Sunday, January 31, 2010

A life

I've been doing some tidying and sorting this morning and happened upon the box in which I keep my grandfather's diaries.


This box is always a huge distraction from whatever other task I should be doing at the time. I can never resist dipping into the diaries and reading a few (or many) entries. My grandfather (my mother's father) was a farmer in central west NSW and the diaries were kept (in faint pencil, usually in small Collins diaries) between 1933 and 1950. 'Diary' conjures up a record of personal feelings and emotional responses to the events of the time. These diaries are not like that. By consulting them I could tell you what the weather was like and what the rainfall was for every day across the period they cover. I could probably find for you the prices of wheat and wool. But world-shattering events such as the second world war, and personal tragedies or triumphs - births, marriages, severe illness, deaths - are recorded only by the briefest factual note.

My own birth is recorded in the following way
Cloudy. Light showers in places. Arthur Nash started shearing and Bevis [presumably a shearer] did 102. Ray [his son; my uncle who also lived on the farm] brought Jeff and Deardry Thompson out for a couple of days. Jock [my father] rang to tell us Ed [his daughter; my mother] has a Daughter. Both well. Mrs Phil Hunter up this morning.

How should I interpret this? It's nice to know I warrented a capital letter, but I hope the list of things that happened that day is in chronological rather than in order of importance. I'd hate to think my arrival was of less importance than Jeff and Deardry's visit and Bevis's shearing tally!

I love having the diaries. They depict a world of routine and hard physical work that was taken for granted and has now largely disappeared. They detail men's work - shearing, grubbing, cutting thistles, ploughing, harvesting, moving cattle and sheep and never mention the women's work on which so much depended. The family of the diaries is an extended family - unmarried siblings, children, grand-children all supported to some extent by the farm and all coming and going. And they depict a very sociable world - visitors, shared work with neighbours, frequent sporting events.

For many reasons, I'm glad my life has been different from the life of the diaries. But I do like having direct evidence that this life existed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

This blogging malarky

This blogging malarky can be a bit hard from time to time (thanks, Donna, for reminding me of this wonderful word, 'malarky').

I've come to blogging relatively recently - about 18 months and 150 posts ago. For me, blogging's manageable if I don't think about it too much and just write, but once I start wondering what I'm doing and why, I'm in danger of becoming immobilised by self-consciousness. My blogging arose principally from sharing my knitting with other knitters who blog. But as time's gone on, I've blogged about the other things that are inextricably part of my life - principally reading, films, theatre, Sydney, travel and occasionally, politics very broadly defined. Sometimes my family, particularly my grand-daughter, are caught up in the blog, but I've always been a bit inhibited in writing about them - or indeed about my friends - by a fear of intruding on their lives too much.

Over time, my blog has come to reflect my own, idiosyncratic set of interests. I imagine my readers are mainly friends who share my knitting interests, so to assume they'll also want to read about the other concerns of my life is possibly stretching their tolerance...or is this how blogging works?

I've been brought to think about this by my January focus on the Sydney Festival. As someone who has never kept a diary for more than a few days and has a notoriously bad memory for the events I've attended, the books I've read and the films I've seen, I've been delighted by the way my blog allows me to keep a record of such things in the sidebar. But my Sydney Festival entries have gone beyond this and have let me capture some of the feelings and associations from attending particular performances. This has been great for me but I'm not sure it's been great for the blog. Balancing what you write for yourself and what you write for others is hard. I've long thought that the key skill in good writing, or indeed good art, and presumably good blogging, is the capacity to edit well. I suspect my January entries have been a bit self-indulgent.

But having gone so far, I will continue. My final Sydney Festival attendance was last night - a very modern (indeed post-modern) re-working by a British playwright, Rupert Goold, of Luigi Pirandello's 1921 play Six Characters in Search of an Author. The original play tested notions of what's 'true' and what's 'real' by allowing characters to take on a life of their own outside the structure of a play. This modern reworking places these questions of reality and truth within the more recent story-telling form of docu-drama - developing themes around often sensationalised issues such as euthanasia, paedophilia and incest. I was absorbed by the intensity and unpredictability of the performance, but ultimately thought it would have benefitted by the more rigorous editing I admire. There's just too much stuffed into the play.

I'm sad I'll miss Opera in the Park tonight. I'd love to hear Bernstein's Candide again. Perhaps fortunately for my readers, I'm just too tired.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


After a bit of a break, I attended another Sydney Festival event last night - a music and theatre performance titled 'Ruhe' (Silence) that I found moving and emotionally absorbing. Each of the elements - the music, the spoken words, the setting, is excellent in its own way. But the wonder is that these very disparate elements come together so well.

It's a performance that deals with a subject I find troubling and fascinating: how do individuals and societies that collaborate with harmful - even evil - regimes come to terms with their behavior once the regime is overturned? Much has been written and said about this in relation to Europe after the second world war, and more recently of the aftermath of oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe. South Africa is dealing with the emotional and moral complexity of integrating oppressors and oppressed in its society, and Sri Lanka is just beginning to face this almost insuperable challenge.

'Ruhe' is presented by a Belgian theatre group, Musiektheater Transparant. It presents verbatim testimony from two Dutch survivors of the second world war who were attracted by German Nazism and who, even after the end of the war, found their own behavior explicable and justifiable. These two testimonies are voiced by actors who move informally among the audience who have been seated in a roughly circular fashion on 200 randomly chosen and arranged (and mostly uncomfortable) chairs. The ordinariness of this presentation is interspersed with achingly beautiful Schubert leider sung by the eleven members of the Collegium Vocale Gent. These very casually dressed, 'ordinary' men stand on their chairs to perform the leider. This seems odd, but it had the effect of surrounding us with beautiful voices and harmonies that provided a space for reflection and musing.

All of this was staged on the stone flagstones in the Gothic revival shadows of the Great Hall at The University of Sydney.

The performance provided no miraculous insight into how to reconcile deeply conflicted societies. Maybe it reminded us that societies are made up of individuals with diverse and often 'ordinary' motivations for collaboration with oppressive regimes. It certainly provides a wealth of visual and aural prompts to think about the complexities of our own and our society's moral views and assumptions.

As a footnote, it was timely to attend 'Ruhe' so close on the heels of Australia Day celebrations. I always feel very uncomfortable with the timing of Australia Day - marking, as it does, the anniversary of white settlement of Australia. It inevitably reminds us that our current existence as a society comes only at the price of the dispossession of the Indigenous peoples of Australia - a matter that calls, at the very least, for a process of reconciliation within our society.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hot and grumpy

grey mitts

I've spent quite a bit of time today working on some fingerless mitts in Rowan Felted Tweed. They're Friends of the Forest Mittens by Katrin Silvius, from which I've omitted the bobbles. I can hardly think of a less appropriate thing to do on a day where the temperature has hovered in the high thirties centigrade (about 100 Farenheit).

But I've had such trouble with this relatively simple and straightforward project that I'm determined to get it back on track - despite the weather. I think I've actually re-started these mitts five times. An initial problem was that the recommended needle size was 2.25mm, which resulted in an unpleasantly dense and immovable fabric. I changed to 3.00mm. Once, I actually knitted as far as the thumb gusset, only to realise that the lace pattern was just out of kilter. I was so tempted to ignore it, but I knew I would see the error every time I wore the mitts. After I'd unravelled and reknitted, the same misalignment happened again. So, I've either misinterpreted the pattern the same way twice, or there's an error in the pattern. I'm too grumpy at present to work out which applies, and I've adjusted the pattern so the outcome is fine. Consequently, I'll wait until I make the second mitt to work out just what's gone wrong.

Anyway, a cool change to the weather seems to be blustering through, and I'm off to meet friends and see the Australian musical film 'Bran Nue Dae' in an air-conditioned cinema. Around 1990 I saw the theatrical version of 'Bran Nue Dae' with my children. We also had a cd of the sound track and sang bits of it for weeks afterwards. I'm going to have fun.

And then I'll come home and knit some more on my mitts - and be cool and calm.

Monday, January 18, 2010

de Beauvoir

I've just finished knitting a warm hat for my trip to France next month.

de Beauvoir 1

As I was knitting the hat, a friend said it reminded her of the turbans which French philosopher, feminist and novelist Simone de Beauvoir wore for so much of her adult life. During the second world war de Beauvoir lived in very basic and transient accommodation, often without access to running water. Soap, like many commodities, was rationed or unavailable. Ever practical and rational, de Beauvoir explained 'Getting one's hair done was becoming quite a production, hence turbans were in fashion (in 1941); they served at once as hat and hairdo'.

I don't have de Beauvoir's practical reasons for a turban and my hair is so short that 'getting one's hair done' (other than getting it cut) is unnecessary. But I do need a warm hat.

de Beauvoir 2

I'm very happy with this one. The pattern is 'Wurm'; a free pattern by Katushika available as a ravelry download. I particularly like the neat doubled band that anchors the hat, and the volume created by the corrugations of purl and plain stitches. You can push and pull the hat around to create different shapes and angles. Most satisfactory.

de Beauvoir 3

Sunday, January 17, 2010

and the beat goes on...

After the wonderfully riotous impact of the Manganiyar musicians came the irresistible rhythms of African music from Mali. Last night I went with some friends to the free Sydney Festival concert in the Domain to hear Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra, supported by Vieux Farka Toure.

I'm always reluctant to go to large free concerts like this. I imagine crowds, delays, lots of waiting time, discomfort and general effort. However, whenever I have attended, my worst fears are never realised. And last night was no exception. [For those who don't know Sydney, the Domain is a large open public space on the edge of the city centre. Most of the year it's used by city workers for games and exercising, but it's also the main venue for large public gatherings such as the Festival's free concerts and even for political rallies.]

Last night it took me about 20 minutes to get from home to the Domain (see what I mean about worrying unnecessarily). We arrived in the early evening about an hour before the concert and easily found a place for our blanket - not close to the stage, but with a nice view of the performance and the crowd.

Domain 1

We ate our simple picnic food, drank our wine, chatted, and watched the bats that live in the surrounding trees find their places for the night. I also managed some knitting.


So, in summary? There was a buzz from being part of such a large, relaxed crowd enjoying themselves together. There were no delays in either getting there or going home. I caught up with my friends and shared good food and wine. Sitting on the ground for so long was uncomfortable, but with more forethought I could alleviate that. And the music was wonderful- particularly Toumani Diabale's 'fusing of tradition and innovation' (I'm quoting from the festival brochure). It's the kind of music where you just can't keep still while listening - without thinking you find your feet tapping, your head nodding and your shoulders swaying .

Domain 2

It was certainly worth making the (very minor) effort to go.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Given the current political and social tensions between India and Australia, it's particularly fortunate that one of the deservedly sold-out performances for this year's Sydney Festival is 'The Manganiyar Seduction'.

We'd managed to get tickets for last night's performance. Forty-three male Indian musicians and singers are placed in serried ranks of performance 'boxes' - a wall four boxes high by about twelve boxes wide. Each space is curtained in velour of a particularly Rajasthani red. The curtain is pulled aside and the box lit as each musician joins the performance. It's loud, lively, expressive, rhythmic and joyful...a great performance.

I'd previously heard, seen, and been captivated by Manganiyar music when I visited Rajasthan as a tourist several years ago.


Last night's performance had me searching out my photographs of the trip and wistfully contemplating the possibilities of another visit.

The Manganiyars are Muslims from north-west India - mainly from the deserts of Rajasthan. Traditionally, they are entertainers and musicians, surviving for centuries on the patronage of wealthy Hindu merchants. In more recent times they've supplied music for weddings, parties, anything and have now gained world renown for their performances. Though Muslims, their patrons were and are usually Hindus, and over time their music has taken on the stories of Hindu as well as other cultural traditions. I don't want to make too much of it, but even moments of such joyful cultural accommodation are welcome.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beginning and Arrival

January in Sydney is Sydney Festival time. I love the idea of the Sydney Festival - three balmy summer weeks of very broadly defined arts and cultural events with challenging and esoteric theatre and music interspersed with popular cultural events - often freely accessible. The almost chaos and edginess of the Festival suits Sydney's spirit.

But most years the Festival seems to finish before I've organised myself to participate as much as I would like. Following as it does so closely on Christmas festivities and end-of-the-year exhaustion, I rarely manage to purchase the festival tickets I want before they're sold out, and the balmy summer weather is, in reality, often either unbearably hot or inconveniently rainy.

This year is going to be different - at least a bit. My friend Jan has organised tickets for several events, and I'm determined to manage some other public performances. I'm off to a good start - last night I went with a friend who was visiting to see 'The Arrival' at Carriageworks.


The Carriageworks is my local theatre. It's a refashioning of the yawning spaces claimed from the old Eveleigh Railway workshops and is an easy ten minute walk from home. The vast shed outside the entrance to the theatre and foyer spaces is where the Eveleigh farmers' and artisans' markets are held.

'The Arrival' is a captivating work. I guess you might call it mime, because it is largely wordless, but it's also dance, puppetry, shadows and the most wonderful manipulation of screens and blocks to evoke city- and land-scapes. It's an archetypal immigrant story of a man who leaves his family in a war-ravaged country to encounter the puzzling challenges of life, language, culture, friendship and work in a new society. I don't think I'm spoiling the story to tell you it ends with a happy reunion with his family in the new land.

The company is a New Zealand group called Red Leap Theatre, and the work is derived from a book of the same name by Australian graphic novelist Shaun Tan. It reproduces the spirit and often the design of his detailed, somewhat surreal, often fable-like work. It's advertised as being suitable for anybody aged above six, and certainly the children at the performance we attended were engaged by it. I think it's one of those works that's accessible in many different ways and at many levels.

I'm very pleased I saw this wonderful work - even though it didn't move my heart. I like words - good words - and I like narrative, and fables don't usually appeal to me. But as fables go, this one was most creatively, delicately and evocatively realised.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

PSC 2009 - done!

Yesterday I completed the final pair of socks for my 2009 Personal Sock Club, only 8 days behind schedule. In knitting time, I think this can be classified as being done by the due date.

Railway stitch 1

The pattern is my personal sock hero Nancy Bush's Gentleman's Sock in Railway Stitch from Knitting Vintage Socks. The yarn is Patons Australia Patonyl and the stripes in the heels and toes are from some scraps of hand-dyed Patonyl that I originally received as part of a swap gift from Sonia.

Railway stitch 2

As always with the sock patterns from Knitting Vintage Socks I am attracted by the plain repetitive busyness of the small pattern repeats. In practical terms, these stitch patterns are ideal for socks, providing the stretch when necessary for easy putting on and taking off, but contracting around the ankle and instep to fit elegantly.

Now on to PSC 2010 - though - unlikely as it sounds - I'm in danger of distraction from some short socks with frilled tops from Judy Sumner's Knitted Socks East and West.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A good time

If you were two and two-thirds years old, what would be your idea of a good time?

I think a visit to the Play School store room would have to be high on the list.

There are places to explore

The toy cupboard

friends to visit

Play School friends

and big shoes to fill

They're my shoes!

Thanks Fee!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Knitting 2009

It's taken me a while to get around to summing up my 2009 knitting. It's so reassuring to have something in my life where I can count and quantify my achievements and about which I can make judgments in an entirely pleasurable way.

I've managed to complete twenty-four knitted projects this year (ravlink). Given my total for 2008 was twenty-three projects, this is possibly my 'natural' rate of knitting productivity. If I were really kind to myself, I'd say I completed thirty items in 2009, as a couple of my projects involved several repeats of patterns for hats knitted for charity.

By category this is
7 pairs of socks
3 scarves
2 shawls
2 toys/decorations
1 pair of mitts
3 hats (actually 9 hats from 3 different patterns)
1 adult cardigan
4 baby's or child's cardis and vests
1 small blanket

And some winners:

The project of which I'm most proud? The Tangled Yoke Cardigan. This was knitted as my Tour de France project and while I didn't quite finish it within the timeframe of the race, I did finish it soon after.

My most favourited project in ravelry? The Simple Shawl. I think the appeal is the yarn (Kauni Effektgarn) which perfectly suits the very simple pattern.

The most fun to knit? A difficult choice between the small blanket for my small grand-daughter and the Baktus Scarf, with the small blanket winning by a thread. Unsurprisingly, both these projects are in garter stitch - I'm easily entertained

My favourite socks? The French Grey Socks that are a design by my sock hero Nancy Bush from Knitting Vintage Socks. I love wearing these and the colour is a perfect grey.

cardi front 2Blue shawl 1
Ana Maria's blanketFrench grey socks

I still have four projects 'actively' on the needles - by this I mean they are projects I have a real expectation of completing in the relatively near future. Three of these - some socks, a small shawl and a jacket languishing from 2008, are all at least 80% complete and with a little effort could be finished soon.

But you know how it is - I need a warm hat and some mitts for a trip to wintry France in February, so the siren call of new projects may prove irresistible.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Railway socks

This is how close I came to completing my 2009 Personal Sock Club on time - I'm halfway through the last sock of the seven pairs I scheduled for the year. And I probably would have completed this last sock except that in a pre-Christmas frenzy I managed to 'tidy away' the 50g ball of Patonyl I needed to finish the project and then forgot where I had put it. But it's been found (hidden amongst the yarn for another project), and I'm now working hard to finish this pair so I can make a start on my 2010 PSC.

The pattern, by the way is Nancy Bush's Gentleman's Sock in Railway Stitch (ravlink) from Knitting Vintage Socks. This pattern has a particularly vintage look to it and as always with Nancy Bush's socks, I like them more and more as I knit them.

And yes, I am going to repeat the whole Personal Sock Club rigmarole in 2010. It's been such a successful undertaking for me in 2009. Until now, I never would have believed I could knit seven and three-quarters pairs of socks in a year - six and three-quarters of them from the PSC and the eighth for a sock swap.

I'm scheduling seven pairs again for 2010 as I think this has become my lucky sock-knitting number. It's also approximately the number of skeins of sock yarn I have. OK, I do have a few more, but I'm ignoring them for the sake of manageability.

2010 sock yarns

From front to back the yarns are
1 Knitabulous sock yarn in Salwar Kameez. This is the first instalment from the Knitabulous yarn club and I intend to knit the original pattern she's designed - 'Shantaram'.
2 Socks That Rock superwash light-weight in Tide Pooling. A birthday gift from jpofoz.
3 Madelinetosh Tosh Sock in Ink. A perfect inky blue. I fell in love with Madelinetosh yarns when I knitted my 'Lichen' socks this past year.
4 Malabrigo Sock in Boticelli Red.
5 Madeleinetosh Tosh Sock in Scarlet.
6 Wollmeise Twin in Hortensie - facilitated by a patient knitting friend. If deep blue yarn can be said to glow, this does.
7 Knitabulous Merino Sock in Count Sockular. This has a cunning small skein of grey yarn for accents.

In making this list I've noted a significant increase in the interestingness of the yarns I have in my stash. I think that the PSC had the inadvertent outcome of making me think about and notice sock yarns to a greater extent - and it developed some significant sock yarn envy. I wonder if that will continue this year?

The Knitabulous yarn for Shantaram has priority knitting status and I will cast on for these the instant I finish my present socks. The other yarns will be parceled up in proper PSC fashion and I'll randomly choose one as each delivery date falls due.