Monday, January 31, 2011

Ripple Hat

After my triumph with my Twenties Hat, where the image that was in my head more or less translated exactly into reality, I had a sad failure yesterday. This:

See, I was walking to work on Friday when I passed a girl unlocking her bike. She had a crochet hat - a snugly-fitting, beanie-style hat that had a ripple pattern, starting with a five or six-pointed star shape. I paused momentarily to gawp but she was already hopping on her bike - and she was gone.

"Darn it!" I thought. "I wanted to have a good look at her hat!"
I'm not really sure about the etiquette of hat-hijacking: "Oi! You on the bike! 'Scuse me, can I borrow your headgear so I can figure out how to make it?" seems the most direct, but possibly also the most disconcerting approach. Never mind, I thought, I'll probably never see her again.

But I did! She sped past me about two hours later and this time I had my arm raised to flag her down and ask her about her beanie - but she was too fast. So I had a look in the Ravelry pattern database for something similar but to no avail. All that remained was to make one of my own. This is the first attempt:

And I'm afraid it looks a tad like a tea-cosy. Or, at the very least, it doesn't look like hers.
Epic sadface :-(
And back to the drawing board.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dear Spammers II

Dear Members of the German Medical Profession,

It is with great concern that I have noted a rapid increase in the number of emails from female doctors - alone today I have received correspondence from Dr. Hannelore Schmidt, Dr. Renate Mueller, Dr. Iris Kirkegard and Dr. Melanie Ludwig, each offering me the possibility to satisfy my girlfriend in bed. This is disturbing on many levels, dear medics. Allow me to elucidate:

First of all, from a feminist point of view, I wonder if the glass ceiling is so entrenched in the German medical profession that these poor women are forced to leave the practice of healing and scratch a living peddling pharmaceuticals on the Internet. Shame on you, you sexist boars!
Secondly, these emails shake my faith in the medical training afforded by universities in this country. It is very nice of these ladies to be concerned about the ability of my genitals to remain upright for hours at a time, but I would like to note that my particular private bits do not possess the ability to point upwards because they do not dangle to begin with. I believe the first class at medical school probably covers the basic anatomical differences between the sexes, but obviously Dr. Schmidt et al were too busy playing Tetris on their iPhones during that particular lecture. The fact that I don't possess the necessary bits to effectively utilise these pills may have to do with the fact that I am female, - which in turn may also be divined from my name: The Gingerbread Lady. Shocker, eh? Though I am aware that in this day and age this doesn't necessarily need to be a hint, in my case it is. 
Thirdly, my girlfriends have their own beds to go to, thank you very much. I imagine that even if I were to lure them over on the pretext of a sleepover, my trying any shenanigans would end up being a very unexpected and deeply disturbing experience for us all - including their and my husbands.

In all, I would request that you ask your colleagues to discontinue sending me offers of potency drugs. It is very kind of them, to be sure, but I do not need them at present, nor do I see myself needing them in the foreseeable future. However, should I experience unexpected growth in the nether regions, I will contact you post haste.
Best regards,
The Gingerbread LADY

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Colour Palette

My sister-in-law got engaged at Christmas, so I thought I'd make them a Moorish Mosaic Afghan. I haven't seen their new apartment yet, I just know that she has a dark red sofa so I chose a dark red as the main colour:

Now all I have to do is find a colour palette. If it were for me, I'd throw half-a-dozen skeins of yarn into one of my hundred craft baskets and off I'd go ... but it's rather difficult to try and second-guess someone else's taste. So I just kept mixing and matching colours:

The whole process was watched sceptically by Mr Gingerbread, who was putting up a lamp while I was doing it. He was dragged over to give his opinion, which he did unwillingly. ("I can't imagine what the blanket is going to look like based on just five colours!" "Just tell me if your sister will like these five colours!" "I don't know! This is very stressful! Leave me alone!") He finally picked the first group of colours and skipped off happily, thinking he'd been let off the hook. Haha! Little does he know that I've found five more colours that also might work, so he has to go through the whole process again tomorrow.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Celtic Peeps

As you probably know by now, I come from Ireland. Not the romantic, rolling-hills-and wee-small-walls part in the west of Ireland, but rather the flat bit in the east called Kildare, best suited to growing crops and, um, racehorses. In our part of Ireland we do not speak the with the kind of accent that garners the usual plethora of admiring adjectives from foreigners: our accent is not "melodious", "musical" or "lilting". Goodness, no - at a pinch it could be described as "flat". In fact, to make matters worse, a decade abroad educating Germany's Youth has even polished off the worst excesses of my accent: I no longer differentiate between you singular and plural (whereas in Ireland we do: you and ye, yiz or youse, depending on where youse come from), I now use the Present Perfect (I've just combed my hair) instead of our luvverly Irish Past-Present Continuous (I'm after combing my hair) and - shriek! - I can pronounce my th. In fact, I was once introduced to a little brother's friends as
"- the one who lives in Germany, you know, the one who talks posh," ("Poshly," I corrected automatically. My siblings really hate me.)

But over here in Germany, I have discovered a curious thing: I can recognise a Celt at fifty paces. Be they Scottish, Welsh or Irish, I know we probably share DNA before they even open their mouths. I work in a multicultural environment, yet the Welsh, Scots and Irish still gravitate towards one another. What is it, I wonder, apart from a shared compulsion to sing at every public gathering? That, and the persistent desire to dress inadequately in inclement weather (I mean, come on: kilts. Really? Wearing a skirt with no underwear on a windy day - i.e. 360 out of 365 - in the mountains of northern Europe? Oh, please!)

Aside from everything else, I can speak normally (or spake narmal, as we'd say in Kildare) when I'm with my fellow Celts. I can start sentences with "Yerra ..." and no one bats an eyelid. In fact, I can utter complete sentences that consist of nothing but "Yerra ... " and they are seen as significant philosophical contributions to the discourse:
"And that was the point when I told him never to darken my door again! The rat!"
"Yerra..." (shrugs).
That says it all.

This is one of the reasons why I volunteered to do some of the telephone enquiries about our school's proposed trip to Scotland. I get to talk to ladies in offices in Scotland and chitchat about the weather whilst noting down ferry timetables and group discounts for students. It's very relaxing - after a day of speaking German, I get to chat with my fellow Celts. I can unleash my repressed Irish accent and let it all hang out.
Or so I thought.
Just last week I had a lovely chat with a lady called Betty near John o'Groats. I wanted to know how long the ferry to Orkney would take.
"Howarya," I said (= standard form of address in Kildare), "My name is Gingerbread Lady and I'm phoning youse from Germany because we're after planning a school trip to Scotland and, yerra, sure and amn't I just finalising the details." (Well, not quite - but you get the idea.)
Betty trilled in delight - more so when I told her that there were fifty of us. She tapped away on her computer and gave the sailing times and the price and we chatted about how dreadful the winter was and I was so happy to be able to talk to this lovely little old lady (or aul wan, as we'd say in Kildare). After a couple of minutes of small-talk, I thanked her and said I'd send an email to confirm.
"Wail," she said, "It's bin vairrry nice talkin to yui."
"Yerra, thanks a million Betty for all your help," I said, "Sure and aren't you a star?"
She paused and then said in a confidential voice:
"And I rrrreally must say: yuir English is vairy, vairy guid!"
Readers, I was momentarily stunned: she didn't know I was Irish! And then devastated: she didn't know I was Irish! And then complimented: my English is vairy, vairy guid! So I bit my lip and, not wanting to embarrass her, thanked her kindly and hung up.

Have I been here that long? I wondered. Am I beginning to sound like a German? Am I losing my accent - and my identity? Will this mean that I, too, will start wearing thermal underwear in winter and develop a yearning for The Nature? Who am I? What am I?
I can only imagine that later that day, Betty and the other girls were hanging around the water cooler or coffee maker or haggis dispenser, or whatever it is one has in Scottish offices, and she probably told them about me:
"I had a phonecall today from a lovely wee Gairman girrl - and aparrt from the fact that she had a vairy odd accent, her English was actually vairy guid!"
Thanks a bloody million for the identity crisis, Betty. I hope you choke on your shortbread.

Photo courtesy of

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Boy Who Yelped "Wolf!"

I regularly post about my husband. I regularly feel bad about posting about my husband, but he doesn't seem to mind. Now and again, I wonder if his idiosyncracies are just that: his idiosyncracies - or whether I've hit upon something peculiar to the adult male. The latter is something I often wonder about because many of his little quirks are shared by my father ... so I've either got a bad case of the Freudians, or these oddities may be shared by a larger group as a whole.

That's why it's good to have female friends, a kind of little self-help group, if you will. Last weekend I picked up my friend Miss P for a walk and found her almost spitting with temper.
"I. Would. Love. To. Slap. Him. Sometimes," she said, enunciating icily in her rage. "I heard a flipping shriek from the kitchen and when I ran in to help him, I found that he'd just knocked over a cup. I thought he was dead!"
Aha. So she'd fallen victim to The Yelp, I noted with pleasure. My father does it, my husband does it and now I know that Miss P's boyfriend does it. Interesting!

What's The Yelp?
Imagine, please, that you're engrossed in something important or delicate: you're correcting grammar exams, chopping garlic or re-attaching the 'end call' button to your ancient phone. Suddenly, your other half gives a blood-curdling yell: "Gnaaaaaaaggggghhhhhhhhh!"
"What's wrong?" you shout.
More silence.
"What's wrong?" you shout again - but you're met with a deathly silence.
So you toss aside your exams, garlic and/or mobile phone and sprint into the next room, expecting to find your beloved in a heap on the floor, a severed limb protruding from the dishwasher, a pool of blood congealing next to him.
"What happened?" you wheeze. "What happened?"
And your partner-slash-spouse looks at you with big, blank eyes and says: "What? What do you mean?"
"You screamed!" you cry. "I heard you scream!"
"Did I really?" he says, bemused. "I don't remember that."
"You did! I heard you! You said: Gnaaaaaaaggggghhhhhhhhh!"
He shrugs. "Oh, that. Yeah. I couldn't get the olive jar open. So we're having pickles instead."
Eyes narrow and you think about the satisfaction of whipping the pickles out of his hands and sticking one up each nostril. But you don't. You return to whatever delicate matter you tossed away to run to your sweetheart's side in his moment of need. And you bite your fist.

"You say this was the murder weapon? Why, that's ... gruesome!"
Moments later, your ears are assaulted by a heart-rending moan. "Oh, nooooooo! Gneerggggghhhhhhhh!"
"What's wrong? What happened?"
"Aaaaahhhhhh! Friiiiinnnnnnnkkkkkkkkkk!"
"What's WRONG?"
I shriek: "What HAPPENED?"
He pops his head around the door, annoyed. "For crying out loud! I just dropped a tomato! Don't be such a drama queen!"
"One of these days," I warn, "you're really going to scream in pain and I won't come running. I'll just blithely ignore you and leave you extricate yourself from the innards of the vacuum cleaner or the drum of the washing machine. Then you'll be sorry!"

He shrugs, unconcerned. And why would he be? He knows that this is an empty threat on my part. We both do. As the old saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you - but fool me twice, shame on me. Or, in this case: Fool me 5,297 times, shame on me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dear Spammers

From:    Me, The Gingerbread Lady
Subject: The millions of dollars you wish to hide in my bank account

Dear Prince of Nigeria,
Well, hello there back to you, my friend! I was absolutely gobsmacked to find your email in my inbox this morning because I was not aware that I could count royalty among my peeps. Imagine my joy when I read your opening words: Greetings to you, my friend! My friend! That, and the fact that you have chosen to conduct state business via a Hotmail account, shows that you are truly a man of the people.

Yes, I was devastated to hear that there had been a coup in Nigeria. Truth be told, I didn't even know you had a monarchy, labouring as I was under the misconception that Nigeria was actually a republic! I'm very happy to hear that all of your family got out alive, although I imagine you must have been dreadfully inconvenienced by all of the marauding riff-raff with their machetes and whatnot. And at this time as well: goodness knows, you're probably up to your ears in preparations for Kate and William's wedding in April. I bet you were looking forward to catching up on all the goss' from the world's other royal families: sharing a bon mot with the Emperor of Japan, and eyeing up the pretty Princesses of Sweden before sitting down to a fine English banquet. Instead, you will be a persona non grata, a Displaced Royal Person - if you even receive your wedding invitation at all. No doubt it's already winging its way to the Royal Palace in Abuja as we speak ... only to fall into the grubby paws of one of the nasties who deposed you. The injustice of it all!

But let me not beat about the bush, my friend. Of course you can deposit $20 million in my bank account. No problem whatsoever! But it sounds like you have enough on your plate right now, what with the revolution and all the rest, so why don't you just send me your bank account details as well as a notarized power of attorney slip, and I'll just help myself to whatever's lying around? I can divide it up between my piggy bank and my post office savings book, so no one will ever know it's there. And furthermore, as a sign of my trustworthiness, I will only accept a 10% holding fee, instead of the 20% you so generously offered.

See - I feel like we're almost family! So please send me all the documentation as soon as possible, including a copy of your passport, your credit card and social security card numbers. Thanks awfully, your Highness.
Love to your parents, the King and Queen, 
The Gingerbread Lady xxx

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Germans and The Nature

Our little river has burst its banks
Today was a beautiful day - like the first day of Spring. Unfortunately, because it's only January, this means we get a spring-like day dangled in front of our noses and then it will be yanked away viciously with the onset of another month of ice and blizzards. But for today we enjoyed it. I went for a walk and took some photos - a rather difficult task, given the tumult of bodies on the woodland pathways and in the parks. I sighed: I have never quite understood the Germans' fascination with The Nature.

As most of you know, I grew up in the depths of rural Ireland. To be more precise, I grew up in a draughty old stone farmhouse in the middle of nowhere - we don't have an address, we just have the name of the square acre our house is planted on and the name of the nearest town. For kicks and laughs, we walked down to the end of the country road to The Big Tree - which was, as the name suggests, a Big Tree. If we were feeling particularly wild, we walked in the opposite direction to the Water Pump, which was - brace yourself - an old-fashioned water pump at a local crossroads. How we didn't spontaneously combust with excitement during our teenage years is beyond me.

A cloudless blue sky
The thing is, Ireland isn't particularly densely populated so The Nature - as the Germans quaintly call it - is everywhere. If you turn your back for a minute, The Nature is liable to hop up and poke your eye out. Here in Germany, it's not so much the case - people have to actively seek The Nature out. And that they do: they're always walking to somewhere or from somewhere (they call it 'wandern' but don't mix that up with the snail's pace stroll of the English wandering: this is wandern, with hiking boots and the ski pole-thingies that have become really fashionable in the past few years as Germany's senior citizens have discovered Nordic walking. Nordic walking - this is for the benefit of my Irish readers - is basically skiing without the skis. You march around, huffing and puffing, with ski poles. Apparently you walk faster? or more energetically? or something.) Unlike Irish people, who usually go for a walk to digest a meal or get to a place where they'll get their next meal, Germans walk for The Nature. They walk and look, and look and walk. And when they get wherever they want to get to, The Nature is viewed thoroughly - then they hitch up their ski poles, lace their hiking boots a bit tighter and walk back.

This puzzled me for years because I couldn't quite understand why one would have to torture oneself with a walk up a steep mountain path, only to look at other mountains, before walking back down. This was a bone of great contention between me and my ex-boyfriend, one we eventually overcame when I learned to give him the camera to take photos of the view on the top of the mountain, while I sat at a picnic bench in the shade and read my book. It never helped that I was always inappropriately dressed: I don't have hiking boots or khaki pants with lots of pockets or, God forbid, shorts. My sartorial inadequacies, combined with my startlingly white skin and red hair, meant that I stood out immediately as an Islander amongst all the sallow-skinned Continentals, (who were general dressed like Indiana Jones, funnily enough.)

The bizarre thing is that no matter where I have been in the world - and I've been in some weird places - there are always a couple of German tourists there as well. Decked out in wool socks, sturdy boots, sensible shorts, coloured sunglasses and funny headgear, they survey the mountain range (check! been there!), inside of a volcano (check! been there!), seven hills of Rome (check! been there!), Atlantic Ocean from an Irish clifftop (check! - oh, what's the use) and complain bitterly if it does not meet their expectations.

Very often, I see a fellow Irish person (usually male): they're usually incorrectly dressed for the elements and look slightly bewildered. When I ask them what they're doing there, they mumble something about "getting on a plane to Sydney with their mate Dekko..." and "... meeting three Italian girls in Brisbane ..." and "... taking a fishing boat to Jakarta..." and "... ending up here. Where am I anyway?" Turn your back for half a minute and they'll strike up a friendship with a local, marry his daughter and within two months, they'll have opened MacGinty's Irish Pub on the slopes of Mount Bromo, Indonesia's premier volcanic tourist attraction. Return in a year, and the pub will be full of inadequately-clothed Irish people who got lost between Java and Bali, while droves of Germans hike past the window, their eyes focused on The Nature.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Picture for the Cyber-Fridge

If I were six years old, I'd be pushing my knitting into your lap, insisting that you praise it and hang it up on the fridge for all to admire. So this will have to be the cyber fridge: look at what I did! Look! Look! No, you're not looking properly, look at it! (but not too closely because a few stitches are still a bit wonky.)

Last night I tried to work on DPNs (double-pointed needles) but I failed utterly and miserably. It seemed that every time I concentrated on two needles, the other two would up and attack me. Really! Feeling a bit despondent, I decided to try something new to give myself a sense of accomplishment - so I started the Irish Hiking Scarf from the Ravelry database.

Guess what? I can manage simple cables! Yay, me! After a couple of inches, I went into the project gallery in the Ravelry database to look at photos of other people's scarves and was pleased to note that my first cable scarf was better than some other beginners' cable scarves, despite my unorthodox knitting method and the underlying fear that the needles would rise up against me and poke my eyes out. So I preened in front of my computer screen and stroked my luvverly cables.

But as we all know, dear readers, pride goeth before a fall and it was as I was preening and stroking that I noticed that I had dropped a stitch in one of my cables, two rows down and, after I'd picked myself off the floor, I set about fixing it with three knitting needles, a pair of crochet hooks and my teeth (don't ask). Phew. Back on track, I think.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thank you, readers!

Thank you very much to all my comment-leavers - I won't name you here in case I'm infringing anyone's privacy - but thank you all very much for your help. I am, in fact, knitting in the combined Continental style (which seems to be commonplace in the Eastern European countries - is that right?) It certainly makes life a lot easier to know what I'm doing because I finally understand what I'm doing differently when I watch a tutorial or look at a diagram in a book. Thank you so much for all of your helpful comments and links, you really are a super bunch!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I knit a hat. It's not very good, because I'm not a good knitter. I'm getting better, but even as I knit my fingers are screaming "Noooooo! Noooooooo!" and I find it difficult to get them to settle down. As an adult, it's especially hard to relearn a mechanical process and knitting has been my Everest for many's a year. At this point, I'm still in base camp with the Sherpas but I'm sharpening my ice pick as we speak.

When I learned to knit at the tender age of six, I picked it up wrong. At least, that's what I was constantly told - but no one could fault the end result. It looked like knitting that had been done the 'right' way, except I was holding the needles oddly and inserting them into the back of the stitch. Then my knitting went through a 30-year hiatus till I moved to Germany ... and then one day, I saw a girl in my student residence knitting and realised with a shock that she was also knitting wrong. In fact, she was knitting even wronger than I did - she was doing something that looked a bit like a mishmash of knitting and crochet. I showed her the 'right' way to knit (except, of course, I was still doing it wrong) and she was astonished: did I really mean to say that millions of people in the British Isles learned to knit in what was so obviously the wrong way? Astounding.

Now, readers, that was back in the pre-Internet days so we couldn't go online and Google knitting styles to find out that there are many ways to knit - and they're all right. She was knitting Continental style and I was knitting English (or throwing) style. As a crocheter, I thought I should re-teach myself to knit in the Continental fashion because it meant I could hold the yarn in my left hand as I do with crochet. I also thought I could correct the way I knit and finally learn not to knit in the back of the stitches, as I seem to have been doing for thirty years. So I went on to YouTube and re-taught myself and after a couple of nights of cursing, managed to pick up quite a bit of speed and, although my tension is still a bit wonky, actually became relatively comfortable with it. Yay me! I thought. I was on the road to bistitchuality! One step closer to my dream: socks on dpns!

Except, I'm not. Not that I've taken a step backwards, just a kind of bizarre detour. I was reading a thread on Ravelry (a huge internet forum for knitting and crochet) about how difficult it is to purl Continental-style and I thought, "That's weird! I think it's really easy!" Back I went to YouTube and watched the videos again - and it turns out I'm still knitting wrong. For crying out loud!  So I've started another hat to see if I can re-train myself ... again.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Disneyfication of Zuppy

Once upon a time (yes, another one of those posts) a few years ago, I saw a documentary about dolphins kept in captivity and trained to take part in dolphin shows à la SeaWorld. There was footage from a show on the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza, and as the audience left, the German film crew stopped people and asked them what they thought about the conditions in which the dolphins were being held.
"Also," said one portly German lady, "ich finde, der Delfin hat einen sehr glücklichen Eindruck gemacht!"
(Well, I think the dolphin made a very happy impression. )
At which point, I exploded into a rant, Liamo-style: How did she know? Was it the dolphin's smile? Did he wink? Did he raise his eyebrows jovially? Did he wave or make jokes? No, he did not because He! Is! A! Dolphin!

Liam is my father. He can - at the drop of a hat (or even as your trilby descends downwards) - launch into a lecture (rant) about any number of hotbutton issues. I have not only inherited his hair and freckles, I have also inherited many of these same hobbyhorses. Just as text (letters, cards, emails or advertising copy) written in the voice of a toddler by adoring adults makes my hair stand on end, I also dislike it intensely when people project human thoughts and emotions on animals.
"I went home last night really worried about my tax returns and when I got in the door, my Shih Tzu Lucy just looked at me with her big brown eyes, and I knew she was thinking, 'Don't worry about your tax returns for 2009, concentrate on 2008!'" says my colleague.
I bite my fist.
The real conversation between woman and Shih Tzu went like this:
Woman: "Oh, Lucy, my tax returns are late again! I'm going to get into trouble! I'm going to have to pay a fine!"
Dog: "Blah, blah, blah, Lucy. She looks a bit sad. I wonder if I'll get fed now? Blah, blah, blah."

Of course, this only applies to OTHER PEOPLE'S PETS as the fact that my parents' dog has already starred in several of his own blog posts will attest. My parents' dog, Zuppy, is a very intelligent and sensitive creature with excellent communication skills. In fact, my father and I recently analysed this picture over the phone:

My father went out for a walk on Christmas morning to take some photos and was dutifully followed down the avenue of their house by the Jack Russell. He'd already reached the entrance to the driveway when we realised that he was dogless and he felt Zuppy's beady eyes boring into him. When he turned around, Zuppy was performing a tableau of abject misery. He allowed my father witness his piteous state for a couple of seconds (because this dog does not like snow) before he fake-limped back to the house. My father and I established that he was Not Happy in this photo and pondered whether he was genuinely miserable or milking a bit of sympathy - or both. I think my father tends to believe in Zuppy's innocent little soul, whereas I have a sneaking suspicion that he's a bit of a drama queen.

I can't believe I've just typed this post. I'm blaming my father for this one. (And Zuppy, the manipulative cad.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


That's what I did today. I gathered my stash from the various baskets and bags and hideyholes and nooks and crannies and dumped them all on the bed to sort them out. I tried to keep my husband out for fear of his mockery, but it didn't stop him from coming in to point fingers and laugh at his poor little yarnatic.
"Get out!" I shouted theatrically, "You cannot witness my shame!"
I shut the door behind him but I could hear him snickering on the other side.

Three hours later I have neatly stacked balls of yarn and - this is more important - I actually threw away dozens of scrappy little balls of yarn that I know I won't use. It took me a long time to come to terms with this, but I have I can finally recognise that I don't need to keep every neatly-wound half-inch ball of yarn in every obscure colour. I have also learned that it's okay to throw away yucky yarn - and there is yucky yarn. Like the ball of fuzzy acrylic in the shade 'Dead Cat' or the mucous-green fun fur (both belong firmly in the category What Was I Thinking?)  I don't particularly subscribe to New Year's Resolutions but I think I'll have to be more judicious in my yarn choices in 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Kilty Pleasure: Thrills and Swoons

This post is going to be a bit saucy, so if you are reading this next to your octogenarian mother or using The Adventures of the Gingerbread Lady to teach your preschooler how to read, I would ask you to consider finding another post to peruse. You have been warned! (Mammy and Daddy, you might like to look away now.)

My mother loves to read and loves watching films, yet she hates smut and (whisper it) s-e-x in these media. She prefers nice BBC period dramas where everyone keeps their frocks on or books that follow a family dynasty but leave the copulation behind closed doors. This year, for Christmas, she asked for a few "nice books" to read and it was with great difficulty that I located some smut-free works. This involved a bit of censorship: I skim-read one or two to make sure the smut was at a minimum. I found a couple that look relatively mother-friendly, and failed tragically on another. The Smut Fail book is one called Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, - it's been out quite a few years, apparently, and there are half-a-dozen sequels. On the surface, it seemed okay: 700 pages of historical romance. But I was wrong. The smutometre went off the charts, dear readers, off the charts!

It tells the tale of a 1940s nurse who goes for a wander around some standing stones, faints and wakes up in Scotland a couple of centuries ago. As you know, I recently had a few fainting episodes myself and I am now sorely thankful that I came to my senses among the contents of my husband's toolbox because this lady quickly finds herself scooped up by a band of be-kilted Scots, one of whom she marries for some spurious reason, e.g. in order to gain protection from someone or other. The pair of them then fornicate up and down the Scottish highlands and lowlands, whilst getting to somewhere or away from someone. Disgraceful, readers, that's what it is: absolutely disgraceful. (And, on a side note, I would like to comment on the depiction of the Celtic peoples in popular fiction. I understand that it can be difficult to recreate a Scottish or Irish accent in print, but it's amazing how much we sound like pirates when an author tries: "Aye, arrrrr me lassie! Let's hop on me horse and ride to Edinburgh, arrrrr!")  But I feel I owe it to my mother to finish this filthy tome, in order to establish for once and for all that it really is not suitable for her little eyes.

Wallowing in the pages of Outlander, I was reminded of my own short-lived foray into romantic fiction. When I was 15 or 16, my best friend at school was an avid reader of Mills & Boon books. Mills & Boon, in case you are not familiar with them, are popular romance "novels" (cough), sold at newsagents and in supermarkets, as well as bookstores and in train stations. My best friend used to read them voraciously, swinging on the back legs of her chair with her novel hidden behind her geography book. When she got to a particularly saucy bit, the chair would flop down on to all four legs again with a resounding thump, startling Sr. Frances in the middle of her explanation about how a glacier is formed.

Nowadays, Mills & Boon are far racier than they were twenty years ago. By today's standards, what we read was terribly tame. But the basic premise of many of these books has not changed. We had the formula figured out and if it were not for the odious chore that was our university-entrance exams, we might have made our fortunes writing popular romances. Witness our research:

  • 1 chaste young woman named after a classical deity (Persephone) or foodstuff (Oregano)
  • 1 lonely, misunderstood millionaire named after an item in a DIY store (Wrench) or a random selection of vowels and consonants (Kytz). If he has a title, all the better. Counts are particularly popular: there's apparently nothing quite like being ravished by minor European royalty.
  • 1 implausible career for young woman (pottery designer, kite maker, full-time sweater knitter)
  • 1 dramatic scenario (woman washed up on man's private island with amnesia; woman taken prisoner by man for trespassing on his massive estate; woman forced into marriage to please dying father who always wanted to see her married off before he kicks the bucket etc.)
  • Add a  selection of euphemisms for body parts: members, mounds, rosebuds, cusps - all popular choices.
  • Mix in a liberal smattering of obscure adjectives for afore-mentioned body parts: glistening, heaving, turgid, tumescent (which, by the way, is not to be mixed up with fluorescent. It was a sad day when I discovered - many years later - that tumescent members do not glow in the dark.)
  •  Wrench and Oregano need a variety of interesting verbs to express how they communicate:
    "Come here," rasped Wrench. Oregano trembled, her bosom heaving. "No!" she murmured, "You cannot force me to marry you, Count Wrench von Tuchenstein! I will not be your wife!"
    Get the picture? Wrench will do a lot of rasping, growling, barking and snarling, whereas Oregano will probably go for murmuring, whispering, pleading and cajoling.
  • Finally, you need a resolution: in other words, the reason why Wrench was being a big ol' uptight meanie was that he was actually mentally tortured by his ex-wife!!! He didn't intend to be such a rapscallion - he just wasn't in touch with his feelings!!! When he admits that he really loves Oregano, their love can truly grow and their marriage blossom and she can give birth to their twins!!!
It's very reassuring to know that if my career Educating The Youth should ever come to a halt, I have a Plan B - I'll be able to churn them out in no time. I'll have to find a pseudonym, naturally, because I could get into a lot of trouble if my parents found out that I had become An Author of Smut.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

TUTORIAL: Twenties Hat

Why? Because I want to know if I can. That's the driving force behind much of my crochet designing. I wanted a very elegant, classic Twenties cloche hat and I couldn't find a pattern for one - so I made one up. Here you go:

You need a
3.50mm hook (a ‘E’ hook)
approx. 90g sock yarn (or fingering weight cotton)
Note: this pattern uses American terms, the British terms are in [brackets].

The crown:
Start by chaining 3 and join with a slip stitch to form a little circle.
OR: start with a magic loop (thanks to Carla for pointing it out!)
If you have never crocheted a hat before, have a look at the pattern for the SiSoYa hat HERE. This includes some photos to help you along.

Round 1: Chain one, then do a SC [DC] in the same stitch below (this counts as your first SC [DC] here and throughout), then do 9 SC (DC) into the circle. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (10 stitches in total)
Round 2: Chain one, then do 2 SC [DC] in the same stitch. 2 SC [DC] in next nine stitches. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (20 stitches in total)
Round 3: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next nineteen stitches. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (20 stitches in total)
Round 4: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in stitch after. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC]. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (30 stitches in total)
Round 5: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next twenty-nine stitches. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (30 stitches in total)
Round 6: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next two stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC]. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (40 stitches in total)
Round 7: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next thirty-nine stitches. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (40 stitches in total)
Round 8: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next three stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC]. Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (50 stitches in total)

From this point on, you increase in every second round (the even-numbered rounds.) You increase by adding one more SC [DC] between every double SC [DC] in every round. In other words, in round 8, you do one SC [DC] in three stitches between each double SC [DC]; in round 10, you’ll do one SC [DC] in four stitches between your doubles. Every second round (the uneven-numbered rounds) will simply be a SC [DC] in each stitch.

You continue to increase like this until you have a slightly-curling circle (it will probably be like a woolly saucer) that has a diametre of a bit more than 18 cm / 7 inches. (Mine was 7.25 inches when I stopped.) If you have a big head or a lot of hair, make the crown a bit bigger. It's supposed to fit snugly but you don't want it to cut off the blood circulation to your brain.

The body of the hat:
Now keep crocheting in the round - no more increases, just one SC [DC] in every stitch, till the hat is approximately 18 cm / 7 inches from the crown of the hat to the brim (bottom edge). When you pop the hat on your head, the brim (bottom edge) ought to sit at eyebrow level.

The brim:
In order to achieve the gently-sloping brim of a Twenties-style hat, you have to increase very gradually. These values are approximate and are meant as a guideline:

BrimRd1: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next 29 stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch *1 SC [DC] in next thirty stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around. You mightn't finish neatly with 2 SC [DC] as you did when you were crocheting the crown - don't worry. If I reach the end of the round after, say, 26 SC [DC] then I do 2 SC [DC] in the last stitch. If I reach the end of the round after 10 SC [DC] then I don't. It's all about spacing your 2 SC [DC] as evenly as you can. . Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch.
BrimRd2-6: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in each stitch all round. . Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch. (= five rows of single SC [DC] )

BrimRd7: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next 39 stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch *1 SC [DC] in next forty stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around. Again, you mightn't finish neatly with a 2 SC [DC] but you can use your discretion and add a 2 SC [DC] in the last stitch if you wish. . Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch.
BrimRd8-12: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in each stitch all round. (= five rows of single SC [DC] ) Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch.

BrimRd13: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next 34 stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch *1 SC [DC] in next thirty-five stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around.
BrimRd14-16: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in each stitch all round. (= three rows of single SC [DC] )

BrimRd17: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next 34 stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch *1 SC [DC] in next thirty-five stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around. . Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch.
BrimRd18-20: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in each stitch all round. (= three rows of single SC [DC] ) . Join the last stitch to the first stitch of the row with a slip stitch.

Your brim should now have a gentle slope like this, low enough to come down over your eyes so you can flutter your peepers beguilingly at passers-by. Try it on again and again as you crochet, so you stop at the length that suits you. Mine is very low but you might prefer yours a little shorter.

In order to help this hat keep its shape, it's not a bad idea to stiffen it a little. I wet mine with warm water (not hot - we don't want it to felt) using a spray bottle. I then placed it on top of my Styrofoam model's head and pulled it into shape. It didn't require much shaping, mind you, as the SC [DC] and thin yarn mean that the hat already maintains its shape reasonably well. I sprayed it with some spray starch (available in the laundry section of your local supermarket) and blow-dried it using a warm setting on the hair-drier. The hat isn't stiff (I used very little starch) but it keeps its basic shape when I put it on and take it off - which is what I wanted. More information about stiffening crochet here.

If you don't have a Styrofoam head (and I admit that this is not the kind of item knocking around most households), you could look for a simple alternative. Before I had mine, I used an upside-down breakfast bowl on a candlestick or my husband's volleyball. Essentially anything with a rounded shape to allow the hat to dry on would do the trick.

This is the bit I like best and it's amazing how the hat changes character depending on the ribbons and embellishments you pin on it:

You may not reproduce this pattern in print or claim it as your work. You may not sell the pattern. Do not copy and paste pattern to another website, please use a link. You can make these hats for your personal use, for gifts and to sell privately (e.g. at craft fairs or markets.) I would kindly request that you give me credit for the pattern on your product tag with a link to my website - 'cause that's the decent thing to do and we crafters are decent people. And, obviously, if you make millions from making these hats, you have to give me a significant share.
A PDF of this pattern can be made at THIS website: just copy and paste this link
and it prepares a perfect PDF, ready for print!

Our Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

Inspired by the recent arrival of an ill-disguised epistolary bragfest from friends that have drifted far enough apart as to make their Christmas letters appear out of the dark waters of our subsconciousnesses like the iceberg that scuppered the Titanic, Mr Gingerbread and I would like to jump on the venerable bandwagon of overblown prose, poor punctuation, lavish emoticons and backhanded boasting in order to send you a recount of our 2010.

Well, well, well - it has been a busy year, has it not? (smileyface). January saw Mr Gingerbread recovering from a lung embolism which he no doubt picked up following a minor accident during our house renovations. I told him to hire help - after all, we have no shortage of money following our decision to copyright some of the web's most beloved acronyms as our own inventing. LOL alone garnered us millions on the stock exchange in 2010 (though sadly my favourite  - YWKWIMIYHLTMPTFTA: You Would Know What I Mean If You Had Listened To Me Properly The First Time Around - didn't enjoy as much success.) Being a veritable Man Friday, he decided to tackle it himself and ended up in hospital for his enthusiasm (sadface). 

But the ensuing spring months were successful on every level and we found ourselves savouring the delight that is Gingerbreadtown in the spring (happyface.) As you all know, Mr G. has a passing interest in quantum physics, so imagine our delight when he discovered that he could split the atom using nothing but his desk lamp, a rotating pencil and a filter from the coffee machine. Smiles all round. I achieved several of my goals by late summer, including making significant strides in the negotiation of peacekeeping agreements in the Sudan and mobilising the UN forces in Haiti. Sadly, permanent peace in Northern Ireland eludes me and there were renewed scuffles during marching season in July, despite my requests that some of the more militant ditties be replaced by non-denominational classics such as Kumbaya or Michael, Row the Boat Ashore. Oh well - 2011 is another year!

Autumn brought its usual whirl of work and social obligations, which sadly did not diminish as Christmas drew near. We turned down invitations from Brad and Angelina to spend the yuletide with their charming brood, as well requests from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dalai Lama to speak at their respective end-of-year celebrations. Our plan was to head to Ireland but, as you know, this was thwarted by Mother Nature. Still, given the year that we have had, we were not unhappy to crack open a bottle or two of Bollinger's Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes Francaises (we opted for a 1997 vintage because we were feeling frisky) and dip our Tuc crackers in a jar of caviar. We felt it was unfair to recall the household staff to do our bidding, as they had returned to their own families for the festive season. Instead, we braved the kitchen alone: imagine my surprise and delight when Mr G. managed to defrost one of Anna-the-cook's Gratinée de coquilles St. Jacques all by himself! It made a fine meal - though rough and ready, as we had to use paper napkins because I still can't locate the linen closet (mental note to self: ask butler to enter the living quarters of our house on Google maps.)

On this note, Mr Gingerbread and I take great pleasure in raising our glasses to you and wishing you the very best of years to come! (happyface, happyface, happyface)
Yours truly,
The Gingerbread Lady