Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Intellectuals do not polish their bath taps

The lovely thing about blogging and all the nice people I meet through comments and visiting other blogs is that it's all about shared interests and a love of making things.  But it also means I don't know much about you all apart from just that.

So I don't know how many of you will recognise today's title and how many will be asking yourselves whether or not it has a whole lot more to do with woolly thinking than knitting. But some of you, like me, may have been avid readers of the doughty columnist Katherine Whitehorn in the Observer since your impressionable teens.  And it was she in the late 60s whose analysis of women's bathroom cleaning habits struck a cord with me and many other aspiring 16yr old intellectuals!

I met my good friend the fabulous novelist Elizabeth Speller when we were both Cambridge undergraduates, several years older than most of the other students, a little more than 20 years ago.  Both of us had chosen to train as nurses when we left school (I had even qualified) and  both had spent many years not polishing our bath taps (or in my case polishing and hoping no one would make the connection).  But as we joined the wonderful community of women at Lucy Cavendish College, all delighted in finding a place to study at last, we discovered one (there were many) unexpected liberating fact about education and the self confidence that came with it.  We no longer had to prove our intellectual ability or worry that people would think we were airheads if seen with a copy of Grazia. We joked that we could now be seen with copies of glossy magazines and not just The Times and Middlemarch - we could literally have it all, and love George Elliot and Vogue equally

And so it is with knitting, sewing, crochet of embroidery.  I have always had a talent for it.  I love making things and the wonderful feeling of relaxation as I sit down with a ball of beautiful knitting wool and a pair of needles (particularly alpaca yarn and bamboo needles).  I may have said it before but I can feel tension lift and blood pressure subside as I begin.  Although for several years I was too busy, keeping up with the law (reader I became a solicitor) or reading the whole of the Booker short list, to spend time browsing craft books or knitting patterns, a change has come over my life and with it the content of my book shelves

Although there is some way to go before I need the same space for craft books as I have for novels.

I thought about Katherine Whitehorn  as I read The Hell of Handicrafts in the Observer Magazine on Sunday with it's caption  'I have a degree in astrophysics you know' beside a photograph of the writer Alex Clark icing some cupcakes .    She was not having a poke at we crafty people, she wrote affectionately about her sister in law who could re-line a coat and knit two baby suits in the time it takes to say licketty split, just at her own efforts.  She describes her attempt at knitting a scarf 'soon I'm clicking away', for the first seven or eight rows she has fun then gives up saying 'luckily I already have a scarf, I bought it with money I had earned by going to work instead of staying home and making things'

For me and other people like me, probably Alex's sister-in law too, that is not the point. And most of us know that trying to make money out of what we make is where there be dragons.  How could you cost a pair of tiny baby bootees for sale when they take at least two evenings to kit?  I don't stay at home all the time making things.  I go to work, do thinking stuff, but in the train on my daily commute I knit, or crochet, ( which requires a different sort of thinking stuff) .  On my days off I join friends in a knitting group.  Its all part of the mix.  I no longer feel I have anything to prove, I am a lawyer who knits, enjoys both and loves the surprised look on people's faces when I tell them what I blog about.

One thing I do agree with Ms Clark about is on watching The Killing while reading the subtitles and knitting at the same time.  I admit it is tricky, it is quite possible to knit by the feel of it but there are times when you just have to give your full attention to one or the other.  This is where one's partner comes in very handy - Ms Clark asks hers if he can help with casting on, I prefer to ask JTH to fill in the gaps I have missed whilst looking down to pick up a dropped stitch!




The undomesticated scientist said...

my question is why anyone would want to polish their bathtaps! i do science in the day but sew (and sometimes knit) in the evening. i like that i can see what i've achieved rather than just get a p value! and i don't care who knows it! i've come up against the killing too! :)

Anonymous said...

YES. To everything you just said.

I wouldn't say I polish my bath taps, but every so often I do rub a bit of vinegar into them to combat the nasty London limescale... ok so maybe I do.

Maybe I should spend less time polishing my bath taps (or knitting) and more time reading my course materials...

When I watch The Killing I have to knit in stocking stitch!

Anonymous said...

I actually started to knit as an antidote to law school...

Tracy said...

What a lovely thoughtful post.

I'm quite clear that I prefer stay at home parenting, knitting and sewing to life as a lawyer but I am also sure that it is my degrees which give me the confidence to say that. As far as knitting and TV goes, I am always grateful for large stretches of stocking stitch. Anything more complicated than that requires my undivided attention.

Caroline said...

I recently tried to get on with some more complicated knitting in a dress I was making whilst watching subtitles. Needless to say, that night, the film won, and I put my knitting down!