Sunday 31 May 2009

I've got a dancing flower!

I've got a dancing flower for my birthday!

I've got such a big smile on my face!

Saturday 30 May 2009

Soft and light and wrung out like a dishrag

If I'm going to be 'soft' as well as 'light' and 'easy to lead', and other presumably-good things people sometimes say I am, if I'm going to have great connection and energy in the right place, if I'm going to dance to the music, feel good and make my partner look good, I have to give a lot of myself and take a lot of risk. There's a lot of 'feel the fear and do it anyway' in following tango. If I am going to follow properly, I am giving up a lot of control and I am choosing to behave as though I trust the man a lot - sometimes on the basis of no evidence whatever. And if I dance better I'm taking more risk than if I dance badly, because we're dancing tango, and dancing the woman's part well in tango means connecting more, and that means putting myself out there.

I'm not really talking about physical danger. I can generally protect myself from injury (although the high, hard open-side hand is a tough one, especially if twisted). It's really more of a cognitive thing. It's a lot harder on the mind than on the body.

It pisses me off when people don't respect that.

I do still, more often than not, accept direct verbal requests from strangers I haven't had a chance to see dance. The justifications I have for saying yes are adventure, curiosity, and kindness. Sometimes they're just new in town, in which case they're not-unlikely to be better than average, sometimes much better. Often they're perfectly harmless beginners, and a good investment in future dances.

But sometimes they heave my waist to the right, shove my head to the left, bounce up and down, rock from side to side, walk like two-legged drunken deaf spiders with no sense of time, and twist me about with a death-grip.

It can happen. There are ways of recovering afterwards.

Of course I know I am taking a risk. And I have heard it said the bad dancing is all the women's fault for ever accepting verbal requests from strangers. Apparently they could never tell right from wrong without us handing them apples.

I don't think so. Nor do I give unsolicited feedback at milongas; their bad dancing is NOT my responsibility and puts NO obligation on me to spoil my evening even more by being rude and giving totally unqualified, unpaid, and probably unhelpful and inaccurate advice to someone whose reaction I can't predict, except for the fact that I already know from experiment that he's slightly delusional.

In any event, the women are no better - many are clueless, many are dangerous, and as for delusionality, quite a few of us are, frankly, four stops short of Dagenham East on a good day. I don't think our role as Mother Goddess World Police is a functional proposal or productive explanation.

So I would never argue for everyone to use the 'nod' exclusively. I've seen direct, serendipitous requests produce nice, sometimes wonderful, dances far too often. I can always say "no" - and I do, if I've seen the man dance and I've seen he's a menace. Even though my concept of manners then requires me to sit out at least one song, and in most cases the tanda - quite a sacrifice in some cases.

But I do think Ghost has a reasonable take here, and I could probably say 'thank you' after one or two dances a little bit more often than I do:

Learning Tango - First, do no harm: The problem in London is that the tanda and the cabeceo don't really work together. If a stranger wants to verbally ask for a dance they have to accept that by not using the cabeceo they're not entitiled to a tanda. If you use an MJ convention, then you get the MJ result - one dance. Now in MJ you may well decide to continue on and have more dances, that's fine. But you don't take it for granted. Likewise if you start hurting each other it's over. Again you're playing by MJ rules.

On the other hand if you have both used the cabeceo, then you reasonably can expect a tanda. And that changes how you dance. For a start you'll be a lot less guarded than you would with an unknown dancer.

A problem with that is of course that if I'm guarded at all, I'm not dancing tango properly. Really, you have to start unguarded and adjust the other way.

He goes on:

Ghost: What complicates things is that people often refer to it as filtering out people who aren't skilled enough. That's a half truth that some hide behind.

I've watched the experienced women and which beginners / newish intermediates they approach and without exception they're the ones who had agreed to this contract. They not worried whether the guy's been dancing for 10 years and toured the world - they want to know they won't get hurt and that it'll be gentle enough for them to enjoy it.

Correct. Beginners don't know how to do the bad stuff - the worst thing they do is steer with their arms, and I can deal with that. I know one who steered horribly with his arms the first time he asked me, which I think was after his first or second lesson, and a year later he is a very nice dancer, easily in the top 20%, which may not be very difficult for London but is nevertheless truly nice to dance with, and better than some who've been dancing for ten to twenty years. I'm glad I was nice to him.

This bit sounds like a heartfelt point, and brings me back to where I started:

Ghost: ... there are going to be people at a venue who will injure you in a variety of creative and painful ways. How do you deal with them? Well part of the cabeceo is "We are going to dance. This specifically excludes hurting each other and the people around us."

Be honest, does everyone who verbally asks you to dance keep to this?

Unfortunately the ones who don't are urinating in the pool the rest of us are swimming in. And that can lead to people refusing the verbal ask because they've had enough.

There is a bit more to it than that, though. For me, the advantage of using some kind of a nod (I hate using the Spanish word where there's a meaningful English translation) is not that it signals anything very reliably about the dancer. Whether someone asks directly or indirectly is a very much less reliable guide to whether he'll dance well, than is his posture alone. The advantage is the lower risk of asking, and the relative ease of polite refusal. The difference is not between a verbal and non-verbal request, but between asking in such a way that a refusal may be embarrassing to either or both, and inviting in such a way that someone who's not feeling strong doesn't have to choose between taking the risk of getting wrung out like a dishrag, and being unkind.

Now it goes without saying, to me, that in a North-European society where men and women are routinely expected to, and do, treat each other like adults, the border between these two things is obviously not in exactly the same place as it is elsewhere. Nor is it in the same place with different people or in different situations. How direct you can be obviously depends on how likely you think it is that the person will enjoy this dance with you, rather than no-one, how likely you think they are to feel it's unkind to tell you otherwise, how important those things are to you, and what other opportunities you think there might be to ask that person in future. It's just manners and consideration, and having your brain switched on, that's all.

That means that you can accept the basic principle of not embarrassing people without insisting on some arbitrary procedure. There are lots of ways of making an indirect or partly indirect request; I use a wide variety myself, and which of them I choose depends on many things.

I'm not quite sure if the above is a coherent argument for anything at all. I'm not feeling very Krugmanesque today. But I do think it follows that if for your own reasons you prefer to ask directly, you ought also to want to make quite sure that you're taking responsibility for the quality of your own dance, and regularly checking for apples in your pocket.

So I do say, with Ghost:

Play nice.

Friday 29 May 2009

More Frightened than Hurt

About to go into Liverpool Street Station, I slipped on a marble step, slipped again on the next step as I tried to recover, and fell almost full-length against the wholly unnecessary projecting square base of a strikingly ugly marble pillar, about half way between pelvis and shoulderblade. It was soft tissue, so although it hurt enough that I took a while to decide there was no serious damage and get to my feet, I am pretty sure there's no serious damage. But a hand's breadth to the right and it would have been my spine. At the time I was more hurt than frightened, but by the time I got home I was more frightened than hurt.

Now I'm just dealing with how to attach a bag of frozen peas to my person in the right place.

Given the shoes I was wearing - poor grip on smooth surfaces, which is why I occasionally wear them for dancing at outdoor festivals - and the surface, it might quite easily have happened if I'd been perfectly sober. But I had had a smallish glass of wine, and sometimes I forget that these days I'm not used to it. I like the odd glass of wine, and I'm not tempted to drink too much, but the trouble is the only safe options are in moderation but regularly, or not at all. If your system doesn't think it will need the right sort of enzyme, I don't think it makes it, and it takes a lot longer to process and this kind of thing happens. I should probably either not drink at all, or go back to the practice of working my way through a nice bottle each week.

I think the tango improves my coordination, though. I did mostly save myself, and I didn't hit my head on the stupid pillar.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

The Welsh Centre

[UPDATE July 2010 - as far as I'm aware this milonga has stopped happening, there's been no update here since February, but it still says here that it's happening once a month and the facebook group still exists. Check before starting your journey.]

When Carablanca moved to Conway Hall, the Friday evening slot at the Welsh Centre fell free, and now there's a new early-evening milonga there. It starts at 7:30 and they have the room till half past ten. I went a few weeks ago to have a look, and then didn't write it up 'cause I was ill. Never mind, I took notes.

The Class: There wasn't one when I went, but they're now offering classes at three levels, simultaneously all in the same room, from 6:30.

Layout and Atmosphere: It really is a very nice space, with its good floor, red-curtained stage, and high roof. The building is of course just the same as it was for the milonga that used to be here. The floor is large and very smooth, a little slippery. A rail for coats is on the far side; walk round the edge to reach it. There were pretty LED strings round the far side of the floor, and a swirling projection of stars on the wall, and more than enough chairs, mostly near the entrance, for the number of people. The stage is great for the band when there's live music, or the DJ and kit when there isn't. There are comfy chairs and sofas in the foyer and the upstairs bar as well, nice if you want to sit out a set. The room is still very warm - the ventilation hasn't improved - but I never minded this too much and it's unlikely to become a serious issue unless a lot more people go. Of course it's less of a problem for women because we can just wear lighter clothing; it's harder on the men. So you might want to plan for it with a spare shirt. The general feel made me think of a student organisation, in a rather sweet way. The young lady at the desk was lovely but doesn't dance; I had to resist the tempation to evangelise or gossip.

Hospitality: Good. A substantial buffet is included, which might be very handy if you were coming straight from work. There were slices of two kinds of pizza, curious round things in batter that turned out to be a bready substance, vegetable dips, things with rice, and a bowl of extra strong mints. Water is free and plentiful from the water cooler opposite the desk. My G&T with lemon from the bar upstairs was a reasonable £3.50 (or maybe less - I remember that it wasn't more than that, but I don't seem to have written it down and it may not have been as much). The Ladies' was clean but in a poorer state of repair than it had been when I was there last, a bit more than a year before. Of the three cubicles, none had all three of paper, a light, and a lock, and it took me a moment's reflection to find the answer. Check before sitting down.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: No special event on this occasion. Now and then they have live music.

What I thought of the DJing: It was about 70% traditional, 30% a mixture of well-known Nuevo and what sounded to me like Europop (I was visualising a Spanish version of Celine Dion). It was generally in tandas that made sense, so if you didn't like it you could sit down for a couple of tracks and it would change - no problem. No cortinas. I particularly liked the choice of a set of Russian tangos - I think I recognised the sound of Mazaika.

Getting in: £10 on your first visit. You can register on entry for a discount on your next visit by giving your full name; they give you a non-transferable card with your name on it, and your next visit will be £7, although I think the discount may expire. The food is included, either way.

Getting there and getting home: It's a longish walk from King's Cross, or about the same distance from Holborn. Either way, you could hop on a bus; there is a stop right outside, and at the Dental Hospital which is opposite. It takes me about ten minutes to walk from King's Cross, and I took a short bus ride to get back. From King's Cross underground station, take the exit for Euston Road (south side), and the left-hand side of that exit, which is T shaped - i.e., not the one signed for the library. Follow your nose in the same direction; you almost immediately take the right hand fork of the main road you are walking along. This is Gray's Inn Road. Keep walking along the same side long after you are certain you must be wrong and lost in a not-very-nice part of London, and just after you pass the office furniture place you will see a large Welsh flag above the door. The early finish means you can just reverse it to get home.

The website: it hasn't got one of it's own but OK Tango has the basics (scroll down). There's a Facebook group here, which I should imagine gets updated regularly, or monitor Tango-UK for announcements.

How it went: Rather well. It is true, as was announced by email (I can't find the message though), that there were more men there than women. But I didn't feel pressure to dance all the time. There was a wide range of levels represented, and I danced with both beginners and experts. Interestingly, if there was an under-represented group, it was the all-too-common Experienced Numpty; which may have been sheer chance, but was nice. An unusual feature is that there are both male and female "hosts" with little badges, whose job it is to make sure any newcomer gets a dance. I think this would make it a safe choice for beginners, especially women. The hosts were competent at various levels. They were also young, pleasant and happy to sit around and chat. However, there weren't a lot of people there in total so it felt a bit echoey. I expected that, however - this is a new milonga. I had a very easy evening.

I guessed that the connection between the seed group who go there might be the OKTango classes, and checking the website makes that look likely. I have to admit that the discount system made me less likely to return than I would have been otherwise, because I'm not crazy about the practice of collecting names on entry, and this was the only time I've ever been asked for my full name before getting in the door. But I think that's a personal preference and wouldn't apply to everyone. The only problems it has are the low numbers (so far, or at least on this occasion) - and the not-very-nice walk to get there. The early start and early finish have advantages if you just want to get out of work and start your weekend, and the food included is a bonus.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Invisible money

I was just listening to a podcast (Planet Money - They Know You) about how much a credit card company can learn, from what you use your card for, about how they might successfully persuade you to borrow money, and, more urgently these days, exactly how likely you are to pay it back. Apparently, one predictor of paying is the purchase of birdseed. People who feed birds, it seems, generally pay their debts.

Now, I haven't currently got a credit card. I did have one, but it was recently cancelled - unprompted - by the provider, because I hadn't used it for about five years. I earn more than I spend, and I don't need to borrow money.

But I do use a debit card, so my bank obviously knows, or could know, what I spend money on with that. It struck me, however, that my tango hobby is virtually invisible. It's almost entirely cash transactions. So my bank is almost unaware of it.

The obvious exception is the purchase of shoes. But even then, five of my nine pairs of dancing shoes were purchased for cash, three of them second hand. Only two of the pairs purchased with a debit card are, strictly speaking, tango shoes. And of those, one was purchased online and was probably billed not by the seller, but by some outfit that provides card processing services for a fee.

Another hobby - knitting - is visible; I spent sixty-four quid yesterday in a yarn shop.

But tango is almost private. I think I like that.

More Performances

A few weeks ago Los Ocampo did a show at Carablanca. Before their performance Monica announced that they had just become grandparents and were absolutely thrilled with their four-month-old grandchild, who they were missing terribly, and that they would celebrate by repeating their first-ever choreography from twenty-five years ago. They followed it with their second-ever choreography, which Monica described as "very romantic, we were very much in love, and it's still pretty good". Or words to that effect. And it was, in a highly dramatised way - not in the way tango is intrinsically romantic, but more representationally. Anyway, they had great connection.

As you might suppose, they weren't under-rehearsed and they weren't wooden, and for once I was smiling and not sitting there wondering why I was meant to care. I didn't resent the extra I'd been charged for the performance. I barely even resented the twenty-five minutes of dancing time it took up, there or at the Crypt, when they did the lift where her legs go right round a clock-face. It was the purest show, properly written, properly done, properly over the top. I wouldn't really go and see it on purpose, since I'm not that interested in performances as such and I've seen enough now that I treat them as a reason to go somewhere else; but it was very good and it was fun to watch. I really appreciated their excellence.

As for another performance I saw quite recently; the couple were somewhat less experienced than Monica and Omar. I don't know if they are married to each other, but they both looked as if they'd been texting their lawyers about a divorce. Violently molesting two tangos and a milonga (IIRC), they didn't include any lifts; a relief, since whatever their dance communicated to me, it wasn't the level of mutual trust and personal regard it takes to get a lady's toes ten feet above the floor. The audience applauded, much of it sincerely.

They have a hard life, these people, a very hard life. And it's a sad, sad world.

Friday 22 May 2009

Anoia - the reference

One of my readers (CaptainJep) couldn't find the bit about Anoia, Goddess of Things that Get Stuck in Drawers. My memory of her appearance in Making Money was rather vague, and I couldn't find the book that day, but here it is. It was on top of the wool basket.

The High Priestess of Anoia features on page 309 of my edition, which is the second page of Chapter 12.

... and - oh, yes, the new High Priestess of Anoia, her crown of bent spoons all shiny, her ceremonial ladle held stiffly, her face rigid with nerves and importance. You owe me, girl, Moist thought, 'cos a year ago you had to work in a bar in the evenings to make a living and Anoia was just one of half a dozen semi-goddesses who shared an altar which, let's face it, was your kitchen table with a cloth on it. What's one little miracle compared to that?
I think there's an earlier reference to Moist's previous relationship with Anoia (more fully described in Going Postal), but I can't find it just now. Also, on page 338, Anoia allegedly causes a blackmailer's dentures to explode, in return for which Moist plans to visit her temple and hang up a big, big ladle. She also appears (and has several lines, and a cigarette) in Wintersmith.

Monday 18 May 2009

A feather

We were discussing discovering new things in our dancing - this was someone who'd started from ceroc, taking really big steps and a somewhat top-down approach, and was now exploring a different one - and he said to me:

"I'm still stunned at being able to weight-change you a toe at a time."

I was so proud, as though I'd found a little angel feather, or a tiny halo among the hairpins.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Sick hedgehogs and scottish eggs

I'm no longer actually horizontal, but I'm still at a pretty low angle.

That was a very nasty flu and I particularly don't recommend it because it stopped me eating for about three days and I haven't got the fat reserves to deal with that. Going to work on Friday was a really bad decision.

Anyway, now I think whatever it was has really left the building, the doc gave me something to help me eat, my Mum and Dad are feeding me, and I feel a bit better. Today I can sit up and borrow their laptop.

I am not in Scotland. Geoff Pullum, however, a professor of Linguistics, is in Scotland. Language Log is always fascinating, but today Geoff considers possible interpretations (including, you will be glad to know, the correct one) of the following headline in the Scottish Sun newspaper:

Headline language is culturally specific. Any speaker, native or otherwise, of any variety of English, who does not live in Scotland, is defied to decode that headline without looking. Although it may be more fun to think up creative interpretations.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

I'm not feeling well

rolled up hedgehogI'm not feeling at all well and I apologise if I haven't answered your email. I don't know when I'll be posting again.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Floorcraft and the length of tangos

Lengths of tangos in my collection, by Traditional and Nuevo, including milonga and vals:

tango track lengthWhy?

Ghost, a frequent commenter on this blog, observed to me that when he was last downstairs at Negracha, the lane system was much more noticeable than usual.

He put it down to there being a live band, who were playing short songs, so that "the log-jam effect was for a significantly smaller portion of the time". There were also fewer people dancing than usual, and they may well have been the more competent or experienced than average, and more able and motivated to create lanes, but I think the observation about song length is quite interesting.

Does the length of a piece influence the problems of floorcraft? It seems quite plausible. What the log-jam video shows is that small errors accumulate over time. It seems reasonable to suppose that when everyone stops, they sort themselves out and start again.

It also seems quite possibly testable. DJ readers: is this something you think you already knew?

I've divided it into traditional and nuevo because the mix of lengths seems to be very different, and that difference presents a problem for testing Ghost's theory — the problem of controlling for musical style. You'd have to play short and long tracks in the same general style, and ideally in the same tanda, to make a good test. Then, of course, you would have to work out some way of measuring the results, ideally without relying on self-reporting. A video camera placed well above the floor might be one possible way.

In the traditional tracks, there isn't that big a range to work with. Now, that could be because traditional compositions have been subject to a longer period of selection by dancers and DJs, and have converged on an optimum range of lengths for dancing. Or it could be because they were written to be played live, and musicians prefer short ones, whereas CD players don't care. Or both, or something else. I don't think my classification of any track as one genre or the other would be controversial; my collection's not that interesting.

It's also small, and contains a lot of Di Sarli in proportion to the total, so that may be distorting the results. Here are the numbers:

          Traditional     Nuevo
1:30-2:00 1 1
2:00-2:29 27 1
2:30-2:59 101 8
3:00-3:29 46 4
3:30-3:59 13 7
4:00-4:29 2 4
4:30-4:59 1 2
5:00-5:29 0 1
5:30-5:59 0 1
6:00-6:29 0 2
6:30-6:59 0 0
7:00-7:30 0 1
I think that traditional music also includes more milongas and valses, and maybe these are characteristically short; I have not looked at that. It might be interesting to do so. If you were going to test the effect of length on the number of bumps, it might be very good to do so in a tanda of milonga or vals, because the relatively fixed rhythmic patterns would somewhat smooth out the differences between individual pieces of music. But you'd need a big music collection, I think.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

In the comments (or by email) I invite you to suggest a possible three or four-track tanda that could be used to measure the effect of track length, if any, on bumps.

Or, of course, you can say whatever you want in the usual way.

Saturday 9 May 2009

practica notes - head

Head: I tend to lift my chin, putting the weight of my head behind the centre line and subtly messing up my balance. Tip the chin to level. This is going to take some work because the high chin is my normal posture (clearly visible in my school and university photos — and, I notice, in my Dad's university photo as well).

Friday 8 May 2009

Matrix Tango @ Southgate Club

This is on Wednesdays, social dancing from 21:00 to 23:00 at the Southgate Club, Southgate, N14. They also do a monthly tea dance on Sundays, check the website for details.

The Class: There is an intermediate class, taught by Paul Bottomer, at 20:00 followed by a 'tango basics' class at 20:30; I skipped both but I like the approach of putting them in that order.

Layout and Atmosphere: Roomy and relaxed. It is a large room with comfortable, thoroughly clean, well-upholstered and new-looking hotel-style sofas and chairs around two sides, with little polished tables. There's a stage at one end with a DJ booth in the far corner, and a bar along most of one wall. The dance floor, in front of the stage, is relatively small in relation to the room, but it was never crowded. There are some mirrors here and there but not enough to be annoying. It's not dark, but the lighting's nice and has a bit of colour and shine on the floor. A good-sized, conference-centre kind of room in very good repair. Paul and the lady at the desk and everyone else were very cheerful; I felt that Paul took particular care, without being intrusive, to make sure that everyone including absolute beginners had a chance to dance. He gave impromptu absolute-beginner lessons to a couple of curious salseras who hadn't done tango before. One of them got on the dance floor and got along fine.

Hospitality: Good. My gin and tonic with lemon was £3.50 and I was served a pint glass of tap water on request for no extra charge. No food. The loos are spacious, well-built, well-lit, properly supplied, and clean, with fresh flowers. No cloakroom or rail but plenty of space to leave your stuff on chairs or sofas and it will be perfectly clean and OK.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: You can buy Comme Il Faut shoes there from the Coleccion la Recoleta lady. I don't require a pair of shoes at the moment, but when I bought a pair last year at the Adelaide, she could take cards.

What I thought of the DJing: Different. Mostly traditional stuff, maybe 70%, but also some non-tango tracks you could dance tango to. I enjoyed a bluesey one, and I quite like dancing stuff that makes me think "what IS this?" with men who like it. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but I'm curious. Paul also played a couple of salsa tracks and one of jive, perhaps because there were several beginners at tango there who could dance to these confidently. Although my jive and salsa are both pretty clueless, I enjoyed that too. No cortinas, and I can see why - there isn't much time, and the music changes radically enough, often enough, to clear the floor and refresh your ear without the need. There weren't always predictable tandas, either. Some people followed the convention of three dances anyway, and that's what I do in these situations, but it didn't seem to be general.

Getting in: £9, which I think includes two classes if you turn up early enough. Not sure if it's regularly less for the social dancing alone - I was given a free entry voucher for my second visit because I happened to arrive very late on my first. So it worked out at £4.50 and I'm not quite sure what the price is.

Getting there and getting home: Careful, it's in Zone 4. It is practically next door to Southgate tube station, on the Piccadilly line. When you come up the escalator, take the left-hand exit, which is marked "buses". In front of you and a little to your left is a short, wide tunnel, more like a thick arch, with a big clock over it. Walk through it and turn right; the Southgate club is the second building along. The first one looks like a mausoleum but might be some sort of restaurant or something. You'll hear the music faintly as you push the door.

The website: A professional-looking and well-functioning, unpretentious job, has the wit to link to Streetmap, but I can't find the entry fee. Includes some interesting things to read, takes extra thought and trouble to be helpful to beginners.

How it went: Very well. There were lots of beginners (especially at the start) and a few much more experienced dancers. They were well mixed up. Being very willing to dance with both, I had as many dances as I wanted, but I also enjoyed the music and the watching, and the spacious seating meant I could sit down as much as I liked, too. I like the roomy seating; I'd rather have a smallish floor and more space to sit and chat, than the other way around. It just makes it easier for me to be in control of my evening. I also found it easy to strike up conversations. The location and the early finish make it feasible for me on a weekday, which the Dome (longer, bigger, more choice of partners, but late and awkwardly located for me) isn't. I also quite liked the different music and the slightly different crowd. You have to make your choice according to what you want. Probably a good, un-scary place for the recent beginner to explore, and a very easygoing choice for a weekday if the location is convenient for you.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Anoia, Goddess of Things that get stuck in Drawers

Readers of Terry Pratchett will know Anoia, goddess of Things that get stuck in Drawers.

Whenever someone furiously rattles a stuck drawer, and cries "Dammit, why do we need an egg-slicer anyway?!?! Who invented that?!?! Who even bought this useless thing?!?!", it is as praise unto Anoia.

She becomes the patron of Moist von Lipwig, whose fame elevates her from a part-time jobbing goddess to an important place in the Ankh-Morpork pantheon. Her High Priestess goes from serving obscure deities at a kitchen-table altar to being a person of some importance, with a golden ladle and a crown of not-especially-useful kitchen implements.

Anoia is also invoked whenever someone leads a back sacada.

Just so you know.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Apkallu, and other beings

The British Museum, meticulously truthful and scientific, say that they don't know exactly what this being is, and particularly not why it, or, rather, he, is holding a deer and a branch in this posture. (Room 7-8: Assyria: Nimrud). Below is my own photo, taken last week. The black border helps, but their shot is better lit.

Bas-Relief of a winged guardian

But, they continue, it "may be the supernatural creature known as an apkallu." Its job was to guard an entrance to the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC) at his palace in Nimrud. I think that when whoever wrote down Genesis originally wrote it down, he probably imagined that the angel guarding the gateway to Paradise looked a lot more like this (or, quite possibly, like this) than, say, Michelangelo thought angels looked.

Despite their lack of beards, however, Michelangelo's angels are clearly male. Perhaps he found female bodies unpleasing, but I think female angels are generally rare in Western art, until the 19th Century, and never on guard duty. The jobs of warrior and messenger were not for women; Victorian female angels do exist, but they are nameless musicians or mourners, like houris without the fun. Anyway, male or not, I have never ever seen an angel in the art of Western Europe represented with a beard. Counter-examples in Comments, please.

Michelangelo's opinions on women were presumably not shared by the sculptor of this dignified marble relief of Sarasvati, 'Vina-pustak dharini' or bearer of the musical instrument (vina). This also is my own picture, it's a pity about the reflections. Theirs here.

Marble deep relief of Sarasvati

A benign Jain goddess associated with knowledge, music and learning, she is now venerated as patroness of DJs*. From Malwa, central India, early 11th century AD, room 33. Presumably she could fly if she wished, but she is neither guard nor messenger, and requires no wings. Her breasts are perfectly level, her hips sway with impossible freedom and fluidity, her feet are firmly rooted in the earth.

[*I made up the bit about the DJs.]

And with that, let's watch Detlef and Melina, who have been languishing in my drafts file for some time, getting mixed up with all sorts of strange company.

Sunday 3 May 2009

Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis

I love the fact that I can listen (on iplayer) to Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis commentating, together, on a snooker world championship semi final. They're friends, they're articulate, intelligent, and as informed as it is possible to be. It's balm to the spirit. And yes - snooker at the top is a really exciting game.

I still remember sitting with my Mum on the sofa in 1985 and watching them hammer it out to the last ball. A great sporting moment.

I'm listening on iPlayer to the last bit of a semi-final, and Taylor is saying, apropos of how good John Higgins is, that he has Davis in his all-time top four.

You'll only be able to get iplayer if your ISP is in the UK.

[Edit: Later in the programme I was watching, someone referred to that night in 1985; apparently my Mum and I were two of the eighteen million people who stayed on their sofas watching until the match ended at 00:19.]


Yesterday I sat in gentle, warm, direct Spring sunlight for about an hour, drinking tea and chatting.

There is a definite freckle on my nose.

I'm so happy - and when I went out in the evening I hardly wore any makeup.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Mosaic Knitting

My knitting has been scaring me, but I think it's going to be OK.

This is my first swatch of mosaic knitting.

Here is the back of the swatch - if you know these things, it looks quite different from Fair Isle.

It's a very ingenious way of making a beautiful all-over pattern in two colours. On each row, you use only one of the two colours, and you slip the stitches which are to be in the other colour. You follow a chart and it's much easier than it sounds. I learned it from Charted Knitting Designs by Barbara G. Walker.

It isn't constrained by all of the same rules as Fair Isle. You can get away with longer 'floats', and it doesn't depend on difficult and precise control of tension. The downside is that you end up knitting and purling every row twice. I still think it's quite possibly faster than Fair Isle. It's certainly less maddening.

It also gives a subtly stripy look. I particularly like how it works with these two shades of Shetland Spindrift. Here's a closeup of my project, in another pattern.

All the Shetland colours are a little bit heathery, and a lot of them look better in combination than alone. These are "Pacific" and "Sky".

Here it is in bulk. I'm making a woollie for myself using a vintage pattern that's designed for Fair Isle. I do think it's beautiful and I really want to wear it. The gauge is much finer than I would normally work at, which is why it scares me if I think about it. So I try to just do some on most Tube journeys and not think about it. I've nearly finished the front, which is encouraging. And I'm knitting every row twice, so if I make another the same size and shape in mostly plain knitting, it will be faster.

The technique means some adaptation of of the shaping instructions. My solution has been to work shaping only in one of the colours. In effect, I only count one of the colours when I count rows. So far, it seems to have given the right shape.

Although I've now done at least one-third of a sleeved sweater, and I think I've solved the problems of increasing and decreasing and casting off, I still don't feel I clearly understand why or how it really works. It still seems magical, as though I'm uttering incantations and doing it by rote. I wish Techknitting would explain it. Maybe I'll understand by the time I've finished the back as well.