Sunday 26 October 2008

Raspberry Raffle Shawl

Scarf viewSome more of my mother's work. Limited edition of one - she never makes proper notes, just imagines the overall look and then designs the colour pattern as she goes, so she might make something similar, but there isn't going to be another one just like it.

Pattern viewThe plan is to raffle it in aid of breast cancer research and education at Whipps Cross Hospital Library Trust on 31st October. However, they're too disorganised to tell me where you can buy a ticket and they'll probably be clueless if you ring them up. If you like it a lot and want to make an offer, you could email me (top right), and I'll put you in touch.

Unique piece by local designer-craftswoman; 70% kid mohair, 30% silk, hand wash, dry flat, reshape whilst damp. It's made of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, which is like wearing a warm, dry cloud.

I love this one. It reminds me of some really beautiful modern paintings, plus it looks like raspberry ice cream and keeps you warm.

Last.FM player thingie

I'm sacking the Last.FM player from the right hand column of this blog and moving it to a post, because it's slow to load and my playlist is never likely to be interesting enough to justify the space. I'd rather use the space for some band links. In case somebody liked it, here it is.

The little thing at the bottom right of the box pops it out into another window that can float around while you read something else.

A nice performance

I saw a nice performance tonight by some teachers who were visiting London.

In the tango, there were some lifts and some splits, which are the kind of thing that makes me laugh; and because the performance was to some extent at least improvised, they looked a bit rough. But I found that appealing. I liked it as a whole - it was playful and not overwrought. The daft bits are just fun if they're not taken too seriously, which they weren't.

The milonga was great, and functioned as a very good advertisement for their milonga workshop tomorrow (later today, actually - oops).

Saturday 25 October 2008

Mr. Wickham's Plan

Since Psyche asked in the previous comments, here's my theory of Mr. Wickham's Plan. I have no idea whether this is argued by any real scholars of Austen. It probably is, as it seems sort of obvious, but I've never read it anywhere else and as far as I know I just made it up. I did write it on a discussion board some years ago, so if you find another version with similar wording, that would be me.

The only explanations we are offered in the book of Mr. Wickham wasting his time with Lydia are that he hopes for money from her family, or that he has no plans to marry her at all, and no purpose in mind but malice and an impulsive attraction.

Both of these are patently inadequate. He surely does “know my father can give her nothing.” Even if “for an attachment such as this, she might have sufficient charms,” he has no obvious reason to want a live-in mistress - even one too ignorant to want paying. He certainly has no good reason to embarrass and offend his commanding officer to such a degree. It is much more convincing to say, as Mr. Gardiner does, that “the tempation is not adequate to the risk” or as Mr. Bennett says, that “Wickham's a fool, if he takes her with a farthing less than then thousand pounds.”

Mr. Wickham's plan is a thing of beauty, because it cannot fail. It is a no-lose proposition. All possible outcomes are good.

Its outstanding elegance of design and execution is appreciated only by three characters; Wickham himself, probably Darcy, though with less pleasure, and Mr. Bennett, whose reasoning must be the same as mine. When Mr. Bennett says that Wickham will always be his favourite son-in-law, I suggest that he is not entirely joking.

Imagine for a moment that, by the time Wickham encounters Lydia on her holiday, he has somehow become aware that Darcy strongly desires Elizabeth. He doesn't have to know anything whatever about their actual conversations. For my argument he need only think - correctly - that Darcy wants Elizabeth very much indeed.

I this this assumption is plausible.

Wickham is the only person in the book who has known Darcy from childhood, with the exceptions of the housekeeper and probably Colonel Fitzwilliam. Wickham is very perceptive and empathic - successfully manipulative people have to be. Wickham has also known, from his own childhood, every single person in Darcy's large household, and he probably knows them quite a bit better than Darcy does, because Wickham's father was the manager and not the owner; a colleague, not the shareholder. He is not short of a contact or two. And he knows Elizabeth.

A brief digression: Wickham started as the son of Darcy's father's valued employee, and since the fluid boundaries of class are one of Austen's characteristic themes I think this is worth keeping in mind. You could wonder what proportion of Darcy's wealth was made by Wickham's father's efforts, and whether Wickham feels, perhaps obscurely, that his own family was entitled to a greater share of it. No such argument clearly entitles Wickham himself to anything in particular, but you can see how it might have an emotional conviction.

The knowledge of Darcy's feelings is in any case pretty general. Darcy has no talent at all for keeping them secret; he only thinks he has. We all seek friends who feed our illusions, and that's one reason why he loves the chronically obtuse Bingley and the intermittently obtuse Elizabeth. Caroline Bingley - who Darcy does not love - has no trouble at all detecting the first signs of interest, and it's only Elizabeth who puts her behaviour down to rudeness.

It's eventually borne in even on the brainless Lady Catherine, though far too late for her to be a source. Her silent daughter - barely perceived - has even more incentive to spot it than Caroline Bingley does, and plenty of opportunity, in good time. It's not a mystery to Colonel Fitzwilliam. We are explicitly told that Charlotte - Mrs. Collins - has considered the idea, but we only hear what she tells Elizabeth, and she's surprised Elizabeth before. Collins has worked it out by the time he writes to Mr. Bennett, and to do so, he must be sure of his ground.

And consider this: if we take Darcy at his word in his great set-piece proposal, he must have been in quite an amusing state for quite a while. Even if he has concealed this fact from all the people I mentioned, and said nothing about it to any living soul, it is absolutely impossible that it was unknown to his valet while they were still at Bingley's house and Wickham was in town. And this man - whose existence is certain, but who we never meet, of whose motivations and views we know nothing, and who Wickham surely knows - probably laughs at Darcy much harder than Elizabeth ever will, if more discreetly.

I don't think that I can point to any particular route. The rumour could well be current among the soldiers and the servants, whose worlds are shut to us, well before Elizabeth goes to Rosings. Wickham could very easily just guess, based on his knowledge of Darcy and of Elizabeth and their whereabouts at different times. Wickham was quite interested in Elizabeth, up to a point. He detects her change in attitude when she returns from Rosings, and he surely puts this down to her conversations with Darcy. So from his point of view, her visit to Rosings is surely the start of a courtship intended to be concluded on her visit to Derbyshire - the fact of which he would surely hear from Lydia.

Now then. You are Wickham. You are confronted with Lydia. You know, or you suspect with a good deal of conviction, that Darcy wants Elizabeth. Even if you have doubts about Elizabeth's view of the matter, you reject them for the same reasons everyone else does, and because you know that Darcy always gets what he wants in the end. So much so that he will even resort to behaving better in order to do so. That's one of the reasons why you just can't stand him. You have a bit of malice to spare for Elizabeth too. You already think they're perfect for each other, and you have just heard that she has gone to Derbyshire, with what appears to you a rather weak excuse. Moreover, you want it to be true, because it gives you a beautiful idea.

Elegant, innit?

You will take to yourself the person of Lydia Bennett, thereby securing the immediate benefit of lots of teenage sex, which is not to be overlooked. But you will not marry, at least for now. If your suspicions are wrong, you've lost little. You've annoyed your colonel, but things are looking bad for you anyway, and you're sure that people are warning the parents of richer prizes. You're not exactly risk-averse, and this is a fine bet. If you're right, there are exactly three next possible moves.

1. Darcy marries Elizabeth anyway. While Lydia is unmarried, you now have unlimited opportunities to humiliate him. Court publicity as much as you can. Don't dump her until a better opportunity presents itself. This outcome is not going to happen, Darcy can't allow it, but if he did, you would still have lost little, and my goodness it would be fun.

2. Darcy does not marry Elizabeth. You have, for the first time ever in your joint lives, permanently prevented Darcy getting what he wants. And how! In this event, you have still lost nothing: just dispose of Lydia as publicly as possible when you get bored, or marry her for whatever you can get if you don't think a better opportunity is coming. Just doing that to Darcy is worth almost more than money, so this is a close second favourite to option 3.

3. Darcy repurchases Elizabeth from you at an appropriate price, in consideration of which you will marry Lydia Bennett. This is by far the most likely outcome, and is, in fact, what happens. The money is useful, and may well be much more than Darcy admits (Mr. Bennett has suspicions on this). It is certainly not much less than you could have hoped to gain by any other marriage.

In (3), you still have part of the benefit of (1) because Darcy cannot allow you to starve, or embarrass him too much, while both wives live. You have part of the benefit of (2) because you have made Darcy pay a very large sum of money for something he would otherwise have got for free. You may have smoothed his path a bit more than you know, but you don't know that, so you don't care. And he will certainly have to continue doing business with you, which he had much rather not.

As far as I can see, those are the only possible outcomes. Either you are paid, or you don't marry and you lose nothing: either Darcy pays, or he loses Elizabeth. The possibility that Darcy might not have got Elizabeth, and you have actually helped him to that goal by assigning her a monetary price, is unknown to you (but remarkably neat from the author's point of view). The rest of it is just haggling, and you're better at that than he is. It really is the perfect no-lose proposition, especially since your failed attempt on Miss Darcy has limited your options in hunting richer meat, and this includes some permanent revenge for that as well.

It is a plot of such perfection that I can't bring myself to disbelive it. I think it is instantly obvious to Mr. Bennet, and he believes it. What about you?

The brain of the art-ee

I was trying to say that I think a feature of good art is to make good use of the brain that looks at it.

Limerick said that this applies to dance performances, but it immediately struck me, on reading his post, that it applies equally well to painting or writing or sculpture or any kind of art. For example: in Pride and Prejudice, we don't get told exactly why Wickham elopes (I have a beautiful theory). The shading of the Mona Lisa makes her expression appear slightly different depending on how far away you stand, and similar cognitive leverage is the essence of the kind of oil painting that makes people say “just like a photograph”, when, of course, it's absolutely nothing like a photograph. A photgraph leaves out quite different things. Michelangelo's unfinished Deposition has more presence than some of his finished works. Music sounds more interesting when the beat is not always explicit, than when it is.

Anyway. All the people who produced the works above were artists. Some of these are for listeners, some for readers, some for an audience, and I can't even think what the word is for people who look at paintings. I said "art-ee" before realising I had made this word up on the spot. Shall I stick with it or is there a better one?

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Boring Performances

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a salsera friend about performances. I said that I see a lot of performances that are technically impressive, totally professional, and, to me, tedious and embarrassing. I don't think there's anything wrong with show-tango as such; it can be done well, and sometimes it is. I've seen performances I loved. But most of the time, I have every sympathy with a non-dancer who remarked that as far as he could tell, tango was a matter of flicking a few legs and looking a bit silly.

My friend pointed out that there is nothing special here - the same happens in salsa. Maybe the explanation is that dancing well is one thing, but choreography is quite another, and good choreography is very, very difficult. I have seen it done, but not very often. I mostly prefer performances that are wholly or partly improvised, because what they lack in spectacle they more than make up in expressiveness and taste. Perhaps that means good choreography is like a good referee; invisible. Everything flows, and looks as though it came naturally, right then and there. Just performing it is as difficult as saying “To be, or not to be” and giving the entire speech as though the idea had only just occurred to you, and Shakespeare never existed. And most of the time they're trying to write the play as well.

Anyway, I was trying to define to myself how it works; what it is in particular that I don't like, and what I do. The results seem, on reading them over again, to be quite useless. I have been present at shows that repelled me, shows sparkling (in my opinion) with unintentional humour, shows perfectly devoid of musicality, taste, or point, some of them by people who are famous enough that they ought to do better. And I have found myself surrounded by gushing, emotional praise which I could only presume to be sincere. I know what I like - but what can it mean to anyone but me?

I like:
Light and shade.
I don't like:
Continuous drama in a shouting monotone.

I like:
Elegance of movement and clarity of form.
I don't like:
No beat escaping unmolested.

I like:
I don't like:

I like:
The couple looking absorbed, interested in each other, or happy to be dancing together. Some people even manage all three.
I don't like:
The distressed expressions of a pair of breeding coots. Or, worse, the woman looks like a breeding coot and the man looks as though his mind is already on next year's female.

I like:
The woman getting to express her personality without having to SHOUT.
I don't like:
Indiscriminate knees-skywards action. She's a pro and wants you to know she can tickle his right ear with her left heel, both forwards and backwards.

I like:
Connection and intensity.
I don't like:
Broken connections, diversions, mere synchronisation, and fuss.

I like:
Interaction of two personalities.
I don't like:
Empty dramas about dominance and power.

I like:
Emotional content.
I don't like:
Crap acting.

I like:
Differences in personality and structure between tango, milonga, and vals. Differences between one tango and another. Even if I don't know the track or remember the tune, I am left with an impression of what it sounded like that is reinforced by my impression of what it looked like.
I don't like:
A show that has nothing whatsoever to say about the music, merely using it as a framework of the appropriate speed. I am left with the impression that whoever waxed her knicker line did a very good job.

I like:
A dance performed as though to be seen by an informed and intelligent audience, or no audience at all.
I don't like:
A dance performed as though to be seen in the furthest seat at the Millenium Dome, when in fact you are in a small hall in front of a very well-informed audience, many of whom who would really prefer that you got out of the way so they could talk to their friends or go on dancing. And some of whom, though physically unable and aesthetically unqualified to put their legs behind their heads for public entertainment, lead and follow better than you and are more interesting to watch.

Professional dancers work very, very hard for probably not much money. Some of those whose performances I like the least are also those whose business sense, work rate, and other abilities I most respect. But most of them aren't William Shakespeare. What's new?

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Miniature Pocket Hat

The Techknitting 8-trick Pocket Hat is quite a small project, quick and not at all difficult to do. But it's a fascinating technical tour-de-force; edgeless, jogless, endless, knobless, and devoid of icky dots. It's taught me a lot, and I quite want one for myself. As soon as I've finished my next two projects.

This, modelled by a grapefruit, is my miniature version. I made it in a hurry as a stop-gap because I haven't caught up with all these babies; a special present is in progress. To make a plausible new-born size, I worked in Cygnet Superwash DK on 4mm needles, cast on 52, and worked 8 rows of each colour except the last. It's very stretchy, and I think it should fit, at least for a few weeks, or, I hope, long enough to take a photo. And I'm blogging it because it and the baby should both have arrived by now. (Pattern links: ravelry library, techknitting pattern part 1).

Thursday 16 October 2008

The Beginner's Questionnaire

Suppose that you've never done a partner dance before. You take a deep breath and you jump in. You don't know what's normal or where you are going, but you are intrepid. How do you know if you've been to a good class? What should you have expected? Did you waste your time?

Well, I know what I think a good class is, and here's my handy Beginner's Questionnaire.

Answers with high numbers are better. Some of the questions won't make sense if you've only taken one class, because there isn't time to deal with what they mention in an hour. Other questions will help you make a decision right away.

However, what I've written reflects my character, experience, and opinions, and you have no way of knowing if I'm right. In fact, Everything below reflects my character. Especially the bitchy bits.

Approach, content, and outcomes

Were you told what to do with your soul, or to imitate the action of a tiger/kitten/river/snake or any other animate or inanimate object whose relation to yourself was purely metaphorical?
  1. A lot
  2. Sometimes
  3. Once or twice
  4. No.
Were you told clearly what to do with your body?
  1. No
  2. Once or twice
  3. Sometimes
  4. A lot.
Were you taught about the line of dance?
  1. No
  2. Mentioned briefly
  3. Mentioned repeatedly
  4. Emphasised and acted upon.
Were you given advice on floorcraft, for example, that the leader should protect the follower, look where he is going not at her, never step where he can't see, and the follower should be careful with her heels?
  1. No
  2. Mentioned briefly
  3. Mentioned repeatedly
  4. Emphasised and acted upon.
Were you given advice about how to behave and what to expect when dancing socially, for example, how to request, accept, or decline a dance politely, what and how long a tanda is, the meaning of 'thank you', or even what to wear?
  1. No
  2. A few tips
  3. Yes, lots of useful advice
  4. Yes, with encouragement to dance at one or more specific places or times.
Were the mechanics of the embrace explained at all?
  1. No, we just watched and imitated what we saw
  2. Once or twice
  3. Sometimes
  4. A lot, with different possibilities discussed.
What (if anything) do you think you were taught about when the follower should cross?
  1. She should remember to cross at a specific point
  2. I think she is meant to know when to do it, but I'm not sure how
  3. Not sure - I'm confused about this
  4. Do whatever steps are led.
What (if anything) do you think you were taught that the follower is supposed to do in a turn?
  1. Once the first couple of steps are led, she should remember to keep going back-side-forward until stopped.
  2. Basically keep going back-side-forward, but I think it might be different at a more advanced level.
  3. Not sure - I'm confused about this.
  4. Do whatever steps are led.
Were the followers taught to follow, and were the leaders taught to lead the various movements?
  1. We learned steps seperately and then worked on synchronising them
  2. We learned the steps seperately, but the followers were told to wait for the lead before doing them, and the leaders were shown how to lead them
  3. We learned the steps and then broke them down into leading and following simpler movements
  4. We were taught to lead and follow simple movements, and we built up the steps from there.
Followers: were you given useful general advice on HOW to follow (as opposed to just where to put your feet and in what order)?
  1. Not sure what this means
  2. Not really
  3. A few tips
  4. A lot.
Leaders: Do you now believe that you could lead whatever was covered in the class with a more experienced follower you had not met before?
  1. Maybe if she'd taken the same class
  2. Not really
  3. Yes, some of it
  4. Yes, a lot of it.
Professional and conscientious teaching

Did the teacher(s) single out any student(s) in a way you felt was less than kind?
  1. Yes
  2. Maybe
  3. Only as a means of managing attention-seekers
  4. Never.
How much did the teacher who did most of the talking, talk about him/her self?
  1. A lot, it was all about him/her and I was annoyed/bored with it
  2. A lot, but it was useful/funny/informative/I liked it
  3. A little bit - just to be friendly
  4. Not much or not at all.
Did ANY of the teachers appear to be doing ANYthing in class other than teaching to the best of their ability, whatever that ability might be?
  1. Yes, leching the students or sleeping off the dope
  2. Yes, showing off, leching each other, or manipulating people to gratify their vanity
  3. Yes, something else (are there other possibilities? My goodness, I've got to hand it to them for imagination)
  4. No.
Did the teachers observe the students while they were practicing, give feedback, and make themselves available to answer questions and resolve problems?
  1. No
  2. A little bit, or only some of that, or not very kindly
  3. Yes, but not very intelligently, there was a bit of autopilot there
  4. Yes, and they treated the questions with respect and thought about how to answer them.
Did the teachers check your progress by dancing with you personally?
  1. Never
  2. Occasionally
  3. With some students/when necessary
  4. With most or all students.
If the teachers did dance with you once or more, and setting aside your own embarrassment and nervousness, do you think you learned from this what tango is supposed to feel like?
  1. Don't think so
  2. Maybe
  3. Yes, I think so
  4. Wow!
After the class, did you feel good about having been there?
  1. No, I felt bored/mystified/discouraged/ripped off
  2. Not crazy about it, it was very stressful, or I had a few mishaps
  3. It was fun or interesting, I felt all right
  4. I felt good.
You're not going to get all the 4's in an hour, and you could get some 1's in a good class. But if you've got a good score, you landed OK.

[Edit 19th Oct - added 'feedback' question - thanks for reminding me!]

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Sending Tigers to India

tigerSome of you may remember the Fair Isle Tiger. He has a rather fierce expression.

He was a present for a baby. The baby belongs to my colleague S, who worked with us here for a while. She quite liked living in Bracknell, especially in summer, but then she went back to Mumbai and did the same work there for a while (it's a big company).

envelopeWhile S was here I made the Moomin, which she liked so much that I had to make a companion for her baby when it came.

The tiger travelled in a Jiffy envelope. The address was about ten lines long. I don't think a name, six-character postcode and house number really do the job in India. They usually will, here, even if you forget everything else.

addressWe were both a little worried about his possible adventures with customs, security, and immigration, which is why I didn't giftwrap him. I hoped that his modest conveyance and totally relaxed relationship with X-rays, together with the dual-nationality visa of his striped coat, would get him through.

Who could let or hinder that? And here he is with Little S.


Monday 13 October 2008


My favourite economist has got a Nobel Prize!

Sunday 12 October 2008

"Barack Obama Held My Sock"

... says Stringativity. Scroll down for the pictures.

What you do is, you hand over your sock-in-progress, saying "Please will you hold my sock while I take a picture?". Then you take a picture. The sock must be on the needles at the time. Handing over finished socks to aspiring Heads of State (or indeed actual ones) would obviously make no sense.

Barack Obama held the sock.

Persuading any current head of state or government, or candidate for such a position (whether by election or heredity) to hold your sock-in-progress for a picture will attract donations to Medicins Sans Frontières..

Small things

I had a good Saturday night dancing. My confidence wasn't high when I got there, but after a while I managed to relax and tune in better than I have in a few weeks - because all my dances were good, but most of all because of a long session with a favourite partner who really likes and values the way I dance (the feeling's mutual). An evening when I felt better at the end than at the beginning. I'm getting better at knowing when this will be true and when I should just stay in.

I've almost got rid of the annoying little quirk I developed at least a year ago, in which my trailing foot would turn over sometimes at the ankle when coming out from behind the standing foot, especially at certain angles, or when in a hurry. It's a strange little thing, like an ornament gone wrong. I think it started in a canyengue class, when I struggled at first with the different embrace and the pivotless crosswise progression. I quickly stopped doing it in the original context, but then it hid somewhere in my nervous system and kept coming up at odd moments. A few weeks ago I moved it to the top of my hit-list. Stopping it seemed like a small, achievable goal that would give me a boost. It's inefficient and ugly and there's no reason at all why I would ever want to do it on purpose. And on Saturday night I kept feeling it wanting to happen and just not happening.

It's a small thing, but it's good.

Then today I met up with Puddock and some other knitters at the Knit Roast. We sat in the sun on a lovely Autumn day, knitting, chatting, and admiring her baby. He gurgled and squeaked and responded when I pulled faces at him, and generally seemed delighted to be in such a wonderful world.

Friday 10 October 2008

Father and Daughter dance

This is a lovely video from Oscar Casas, who teaches Canadians to dance tango, and does the rest of the world a favour by posting great little summaries on YouTube. It's several fathers and (adult) daughters dancing together, including him and his daughter Sheila. They are in the far left corner at the start - she has a backless black top on. It has a a message from Oscar in the subtitles, which speaks for itself.

I posted this in a conversation on Dance Forums about something else, and someone (AngelHi) pointed out something I hadn't noticed:

there are 4 couples and 3 different embraces/styles&rdquo

Angel went on to remark that some people “get all caught up in closed vs open vs VU style vs ???” and base their argument on “Well, in BsAs....”. I think Angel's point is worth passing around, although I don't hear that kind of argument much here in London. I think it happens less here than where Angel is, for cultural reasons. There is less incentive for people in Britain to assign almost mystical signficance to trivial and frequently-imaginary details of other people's cultural practices. In the USA there are all sorts of reasons why you might want to do that and create carefully-catalogued cabinets of curiosities out of them. There just are.

I only dance with my Dad at weddings. He's quite musical, but doesn't think so himself because some of his siblings are even more so. We do a sort of Random Rock to his brother's big band.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

The Free Leg - as in Speech, or Beer?

Here's another one that came out of an interesting conversation with a dance partner.

I would like you to have a look at something. At 02:35 in this video, there is curious move. The leader grabs the follower's free leg with his own and forcibly moves it to a new position. In this case it's a long way from where it started, because he's also moving himself and taking her with him. Because these two dancers are very skilled, and it's all about balance and timing, there's probably a lot less force in this than it looks like; but as far as I can tell he's really lifting her leg and putting it down somewhere new.

What I would like you to do is watch this as much as you need to, to decide on your personal aesthetic response to this move. It's probably fairer to watch the whole thing, to see it in context. Do you like the way it looks, and if so, in what way? Can you execute anything that works like this? Would you consider attempting any version in social dancing? How would you, as a follower (men, please imagine) feel, supposing it was used on you in a social context? 02:35.

After you've watched it and decided on your responses as much as it suits you to do so, scroll down and I'll tell you mine, and we can see whether they're the same.


I say it looks awkward, tyrannical, and ugly. It makes the woman look like a servant and a toy. The way I feel about it is, I hope she got well paid.

What's happening here is that he grabs her free leg and pulls it somewhere. She is standing on the other one, therefore, while it happens, she is trapped. I've had people try this on me quite a few times, with varying degrees of skill and success, and it is a deeply unpleasant experience. The kind that makes me ask myself why on earth I would want to dance well if the result is being expected to put up with this sort of thing. It is like saying out loud, so everyone present can hear, “I can violate your dignity and throw you around as much as I want, and it's entirely your fault for dancing with me. You've already said yes, so don't you dare turn round and start saying there are limits. What do you think you are, an equal? You're just here to help me look powerful and clever.” When people try any kind of leg-trap on me, it irritates me in rather the same way as the bus-stop advert outside my office with a police badge on it, informing the women of London that if they get in unlicensed minicabs they should expect to get raped. It's logically defensible, but it doesn't enhance my lunch.

I don't mind what consenting adults do if it floats their boats. But in social dancing, the leader gets to do what floats his boat, and he has to make assumptions about what floats hers. I think that any interference with the freedom of her free leg (I am not talking ganchos or boleos here, they use the freedom and don't interfere with it), is well beyond the reasonable scope of any such assumption. It is disrespectful, and should be kept for performances and people who disagree with me. Doubtless they exist, and probably in London, as do a surprising variety of things.

I think that the woman's free leg should always belong to her. It is free as in “free speech”, not free as in “free beer”. I avoid leaders who wrap their legs around me in social dancing. Instinctively, I'd quite like to knee them in the balls; but that would be violence, so I refrain. I can think of maybe one or two who dance so extremely well, and do some mild variation so very quickly and gently, with such perfect timing and balance, that I'll dance with them anyway. But I still far prefer it when they leave it out.

If you teach a move like this, and have any respect for your students whatsoever, I think it is your professional duty to at least give an explicit opinion on its suitability, or not, for social dancing. And you probably ought to follow more.

My apologies to the innocent, skilled, and professional dancers in this video (I think the leader is Pablo Veron, don't know who the woman is) and my thanks for their assistance in illustrating this rant. My thanks also to Ghost for the video tip, and to one who shall remain nameless for promising not to do it again.

Something more positive in the works, I promise.

More from the Giant Pool of Money guys

Another outstanding radio programme from the same reporters who brought you The Giant Pool of Money (blogged here, and you can still get the streamed programme and a free transcript here if you didn't download the mp3 when it was free.)

In effect, this is Episode 2. It's just as perfectly put together as the first one, and just as informative, but slightly less funny.

Another Frightening Show About The Economy.

Via Calculated Risk.

Among other things, they explain what commercial paper is, how you swap credit defaults, and why it matters. They're serious about understanding it, entertainig about presenting it, and generally excellent.

Sunday 5 October 2008

Pointed Goth Rib Pullover

I reverse-engineered this design from something I saw in Jane Waller's display at the iKnit London 'Stitch n Bitch' day, 2007. The original was a very ingenious, very flattering Forties pattern with sleeves, but I decided to make this as a pullover. I think it's a bit too long, the proportions make me look too thin and the lower edge will probably get damaged. You can see in the lower picture that folds appear where my belt is. So I may unravel from the bottom, lose 8cm or so, and cast off, but I like the shape and pattern and the armholes worked out well.

The pattern is nothing more than a k2 p2 rib, and there's no shaping. The whole shape is created by increasing one stitch at each side of each side line, and decreasing one stitch at each side of each centre line. You do this on alternate rows. Everything else is k2 p2.

There's no shaping around the neck, either. The pattern takes care of it. I'm calling it Goth-Rib because of the way it automatically creates this close-fitting, pointed-bodice shape.

At the armholes (front and back alike), I cast off 6, then left out the side increases for a few rows, using the slope of the pattern, then started them again. At the shoulders I just cast off 12 at each side, I think, and sewed them together, leaving the middle stitches live. Then I knitted a few rows of reverse stocking stitch around the neck and cast off. I've never designed armholes or a shoulder-and-neckline before so I was completely winging it.

The effect of that cast-off mimics the bottom edge, where I used TechKnitting's elegant tubular edging.

I had to restart this project at least four times. First because I twisted the cast-on, then because I wasn't happy with the way I'd done the increases at the sides, then because I still wasn't happy with the sides, then because I had dye-lot problems. But I got there in the end. The answer about the sides was that it's important to leave two vertical knits there. It would have been even better if I'd done the same at centre front and back. It's also important to use the right kind of increases - make-one-left and make-one-right (demonstrated there by KnitWitch).

The Debbie Bliss cashmerino splices well and is pleasant to work with. It's also deliciously warm. I got one mid-ball knot, and a rather severe problem of non-matching dye lots.

I might make more woollen sleeveless pullovers. Worn over a sleeved blouse, or a cotton or thermal vest, they're cosy without being sweaty, good in an office building with the usual random alternation of heating and aircon.

Sorry about the poor quality photos, taken on my phone at work.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Aches and pains

I think I danced for more hours last night than I usually would, and in a slightly different style to what most of my regular partners do, and some of the time I was thinking about aspects of my own technique I haven't thought about specifically for a while.

Twenty-four hours later I have a strange ache in my left hip - or not so much at the hip as deep inside the thigh joint.

I hope my body is planning to do something useful with this information.

Negracha @ Wild Court

Negracha has changed quite noticeably since my original review, so here's an update. It's central, it's open late, and it's still to some degree where the hotshots go to be seen, though I noticed fewer teachers I knew than I have when I've been there before. It has two good-sized dance floors and a choice of music styles, and lots of very good dancers go there, and quite a few people go there to watch them.

The Class: I missed the class, but heard very good things about the beginners' class taught by Eleonora Simoes. I've generally heard good things about her, and here it was on the important point of telling people how to follow, often neglected.

Layout and Atmosphere: Improved. In the upstairs room, they have removed the bar along the far wall and installed a smaller, square one in the left hand corner. The annoying white-lit mirrors along that back wall have gone, and a black-and-white photograph of a street was projected there, to pleasing effect. The layout change means there is more room for tables and seating and it is not quite so mixed up with the dance floor. It's helped with the problem of bar staff walking through the dancers, and with the problems of sitting down and getting dances. On this occasion the platform at the window end was reserved for the band, so there were no reserved tables up there, but I think they still do that generally.

It was still crowded, which is fine if everyone or nearly everyone behaves well and understands the notion of floorcraft - as was the case at tango al fresco this year, for example. It is not so fine where most people are trying to dance in seven-league boots. Unless you are dancing late in the evening and with a very good lead, expect a lot of bumps and disturbance in the flow. I was dead impressed with my last one. No bumps at all. It's better than it has been, but it's still not the place to wear anything expensive on your legs.

Downstairs, a good sized square room with comfortable sofas, is also much improved. They now have a proper human DJ there playing new-tango music, and quite a few people - in particular some modern-jivers who I knew and had arranged to meet - have started going regularly as groups of friends. It's no longer six people, crap music, and a computer, and the sleazy feeling has gone. Of course people do un-social moves down there, and there's no real notion of the line of dance, but it's also not crowded so there aren't too many bumps. You can sit downstairs in comfort and dance or chat with friendly people. The instructional DVD playing silently on the projector is incongruous and bizarre, but sort of charming, and gives you something good to watch while you're resting.

Hospitality: Still dire. I was refused a glass of tap water at the bar, on the grounds that the tap was not working. Presumably they do not wash the glasses, then. I politely declined to buy bottled water at twice the usual price. I was charged £4.50 for a single gin and tonic with ice and lime, and £2.50 for a glass of orange juice, having already paid £12 to get in. Pleasant barman, though. There are still notices reminding you that bringing your own food or drink is strictly forbidden. The floor in the ladies' is thoroughly dirty, one of the cubicles has no lock, and the sanitary appliance apparently is so useless it requires an A4 notice of instructions. The paper is not installed, the hand dryer is disgustingly dirty and does not work, and there is no means of drying your hands except toilet paper which soon generates little soggy shreds all over the place. On this occasion I did not test the cold taps to see if, unlike last time, they worked; the hot ones were barely tepid. The (free) cloakroom behind the desk is a convenient place to leave your coat and kitbag, and to change your shoes, but on my return I found my coat lying on the floor, with its hanger still inside, covered in dust, along with a pile of other people's. [Update April 09: Someone seems to have given the place a bit of a wipe in the last couple of months - it all feels a lot cleaner than it was. This made a real difference to me, and even more to a friend who suffers from asthma. There's still no clean way of drying your hands, but the floor appears to have been scrubbed and then dried before being walked on. The taps all work properly now, with cold and hot water. Big improvement. Repairs still required.]

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: There was a band, who played some merengue, great if you know how to dance merengue, which some did, and a kind of jazz-tango fusion. I don't know what they were called and the website is offline so I can't look it up right now, but I felt they were a concert band rather than a dance band. Making Milonga Sentimental that difficult to dance to takes real dedication to your musical ideals.

What I thought of the DJing: Upstairs played quite a lot of things I like. Downstairs, which filled up while the band were on upstairs, is much nicer now that it has a real human DJ with actual discrimination.

Getting in: £12, the most expensive regular milonga as far as I know.

Getting there and getting home: Five minutes walk from Holborn. Come out of the left-hand exit at Holborn tube and cross the road in front of you to Sainsbury's. Walk past Boots and carry on, crossing a couple of minor roads, till you get to Wild Court on the same side. The entrance is on the right and you know when you're there because you can peer through the low square windows into the cloakroom. Last trains from Holborn are after midnight, at about the same time that upstairs gets good; however, there are lots of night buses from stops nearby every fifteen minutes or so. Check TFL for details, and it's on my Milonga Map.

The website: Is currently offline. Its river-on-black style - oh yes, I remember 1997 - mostly includes the information you require.

How it went: Better than it has before in terms of dances, perhaps mainly because I've been around longer and know more people, and they know me. I had a good evening, mostly downstairs, dancing and chatting with some people I knew via email, this blog, and some dance message boards, but hadn't met in person before. A bonus experience. I also got one dance upstairs, late, with a leader I looove dancing with (he does almost only the kind of stuff being taught in this vid*) but with whom I really feel my own faults. Not that he tells me - he seems quite satisfied as far as I can tell - but because I know the sort of connection I can get with him when I've had recent practice with the right people, and I know when my receiver is poorly tuned. I haven't had enough practice at that lately. Anyway, I noticed some things I should work on, and that I was making progress in getting rid of a little quirk that had been annoying me. Another bonus to take home.

* But with a lot less of the annoying Flying Teapot.