Just want to make a few observations about that Elann lace crop cardi. Was I a bit too upbeat, too confident last night? Yes. Is the project proving somewhat challenging? Yes! And confusing. YES! Let's update on the stitch marker situation. The instructions are very clear on this point. Place markers every time you think it's a good idea. Place a few more. Go out and buy an industrial-sized pack of markers just to be on the safe side. Have a stiff drink and shove in another dozen or so. Excuse me, do we actually get to do any knitting round here? Oh good, we're starting. Work the first row. OK, so far so good. Now increase either side of the increase marker. Hang on. WHAT increase marker? WHERE? Back to the already tired-looking four printed sheets of detailed notes. No - nowhere in the instructions is ANY ONE of those goldarned little monsters designated as an increase marker. How am I supposed to recognise them? Shout 'Hey - all increase markers forward one pace!'? Say in an icily controlled voice, 'Nobody is leaving this room until the increase markers make themselves known, and that is final.'? Or am I just being dense? Is everyone else laughing helplessly and saying, 'How funny, she really doesn't know that in lace knitting the 7th, 19th and 147th markers are ALWAYS increase markers, oh dear, ha, ha, ha.' I wonder how long into August this lace crop and I are going to continue together? Here's how it's looking so far.
No, it hasn't got very much down from the neck, has it? How can it when there are constant halts to check the pattern yet again, to wrench balaclavas from the heads of disguised stitch markers to see if they are really increase markers in disguise? Strewth, and they call this relaxation?
But I wanted to tell you about something else tonight, something I haven't actually shared with anyone yet, even though I'm a journalist by trade and make my living by telling people things.
A couple of years ago I was out in the Balkans on an assignment. The horror of war was over, but the picking up of pieces and the attempted repair of what could never be the same again was ongoing. I visited a refugee camp in a disused mental hospital - exactly where it was doesn't matter. Some very keen and committed aid workers had just arrived with supplies for the people there. These refugees were wretched survivors indeed, torn from the lands and homes they knew, deprived of everything they possessed, and now stranded like tragic flotsam and jetsam in an alien place among alien people. They stared at us with sunken eyes as we walked in. I for one was painfully aware of my confident Western step, my casual Western clothes, my inherent knowledge that I had a passport in my back pocket and could leave any time I chose. You don't realise the importance of these things until you're faced with people who have none of them.
Three young American women had brought several huge sacks, full of balls of yarn, donated by generous people back home, and with happy smiles at the thought of the pleasure the supplies would engender, they set the sacks down in an open green area. Slowly the women of the camp gathered round, their eyes watchful. The girls untied the necks of the sacks and spread them wide. One took out a brightly coloured ball of wool and held it out to the nearest woman. Then it happened.
One minute all was quiet, a charming scene. The next, everything was chaos. The three girls disappeared in a melee of bodies, arms, fists even. Scraps of black plastic sack were flung in the air. One elderly woman on a crutch disappeared underneath a pile of struggling figures, crying desperately for help. The yarn went everywhere, strands knotting and tangling underneath the shifting, slipping feet. The few men nearby turned their backs in rejection of the scene. Perhaps they were embarrassed, I don't know. They certainly didn't try to remedy the situation.
Women who had been standing close to each other in friendship were now locked in struggle over balls of yarn. Every single scrap of wool was fought over as if it had been pure gold. The aid workers scrambled out of the melee, dishevelled and deeply distressed. I wondered frantically what had happened to the woman on crutches.
She's in the middle of the picture here, on the ground.
Gradually the fracas died down. Women hurried off to their sheds, their tents, the little spaces they called their own, with their loot. I saw the disabled woman sitting on the ground, her crutch by her side and rushed to pick her up. But she was smiling! And as I helped her to her feet, she triumphantly revealed the several balls of yarn on which she had been lying, hiding them from her comrades.
If I had written that story up for a newspaper, readers might have sneered at the bad behaviour of refugees. They might have expressed incredulity that anyone would think yarn worth fighting over. I didn't want to lessen the strength of what I saw that day by writing about it, so I didn't.
Now, however, I thought I would share it with you, since we are all self-confessed, avowed yarn fiends. But that experience in the Balkans showed me just how much a simple ball of yarn can mean to someone who has lost everything else in life. It showed me the real meaning of yarn hunger.