Saturday, 4 January 2014

Cultivating a healthy mind in a healthy body (through the medium of Very Slow Running)

I can't remember how long I've been saying this - I'll start thinking about my health when I'm 35. I'll get fit when I'm 35. It seemed forever and a day when I was 20.

I'm 35 in March. It's now.

And it's becoming more than a little obvious that my body isn't necessarily going to look after itself. Two pregnancies, two fights with gestational diabetes (hobbyhorses left at the door please, I don't doubt it is overdiagnosed, but I didn't just fail a Glucose Tolerance Test, I had very real and very dangerous complications until I got my blood sugar under control). If cake is to be a continuing part of my life*, then I need to move more, and move faster, and generally get my metabolism working in my favour.

So what does an impoverished and impatient mother do, to get her muscles working and her heart beating faster? (Apart from objectifying Benedict Cumberbatch, that is). She runs. She runs away from home.

Except it's not exactly running yet. I've downloaded the NHS Couch to 5K podcasts onto my extremely ancient iPod, I have a cheap pair of trainers and an extremely ugly sports bra (I can see why it was reduced to practically nothing in the sale, but it does its job and under four t-shirts and a hoody no-one's going to see it). And this morning I closed the door on the riot inside, and I set out.

Originally I was planning to go along the cliff tops, because they're flat and pretty and there are no roads to cross once I get there, but it was blowing a minor gale and the place was infested with Proper Runners, doing strenuous things up and down the steps, and part of the point of doing running rather than anything else is combining getting out of the house with not having to talk to anyone at all. So I went inland, round and round the quiet streets, through the rain, through my snotty cold (I gather breathing through my mouth was what I was meant to be doing anyway, which is just as well). Walk for five minutes, then run for 60 seconds, walk for 90, over and over and over for half an hour. I'm not convinced my running is really faster than  my walking yet, but it's a slightly different set of muscles, and I got all the way to the end without wanting to die or vomit. So it beats being pregnant.

Next 'run', Tuesday. Rain is forecast again.

* Cake is non-negotiable.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Staggering on to the very end

One thing this is not is a review of 2013. It was so monumentally foul a year for so many people that I'd really rather not go over it. For the first time in years I stayed up until midnight, rather in the spirit in which I've attended some funerals, to make sure the bugger was really dead.


I finished the Katie Morag jumper at about 11 o'clock the night before Christmas Eve. The knitting was smooth, but then I got an infected cut on my yarn-tensioning finger, then I trapped a nerve in my shoulder, then I started charting the yoke design and discovered just what it is we're paying designers to do, and decided knitting patterns would be cheap at four times the price.

All of which was worth it for the moment of awe-struck silence when she opened the parcel. I've hardly got it off her since, it badly needs blocking, but I think she likes it (she doesn't look terribly keen in this picture, but it was immediately before bedtime after a strenuous day of dancing, building houses, going to her imaginary school and going on one of the veryr eal bracing walks mummy insists on whatever the weather).
(Please do not ask me for the chart. Remember the Adipose saga? We know the BBC takes an interest in knitting based on its programmes, and while I'm fairly sure working it up for my own amusement is legal, passing it on decidedly wouldn't be, whether or not money changed hands. Also, it was very much last minute and on the fly and I'd want to do a lot of work before letting another knitter near it, and I don't have time).


One of them is to blog more. The others can wait, because the lights keep flickering, we've already had one brief powercut (while I screamed "No! WHAT ABOUT SHERLOCK?"), and I'd like to get this published.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Two days of knitting

I decided that the only way I could hope to get Libby's jumper done for Christmas would be to knit it in front of her. Fortunately, being four, she doesn't really have much idea of how knitting becomes a jumper, so she hasn't a clue that it's for her (I sowed a little disinformation by wrapping the back so far around her, to show it wouldn't reach all the way round, then wrapping it round her baby brother to show how much better it would fit him. I had to cheat slightly, there's actually only an inch difference in their chest measurements. As Jean Miles has often remarked, children grow upwards a lot quicker than they grow outwards).

So, after two days knitting (slightly interrupted by a small boy with a chest infection and a rocketing temperature, who just wanted to be a limpet), here is the progress:
That's just over 2/3 of the way to the start of the armholes on the back. Not bad going.

Liquorice Torpedoes asked what modifications I was planning, so for her sake and mine, here are a few notes. I'm knitting the 6-7 size, because although she's only just 4 she is tall, and I want this to fit for a while. It's knitted in seperate pieces then seamed, and I am preserving this because (a) I quite like sewing actually, and (b) I need to pick up an exact number of stitches at the top for the patterned yoke, which is most easily done if I've knitted the body and sleeves as the pattern told me to.

This is a Sirdar pattern, which means traditional English style pattern-writing. Specifically, this means there is no chart for the colourwork at the yoke. Because I hate knitting colourwork from a written-out pattern, I'm going to draw my own chart on graph paper. I'm also going to disobey the pattern instructions at this point - I'm supposed to sew the body and sleeve raglan seams before starting the yoke, but leave the left back seam open and knit the yoke flat. I'm going to sew all of them and knit the yoke in the round. I wouldn't recommend trying this without a chart - you can read a chart whichever way you need to, written out instructions take a lot of work to reverse.

Because I'm drawing my own chart, I can alter the design to make it a bit closer to Katie Morag's jumper in the books. At the moment I think I'll just add a solid blue line to the top and bottom, but I'll see how it looks on the graph paper when I get there.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Threeses (like elevenses, but at three in the afternoon)

They decided to eat their threeses together, sitting on a stool in the kitchen. The yellow sticklebricks are toffee sticks, apparently, and are essential when one is feeling poorly. Nicky takes his to the shops and back in a toy pushchair. He's 19 months old, talkative and baffling, and likes to have his toy digger's teeth brushed and a dose of calpol given to it before he'll put up with either of these indignities for himself.

Libby is four now, bouncy and intense and utterly obsessed with Katie Morag (this predates the current television adaptation, I have been carefully fostering it for a couple of years, but it has reached new heights in the past few weeks). If I can manage it, she's going to have a Katie Morag jumper for Christmas. It's aran weight, she's fairly slender and not all that tall (2/3 of my height already, but I'm not just "not that tall", I'm minuscule), nothing can possibly go wrong...

And I will be knitting it in pure acrylic (the pattern's stated yarn even, thanks to Black Sheep, who have been selling me cheap yarn for years and years). Giving a four year old a cream jumper is insane to begin with, I need it to go in any old wash, because it will be doing so at least once a week. There are washable wools, but they still need a wool cycle and they take their own time drying, which is an issue in a small damp house in the winter time. Also, she does have eczema, and wool can be a problem - she's fine with beautiful pure merino, but my bank balance isn't fine with that at the moment, and there isn't time between now and Christmas to experiment with cheaper blends. Every fibre has its place, even the man-made ones, and this is a place for acrylic.

(Also, that thing about wool not burning? It's quite true, but babies aren't exactly given to spontaneous combustion, and if they're near enough a flame for it to be a issue you have more immediate problems than just what fibre you've dressed them in).

Thursday, 3 October 2013

National Poetry Day

A little late in the day really. From Kathleen Jamie's The Overhaul (I highly recommend her prose writing too). I also live by a beach, further south on the same coast. Tonight the wind is blowing and the rain rattles the window panes.

The Beach

Now this big westerly's
blown itself out,
let's drive to the storm beach.

A few brave souls
will be there already,
eyeing the driftwood,

the heaps of frayed
blue polyprop rope,
cut loose, thrown back at us -

What a species -
still working the same
curved bay, all of us

hoping for the marvellous,
all hankering for a changed life.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

The first poem of his I read was The Wife's Tale, in the quick thundering through of English Literature that our A-level course began with. I remember explaining to a class of Surrey suburbanites that a hedge could be stone, and what threshing was (our teacher, urban as the rest, was unsure). I knew already that here was a poet I would come back to, over and over.

But that isn't the poem I would post to remember him, but one I read for the first time today, thanks to a friend. Small and perfect,The Shipping Forecast, for the Atlantic I dreamed of as a child, and ran to every summer, and for the murkier waters of the North Sea that I live beside now and love less fiercely but still deeply.

Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea:
Green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux
Conjured by that strong gale-warning voice,
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.
Midnight and closedown. Sirens of the tundra,
Of eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road, raise
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize
And drive the trawlers to the lee of Wicklow.
L’Etoile, Le Guillemot, La Belle Hélène
Nursed their bright names this morning in the bay
That toiled like mortar. It was marvellous
And actual, I said out loud, ‘A haven,’
The word deepening, clearing, like the sky
Elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

How the poor should eat...

So Jamie Oliver's joining the chorus of those who have been castigating the poor for their dietary choices since the 19th century (on which, I thoroughly recommend Round about a Pound a Week). Basically, it's the usual guff from those whose hearts are in the right places, but whose brains are decidedly elsewhere. Use your local market! Don't use the supermarkets I get paid very well to advertise! Don't have a huge telly! (It's actually quite hard to buy a small television these days, even if you can pay cash down, and not a few pounds a week and an almost unthinkable interest rate to the chains of shysters that prey on the poor. These places won't sell you a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, two devices that really do help with cheap eating, but you have to have that money up front. And if you live in an area where there's nowhere safe outside for children to play, for you to relax, personally I think you're entitled to a telly).

Now, I don't have a television deal and a £26 hardback book of cheap recipes (they'd need to be) to promote, but I've spent the past 13 years, ie my entire adult life, living and working in some of the most deprived areas in the country, and for most of that time I've been pretty skint.

 For many people there is no local market, there is only the supermarket.

In my experience, unless you live in a really big city markets are more expensive for worse quality fruit and veg (recently I spent £2.80 on a punnet of raspberries that would have cost £1 in Morrisons). You can save a fortune on fresh produce from the market if you live in a city, I've done it, if you live in a small town the supermarket is all there is.

If you live on a massive council estate, you probably don't have a mainstream supermarket, you have a small Co-op and the fresh fruit and veg will be three wizened apples, some extremely elderly onions, and a punnet of mushrooms once a week. You can get a wider choice if you can walk several miles (fine if you're healthy and unencumbered, not so great if you've got mobility problems or small children or indeed both, and by the time you get home you probably no longer have time or energy to cook from scratch) OR you can afford supermarket delivery charges (on which, see here) or an expensive bus ride.

So blaming poor people for not cooking food that they cannot actually buy (even if they had the skills to cook it - and to acquire those skills you need to practice, you need to be able to afford to make mistakes and chuck a few inedible dinners in the bin) is desperately unfair. And those who know me know that in my vocabulary unfair is a pretty big word.

One good result of this furore has been the blogs I've found by those who've been doing the poverty dance far better than me, whose recipes I am bookmarking like mad. Here and here are some good responses to Mr Oliver's ill-considered remarks.