Sunday, 1 May 2011

Passive Aggressive Booties

Umbagollah, in a comment the other day, contributed this quotation from George Eliot's Felix Holt:

"A little daily embroidery had been a constant element in Mrs Transome's life; that soothing occupation of taking stitches to produce what neither she nor anyone else wanted was then the resource of many a well-born and unhappy woman."

Although I spin wool and knit, rather than doing embroidery, I instantly recognised myself in Mrs Transome. I too am a person who takes 'stitches to produce what neither she nor anyone else' wants, churning out all manner of impractical and unnecessary garments, mainly so that I can give myself an excuse to watch tosh on the television, without worrying that I am 'rotting my brain' (thank you, mother, for embedding that phrase in my mind).

Still, apart from allowing me to indulge my passion for The Mentalist and Agatha Christie dramatisations (both vapid, I know - but I am the person who, on realising that I was going to set off on a journey through Cultural Revolution Communist China, across the Gobi Desert, to Ulan Bator, said to my mother, 'Oh, I don't want to go tomorrow, I won't be able to find out what happens on Number 96'), my craft activities do, just sometimes, turn out to be not completely futile.

Perhaps the most notable occasion on which they did in fact serve a useful purpose was last year, when a close relative who had developed the habit of being nasty to me gave birth to a little girl. As soon as I heard the news, I set to work with wool and needles. Taking infinite pains, I fashioned the most useless garments I could think of to give to the new-born infant - a pair of pure white, lace-fine handspun booties, threaded with the best silk (dry-clean only) ribbon that money good buy.

I wrapped these exquisitely impractical items in the most delicate tissue paper imaginable, and I tied up the package with an extravagant velvet bow. At the christening, I  handed over the present with a show of great warmth, grinning with pleasure as my relative gritted her teeth and expressed amazement and appreciation at the time and care I'd taken. She gushed her thanks for my unexpected thoughtfulness and gushed again on paper a fortnight later, praising my efforts and describing her surprise and delight at the trouble I'd gone to.

Of course, I go out of my way now to see my relative as often as possible. After all, each time I do, she has to fish out the dratted booties and either waste precious time hand-washing them or pay good money to have them dry-cleaned. She knows as well as I do, that, should her infant ever appear in my presence with her feet uncovered by my creations, it would be a faux pas that could not be overcome - not a throwing down of the gauntlet, exactly, but certainly a tossing aside of the bootie.

I should point out that I never stay long when I visit. Somehow, I'm always in a rush. 'I'd love to have a proper chat but I can't this time,' I tell my relative, 'I'll just have to come back again very, very soon'. And I do. I keep my promise to my relative faithfully. I come back time and time again.

And I think the only thing that keeps my relative going through all this is the idea that there's light at the end of the tunnel. Soon it will be the baby's first birthday and not long after that the booties will become too small. What she can't know though is how hard I've been working. Each evening I've been busy with my needles, 'taking stitches to produce' something even more intricate than the booties - and also fiendishly difficult to clean. I'll have it ready in time for the baby's birthday. I expect that the instant that she tears off the wrapping my relative will be utterly overcome.


  1. I had something way too silly to say in response to this very funny (and satisfyingly sadistic) story, so I’ll just play safe and shut up now I’ve said how much I enjoyed it!

  2. Wow. You've given my needlework a goal, thank you.

  3. That was wonderful. There is a branch of the 'craft community' that wastes a lot of energy complaining about the things they make to give people that aren't appreciated: that are thrust into drawers and never used. Your relatives clearly have better manners, at least.

    Knit on!

    PS I knit partly so I can watch brain-rotting TV too. It's a guilty secret.

  4. Thanks, Denis, appreciation much appreciated.
    Nurse, hurrah, I'm happy now
    Peggy, thank George Eliot really
    M-H, the thing I can't understand is how people can watch that stuff without some knitting or sewing to distract them. And it doesn't matter how deep you stuff them into the backs of drawers, there are few more infuriating presents than the painstakingly handmade.

  5. Re. the thing I can't understand is how people can watch that stuff without some knitting or sewing to distract them.

    Packing things in boxes works too. I'd been ignoring the TV for ages, and then, last year, when we were packing to come to the US, I got into the habit of switching it on while I was sorting out books and papers, and there were all these shows that I'd never seen before, shows in which they followed people around and filmed them at their work -- there was the one in the airport, and the one with the drunk drivers, and the one where they rescue possums from trees and warn people that if they don't clean the shawl of weeping sores off their horses then those horses will be impounded by the RSPCA -- and then there were the gardening shows, and the hosts poking around in the back gardens of people who lived on the salty coastlines or people who loved to grow moss, and one man having ten fits of joy over, I think, a cycad.

  6. If the one in the airport is 'Border Security', about customs officers being beastly to people arriving, what baffles me most is how that prog is allowed at all. It seems to me to invade privacy and rights and so forth in a way that is astounding.

  7. That sounds like the show. I remember one of the officers asking a man if he had any food or untreated biological matter in his suitcase, and when he said, "No," she unzipped it, and it was stuffed with grains and leaves, at which point he looked at her in a sort of questioning way, as if she had let off a fart in a lift but he was going to be polite about it. I kept wondering if they had to ask the passengers' permission to show them on TV. Probably not, because I don't know why most of them would have agreed to it. Is there a sign at Sydney airport saying, "Footage of you may be used on television, tough luck"?

  8. If you watch it for more than 10 minutes, it's easy to become convinced that the world is jampacked with people whose only goal in life is to sneak vegetable matter into our wide brown land.