Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Bayeux Tapestry, Feminism and Me

"Why that's a lovely cloak, young page. Did you knit it yourself?" "Yes, sire, I did. Thanks for noticing."
This article (cough) in the Huffington Post gave me pause for thought. In a bad way. Actually, in an acid reflux kind of way. For those of you not keen on reading the article, allow me to give you a biassed synopsis (let's call it artistic licence. More about that to come.) Essentially, the (female) writer bemoans the state of the blogosphere as a reflection of the death of feminism. We women shouldn't be wasting our words on stuff like knitting (guilty) or cupcakes (guilty), but learning how to do "useful" (cough) stuff like shooting people and creating shelters for the zombie apocalypse. Basically: aspire to being a deranged male character from a Bruce Willis B-movie. Because this, it would seem, is equality. Not being women, but being women-trying-to-be-men in a way that most men would probably find alienating (i.e. if the  zombie apocalypse should come, do not rely on Mr Gingerbread for protection.)

In a strop of twisted-knickersery, the writer chirps: "we've lost that righteous indignation born of centuries of oppression. And take it from me, ladies, we're not fully equal yet." Gawsh. Such wise words from a woman whose previous journalistic contributions seem to primarily be in the sugary-pink world of female erotica (turgid nipples and tumescent members anyone?) and books about teenage witches. What saddens me about articles like this is the link they make to the Bayeux Tapestry in my head. Yes, my head looks like the inside of a bag of wool: there are lots of knots and tenuous links and a whole heap of yarn barf. Let me tell you about the Bayeux Tapestry and me...

The Bayeux Tapestry is a 68-metre-long (that's 224 feet, for those of you who like it Imperial) embroidered cloth that depicts events surrounding the Norman invasion of England. It's a very interesting piece on many levels and, in so far as one could feel pity for an inanimate object, I always felt sorry for it. See, it always seemed to be more famous for what it depicted than for its own artistic value. (It shows ... an army! Big horses! Lances, swords, shields! Knights! Kings! Men getting ready to beat the living daylights out of each other!) And this disrespect, I felt, was due to its medium. Had some old geezer painted it on a wall somewhere in the 11th century, it would be Art. But as it was made by a bunch of women, like, sitting around yacking and, like, sewing, it fell into the dirty ditch between Art and (snooty sniff) crafts. And thus, for a long time its value seemed to lie in what it portrayed (= Men Doing Stuff), not in its composition or rendering (= women doing stuff).

That's why articles like this by so-called feminists make me (and a lot of genuine feminists) feel very sad. It devalues someone's artistic output, based on their gender. If we're "closest to heaven in a garden," why shouldn't one blog about it? If the writer of that article had ever made a cupcake like this:

My sister Bláithín's true medium: baked goods
she'd be moved to bloggery. And, frankly, this is not "just crochet", this is My Art - and no less so because it's in a medium not typically espoused by men. And she can stuff it if she doesn't like it. Darned if I'm going to define myself by a handgun licence.

Essentially, I'm tough. I'm the main breadwinner in my home. I can tile a wall. I can lay a laminate floor. And I have five brothers, so I could probably take that missy down in one-to-one combat, if need be (though, of course, my scrapper days are over and I would rather not.) And I knit and crochet and make cupcakes - and I would garden if I had one and plants didn't wither under my fingers. That doesn't make me any less of a feminist, it makes me more of a capable and well-rounded person. Frankly, that's what I'm aiming to be.

I wonder if that's enough righteous indignation?

And now, spleen vented, back to the crochet:
this is a Babette-inspired blanket. I just had a heap of scraps left over from my last Réalta, so I just crocheted squares of different sizes and sewed them on as I went along. The result was a monster blanket that showed no sign of ever being completed till, with an enormous effort of will and a lot of maths, I formed it into a rectangle and finished it off. Never, ever again.
P.S.: just started the next one

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Day At The Beach

All the people on the beach stayed in one place. To the right of this photograph there are about 100 people on blankets. And the rest of the beach was deserted. Very strange. They obviously knew something we didn't.
When we were in Ireland, the Gingerbreads took a couple of outings to the beach. The first one was to a beautiful sandy beach in the south-east of Ireland, in County Wexford My husband was bemused by this: it wasn't particularly warm by Central European standards, but the Irish were out in force because - well, because by Irish standards it was a lovely summer's day. Mothers and fathers were trying to make wriggling kids stand still long enough to slather sun cream on them, while other holiday-goers set up windbreakers and laid out blankets to lie on. Mr Gingerbread and my brother William sat down in the sand dunes but the other Gingerbreads - Mammy and Daddy G. included - made a beeline for the water. We stood in the water, trousers rolled up, with an army of small children and surveyed the skyline. Very nice.

Following that, and in need of some excitement, we decided to compare feet. The Gingerbread Family is split down the middle on the subject of feet: roughly half of us have inherited the yeoman's feet of my father's family (me included. Thanks, Da), while the other half have feet that look like transplanted hands, with long, wavy toes. This phenomenon was captured on film to horrify the world via the Interwebz. Voilà:

Recovered? Sorry about that, but it had to be done.

Then on to Co. Cork, where I managed to get the worst sunburn I've had for years on this day, at this beach, in this weather. Yup. For realz. No one knows how a redhead suffers.

My father took dozens of photos as reference for his paintings. I know you all reel in wonder when you behold my fantastic cartoons, so it will not come as a surprise when I tell you that my father is an artist. I express myself through stickpeople, he chooses oils. Whatever. When I was small, I sometimes used to get out of bed to watch him paint. I found out that if I stood very still and very quietly, I would be forgotten (or discreetly ignored). Nowadays, I don't have to - my father has set up his own YouTube channel. Really! He has his own little cyber-world going on in the background, which occupies him while my mother is watching Downton Abbey and other period drawmas. I think it's safe to say that the separation of the parentals during my mother's evening television binge has done wonders for their marriage, as my father is now no longer compelled to give a running commentary on the preposterousness of her viewing choice. Instead, he is at one with the Muses and the Internet. Peace reigns once more.

This is his photo of the steps leading down to the beach above:

And this is how it was transformed into a painting. Obviously, it could have done with a few stickpeople and at least one vampire, but all in all, I think he did a good job:

One of my favourites, though, is this still life. I love the way the glasses seem to appear out of the darkness.

And now I can watch him paint as much as I like, without being told to go to bed.

The Yarnpire Chronicles

Being a blogger with her finger on the cultural pulse, I thought it time that I jump on the Bandwagon of the Undead. It seems like every other book on Amazon is about vampires and werewolves and all manner of surprisingly salacious entities. Who would have thought that so many female readers would become all a-quiver at the thought of a snog with some sneery-lipped badly-coiffed young fella? There you go. I mean, today's popular culture gets it all wrong - no comfy naps in coffins. No bats. No swishy cloaks. And none of the vampires delight in counting, which - as every child who watched Sesame Street knows - is the first thing you learn in Vampires 101.

Thus I seek to redress the balance with this, my opus:

Skylight: The Yarnpire Chronicles
A story about a clumsy, awkward teenager called Nellie, a student at a typical American highschool, where the Cool Kids wear uniforms of various sporting ranks and the Uncool (as well as the Undead) skulk along the corridors and hide in their lockers. All cheerleaders are wicked, anyone who plays American football is thick and all they ever talk about is the prom.*
* NB: I didn't actually go to an American highschool, so I'm basing this on films like Grease and Mean Girls - so it has to be right. Right?

But one day, a new student arrives at the school. Oh, the mystery! 

to be continued ... 

Exciting stuff, eh? 


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Réalta: Pinks and Purples

I'm not very good at Ebaying. I'm too timid for auctions (unlike my mother, whose arrival at charity auctions is met with a collective rubbing of hands. We have a shed full of motley furniture and a jumble of housewares brought back from her auctioneering. Sometimes she takes my sister Emily with her. Representatives of the local Lions Club and the St. Vincent de Paul throw their hats in the air when the pair of them saunter in, purse strings flapping and nostrils flaring at the scent of a bargain. Did I mention that Emily also has a shed crammed to bursting with a hodge podge of orphan items? Apparently the women in my family don't come with baggage, they have sheds.)

In any case, when I do win something, I usually surprise myself. I made a token bid on a kilo of grey wool and then, to my shock, won it (I must add that no one bid against me, just in case you had visions of me pounding the keyboard shouting, "It's mine! Mine!") In any case, I had to promptly get rid of it because it simply wouldn't do, having batch of idle skeins hanging around, bullying all the oddbods and scrappy balls of yarn that normally fill my basket. Goodness knows, a gang like that might even organise an uprising: we might wake up one morning and find ourselves knitted into our bed. Uh-huh. It could happen.

So I made another Réalta. Every time I make this afghan, I get annoyed with myself before I even start sewing it together: the colours look horrible together. Why on earth - no, how on earth did I make 42 octagons without noticing the fundamental ugliness of the colour combination? Then I sew it all up ... and realise that it's actually okay. Sometimes even quite nice. Magic, I tell you, it's magic!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crafting, Karma and Charidee

 Every time I take a walk in town, I am beset by handsome youths in matching t-shirts, brandishing clipboards and glossy flyers with pictures of starving kiddies on them. With winsome smiles they try to appeal to my better side ("Aren't you touched by the plight of children infected with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa?" "Aren't you appalled by experiments on innocent kittens?" "Don't you feel devastated by the destruction of the Amazonian Rainforests?") before trying to verbally strong-arm (practically an oxymoron, but roll with it) me into signing a direct debit for a monthly payment to the charity in question till I die.

Which is all very fine and well. Most of these charities do sterling work. They have the (wo)manpower and the resources and the political clout to Get Stuff Done - and obviously all of this has to be paid for somehow. However, I sometimes wonder how much of my hard-earned cash actually trickles down to little Nabirye's rice bowl after all of the t-shirts and glossy brochures and matching clipboards and spanky t-shirts and winsome youths have been paid for. Before anyone feels their underwear twitch in the first sparks of righteous rage ("The Gingerbread Lady is calling Doctors Without Borders a bunch of thieving rapscallions! She has besmirched the good name of the Red Cross! etc."), please note that I am not advocating a collective snapping of purse-clasps in the face of charity collectors, but simply saying that sometimes it's also nice to do something that makes you feel you have a more direct effect.

So that's the long-winded introduction to today's topic:
Crafting + Charidee = Good Karma and General Bonhomery!

After my failed attempt to donate blankets to local charities (thank you very much), I have decided to stick to the two charities that I've worked for in the past. The first is a Christmas bazaar, organised by a colleague. She has a standing arrangement with the local hospital: we pay for the flights and transport of critically-ill children (and their families) from war-torn regions, the local Ronald MacDonald House puts them up and a team of nice medical staff operate on them and care for them during their stay here. All of the proceeds from our sale of work are turned into plane tickets and living costs for families from Afghanistan.

The second charity is far from home but close to my heart: it's called Compassionate Creations. It's a small charity run by a lady called Ann (an All-Round Good Egg), who makes and donates scarves to a local shelter for victims of sexual assault or abuse. I'm not a victim of any kind of abuse (and, no, we won't count chocolate deprivation), but I like the simplicity of the idea: it's just a token of solidarity, a gesture of compassion, a virtual hug from one anonymous person to another. I've never been in that position - but ... there for the grace of God go I: in another life, at another time, in another place I mightn't have been that lucky. So if even one of the scarves I've made over the years landed in the hands of a person who understood and appreciated that there was someone on the other side of an ocean who had  made it and thought, "I am so sorry for your pain," then it would be ... just fine.

Thus my Plan of Action for August's Good Deeds: Krochet Krystal's daisy square pattern was given away for free - on the condition that its sale be for charity, so the proceeds from these blankets go towards yarn for Compassionate Creations. It's a win-win situation, I think. And just in case my do-goodery has sent you in a paroxysm of saccharine shock, do please note that the above plan also involves me buying *a lot of yarn* and crocheting *half-a-dozen scarves*, so it's more like a win-win-win situation. Smiles all round!


A long time ago - before I started this blog - I went on a baby blanket spree. This was not inspired by an abiding love of the little tykes, nor by spiking hormonal surges, but rather by the delight of finishing a blanket FAST. They're small. You can use fun colours. They're quick to finish. The problem is, I have loads of them. At the time of writing, I have nine baby blankets beside me. I believe my sister Eithne Gingerbread has another couple squirrelled away somewhere in Ireland. This, my dears, borders on unhealthy. At one point I thought I could donate them and rang the local domestic abuse shelter and children's clinic - but my luvverly blankets were rejected (pause for a second to sob) because of potential allergies. Despite the fact that we do not smoke, have no pets and the blankets in question are 100% cotton, I would have to crochet them in a plastic bubble in order to avoid passing on my germs to some poor kiddie.

Oh well. For a couple of seconds I was very nearly Miss Altruism 2011.

So I decided to sell a few and have put them up for sale on Ebay with a realistic starting price that covers the cost of my yarn and the copious amount of cake eaten during their making. If they don't sell, I don't mind because, quite frankly, I like having them around me - just in case a flock of germ-resilient orphans turn up on my doorstep.  If you've logged on today to see some crochet pieces, these pictures are for you:

Using Krochet Krystal's Daisy Square design - see link below.

My inspiration? I had a lot of colours. And I like squares. Umm. That's it.

Yes, I know. A lot of daisies. But once I figured the pattern out, I had to keep doing it till my fingers fell off.

Irish roses. Just because.

The daisy square is a wonderful pattern by Krochet Krystal. Sadly, she currently isn't offering it for download, but keep checking her site in case this changes in the future. The blankets made from this pattern can only be sold for charitable purposes ... and that's the plan. More about this tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Towards the end of the school year, I showed my students some photos of Ireland. They asked if I'd photoshopped them because the colours were "unnatural". I looked at the photos again - "No," I said, "That's just the way it is in Ireland." This luscious, vivid, unnatural green is ... well, it's just Ireland.

In German they say that green is the colour of hope. Because we're having an optimistic August, here are some pictures of eye-popping green:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Recession Depression


Now, as you all know, maths are not my strong point. Nor, for that matter, are the general sciences or things of an economic nature - you know, gold prices and stock markets and all of those percentages and little arrows going up and down. Yet during my visits home to Ireland in the years of the economic boom (the so-called Celtic Tiger), I found it odd - to say the least - that banks should be able to give young people in precarious employment 120% mortgages for overpriced houses. I found it odder still that people were actively encouraged by financial institutions and government agencies to spend rather than save, to accumulate debt and take on loans. I obviously don't have a fancy-schmanzy economics degree, but to me the outcome of such financial shenanigans was crystal clear: This Can Only End Badly. I had the same feeling many years ago when I watched one of my toddler siblings gaily wave a lollipop about his curly head - yes, m'dear, it's all fun and games till the lollipop gets stuck in your hair.

In Ireland, the proverbial lollipop has become firmly ensnarled in a fistful of hair. Like a lot of countries, Ireland is in dire financial straits, all the more critical because it has just come out of a decade and a half of vulgar economic excess. While all of the Gingerbreads are variously feeling the pinch and squeeze of the recession, none of them are - thank all things good and holy - as badly off as many. But the country is sagging under more than a recession, it's crippled by an economic depression. People stare, transfixed, - transfixed, I tell you - at a non-stop stream of news reports that show despairing financiers and scary graphics of plunging figures and lightning-strike arrows pointing down, down, down. Most of us don't even know what half the econo-jargon means. The entire country is hypnotised by despair and is paralysed by terror.

And I say this in my best Teacher Voice: quite frankly, it is just not on.

I met an old school friend last week, a friend who's still living in Ireland and recently lost her job as a support teacher for under-privileged children under the ironically-named National Recovery Plan. She said that she's just stopped looking at the news. "It's too much," she said. "This doom and gloom was making me sick with fear ... till I realised that my fretting over Wall Street is not going to make the situation any better. So I've decided to concentrate on changing what I can in my own little world, and take everything else as it comes."

She's right. This August I'm going to work hard, make nice things, write interesting(-ish) blog posts and do good deeds. From tomorrow on, I'm going to show you some luvverly photos of wonderful things in Ireland, share my latest projects, draw bizarre cartoons and, at the very least, make myself laugh.

And we'll take everything else as it comes.