Wednesday 26 December 2007

Hottie Aran

hot water bottle Here's a winter knit for you. Shown on the left is a common hot-water bottle or hottie. For those of you in tropical climes, this is a flexible rubber vessel with a screw-in stopper. You fill it two-thirds full of hot (not boiling) water, squeeze it to expel the air, screw in the stopper and put it in your bed. It is much appreciated by sick children and animals, people like me who sleep alone in poorly-heated, ill-built flats, and people whose sleeping partners object to cold toes.
hot-water bottle wearing a little Aran sweater
The beauty and utility of this mundane object can be much increased by knitting it a little woolly jumper (right). So equipped, it won't burn you when it's newly filled, and it will release its heat slowly over as much as eight or nine hours.

It's also a nice way of trying out a pattern or a new knitting technique. This particular pattern is a sort of miniature Aran sweater. I wanted to try out an arrangement of cables and the knit-and-purl pattern in the middle to see whether I liked it or not. I'm not all that keen on the knit-and-purl pattern, which is based on a tree-of-life design, but comes out as just diamonds. I think it's more trouble than it's worth. If I were making a proper gansey for a person I think I'd do something else there, maybe zigzags or even horizontal lines.

Materials: 4 x 4.5mm double-pointed needles, 2 balls Cygnet Superwash double knitting wool, or any near equivalent (these balls are a completely routine size so two balls of any kind of double-knitting should do).

Gauge: is not that crucial but I recommend a fairly tight fit.

  • Cast on 70 and join into a circle; or you could do a provisional cast on, which wouldn't be a bad idea as you will sew up the bottom later.
  • Knit 35, place marker, knit 35 and mark end of round (for example by having this at the end of one needle).
  • Work six repeats of the pattern in the chart below. Click it to see it at full, printable size. In each row work the pattern twice, once for the front and once for the back.
  • Work 24 rows of 2x2 rib (70 is not divisible by 4, so to make it match up at the end of the round you will have to either increase by two stitches, as I did, or decrease by two, or work 1x1 rib instead, it doesn't matter which).
  • Cast off with a stretchy cast off such as the one described here, work in ends, and sew up the bottom.

[Edit: I made a mistake in the chart. Row 6, st 21 should be a purl.]

Sunday 23 December 2007

Playlist: Gustavo & Giselle in London

I've just found the first YouTube video of this tour. It's from the Dome (review here). I'm going to embed this as a playlist, and if I find any more of their visit I'll add them to the playlist so they appear here. I have hopes that the videos from the Welsh Centre and the Crypt might be easier to see because the light is better. I saw them at all three locations; all three of the performances, each of three tracks plus an encore, were magic, and all three quite different from each other.

Their own website is here:

Saturday 22 December 2007

The Shortest Day

For all my fellows struggling through the Northern dark, trying to keep our spirits up and wishing we could hibernate like a proper hedgehog (or a Moomin), here is a photo I took of some sunshine when I bought my camera in 2001.

Soon the sun will be back, wrapped in a blue cloth. It will get bigger and stronger in time. Today it rose at five past eight, and will set at six minutes to four. I hope your lights burn brightly.

Thursday 20 December 2007

The Dome

As I'm on holiday and didn't have to get up this morning, I went to the Dome last night.

The class: I skipped the class. It was on musicality, given by Damian Lobato. He and Kicca are the regular teachers there, and I've taken one class with them before, but it was a long time ago and all I remember is that she's really sharp and takes the trouble to give detailed advice to the followers.

What I thought of the DJing: Perfectly standard. It was in sets, and not chaotic. No cortinas. Lots of good tunes, all of it made me want to dance more than not, nothing electronic or unusual, a few of my favourites, quite a lot of milongas, no wierd or disturbing juxtapositions. I don't remember there being a single vals, curiously. The DJ, according to the website, was Jorge Vacca.

Layout and atmosphere: Some of the seats are a bit dangerous as there's no boundary to the dance floor, but there are quite a few places where you can stand or sit down safely, there are two exits from the floor area, and it's not too difficult to move about. The raised platform, where I think they usually put tables, gives you a great view. The bar is separated from the dance floor by a low wall with openings. Everyone was pleasant and cheerful, including the bar staff. The only problem last night was the total absence of anywhere to hang your coat: everything went in an enormous pile, like a giant bedroom at a house party. Retrieving my stuff in the darkness was a challenge. Maybe this is usually better and it was just because of the crowd and the party food and whatnot.

Hospitality: Good. On this occasion it was the Christmas Party so there was lots of free food, which is a very friendly gesture. I'd already had my dinner so didn't have any myself. No water except at the bar, but the bar prices are not outrageous, I didn't notice anything explicitly forbidding you to bring your own, and all the taps work. [Edit: Anonymous in the Comments tells me there is free water in plastic glasses at the bar: they don't make this apparent, but now that I know it raises the 'hospitality' rating from OK to Good.]

Floorcraft: I had surprisingly few bumps considering the very dense crowd. They were mere touches, and neither my feet nor my hosiery were in serious danger. I think good dancers, and dancers who at least give a high priority to not kicking anyone, were a high proportion of the total, so that the hazards and the crowd didn't cause too many problems. I don't know if this was representative, it could have been just the result of who was there to see the performance. [Edit: it seems to be representative, see Comments]

Dances: I saw a lot of faces I knew but I also got some good ones with leads I hadn't danced with before, or not more than once. There were lots of good people to choose from and the layout makes it easy to watch and find people. Then it tailed off as it got more crowded. I'm sure it would have gone well if I'd been able to stay later, but I'm not fond of the night bus thing.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: There was a performance by Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne. They were magic. They're very playful - in particular they play around with the embrace, and when you watch them you feel that they always have a connection, but sometimes it's just with the eyes or even the feet. Their feet are magic too. It's spectacular to watch, but it doesn't feel at all contrived or stagey - it feels like the real thing. Very compelling. They're on tour, and they'll be at the Welsh Centre this Friday and at the Crypt on Saturday (always close your eyes for the first 3 seconds looking at that website, till the animations have finished whooshing). I know at least one person who videoed it all but I don't know what he's going to do with it yet.

Getting there and getting home: It is just round the corner from Tuffnell Park on the Northern Line. Walk down the left hand side of the pub and look for the "Dome" sign. Last train from Tufnell Park to Euston is at 00:13. There are buses 4 (last one around 23:55), plus the N20, 134, and 390 which are all 24-hours and will take you to interchanges such as Camden Town, Warren Street, and Trafalgar Square where you can probably find another bus home.

Admission: Wednesday nights, normally £6 or £9 with class, this night £10 because of the performance. Open till 2am.

Website: Neither pretty nor consistent, with particularly bad navigation from the home page, but generally does the job, and does include all the information you need somewhere, including pictures of the cast, which is something most people don't do. The Special Events page does not get updated - unless Gustavo and Giselle are not a 'Special Event' - but the Monthly Programme (which is hidden a level below "Milonga") does. The Location page is correct and helpful and includes map and buses. Style about 1997, with intermittent frames.

I had a good time and would definitely go again, if I could do so without struggling at work the next day. However, I'd probably take a big, brightly coloured kitbag because of the fact that there's nowhere to hang your stuff. I was glad I'd tied it all together with my scarf and put my gloves in my shoe bag, or I'd never have been able to turn myself back into a sufficiently hairy caterpillar for the below-freezing wait at the bus stop.

Another Drawer of Curiosities

I had to go into town early today, so I took the opportunity to go back to the British Museum. [Edit: here's a picture of the Great Court, which I took a couple of summers ago].

I started with the Colossal statue of a winged human-headed bull from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, and its companion. Walk between them, and there is a corridor of bas-reliefs glorifying the king and showing other guardian spirits, including eagle-headed ones which remind me strongly of C. S. Lewis's Tash. It's interesting to compare these with the angels generally depicted in Christian art. I suspect the colossal statues are what seraphs ought to look like.

I walked around a few corners, and spent some time in the Early Greek rooms, taking a route I hadn't taken before. I saw some Geometric Period vases, which were new to me. A lot of the things in that room would be very interesting to any artist; I particularly noticed the horses on a very early vase, and what they had in common, in different directions, with cave-paintings (the awareness of musculature), the Parthenon sculptures (the arrangement of legs) and Picasso (the way the heads and eyes were represented). I can't find a picture of that specific vase, but this one is displayed nearby and is in the same style.

Then I wandered upstairs to the Egyptian mummies. The Burial Group of the Priest Hornedjitef and his rather alarming sarcophagus asked to be remembered to Tangobaby, as did Soter and family.

The gallery of mummies was more or less impassable with French schoolchildren, so I went back a bit and encountered the Royal Graves of Ur, including the Great Death Pit, which I hadn't known about before.

Then as I usually do, I ended up in the room where the Nereid Monument is. Most of it is at one end of the room but I think the best bit is at the other - three statues of astonishing workmanship, with benches thoughtfully placed so you can just sit and stare.

I draw your attention to the Nereid on the right. This picture is not from my favourite angle - I would have moved to the left and had the lighting more from above.

What no photo can tell you is this: you can see the bottom of her ribcage, and the fat of her belly. You can see the aureolas of her breasts, and the way the wet fabric clings to everything. Sit on the bench in front of this for ten minutes, look at it properly, and see if you can convince yourself it's stone.

Here's a picture of all three of the Nereids together.

Two mascaras to dance in

Lancôme Cils Design Pro

This stuff is remarkable. The price is rather startling, but its effect on my lashes is so good, and such an important feature of the look I'm trying to achieve, that it's worth the money. It's not labelled as waterproof, but I've subjected it to hours of energetic dancing in sweaty conditions, plus a few tears before bedtime (nothing major, just sentimental selfpitying stuff), and it's been perfectly unmoved. I've even absentmindedly slept in it, and not looked like a panda in the morning. This applies to both the 'define-and-lengthen' part and to the 'custom design lash effect,' which is a bit like painting in acrylics. I bought mine at the end of June, I generally wear it twice a week (just for dancing), and there's plenty left.

Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof

I have subjected this not just to dancing but to a proper hide-in-the-loos session of exhausted weeping, and it stuck to its post. Its effect on the lashes is just ordinary, but it's cheap and very reliable.

I also use this stuff:

L'Oréal Touche Magique liquid concealer

I use this as an undercoat on my eyelids, and it stops eyeliner doing the panda thing. It's cheap and readily available in a colour that matches my skin very well, and it comes in a rather well-designed pen-shaped package with an integral brush. I use very little eyeshadow, but it stops that moving too.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Lipstick on your collar (and halfway up your shirt)

Tangobaby has a good post about makeup, a subject in which she is deeply and passionately expert, and how to get it right so it doesn't look silly, or cause embarrassment by migrating to the wrong part of your face, or someone else's face, or clothes.

Among other things, she says this:

how many times have you been invited to dance with a leader only to see his shoulder covered with foundation, lipstick or mascara? Yuck.
I've been dancing for a year now, and I've never noticed that. I have seen a friend with a kiss of bright pink lipstick half way up his shirt (she was very short and a bit enthusiastic), but I've never noticed gunk on the shoulder.

So why is this? Is it just that American women customarily wear more makeup than we do? Is it that I've never looked carefully? I'm spot-on average height for a British woman - maybe it's something I'd notice if I were little?

I don't really see how I could possibly transfer makeup to my partner's shoulder. You don't rest your face there. But if I were three inches shorter, perhaps it would be different. Any thoughts?

The Cabinet of Curiosities

I went to the British Museum on Friday, and I might go again tomorrow.

They've done up the King's Library recently, also known as Room 1, and it's really beautiful. They have a replica of the Rosetta Stone displayed as it originally was, so you can touch it (the real one is on the other side of the court, in a glass case), and the room is devoted to a magnificent exhibition on the Age of Enlightenment. If you want to see the Rondanini Faun, the jawbone of a Mastodon, lots of greek vases, and a bust of Sir Joseph Banks, this is the place to go.

There's also a new room where they put anything particularly interesting that has to be moved while they're refitting a gallery. It's always different. On Friday it was full of completely lunatic clocks (that one is more than five feet tall) and watches, ticking away, including one in the shape of a nef, beside a half-million-year-old handaxe, a fourteenth century English ewer that had been found in the tomb of an African king, and the Lewis Chessmen.

It's free. You can just walk in and look at all this stuff and have it explained to you, because the great collectors like Sir Hans Sloane and Richard Payne Knight, Charles Townley and Sir William Hamilton (the same one who was famous for his wife) collected all these things and tried the best they could to understand them. And then they gave the results to the nation, and ever since, it's just gone on.

You will spend money in the shop, though, and the bookshop, and the café.

Sunday 16 December 2007

Electric butterfly

It's been below freezing at night this week, so when I get to the dancing place I have to turn myself from a hairy caterpillar (sheepskin jacket, shawl round head, rabbit skin gloves, woolly boots and socks, long sleeved knee-length zip-up hoodie) into a butterfly.

Unlike the butterfly, I reverse the transformation when it's time to go home.

Last night, the process of metamorphosis made so much static electricity, I crackled.

But when I get home, I'm still warm enough that I can get changed and go to bed without having to turn the heating on in my cold little flat. I'm warm from the inside, and it takes over an hour to dissipate; longer than getting home from my usual Saturday place.

Blue beret

I've made the blue silk I got at the iknitlondon stitch & bitch day into a hat. Here's the pattern, which I just made up. It's all crochet except for the ribbing at the end, which is there to give it a bit of grip. I decided on a beret because the trouble with silk is, it isn't springy and stretchy like wool, so most winter hat shapes just wouldn't work. But it what it does do, is drape.

I skein Fluffenstuff hand-dyed "Aran" silk in "Aether" (I don't agree that it's aran - I'd call it double-knitting at most, and some experiment says that 4mm to 4.5mm is the needle size to use for a wearable fabric).

4mm crochet hook and 5 4mm double pointed knitting needles.

Make a loop and work 12 dc (or sc if you are American) into it. Join with a slip stitch and continue to work dc in a spiral, increasing irregularly as necessary to keep it circular and flat, until it is as big as a dinner plate. I do this based on experience with a little trial and error, but you start increasing every 2, then 3 and end up hardly increasing at all. Interspersing no-increase rounds works well. You have to mark the end of the round somehow if you're going to be that orderly about it: I don't bother, but just do it by eye with frequent checks.

When it is big enough, decrease every 12th stitch for one round and then decrease every 10th stitch until the opening is just slightly bigger than a good fit over your normal hairstyle - with enough room to get the fingers inside.

Put the last stitch on the first 4mm dpn and pick up all the stitches until you have a full cirle. Knit in knit-1-purl-1 rib for 10 rounds.

Cast off with a really stretchy cast off. I do it like this: k1, *return the loop on the right needle to the left needle, knit it again, knit/purl next stitch in pattern, cast off knit/purlwise to suit that stitch, repeat from * till you get to the end.

It is reversible: if you wear it inside out the texture is different, softer with a less obvious spiral pattern. The ribbing can be tucked inside or pulled down to keep your ears warm.

I have another skein, and a bit left over from this one. They might be a scarf or some fingerless mittens, which are very nice in a chilly office. Silk is surprisingly warm. There might even be enough for both.

Thursday 13 December 2007


I'm on holiday today, and all of next week!

I am not in the office till after Christmas.

The project managers do not have my number, and they cannot find me.

I can lie in bed at 4am listening to the cricket on Long Wave.

I can go to the British Museum and look at the amazing things.

I can talk to people in different timezones.

I can do housework, and put my accounts in order.

I can turn the two skeins of beautiful blue silk from fluffenstuff into something nice (a hat, I think, and something else).

I can go to a midweek milonga without struggling the next day.

I'm sure I can think of a few more things tomorrow.

I am determined that by the day after tomorrow I will have forgotten all about work.

Sunday 9 December 2007


I danced the Canyengue set tonight, and then it was time to go home.

I've only danced Canyengue in class before, never socially, and the last time in class was a month or so ago. In the first one I got the hold a bit wrong, forgetting how important it is to point your face in the correct direction. In the second and third that was better, but I didn't entirely deliver the little off-axis-ness that is supposed to be there. I think my feet were generally OK but I felt a little bit clumsy and approximate. I was tiring, I'd danced all evening and at least one of my feet was hurting quite a bit. (I need to get some of that magic cold goo to rub on sore spots - I have the magic hot goo, but it's not as effective).

Canyengue looks quite a bit different, so I was sure I'd be stared at. Most people just dance tango to the same music. I haven't had much practice at it, and I couldn't afford to be distracted by catching anyone's eye. I've also found that it's very tempting in a Canyengue hold to look down, at your shadow on the floor, and that causes things to go wrong. So I made a decision to keep my eyes shut.

They were so firmly shut, and I was concentrating so hard, that I was quite surprised at where we were when I opened them. He could have danced me out into the street and I wouldn't have known.

I danced one more dance - Poema - with someone else. He asked me as I was getting a drink of water on the way to my coat. I'd only danced with him once before, I want to dance with him again, and he said "I really like Poema" (which had already started) - and I hesitated and said yes.

He dances really nicely but I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have done. I had intended the previous dance to be my last one because it was exactly what I wanted to take home with me. And I was regretting not having stuck to that idea. I'd actually been inspired to say "that's my last one" to the previous partner, as well, and having gone back on that made me feel worse. I felt obscurely as though I'd treated both of them with less respect than I would have wished, in my own mind if not in theirs. Just one of life's little errors, I suppose.

As soon as Poema was over I explained that I had to get my train. And I more or less got to take home what I wanted.

Canyengue looks rather bizarre, to my eye, but it feels gorgeous.

Saturday 8 December 2007


I've just been to Frillseekers. I think I must have got their flyer at iknitlondon, although it's been stuck on my door and I was somehow convinced I must have got it at a dancing night. Anyway, Fran and Caroline are very nice and they sell vintage clothing.

I bought a dark-silver seventies blouse with diamante trim which I may even wear out dancing tonight. It's sexy and suits me. I tried on a fifties dress which fitted beautifully and looked sort of stunning, but I would never actually have worn because it's just not really my style. They have some really interesting coats, hats, and handbags, and some vintage knitting patterns, too.

I explained what I needed for dancing, so they will be looking out for it. It has to be reasonably sleek - not too long - not too restrictive - not too loose - nothing that can catch on a man's clothing and cause embarrassment - and ideally, it should look interesting from behind. Washability is a big bonus, and my new blouse should be fine washed by hand.


As well as (I hope) an agreeably scented armful, and a nicer dance than you'd expect from my experience, I learned tonight that I am also, sometimes, a cold nose.

It's always intriguing to see yourself from someone else's point of view, and my favourites are the trivial details of the same kind that make a novelist's description live.

There's a moment in HMS Surprise where Patrick O'Brian writes something like - "she was wearing a hard blue dress, tediously embroidered with pearls". He was a magnificent writer and I love that line, about a very beautiful woman in a difficult situation and a bad temper. You see her standing there, in the lap of luxury, having made a poorer-than-usual choice of outfit that afternoon.

I was delighted with my cold nose news - apparently rather nice in a hot room - and giggled for the rest of the tanda.

And he was my second dance of the night, so presumably my nose was also cold for the first one - but I don't think we did whatever it was that caused the end of my nose to make contact.

It's a long and slightly scary walk from the station to tonight's venue, but it seems much shorter on the way back when you're nice and warm.

And I'm sure my eyelashes sometimes tickle.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

More clicks

Ihad a really good night on Saturday, and I have a store of joy to last all week in between being busy. I have some things to remember from my regular class as well.

  1. give it a little bit more air in the forward step when you're going round, don't step in, don't worry about stepping away, you aren't ...
  2. you can do that by collecting your feet a bit better in the middle of it instead of instinctively taking the shortcut from over here to over there, you do cover more ground but the balance is better and it's easy once you're fast enough ...
  3. and by paying more attention to the way your following foot pivots to point where you're going before it leaves the ground, which helps (2) happen.

    That all added up to a rather subtle alteration, although it doesn't sound it, and it took me several repetitions to work out what I was being told, but I think I've got it and it did feel different, and better. Also:

  4. The colgadas (where I go off my own axis and hang from the leader) worked fine, and I can even swing the axis around if I think about keeping my shoulders level and let the hips look after themselves. I only got dropped once. I didn't fall down. I just squeaked rather loudly and he remembered what he was doing and caught me.

But still, please don't throw me into colgadas unless you know how to get out of them. That tends to be the dodgy bit.

If I forget to breathe properly my lower back gets tired. Tensing up round the lower ribs is a bad habit that's not directly connected with the dancing. My Alexander Technique instructor showed me how to fix it, and I can do it perfectly well if I remember.

I've just got a piece of music on - it's the Choir of the Moscow Church singing a blessing by Rachmaninov. Have you ever heard a Russian basso profondo? How can this be a human voice?

Friday 30 November 2007

Hard Work Hedgehog

It's Friday, and I would go out and dance, but I can't keep my eyes open.

I'd dance badly, and be delusional, and it's Not a Good Idea. I've had a hard week.

My computer's just played Que te importa que te llore and I practically burst into tears despite understanding nothing but the title and the tune.

Sorry, I'd like to dance tonight, and my feet are fine, but my head needs to rest.


Sunday 25 November 2007

Arm steering

Steering with the arms. Of all the annoying things, I think this is number one, because it's so common, so tiresome, and so fundamental. It's a terribly easy habit to get into. It feels bad, and it destroys the connection, the timing, the fun. Following it is draining, and boring, and hard work. If you want to do an arm lead, go thou and do it properly, in salsa.

Some people manage to do it in close embrace almost as much as they do it in open. I think it comes from not having mastered how to turn your torso from the waist while leaving your hips for a moment where they were. In close embrace it could also be a logical result of not having mastered how to present your chest; if you can't do that, I suppose steering with the arms will seem necessary because you haven't got the connection you need.

I wish there was something, as a follower, I could do about it. It's on my list of things to ask. In a class, I've been instructed to take my hand out of the leader's left and put it on his shoulder to help with this, but I don't think that would work in a milonga. It might cause offence, or be misunderstood, or not be understood at all; and a I think a lot of people do this because they don't know any other way, so in that case it might cause embarrassing paralysis. So, unless I'm going to go on a personal campaign - and I don't think so - I don't think there's much I can do except whinge.

For the follower, though, and based on my personal experience; you have to have the right amount of springiness in your right arm. It sounds paradoxical but if you don't, he can end up having to use his right hand to give you useful signals that would otherwise come from his left, and that can scramble things a bit. And make sure you're happy with the other side of your embrace.

I don't know what other faults in the follower can create or encourage it. That's to ask. I wonder if we can make it happen with tall leaders by pulling them down?

It's not the same as just having hard hands. I know dancers who have a basically good body lead, but spoil it with hard hands that hurt. I think if you were trying to fix problems with the help of a teacher, it would be better to treat that seperately.

When the body lead is right, I'm hardly aware of the leader's hands except as a sort of protective circle. And my right hand that's holding, is just holding hands. There is a place for communication with that hand, but it's not where the lead is coming from.

I'm trying to list annoyances not so that it makes anyone feel bad but so that you know if you don't do any of them, and don't do any obvious unfortunate things like smell bad*, you'll be nice to dance with. Be sure you don't do this one, and you will be nicer to dance with than at least seven tenths of the dancers in London who can get round a floor without embarrassing themselves. Including a lot of people with lots of vocab and no idea.

*For the avoidance of doubt: smelling occasionally as though you'd fallen in the magic cauldron of Hugo Boss is not bad, it's just unintentionally-humorous and endearing. We all make mistakes.

Not Your Prawn Sandwiches

I went to a football match on Saturday. At the Arsenal. And I was in the Directors Box! As an official member of the Prawn Sandwich Brigade.

My Dad plus one had been invited by one of the directors who has done a lot of work with him. They get on well and respect each other, and it's complicated work, so I suppose that's why we were there. They have various lists and can invite whoever they like. Mr Director was rightfully proud of his lovely new stadium and took us outside to point out the design and details. It was delivered on time and under budget, project management at its best. Not like Wembley; but at Arsenal, you can get a sensible, definite decision about anything important by asking at most three people. I don't see how that could happen at the FA. And I know from experience that not having the senior people really in charge is what kills serious project management completely.

It seats 60,000 which I think is a good size. They can sell out every match and have another twenty-odd thousand in the season ticket queue. On the outside is the sponsor's name in huge letters - EMIRATES STADIUM - and their rather pretty logo in Arabic script, a pleasant sign of the peace of nations when everybody has the chance to get their heads down and concentrate on money. Inside, it feels big but not cavernous. There is an elegant curving roof with an uneven hemline designed to let the air circulate and dry the pitch. And I'm sure that works because in my seat, I noticed the smell of mown grass. Most of the roof is translucent to let in the light - good for the pitch (a very brilliant green, under pale grey sky) and nicer for the people.

The sound system is always audible, but never deafening. The big screens are of astonishing quality, but not at all distracting or intrusive. The noise of the crowd is beautifully focussed and intense; a very important point for a football ground, and the architects seem to have known what they were doing there, too. The floodlights are a very pure white. I noticed some nice and thoughtful details, like the silhouettes of trophies round the middle tier with dates, and the little perspex fences at the bottom of each stairway so that if you trip over on the stairs, you can't fall off the edge.

Around the pitch itself is a narrow strip of the latest LED advertising. Mr Director said that in some European stadia they have ads where a car or something zooms right round the pitch, but they tried it and the players hated it so much they banned that sort of thing. I can see why - if you go to all that effort training your body and brain to pay attention to things that move fast along the ground, it must be horribly distracting. It would be like being a greyhound with rabbits going in all directions. So it just shows ads that move in place.

It's all done with taste. There's nothing pretending to be what it's not. Concrete is concrete and wood is wood and glass (or perspex) is glass (or perspex) and it's all there for a reason. We asked who the architects were, Hok Sport.

The directors' box seats 98 people at tables laid out rather like a nice restaurant, without feeling like a restaurant in the least. At one end is a bar in very nice striated stone, and when you come in they serve you a proper drink; I had a gin and tonic which was stronger than I expected. A nice lady takes your coat and points out where it's going before it magically disappears into the wall of hidden cupboards along the back. It's a remarkably well-designed, classy and comfortable room. The other long wall is glass, and glass doors, leading outside to the seats where you watch the match. They're padded red leather with the Arsenal crest and of course they have a magnificent view.

Another little detail; in the Ladies loos there is not only a bit of sofa where two or three women could sit down and deal with a problem, but also a long mirror with a shelf and some bar stools so you can fix your hair and makeup without getting your handbag wet or being in the way of people trying to use the sinks. It's cleverly worked in at one end, a top quality use of space - full marks to the architects there.

At the opposite end from the bar in the box is the food. You go up and collect a course then take your seat and eat at leisure. I started with some very nice little pieces of sushi, an oyster in its shell, and bacon and whatnot from the cold table, then I had the pink roast beef and two little Yorkshire puddings with carrot puree and crunchy green beans and a really delicious glass of wine. There were banoffee things in glasses like liqueurs to finish, but I just had fruit; fine strawberries (in November), raspberries and two kinds of melon, all full of their own flavours, the best of everything. Not your prawn sandwiches, I can tell you. I wouldn't expect anything less because this should be one of the finest stadia in the world and it's in a city where the best is available on demand, but just the same I was impressed - it's an extremely professional operation. And it finished off with a nice cup of coffee.

Mr Wenger appeared very briefly before the match and I shook his hand. My Dad hadn't expected to see him because of course he's busy with the players, but presumably he wanted a word with some of the directors about something; they're all thoroughly at work on a match day. He just shook hands and said Hello, pleased to meet you; he has a nice voice.

At half time they served up scones, cakes, coffee and tea. The tea was strong and hot and the scones and cakes were delicious.

I won't tell you much about the match because my opinion's of no value and if you want to know you can read the reports elsewhere. The crowd did its stuff but Arsenal were missing Fabregas and peppered the target end in the first half without really getting any shots on target. They left it late to score two goals and Theo Walcott was stretchered off. He's very good, but small for the English game. I wonder if the Premiership will just kick him to bits, like Ossie Ardiles. Perhaps he'll fill out, he's very young.

Afterwards Mr Director chatted to us again for a while and took us upstairs to show off the Diamond Club lounge. I don't know whether the name has anything to do with one of the major shareholders' connections to the London-Antwerp diamond trade or whether they just thought it sounded good, or both. But this is where you eat and watch if you pay fifty thousand pounds for your pair of seats in your first season, and twenty-five thousand per season thereafter. The food and staff are under the supervision of Raymond Blanc and there's an air of quiet busyness and luxury. It's marble and red leather and wood of various shades, with beautiful inscriptions and inlay work in stone and wood. There's a bronze head of Arsene Wenger, and a bronze head of someone else. In the wooden wall of the stairwell on the way up is a lovely inlay of diamond-shaped pieces in a golden wood like a a shower of rain, or a portrait background by Klimt; a thing of remarkable elegance and beauty.

The whole place seems slightly Art Deco, which Highbury was, without being retro; perfectly modern, luxurious, and comfortable. Everything of the best, but nothing vulgar, silly, or ostentatious, and no noise. Just the roar of the crowd, like a giant lion curled up in a giant basket.

And what do you know, there was Mick Jagger surrounded by numerous grandchildren in Arsenal shirts eating their tea. I thought he only did cricket, but there you are.

Anyway, the whole afternoon was an extra special treat. I was super-lucky and I don't s'pose I'll get the chance again. That's what it was like.

Friday 23 November 2007

"Why don't you dance like that at milongas?"

This wasn't asked of me - it was asked of someone else, in a class - and it just seems to me like a witless put-down.

To exaggerate hardly at all - dancing with one highly-skilled person you know quite well, for an hour, in private, to the same few pieces of music over and over again, with a clearly-defined purpose in mind, is not the same skill as dancing with seven different variously-skilled near-strangers for twelve minutes each, to twenty-one different pieces of music, in public, for the sheer adventure of it.

It's related, but it's not the same. And dancing socially is much harder. Never mind what you can physically do - these are skills of the mind far more than they are of the body, at least until they become automatic, and the mind has a lot more to deal with at milongas.

I my experience it takes quite a while before a matter of technique that I learn in a class becomes something I can deliver, dancing socially, let alone deliver consistently.

Matters of technique go through a gradual transformation over time from something I've done in class, made a note of, and thought about, to something I realise I ought to have done just then (oops), to something I remember to do sometimes, to something I do most of the time (unless I'm too tired, or having a bad day, or dancing with someone I too-desperately want to please), to something I do because I've forgotten how not to.

Each of those stages is positive progress. It's is not necessarily easy or quick. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. What else would you expect?

I imagine my progress in dancing as like looking through my camera - as very gradually coming into focus. And then perhaps I might work on tonality and depth of field.

Wednesday 21 November 2007

At the bottom of the garden

Here is a postcard from my Magic Grandad, David Attenborough. For reasons of meaningless and irrational internal politics, the videos posted on YouTube by BBC Worldwide itself are of unwatchable quality, but fortunately other people post the same clips in a decent state.

There is no point in me describing this sequence to you. You just have to see it. Don't forget to retrieve your jaw afterwards.

You can buy the series here, unless your DVD player is Region 1 (includes the USA), in which case, here.

Monday 19 November 2007


I spent about the last forty-five minutes of my regular class today rotating on the ball of my right foot.


We were doing colgadas and I more or less got it - not easy, but very exciting when it works.

I got the going off-axis, I got the going back on-axis, I was a bit puzzled about swinging the axis around and didn't quite get it but started to feel how it might go, and I didn't entirely get what I should have done with my free leg, although I think the answer to that suggested itself on the train home. On the way home I always scribble down a summary of what we did, what I thought was interesting or important, and whatever problems and solutions I encountered, so I can look back when I forget things. Just writing it down - explaining it to the notebook - helps me understand and make connections anyway.

I'm looking forward to next week's class when I can try again. With luck, my right foot will have stopped hurting.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Playlist: Poema

I thought it might be interesting to make playlists of different couples dancing to the same track, just to see what they do with it.

Here are ten different couples dancing to Poema. There are couples here who are well known and couples who aren't, and I am not saying that all these performances (or demonstrations) deserve to be in the same playlist, or making any claims at all as to their quality. Feel free to add your own opinion in the comments.

Warning: Poema is a terrible earworm. Don't play this late at night if you intend to sleep.

It drove me completely round the bend when I compiled this.

Saturday 17 November 2007


[Update 10th Nov 08: New, updated review here.] I went to Negracha tonight, so here's what it's like if you're thinking about it.

The Class: I skipped the class. It's Friday and the class is too early. The guest teacher was Pablo Veron and people who took it said it was very basic stuff. (Personally, I am right behind people whose names people know, giving classes on very basic stuff. It never hurts and a lot of people need to hear it from someone they respect. Not that they listen.)

What I thought of the DJing: I really enjoyed it. Nice sets, cortinas, including some really good old-fashioned stuff but with plenty of variety and memorable moments. Nothing boring or empty or tiresome; all of it made me want to dance. I thought the sets were well put together. According to the website the DJ tonight was "TANGO BOSSO" (what?). The previous time I went there I wasn't so keen, there were a lot of vocals and not a single track I remembered afterwards, a different DJ I presume.

Layout and atmosphere: the floor, tables, and bar encroach on each other severely. Bar staff walk across the dancefloor in the middle of a track. There are also two levels of raised platform where the sound system is with tables, apparently reserved but the plebs are allowed to sit on the edges. The main room is a nice room, rather reminiscent of a high-quality Victorian school hall. On the street side are fine tall windows and the platform; at the other end is the bar, and there are tables and chairs down the sides. The little downstairs "Nuevo" floor is cosy and pleasant but they don't usually have a live human DJ down there. Upstairs is crowded and noisy. I like the cloakroom at the entrance where you can leave stuff and change your shoes.

Hospitality: Dire. No food. No watercooler or jugs. Normal-sized bottles of water are £1.50 and there are sniffy little notices against bringing your own. The other drinks are overpriced even for Holborn. Not only that, but someone has actually gone to the trouble, it appears, of cutting off the cold taps in the loos. Only the hot taps work. For sheer, grasping, hostile, sneering, inhospitable meanness, that's hard to top, and its barefaced offensiveness played a role in me going home at 11:30 instead of staying till 1:00 as I'd planned.

Floorcraft: when crowded, mayhem. The best you could possibly say for it the first time I was there is that it was about 60 to 70% anticlockwise, on average. Tonight it was less crowded, but otherwise much the same. Not a place to wear your best trousers, or tights costing more than £3. Lots and lots of bumps. Good leaders have to divert a lot of energy to partner protection. Followers need to be alert and keep their heels down.

Dancing: I got good dances and I've seen quite a lot of really good dancers here, and also lots of awful ones. I suppose the reasons why the good dancers go are that it's big and popular and everybody talks about it, so there are lots of partners to choose from, and it's open till 3am so you get a much longer session here than you usually would; and the better you are, the more you probably get out of that.

Getting home: Easy, if time-consuming, lots of night buses from Holborn in all directions.

Getting in: £10, or £12 with the class.

Website: Tells you when it's open, where it is, what's on, and how much it will cost. It's not that pretty but it does the job, that's all I ask. The style I'd place about 1997-9; black background, large bright lettering, centred text running down the page.

A bit after 11 I got a dance with MrTaiwan, who I danced for the first time at my usual place last week and I said was properly musical. We had a set of really dramatic tangos, and then Gallo Ciego, which is a piece of music I just love, and then a set of waltzes which were just so much fun. I was delighted that he wanted to go on dancing with me for so long, and I felt that my dancing got steadily better. He told me he was going home on Wednesday - such a shame.

As soon as I sat down again and looked around it occurred to me that this was decision point. If I left now I would be sure of getting the train all the way home, I would wait on a warm platform, and in thirty minutes I would be five minutes walk from my door. If I did not, I would probably have to sit in a virtual queue for another two hours and get kicked another twenty times and thrown around another ten, before getting another dance as enjoyable as MrTaiwan. There were one or two people there who would have fitted the bill and who do dance with me sometimes, but I didn't think I was high in their queues. And if I did not leave now, I would have to stay for at least another hour and a half before the night buses started, then wait for one in weather cold enough for snow, then sit on it for a full hour to get home.

There's a sliding-scale calculation there which it was interesting to watch myself making.

I stepped into the Ladies to cool myself down and think it over, and that was when I took offence at the cold taps not working, so I went.

MrTaiwan, if you're out there, I hope you get lots of great dances back home.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Blog to-do

I've been thinking that it doesn't really makes sense to fill up the tango part of this blog with detailed reports on my milongas and learning experiences. In posts where it's possible to tell where I must have been and when, my unwillingness to risk hurting anyone's feelings (or making myself look a fool) would mean leaving out nearly everything that's bad or tricky to deal with, and consequently everything remotely entertaining. I think it would end up anodyne and give a false impression. I often find the bad bits humorous or interesting, and they really contribute a lot to what I get out of my dancing.

So I think that if I have something waspish to say I will reserve it for a while and perhaps just describe whatever it was later, without mentioning any particular names or places. I haven't done fiction since I was at school, my mind doesn't work that way without a lot of persuasion, but perhaps I'll give it a go if it seems required.

I will do an occasional series on "Annoyances", the minor but tiresome and ludicrous things that I'm sure must happen constantly to everyone else as well.

And perhaps I'll do some brief descriptive reviews of the places I go to dance, with:

  • What the class was like or about, if applicable
  • Atmosphere and hospitality
  • Practical considerations, opening hours, how to get home
  • What I thought of the DJ'ing
  • Floorcraft
  • Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened
  • Where to find the website or schedule
And thirdly, I'll post some favourite tango videos one by one with what I like about each of them.

And if there's anything else on my mind I'll just say it, and see what gets comments. I'm vain.

What do you think?

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Baby Picture 2

Since the first one was so popular, here is another extra-cute photo of my friend's new baby. This was in August so she must look quite different by now.

Monday 12 November 2007

Slippery stuff

I had a really good class today. I wasn't struggling like last week. Most of it was similar material but I sorted out some problems.

Tip for gentlemen, however; if we're going to do colgadas where you take my weight and I have to hold on to you and lean a little bit away, please avoid really tight modern-materials t-shirts that make you as slippery as a bar of soap. It's a bit alarming, and you may get dug into with fingernails if we make any little mistakes.


Sunday 11 November 2007

Gizmos, a boost, and learning volcadas

I know it's the middle of the night, but I'm winding down after my milonga and if I lie down I won't go to sleep.

I had a good night tonight at the Crypt, which was a bit quiet till at least 22:00, maybe because a lot of people were watching the fireworks at the Lord Mayor's Show (and also it's Diwali and there are a few late Bonfire Nights still catching up, so it's been pretty noisy after dark recently). I also had a reasonable night yesterday; I try and get a dance on Fridays now. I've reached a standard where just getting there and getting danced with doesn't use up so much emotional energy as it used to, and a Friday night dance makes the weekend seem longer by almost a day.

One person tonight said something curious to me. "You don't tolerate any of these nuevo gizmos, do you?" I'm not aware of not tolerating any kind of step, as such - although I can get a little prickly if people call out instructions, hurl me around violently, stamp on my toes particularly hard or are more impertinent than I feel they have a right to be. But I have no idea what nuevo gizmos are. Presumably, that was the problem. I'll look them up one day, perhaps.

My last dance tonight was a real treat. It was with someone I'd never met before, who asked me just moments before I'd otherwise have left. I'd been watching him earlier, and I was astonished when he asked me; I chalked that up as a win before even starting. Properly, totally musical; just lovely. And versatile, too. After our first tango Paul decided to play three tracks of something completely different, so we danced to Nat King Cole. He laughed a lot and adapted the style very nicely. I'm not quite so versatile but I did the best I could and I think I did OK. Then one more tango before I had to scamper for a train.

That gave me a real boost.

Which was good, because I was struggling all evening at my regular class this week. Everything was slightly wrong, too fast, too slow, turning not enough, turning too much, overcompensating in all directions. I was probably just tired, physically and mentally. Not my ideal day for a bit on volcadas at the end. For my friends who don't know what that is, you have to lean all your weight on the man and leave your feet behind. It looks very impressive and feels great when it works, but it can be quite demanding physically. Luckily I got a little tutorial with Paul, otherwise I would have been stuck.

I can do it, though, and I know I've done it at least once or twice in social dancing, just going with the flow, and had no problems. I think it's much easier to do if it makes sense in the context of the music and if you've already been dancing around in close embrace with the man for a little while so that you've got comfortable and trusting. I find it very, very difficult to do cold, especially when I'm tired as well. I'll see how it goes next week. Ladies, how do you get on with this?

Thursday 8 November 2007

The Stravinsky Project

My friend Dan very kindly gave me some tickets for a dance performance at the Barbican. It was called The Stravinsky Project and choreographed by Michael Clark, who apparently is an iconoclast, although that's a bit meaningless if like me you haven't a clue what the icons looked like before he broke them.

I took M, who knows about dance, and my sister N, who knows Who People Are in the Arts.

I have absolutely no notion about modern dance. If there's no story, I have no idea what to watch for. It was in three parts and this is what I remember.

Part I
After some thought I decided that I should listen carefully to the music and put the dancers in my peripheral vision so I could see them as dancers making musical shapes rather than as specific human beings making apparently meaningless gestures. This worked very well for everyone except Extra Tall Woman, who was too compelling. It started with a woman waking up and doing some yoga. Then there was a man in a plastic box, who was interesting to watch, and some visually fascinating things with reflections. I liked the way the audience got reflected in the mirrors as a wall of darkened shapes, and it gave me another way of watching the dancers as well. There was a beautiful pas-de-deux at the end.

Part II
A couple of people who know these things had advised us to skip Part II, but I like The Rite of Spring as music and I said I should form my own opinion. "Don't worry," said N, "you will!"

The Rite Of Spring started in the dark with no dancers. I was happily imagining insects and dripping icicles and whatnot to go with the music, then the dancing started and I lost it a bit. I think the first thing was with everyone in leather kilts. I enjoyed Purple-Suit Woman and her slightly erotic dance with Purple-Suit Woman's Man, the only bit that included any specifically meaningful gestures, apart from the bouquet-throwing in Les Noces. The animated loos were odd, especially the one with two swords or ski poles. The brief confrontation between Loo Man and Green Man was mildly intriguing but didn't last long. Green flower people appeared and did something ingenious, then I think the Loo Man took off the loo and reappeared in black shorts and did a long, powerful solo which was interesting to watch because you could see all the muscles in his back; I kept thinking it would be very instructive for an artist or anatomist.

Part III
I really enjoyed Les Noces, perhaps partly because I get vocal music a bit more. The music is loud and dramatic and sounds a lot like Russian church music. This was the bit that Dan was in, hidden away under the stage playing one of the four pianos that do the job of an orchestra. The choir was on stage, the soloists in front of the stage, and the stage was done up like a black-draped One-Party meeting hall.

A sort of giant art-deco striped egg appeared, which I took to be symbolically a limousine, and Extra Tall Woman got out very ceremonially with her toes sharpened and a fur cape on. I suppose she was the Bride. Then most of it was with the dancers all in nude-suits with lines on that vaguely suggested things wedding guests might possibly wear, and they did a lot of things that vaguely suggested interdependency. Some bridesmaids threw small bouquets rather dismissively into the audience, or in one case the orchestra pit.

At the very end Extra Tall Woman reappeared right at the back dressed in a really interesting Aran-style textile that I think was supposed to represent either a Russian wedding dress, or a giant penis, or more likely both. Looking at the picture on the programme, it seems more like crochet than the knitted Aran pattern I thought it was when I saw it, but I'm not convinced the picture on the programme is the same costume. On the other hand, why make two?

And then the bells went bong for quite a while with her standing there en pointe, and that was the end.

M said it was absolutely wonderful, and N seemed to like it too. I think we were very lucky to get tickets as apparently Michael Clark is very important and lots of people want to go. I was glad I'd gone, it would never have occurred to me to go without being invited, and a lot of it was interesting and beautiful.

Just in case you're thinking of going, the website says "contains nudity", but it doesn't. This is completely false advertising; there's no nudity at all. What there is, is lots of beige lycra. But don't let that stop you if you're into modern dance.

Good Afternoon

May I point out that YouTube is the best way of wasting time since 1999. From the Department of the Best Telly Ever, the first part of this clip is David Attenborough being interviewed by Parky - in the early eighties, I suppose.

For those who can't see it I'll provide a transcript.

"Suddenly, out onto the track, about seventy or eighty men, suddenly jumped out of hiding and ran down towards us, brandishing spears and waving knives. And - to say I was alarmed was putting it mildly. What actually happened was that I walked towards this screaming horde of -men, and I - I stuck out my hand, and I heard myself say - 'Good afternoon!'"

Of course he did. What else could David Attenborough possibly have done? He is my Magic Granddad.

I'm going to try to find you the one from Life On Earth where he delivers a line written by Charles Darwin - the one about the entomologist's mind.

Hello friends of Tangobaby


Tangobaby mentioned me in her post today. So thank you Tangobaby and hello to all her friends! At least some of this blog will be about my experiences dancing, so do pipe up in the comments about your own.


Sunday 4 November 2007

Bad sacadas

One of those little annoyances is misjudged sacadas so high they actually disarrange your knickers.

People aren't trying to be sleazy, they do it because they've got no idea where you are. Unless you verbally protest, they don't even know they've annoyed you.

I bet the men who learned this the old-fashioned way (only with each other) never made this mistake. Not more than once, anyway. In fact I find it hard to imagine how they'd do it even once, but what do I know? I have no information as to how men negotiate such things between themselves, away from the female gaze.

While you have that image in mind, here is Oscar Casas explaining what you need to know.

The only thing I would add is that the silicone-elastic bit of hold-ups, if you knew where that was, would be a pretty good guide to "too high".


I've nearly finished the pair of sleeves, except for the ribbing, but I think it's too tight across the shoulders. It's tight for me, and N is slightly broader, if anything.

I can't think of a fix. I'm going to have to pull out two-thirds of it, including all of the difficult bit, and do it again. I discussed it with Puddock and she suggested steeking, but that's something I've never done before, it could go horribly wrong, and it doesn't really go with the pattern or the materials.

This is what you get when you insist on designing for yourself rather than following a pattern, so I can't really complain. I should have checked earlier and I've only got myself to blame.

On the other hand, trying it on has shown that the design itself is really nice.

Wednesday 31 October 2007

Powerpoint Tango

It's very tedious when the lead is pretty much unaware of my response unless something goes badly wrong. If I dance perfectly, we'll both get some aerobic excercise, and I'll otherwise go unnoticed. It sometimes goes with incessant talking.

I don't know why some people bother. They might as well be dancing with a Playstation, pressing buttons with a requisite sequence and speed. And talking at the same time.

The difference between this, and just walking to the music with someone who's aware of my response, is the difference between Death by Powerpoint and chatting with a friend.

Sunday 28 October 2007

Baby Picture

I think this is my favourite of the photographs I took when I went to visit K and the Moominbaby.

Knitting up the sleeve

Productive labour is wonderful when you've woken up a bit overwrought, dissatisfied with yourself, and worrying about things you can't influence at all. At least, things you can't influence today, and might not want to influence in a saner state of mind.

I've been sitting and knitting in my north-facing window seat, hidden behind the curtains, lit by a low pale silver sky. Outside are purple copper-beech and flame-orange lime trees and the sounds of the street, and children, and crows. This butter-soft angora and the yellow bamboo needles flow around my fingers and fill my attention without demanding anything.

It's a privilege to be able to make a physical thing. My troubles unwind very gently with the ball of wool.

I do like to knit in company with friends. I think my favourite thing to listen to while I knit alone is radio cricket commentary. Sometimes I listen to a podcast, or some music.

Today I just had silence, street noises, and crows.


I think I've become a noticeably better dancer over the last two days. I went dancing on Friday, and I had a couple of rather long sessions dancing with the same men. I usually prefer not to do that, which is why I like DJs who play neat sets of three with interludes between. It increases my chances of dancing with everyone I want to.

But this particular night was a good night to do it. It eliminated other variables and allowed me to remember a few things I'd learned about technique and had in my mind for a while. One after the other I remembered them and worked them in until, for the first time, I felt they were all there and my nervous system understood them. You can think about these things and go to classes all you like, but miles on the clock are so important.

Then on Saturday I went again, kept it together, and found I could do things naturally that I couldn't do before.

I've got a lot out of Paul and Michiko's Canyengue classes. I've never had the opportunity to dance Canyengue socially, but it's done wonders for my tango technique. I'm not quite sure exactly why. I think it's partly to do with not over-twisting, and partly to do with the way you have to learn to lean in and then sometimes pop up again. I think some muscles around my hips have learned to dissociate more, and some muscles in my back have got stronger and better coordinated.

I feel I've got off a plateau and I might be going up again. I don't think I'm going to be able to go dancing at all next weekend, which is a bit of a shame, but I won't forget. There's more energy in my steps now, as well as more control.

Thursday 25 October 2007

Candyfloss Sleeves

This is a pair of sleeves I'm knitting for my sister N. Most people call this a shrug, but I think of it as a pair of sleeves without a parent garment.

Jo at my Wednesday knitting club gave me five balls of this beautiful light-tan Angora. She said it was lovely to knit with but she couldn't stop sneezing, so she decided to give it away to a good home and go back to socks for a while.

I'm hoping it doesn't make N sneeze. I showed her a picture of an Angora rabbit and she said it was 'candyfloss with a bunny face,' but as far as she knows she's not allergic. I seem to be fine so far. The pattern is something I just made up based on the shape of this one at I think there'll probably be enough. N works too hard and has to be kept warm in winter.

Sunday 21 October 2007

The Moomin

The MoominNow here's something I'm proud of. This is the present I knitted for my friend Kaisu's new baby. She has more than enough clothes and blankets - it's impossible to stop people giving you things when you're pregnant - so it seemed to me that a companion would be much better. The proper time to give it to the baby is when it and the baby are more or less the same size. And the proper kind for a Finnish baby was obviously a Moomin.

As far as I know, the Moomin publishing company (whoever they are) haven't got a knitting pattern for a Moomin and I probably wouldn't have wanted to follow it even if they had. But it is well-known what they look like, and once you know how to increase, decrease, do short rows, and graft, you can knit any shape you like. I don't suppose the publisher will mind that I've made just one Moomin but I think it would be rude to publish full instructions. They do sell Moomins made out of fur fabric, but I don't really like them. they don't seem alive. And the whole point was to knit something.

It was made on 4.5mm needles with Cygnet Superwash double knitting wool. The general algorithm was like this:

  • I started at the top of the head by casting on a circle of stitches on four needles. But provisionally, using a crochet chain.
  • I increased symmetrically at each side for a while until I was where the hinge of the jaw should be.
  • I divided the stitches, two thirds for the body and one third for the face, and knitted the face first. I put the body stitches on a holder. Using a provisional cast on, I cast on enough stitches to go across under the chin, and knitted a tube without increasing to where the chin should start to curve; then I did two sets of short rows on the underside, separated by a couple of centimetres, like two darts that go right across the bottom half of the jaw, to make the fat chin. Then I decreased as though I was making the toe of a sock, grafted the end of the nose together, and fastened off.
  • Now I went back to the stitches on the holder and picked them up, and the under-the-chin stitches, to make a second tube. I knitted the body, increasing symmetrically at two points on either side of the belly for about the first third. Then I knitted the second third straight, and for the last third decreased symmetrically at six points until I ran out of stitches, and fastened off. Like making a hat.
  • I stuffed it quite firmly from the top (remember the top of the head is still an open circle), pulled out the crochet chain and grafted the top of the head together.
  • Next I knitted the arms and legs seperately, stuffed them, and sewed them on using their long ends and taking the opportunity to reinforce the sides of the head, where the stitches are under a bit of strain. The arms are just tubes with sock toes. The legs have little heels as well, but not proper sock heels, just a few short rows to make the feet curl around. I placed them so that the Moomin could sit down comfortably with its little feet just sticking out.
  • The tail is a long I-cord with some tassells knotted into the end (very carefully - I don't want the baby to pull them out and choke on them). I sewed it on invisibly using fake grafting.
  • Now I knitted two little triangles and sewed them on to the top of the head for ears, using fake grafting again so that they seem to grow out of the head. The purl side is at the front. The seam for each is slightly crescent-shaped, with the hollow side at the front, so that the ears sit up nicely.
  • I embroidered the washing instructions under the tail in black. I just took them off the ball band - machine wash at 40C. The stuffing is washable too.
  • Last of all, I embroidered the eyes. This has to be last because it makes it live. Then I put him in a box and posted him home.

Tuesday 16 October 2007

An apology

I'd like to apologise to the young man I danced with at Negracha on Friday. I snapped at you when you tried to explain what you wanted me to do, and I was ashamed of myself at once because you were perfectly nice to dance with. I was the woman in the red dress who you think is a horrible bitch now. I dance OK but I'm not that hot and I sometimes forget what a battle-axe my tongue is. And when you didn't understand me, I said it again! I'm very sorry and I understand if you never want to dance with me again.