 42 (!), a nearly black charcoal that Jane herself would endorse (read the book).

The weather held up nicely, and all was fine.
On the drive back towards the motorway, the car (that had just got a new engine) suddenly decided that its battery needed charging. That was a bit odd, and then it began asking for checks of the brake systems, the ABS, the 4WD, &c. When the steering wheel started to become unresponsive in the middle of the motorway, my sister quickly pulled in towards a rest stop; we made it onto the drive leading in to the parking area, before the car gave up and simply stopped.
That gave us nearly an hour of uninterrupted knitting (Wingspan for me, Georgia for my sister) and talking time, before we were picked up and taken to the place where my car was waiting; I drove my sister home, said hello to the kids, and drove home to my own. So, getting home took me 3½ hours instead of 1½, but no harm done. We had our festival experience, we got off the motorway without crashing or stopping in the middle of everything, and we had our knitting for the wait.
And I suppose the car will be fixed – again.

The Knitting
Since my dad was driving to Copenhagen and back (he prefers it that way, and it was his car), I for once got some knitting done on the road: I had brought my bamboo Wingspan to get a good start on it, and I did. This is great travel knitting, nearly mindless, being garter and all, but not so boring that you fall asleep. And it isn’t that big – or mine isn’t, anyway, so I could stuff it in my bag and drag it out whenever.

My hubristic ‘I have to stretch the Comfort Shawl project to match the KAL timeline’ statement a few weeks ago has been put to shame, obviously, by the amount of socks I have been starting – and finishing, in the case of Fosco – and the Wingspan and ... But I will make it. Week 5 will end on Monday (tomorrow!), and I have been working on the straps this week, so now I just need to weave in the last ends and sew in the buttons. I can finish the whole thing within the limit. Not that it would matter if I didn’t: the Knitting Police tend to overlook transgressions of KAL deadlines.

But I need to finish something: the problem with casting on lots of shiny new things is the lack of that sense of satisfaction with finishing a project. Besides, I have been doing quite a bit of frogging and starting over lately. So, finishing it is. Before I cast on more shiny new projects with my lovely new yarns, tempting though that may be.

Bulging heel - ugh!

Shaped sole - fun!
My Simple Striped Stocking Stitch Socks are turning out to be quite a fun project; the stripes are determined by stash availability, but that is working out fine. The arch shaping is great and led me onto serious three-dimensional geometric considerations, when I got to the heel: on the sole, the centre stitch between the increases is lifted into a reverse V pointing towards the heel – so how to shape the heel? I figured it out, finally, feeling quite proud of myself; and then, after 3 or 4 stripes up the leg, the heel made a weird bulge when I put it on. Hmm. And I wasn’t too happy with the toe, either, so I frogged the whole thing and started over, having, of course, made copious notes and taken pics of the offending heel bulge. I think I know how to fix it. More on this later.

As for the other two ongoing sock projects, I haven’t any news, as the stripey ones have been claiming my attention this week.

In Tivoli, they have several shops with mostly hugely expensive Danish Design stuff, including a Bodum shop; the large model of the famous French Press® is getting a new colour lid, so the old ones were obviously on sale. I mean, who would ever want to buy a coffee maker with an old style lid at full price? So, we bought one each, my mum and I, and now I am knitting cafetière cozies in two sizes, in bulky wool from my stash. More garter stitch, for a stable shape and added thickness, and stripes for a bit of interest.
A warm coat for the coffee pot

As I mentioned last Friday, I released the pattern for the Samwise cabled hoodie that I had made for Emil’s second birthday. And lo and behold, within a couple of hours there were very nice comments and wishes for adult sizes. My thoughts ran along the lines of ‘Wow – they like it! Adult sizes? All those calculations? No way.’
And then I went off to make dinner. During which, part of my mind snuck off to run a little discussion: ‘Adult sizes would have to be done in another, heavier yarn, otherwise there would be a gazillion stitches and the cables would be too small for the whole garment, something crisp with a good stitch definition, maybe the Peruvian Highland Wool, I’ll have to check which colours that comes in, maybe a muted purple, or should I go with blue this time, or green, for of course I would make one for me, it’s not as if I would mind a hoodie and it would be most appropriate in women’s sizes anyway, I could do some waist shaping along the side panels, and the name for it would have something to do with Sam’s parents, I wonder what his mother’s name is ...’
So it goes; at some point this year, it seems there will be a cabled hoodie for women coming out. Named after Sam Gamgee’s mother, Bell.

And that’s about it for this week; this afternoon, my mum and Victor and I are going to a guitar concert at Ulstrup Castle. Some of the Academy students that Victor met back in February for Wayne Siegel’s birthday concert will be playing, so that should be good. And I can bring the Wingspan and get another triangle or two done.

So, have a wonderful week, and I will get back to you with more knitting and a bunch of books!