Friday, March 24, 2006

Sense and Sensibility and Sheep

Thanks and thanks again to yesterday's knowledgeable commenters. I feel rather better about the burning of the Cumbrian wool clip now, after hearing that it's not as though great whacking piles of lovely soft knittable stuff is going up in flames whilst the sheep farmers cry over lack of demand.

Our guide in the Lake District was full of information about Herdwicks (I remember a chart of their characteristic color changes being passed around), but apparently she wasn't up-front about how coarse their wool is. In fact, I remember her saying the yarn was full of lanolin and would give you lovely soft hands after you'd knit with it.

Perhaps she was thinking of wool that for some reason had not been scoured. But I'm more inclined to trust the words of reader Vivienne and Vivienne's mother, Jean. Vivienne's fingers bled after knitting a swatch of Herdwick when a schoolgirl. And her mother nearly maimed herself making a sweater from it. Ouch.

And I thought Dolores was the most abrasive sheep on the planet.

Jean Miles
called me on my overly sentimental view of sheep a couple weeks ago and she was right. In my defense, I'm a very typical American in that my knowledge of animals is largely third-hand, drawn from sticky children's literature and Disney films that turn everything with fur into a variation on the teddy bear.

Disney is probably the greatest culprit, come to think of it. Bambi, for example, is generally thought of as gritty and realistic because (spoiler alert!) the eponymous fawn's mother takes a hit from a hunter. But the same film also shows the wise old owl making friends with the fluffy baby bunnies, when in reality he would be eating them for breakfast.

And Beatrix Potter Heelis of Hill Top Farm is also largely to blame, which I am sure would annoy her to no end. Although she, as I recall, referred to rabbits and mice and hedgehogs as "rubbish animals," her books have for most of a century caused people to think of these animals as living in teensy little cottages, wearing shoes and jackets.

Her stories are not sentimental for the most part–the ones that are, seem to me have been produced mostly later on, when she was running out of steam and would rather have been dealing with her sheep. But her illustrations, with that charming line and that deft handling of color, are what people remember. And they are the picture of Nature Made Cute, even when the itty bitty sweeties are trying to devour each other.*

Speaking of Dolores

She will not be appearing on Episode 17 of Cast On when it airs. We had finally come to an agreement that there would be no harmonica solo, but that she could either read aloud one of her essays on metaphor and symbolism of landscapes in Virginia Woolf; or she could sing Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade" as one of the musical selections. But unfortunately, when the time came, she was accidentally locked in the linen closet. Oops.

*I must add that I love them with all my heart. It was a gift copy of The Tale of Benjamin Bunny that first made me pick up a pencil to draw, instead of scribbling as small children will.

43 comments:

Colleen said...

I am holding my breath waiting for Cast-on. Please let me know when I may exhale.

I love Beatrix Potter's illustrations but, if you think about it, the stories are quite scary for young children. For reading to the little ones, I think I prefer classic Pooh - not the disnified version.

pacalaga said...

Aawww, just because you have no firsthand knowledge of sheep behaviors doesn't mean you can't think they're great. (Maybe it just gives you incentive to learn.) I love moose like crazy, but I wouldn't want to befriend one. And I love my dogs more than I care about most people, but they're still some of the most annoying critters I've encountered on this planet.
So lemme ask you this: if they're raising sheep with wool no one can stand to knit with, why are they raising those particular sheep? Do they also sell them for mutton? (I'd been under the impression that they were trying to raise the sheep solely for their wool, but that can't be it.)

David said...

I gave my nephew the entire collection of Beatrix Potter books as a birthday gift when he was five. He has moved on to Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket since then, but I like to think I had a hand in his continued love of reading.

Frayed Edge said...

I can't wait to hear Dolores' reaction to being locked in a closet. I'm sure it wasn't pretty.

Lee Ann said...

I'm commenting just to see if I can, after yesterday's word verification debacle...

Squirrel Nutkin. Loses his tail for being rude. I'll never forget it. My favourite page, with Squirrel Nutkin in Mr. Brown's grasp, has only one sentence on it: "This looks like the end of the story, but it isn't."

Lauren in Austin said...

"Spoiler alert!" Hah! Snort! giggle....

Anonymous said...

When Dolores was "accidentally" locked in the closet, it would have been nice if someone had checked to make sure she didn't have your cell phone. No offense, but I'm letting calls from your number go to voice mail.

Tim

Aidan said...

Oops my ass.

greg said...

You mean there really aren't little animals living in teensy little cottages and wearing little coats and wearing tiny shoes? Indeed the spoiler you are if what you say is true, but I prefer to think you are wrong my friend -- and that these animals have tiny little knitting needles and balls of yarn to knit up too. (there's an idea for a drawing from you that we all might enjoy!)

mamacate said...

Just a quick note to say that the fact that a wool is not suitable for next-to-skin knitwear does not mean it's not worthy of use, and certainly doesn't mean it can't be spun (in fact, unless the staple is ridiculously long, coarse longwools can be *easier* to spin than finer, softer fibers). Scottish Blackface, as well as other strong wools like Lincoln, Wensleydale, and many others, are regularly used for rug warps or other rug weaving. Gorgeous stuff, and IMO should not be burned (and government agricultural policy could change that). Maybe we should stop making carpeting out of Orlon instead.

Mel said...

Ah Nature, red in tooth and claw. It is what drew me to the natural sciences. Life in all its gory....er, glory.

As for sheep, most of them are born destined for the dinner table. Even the ones raised for their fleece, especially the boys who don't make the cut to swim in the deep end of the gene pool.

Incidentally, I learned while externing on the US Sheep Experiment Station several years back that about 2.5% of rams are same-sex oriented. Guess what happens to them.

Vivienne said...

Sheep-shearers are famous for soft hands, thanks to the lanolin. But I'm sure Dolores could tell you more about that than I can...

Lee said...

I read several Beatrix Potter books when I was young. I loved the pictures, but found the stories really creepy (Squirrel Nutkin especially stands out in this regard). I remember a vague feeling of disconnect between the sweet, gentle illustrations and the pretty frightening stories. Not that I was discouraged from reading more.

tekopp said...

I've listened to part of cast on (I'm on the first music track right now), so far, really great...

and I wanted to say that I'm pretty used to men knitting, as my grandfather knits. traditional norwegian fair isle socks.
...for all my relatives and more. some pairs a year.

that is two colored fair isle on five needles, and I would never ask him or anyone making stuff like that if they were just beginning. complicated stuff :)

Jackie said...

Franklin, did you know that some of the Beatrix Potter tales are available in Latin translations? Maybe this isn't a huge deal these days, what with Harry Potter also being available in Latin, but back when I was learning Latin in high school in the 70's, Fabula Petro Cuniculo and Fabula Jemima Anate-Aquatica were pretty cool stuff. Oh, and Winne ille Pu.

Alison said...

"No! Make it properly, Anna Maria, with breadcrumbs!" I always thought toasted cat fur mixed into the dish an odd thought. But you might want to muse over the dough vs breadcrumbs debate out loud if Dolores gets to be rather a handful. Throw in that bit about the mutton bones Samuel Whiskers had all tied up and ready to go. That'll get her to quit calling Tim on that cell.

Franklin said...

Colleen - Cast On is up. For heaven's sake, don't hold your breath like that. You frightened me.

Jackie, I didn't know about the Latin versions of Beatrix Potter. So now I have to go find them. Thank you just SO much. Hmph.

(I have Winnie ille Pu and Winne ille Pu Semper Ludet, not to mention Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit. And Petro Cuniculo would look so good next to those.)

Ann said...

Well, since I saw Jean's entry about the rabbit hole at her place, I'm sure she can agree with me that Mr. McGregor was fully justified in putting Mr. Rabbit into the rabbit pie after catching him in the garden. We have evil suburban bunnies who will sit there and munch on your veg while you walk right up to them. They will whip out the local enforcement code that provides that "thou shalt not shoot bunnies within the city limits" and then laugh at you while you cuss at them.

Speaking of bunnies, have you seen the site that has movies done in 30 seconds as told by bunnies? Not to be missed.

As for the Herdwicks, turns out that British Breeds does have a Herdwick version if anyone cares to try it. But I was also reminded that they pretty much got wiped out in the Foot and Mouth episode in 2001 and they had to stock the farms. Sad sad sad.

Are you coming to MD S&W? I can introduce you up close and personal to some sheepies.....including a few small enough to be taken back to Chicago in cabin on the airplane.

Geogrrl said...

Well said, Mamacate! I was appalled when I realized that a good wool rug will not soil as quickly as a synthetic, and will last much longer. That's certainly not the premise on which synthetics are sold.

On top of which, unlike synthetics, wool rugs will not produce toxic fumes in a housefire--partly because wool tends to resist bursting into flame.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of bunnies, it's all over the news nationally that the Easter Bunny has been kicked out of city hall here in little ol' St Paul. I am sooooooo proud.

Tim

Gareth said...

Having been brought up in a house surrounded by fields of sheep (Wales has even more than the Lake District) I can say I am really unsentimental when it comes to them.


Unlike my mother who refuses to eat lamb, as it could be one of the little darlings she she gambloing in said fields.

debsnm said...

Franklin!!!! You dear, wonderful, adorable man!!! I just listened to your podcast, and I have to say that while a little humility is good, you go too far. You are wonderful, witty, and now I have a voice to "hear" when I read your blog. I think I have a new crush!!!!

Pixiepurls said...

I heard you on cast on tonight! I enjoyed your sweater story, I want to see photos of this latin sweater!!

Marilyn said...

You were intimidated by me and Joe? Especially when your first glimpse of me was seeing me stand forlornly at the entrance to Rhinebeck, with the rain coming down in buckets.

I still think that your sweater was the most astonishing garment I have ever seen as a first. I was totally blown away. I thought I was pretty hot shit knitting an Aran for my first. Can't hold a candle to what you did.

And yes, I used to own Winnie ille Pooh. And In His Own Write en francais. I was ever the language maven and still am. Perhaps I will learn Slovenian now.

Yvonne said...

Franklin, I just wanted to say that today I listened to my second ever podcast. The first one was 2 days ago, trying to figure out how to download/subscribe/etc., all in anticipation of hearing you guest host Cast On. I was not disappointed (okay, maybe a teensy bit disappointed that you "accidentally" locked Dolores in the closet but hey, that could happen to anyone with a wily sheep running loose in their small apartment). I enjoyed listening to you today, and will likely listen again when I am less distracted. Thank you.

utilly said...

I can vouch for the Wales: Land o'sheep' thing.

When I was working a contract in Powys (Mid Wales), I worked with a guy who decided to work in IT so as to avoid 'a career in death management' on the family sheep farm.

I have heared it claimed by many knowledgeable people, that a sheep has but two aims in life. To escape or to die *as publicly as possible* and preferably both.

*Loved the Podcast*, both Brenda and I were gasping-for-breath-through-tears at the image of a not-so-big Y wriggling and clattering around the flat... thank you.

Holly @Home said...

Don't change and become cynical..I grew up on "Little Grey Rabbit" and never think the milkman is a hedgehog.We love "Bambi" but prefer weirdos like the Muppets .I am sure sheep behave like animals but Mum was always very distressed by Dad treating the cat as if he was an animal and it hurts her still .He was never cruel just blunt ..we think he knew and disliked Dad .Love to Dolores ....tell her just because it's Spring that is no excuse fro gambling!

Jeni R said...

Hi Franklin,
Great job on Cast On, Brenda should feel good about all the guest hosts she has had.
Jeni R

Abigail 1870 pearl said...

I do not believe that it was an accident that Dolores found herself locked in a closet. I'm going to keep an eye on you.

TJ said...

I listened to your podcast last night [while working on my first sweater, I might add] and was thoroughly entertained. I hope you'll consider podcasting regularly as you truly are quite the raconteur!

Also, after that beautiful story about knitting your first sweater, I hope you'll post some photos. I'm just dying to see how the latin phrase looks.

Liza said...

Hugs and kisses back to you, Franklin, for a truly enjoyable experience. Instead of working on my taxes (shudder) I snuck a listen to Cast-On's Episode 17. What a treat. How pleasant to hear classical music on a podcast. I was thinking that the Mad Scene from Lucia would be great in the background as you describe your delightful-sounding Latin sweater. I attended a women's college near Philadelphia with a Welsh name whose alumnae tee shirts sport "Cogito ergo sum" among several other Greek and Latin phrases. Yes, I did wear it, I'm afraid. In my defense, I had taken Latin in high school and studied Descartes in AP French. Effeteness rules!
Congratulations! I do hope you consider doing your own podcast.
Liza NYC

Liza said...

Hugs and kisses back to you, Franklin, for a truly enjoyable experience. Instead of working on my taxes (shudder) I snuck a listen to Cast-On's Episode 17. How pleasant to hear classical music on a podcast. I was thinking that the Mad Scene from Lucia would be great in the background as you describe your delightful-sounding Latin sweater?
Congratulations! I do hope you consider putting on your own podcast.
Liza NYC

Liz said...

The Beatrix Potter stories are quite deranged. I read them to my children (as all good mommies must, I gather) and spent quite a lot of time thinking WTF?? They are charming for all that--really, who could fail to be disarmed by a book called Tom Kitten that is really All About the Ducks? Two Bad Mice--Mrs. Mouse spends the rest of her life as scullery maid to the dollhouse to atone. And The Fierce Bad Rabbit--well, one brazens it out, but there is no "nice" way to get around "See the hunter. He has a gun. Bang!" Damn bunny. Had it coming to him.

Cheerio, then.

knitsnspins said...

Hey Franklin, I posted to you over at Cast-On, but thought I get you in your home lair too. I loved your podcast, loud out loud at many things and enjoyed the music. Yes I missed Delores, but then maybe she would have brought the whole thing crashing on your head with her misbehaviour.
Sheep may give the impression of being stupid, but they can be quite bright. My uncle keeps sheep in Ireland and last year he had an orphan lamb that had to be bottle fed. If it couldn't get fed at home, it would jump the fence and trot the mile down the lane to my parents house and bleet outside their door until they took it home for a feed. We nicknamed him Stinky because he was always filthy, but he was such a wee piggy when it came to food. Saying that they are a food animal, and it's always better to not get too attached or you would never make any money.

Ann Marie said...

More Dolores, please.

Faith said...

Thank you, thank you for Cast-on. You did a great job, and I enjoyed listening to it. I read your blog and have just been lurking up until now, but I have to tell you that you are super funny. I laughed so hard at all the ruckus surrounding the Olympics as blogged here by you. =) My husband, who is not a knitter, also found it hilarious. Thanks for keeping up such a great blog!

Dolores said...

LET ME OUT!!!!!!!!! I will miss the afternoon BINGO!!!!

Carrie K said...

Don't let her out. I hear she cheats at Bingo.

"Incidentally, I learned while externing on the US Sheep Experiment Station several years back that about 2.5% of rams are same-sex oriented. Guess what happens to them."

They can't marry?

Great job on the podcast, Franklin! I'd love to see a pic of the sweater too (is it in an earlier post?) and the visual of you careening and cursing around your apt is hysterical.

Good plan, having guests you can smother in their sleep if they don't come through for you, but thankfully, he did.

Norah said...

I really enjoyed your appearance on Cast On!

Sherry W said...

Great podcast Franklin!
I had to shut my office door during the "Y incident"- my snorting belly laughter was disrupting the natives.

mia said...

I really loved Cast On this week, especially the part about you putting a Latin phrase on your sweater. My blog has a sneaky Latin theme to it, and I'm a former huge Latin dork. Now I'm just a med school dork! Anyway, great job with the show.

muninnhuginn said...

Ann said re the Herwicks: "But I was also reminded that they pretty much got wiped out in the Foot and Mouth episode in 2001 and they had to stock the farms. Sad sad sad."

Actually some have survived (as an exiled-in-the-south Cumbrian I spent much of 2001 worrying both about the sheep and the possibility of the adverse effect on folk I knew, the least of which was my dad getting up very early each morning for a while to top up the disinfectant on the "footbaths" for cars going through his village). The really sad, but also perversely amazing, thing is that, despite the 2001 cull, I believe there are still flocks around that are radioactive from Chernobyl.

I love them, but haven't knit their yarn. Ornery buggers that'll stare you down rather than get off the path ahead of you.

Angela Dixon said...

I really like your writing style. Such a nice Post, Can’t wait for the next one.

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