Yesterday would have been my brothers 70th birthday.
Thinking about him and rembering the points where our lives touched draws in all of the threads of my life today which originated in the far past.
I first began knitting and crocheting when I was in my early teens. I found it very difficult at first to manipulate the needles as I was poorly coordinated. I had always struggled to do those simple things that my older siblings found so easy, such as to throw or catch a ball, or eat dinner without spilling it half way between plate and mouth. I remember feeling a great affinity with a character, in the Mary Norton Borrower books, who had the strange name of Spiller. He didn’t know what his name was really but remembered as a small child his mother saying to him ” You are an awful Spiller! ” and so decided that it must be Spiller.
Back to the intolerance of my siblings to my poor coordination skills. Perhaps it was the age difference , they were seven and nine years older than me and often had little patience for my ineptitude. I was without doubt- born cackhanded.
This continued throughout childhood and my teenage years. At high school I was useless at tennis. To spare others the pain of my inability to hit a ball or even serve I was paired with “Beady” a lovely calm, quiet girl who was also totally incapable of correctly wielding a racquet and ball. Together we would spend a horrendous, tedious and humiliating hour. I would whack the ball to one end of the court and she would walk to pick it up and then whack it back so that I too could go and collect the blasted thing.
So , conquering the difficulties presented by making two unwieldy metal sticks move together to produce fabric seemed beyond me. Everyone else in the family could do it, if they so wished. Our mother was a fabulous knitter and speedy too, creating garments that largely, we loved to wear. There was of course the early debacle of the knitted swimsuits which looked beautiful on Scarborough beach but stretched to buggery once they hit the freezing waters of the North Sea and then hung limply, baggily and heavily from our goosepimpled bodies. I also had suffered torments at primary school over the lovely hand knitted, bolero style cardigans she created. Oh so fashionable now, but in the early 1960’s provoked hoots of playground laughter and taunts of ” Look, she’s so poor she’s wearing “babbies ” (babies) clothes” or ” Did that shrink in the wash? Dun’t yer mam know owt about washing clothes” . How I hated those despised cardigans!
As I said, everyone else could do it. Bob of course had mastered the art of knitting early and at the age of nine had knitted a beautiful cardigan for his other sister, Sue or Susan as she was then known. Apparently , he was very and rightly proud of his accomplishment but this was soon dashed when Little Granma ( our mother’s mother) insisted on pressing the darned thing before he wrapped it up. In doing so she pressed out the cables and intricate patterning and stretched it all out of shape. Whereupon he threw the ruined garment down and refused to give it to his sister…..and bore a grudge against his interfering grandma ever after. He would infuriate her by calling her “Little Grimmie” to her face. As a strict disciplinarian and ex teacher this was bound to enrage her. Having tried various corporal punishments to no avail with the strong willed little boy she resorted to blackmail once and refused to give him his dinner until he said ,” Please, Grandma may I have some dinner?” After missing several meals and watching his little more compliant sister tuck in he finally conceded defeat and used the appropriate moniker. However, once he had eaten his fill he put his arms around his plate and looking the old matriarch mischievously in the eye declaimed….”Its Grimmie, now !”
Sue, was also talented , musical and artistic in every way. She was a beautiful dancer and skilled at tap and appeared in several local theatrical productions. My mother had hoped for similar pathways to open for me and I was duly sent to attend the same dancing class. This only lasted one lesson as the dancing teacher asked my mother to never darken her door with me again as I had ruined the session for everyone else and referred to me as a small elephant with flat feet.
However, despite poor coordination I was determined to learn to knit and with support and gentle encouragement from my mum gradually managed it! My first completed project was a misshapen attempt at a teddy bear for a school fair. I duly left the despised object at school on the soft toy sale table. Once at home I was worrying about the fact that no one could possibly want to pay good money for such a poorly designed teddy and that it was sure to be the only one left on the shelf. Bob, in his early twenties,was home from university and overheard my complaints and said that he would like to go to the fair to support me and the school and also see the teddy I had made. He was as good as his word and met me at the door of the fete. He said that he intended to buy my teddy as he quite fancied having my first make. I knew that what he really intended was to save me from the humiliation before all of my classmates of an unsaleable article. Of course you have guessed the outcome of his quest. When we got to the stall there was no sign of my misshapen creation…..the teddy had already been sold!
I was hooked on knitting….crochet would come later.