Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Would you rip it?

It feels like I haven't made any progress on my knitting projects since the holidays. After Christmas I drove out to WEBS to purchase yarn for a sweater I've been itching to knit. The yarn is Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Oceanic Mix, a blend of sea blue and green, and the pattern is a Fiona Ellis design from Interweave Knits Winter 2009, the Dusseldorf Aran. I did my gauge swatches, started on the back panel and was making good progress with all the cabling. But something kept niggling at me about the cables; they just weren't popping out like I wanted them to. I showed it to my friend Ann and she thought it was the color that was hiding some of the "pop," not the skill of the knitter, ahem, or the softness of the Ultra Alpaca.

Here's a picture of what I've knitted so far:

Dusseldorf Aran

Part of me wants to keep going. I'm not a quitter, and I love love love the design of the sweater. I also want to knit a sweater that has seams because I tend to avoid them in favor of sweaters I can knit in the round. On the other hand, this sweater is slowgoing. Every time I think of picking it up to knit a couple rows, I put it off to knit something else, like a dishcloth or socks. I would also like to wear this sweater before winter ends, but at the rate I'm going, I won't finish it until next year. If I ripped it all out I could use the wool for a sweater I could knit quickly, like this. Or this, which I've made in a smaller size for my son.

So what do you say? Should I rip or persevere? Ann thinks I should continue on, but she loves knitting seamed sweaters and I feel she's prejudiced.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Subaru to hockey moms: When you die, you can go to hell


Did Subaru's advertising agency pay attention to what Shane McGowan is singing in If I Should Fall From Grace With God?

Although it's one of the catchiest sounding songs ever IMO, the lyrics are pretty depressing. It's a song about what should be done with the singer's body after death if the "angels won't receive [him]" and he can't be buried in consecrated ground. "Coming up threes boys" must have given them the idea to put three cute little boys in the ad, when really, it's a reference to the old wives' tale that drowning men come up for air three times before succumbing; bad luck and death also come in threes.  The song has references to the longstanding Anglo/Irish conflict, and if I understand the lyrics right, McGowan is basically telling the English they can go to Hell with him ("Let them go down in the mud/where the rivers all run dry"). (ETA: I reread the lyrics and the "them" could also refer to "our fathers.")

I'm guessing like most Americans, the agency creatives love the energy of the music. So do I! I'm sure some of them were in college in the 80s and remember getting shit-faced at parties, the Pogues cranked in the background. Still, every time I see the ad I can't help but think they're telling hockey moms to go to hell. In which case, maybe they wanted to slip a sly sense of humor past the client.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor giveaway: We have a winner

I used a random number generator to pick a winner for Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor:

Congratulations to Else, who was the first commenter on this post. Else, you should have received an e-mail from me this a.m. requesting your mailing address.

Thanks to all of you for entering. I haven't, unfortunately, finished the book -- too much work these last few weeks! -- but I'm at the part where Rose is learning how to handle the most difficult Lady Astor. It's indeed a fascinating read.

On another note: what do you think of Downton Abbey so far? I'm liking it but wish they'd focus more on the developing relationship between Lady Sybil and Branson. I'm kind of tired of Lady Mary and Matthew ... just get married already! And it's bugging me that the storyline would have us believe that three single rich marrying-age females in that age would stay single from 1912 until 1918/1919!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What do you give the couple who has everything?

A couple days ago, the office of the Prince of Wales released lists of gifts given to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (that's William and Kate/Catherine) and a separate list of gifts given to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (or more familiarly, Charles and Camilla). There was the requisite round of grumbling from the British press, especially when it was revealed via another list that the Countess of Wessex had accepted expensive jewelry from the Crown Prince of Bahrain during an official visit. Bahrain's human rights policies give Amnesty International plenty to work with, to put it mildly, so accepting such gifts seems a bit of a brow raiser to me. Kate and William also received some expensive gifts during their visits to North America, Australia, and New Zealand in 2011, but none from despots or dictators.

Much like the President of the U.S., British royals must declare gifts and they are not allowed to keep them, although they may use them. The gifts belong to the state, which is, actually, a very nice policy since I assume the cost of insurance and upkeep then falls to the taxpayers. Sweet deal!

If you want to check out the gift list, click here. So they got some nice gifts but they also had to lug home loads of hats, t-shirts, Vegemite, a ball point pen, three pairs of shoes, and a dog toy. It made me think of the crap I've lugged home from trade shows. At least they had some diamonds mixed in.

P.S. Don't forget that I'm giving away a copy of Rose: My Life In Service this Friday the 13th. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment at the end of my book review.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway! Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor

ETA: I'll be closing the comments section on this post at 5 p.m. ET on January 13

Here stateside many of us are eagerly counting the hours to the premiere of Downton Abbey's second season on PBS (Sunday at 9 p.m; check your local station to confirm). The word from the UK is that this season is a bit of a dud, but I'll still be watching simply because I love the cast of characters and am willing to give the anachronisms a pass.

Anyway, earlier this week I was contacted by Penguin Books to see if there was any interest in an autobiography they were reprinting called Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor. Written by Rosina Harrison, Lady Astor's lady-maid of decades, it details what it was like to work "in service" during a bygone era of British aristocracy.* Since Rose grew up in the village of Ripon, which figures in Downton Abbey, Penguin wondered if I would be interested in reading an advance copy of the book. But of course!

Last night I crawled into bed early with my book, intending to skim a few pages, but I ended up reading a full three chapters. This simply written story starts by detailing Rose's upbringing in a loving working-class family and how she knew from an early age her career would be working in service for her social superiors.

I was drawn in by the descriptions of Rose's childhood and the expectations her parents -- nay society -- had for her. Children worked and worked hard at the turn of the 20th century. Almost as soon as Rose could walk, she was helping her mother with the backbreaking work of washing clothes (her mother, a laundress, took in the neighborhood aristocrats' laundry). She was also responsible for polishing the stove each week (again, another grueling chore especially when you remember stoves back then ran on wood or coal) and helping her parents take care of their younger children. There's no hint of complaint in her recollections, although she remarks:

"People have often said to me how lucky I was to be brought up in a village in the beautiful countryside with the freedom of the fields and lanes, the simplicity of life among animals and above all in peace. It sounds lyrical as I write it and perhaps in a way it was, but most people forget and sometimes I do that for the most part life was continual hard work even as a young child."

She later writes that people often dismiss the struggle and low wages as relics of a different era, but she wrote:

"Things were different. There was no National Insurance, so there was the constant fear of getting ill, of being out of work, of growing old without a family to look after you and being buried in a pauper's grave. There was no electricity, no sewerage, no running water, no refrigeration; fruit and vegetables came and went with the seasons."

It's clear that Rose is a smart girl, which serves her well in service. Her parents scrimp and save so she can be tutored in French and acquire finer sewing skills to become a proper lady's maid, which will afford her the chance to travel and see the world, something Rose desperately wants to do. As a knitter myself, I giggled at her complaint of having to knit her father's socks, which seemed to go on forever, round and round, but seemed to get done as she kept him in new socks for years. I got as far as Rose's first placement, a lady's maid to two daughters of a wealthy London family. Her experience here gives her insight into her role as a servant to the upper classes. She describes her relationship with one of the daughters:

"We weren't friends, though if she was asked today she might well deny this. We weren't even acquaintances. We never exchanged confidences, never discussed people, nothing we said brought us any loser [sic]; my advice might be asked about clothes or bits of shopping, but my opinions were never sought or given on her music or the people we met or on anything that was personal to either of us, nor did I expect it or miss it at that time. That was the accepted way of things."

I thought that was a fascinating illustration of how times have changed, especially with those words "miss it at that time." Today, such chilly separation between employer and employee would be unbearable, don't you think?

Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor was first published in 1975 and is being re-published by Penguin this month. Along with my copy, Penguin has send another copy for me to give away to a lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is comment below, making sure you add your e-mail address to the appropriate field -- it will not appear on the site! -- so I can contact you should you win the book. I'd also love to hear whether you'll be tuning into Downton Abbey this Sunday -- or, if you've already seen it, what you thought of the 2nd season. I'll be picking a winner a random next Friday (lucky Friday the 13th!) and yes, the contest is open to anyone no matter where you live, although if you're overseas it may take some time for the book to show up. Just can't wait? Order the book on Amazon.

I am counting the hours until bedtime so I continue reading this treasure of a book. I'm eager to find out more about the relationship between Rose and her witty, yet often tempestuous, mistress.

* An interesting note. Lady Astor, whose birth name was Nancy Langhorne, was a spirited American lass who moved to England in the early 1900s after a disastrous marriage to a fellow American. In England, she met Waldorf Astor, also born in America but resettled in England, and married him, thus becoming Lady Astor. Later, Lady Astor became the first female member of Parliament. Which just goes to show, with enough money, even an American can stand in Parliament.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reason #1 to love January:

Tulips! In all the stores. A riot of color that cheers me. These pink tulips were especially gorgeous this afternoon.