Monthly Archives: May 2014

remembering a life

It’s partly because we’re the age we are, but funerals seem to have featured large in our calendar just lately. Even YoungB remarked on it. Last week it was one of Dr B’s cycling mates, an inspirational bloke who’d fought an extraordinary battle against cancer; but, in the end, his end was expected and welcome. We all went to his funeral service and, tribute to what he’d been so passionate about in life, there were cycling jerseys of various hues (acknowledging some of the different groups with which he’d cycled over the year) scattered among the mourners. He’d had an irreverent view of life, so it was utterly appropriate that the recessional music was, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. Of course we sang along. That was entirely appropriate, too.

Today, it was the funeral of one of my old family friends. I’ve known them for so long that sometimes I feel as if they are my family (or I’m part of theirs; it’s a subtle point and there’s probably not a lot of difference). She was considerably older than the cycling mate and had been frail for some while; but, in the end, her end was expected and peaceful and not too drawn out. Her husband and one of their granddaughters were with her when she died. Many people celebrated her life in the church where the service took place. It was considerably less frivolous than the cycling mate’s farewell but it was warm and sincere and we celebrated having known her as we shared our memories of her.

Without sounding maudlin, or thinking that I’m next in line – not by a long shot, barring accidents! – it’s good to remind ourselves that life, however long, is always a fleeting thing and that sometimes you really do need to take stock of things and just appreciate what you have. For me yesterday that was the sunshine (which is bound to diminish now that the days are so short and winter temperatures are truly on their way; and in fact, today has been cold and wet) and YoungB’s having the thoughtfulness to call in to see Youngest Aunt while he was on a quick visit (doing things academic) down at the uni where she works (we don’t get down there often). They had lunch together and I’m certain that YoungB’s visit brightened her day enormously. He told me that he enjoyed his vegetarian curry pie.

There’s been another death, too – another elderly woman, loved wife, mother and grandmother with a large extended family and many friends – but that’s to be a private funeral for reasons that aren’t clear; so we won’t have the opportunity to share remembrances with other mourners. I can intellectualise about why you might want a private funeral but I think it’s selfish. I’ve told Dr B and YoungB that I don’t want a private funeral. I’ve said, often, that if anybody wants to stand up at my wake and say how great my chocolate pudding was, that’s fantastic (there might be a queue; it’s good pudding). Likewise, if anybody wants to come and spit on my grave – which is probably unlikely, but you never know – feel free. It won’t concern me any more. I’ll be dead. Nonna has that pragmatic view, too. She says with a shrug that we should do what we want with regard to her funeral and wake because it won’t bother her. “I’ll be dead,” she says. And, yeah, that’s right.

We’ll remember her, though, as we remember anyone who is no longer with us. We’re good at that, at celebrating what has been and looking at the generations gathered with all that promise of a bright future. And isn’t that how it should be?


Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Musing


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more rovescio than diritto

To put that into context for you, they’re Italian knitting terms: diritto means knit, rovescio means purl (and knitting is lavorare a maglia as opposed to crochet, which is done with an uncinetto and is also called uncinetto). Rovescio also has that other connotation or overtone of “reverse”. Although I’ve been knitting my most recent beanie in the round and therefore there’s only been a bit of rovescio at the start to do the ribbing, I’ve certainly been reversing a fair amount of it while helping out with the Italian emails. My pile of kinked yarn is growing as I steadily tink back to the point where I goofed with the shaping. You wouldn’t think it would take so long – and if I’d simply yanked the needles out and pulled, it probably wouldn’t – but this yarn (I’m once again using Moda Vera Bouvardia, which has some unexpected but attractive colourways and always knits up to a soft, warm finish) is slightly sticky and I’ve found in the past that it’s better served by being taken apart stitch by stitch, however painful. That’s what I’ve been doing, round by careful round and doing my best not to poke anyone in the eye as I wave my spare set member about (that would be a DPN, by the way, for anyone who prefers that terminology).

Reversing a reverse

Reversing a reverse

Also, we’ve been doing a lot of Italian here lately (spot the Italian dictionary in the photo). All three of us spent a whole day curled up in bed – because Dr B had bunged up his knee and couldn’t walk; but there was work to be done! – writing a fairly simple email to the Italian academic liaison officer who’s YoungB’s contact person at Bologna. There is nothing simple about an email that needs to clarify many of the subtle points arising from the very different academic systems. However, with all of us on the job, me on coffee brigade, YoungB occasionally calling it quits to go stretch his legs and Dr B keeping us focused on the job and acting as our (Italian) thesaurus, we did it. Trouble is, as YoungB says, we’ve set the bar too high. His [written in the email] Italian sounds so good that they probably think he’s practically dreaming in it. Uuh, not quite. However, by the end of the day – you might call it a crash course in bureaucratese immersion – he was certainly much better able to come up with his own alternative modes of expression.

After a few heart-stopping moments early in the day, when it seemed as if nothing we’d said previously was going to carry any weight short of taking our case to a Very Big Wig (and that’s something you want to avoid at all costs, Italian bureaucracy being what it is), we managed to convince the folk in Italy that, well, all things considered, this kid is practically a genius! No, he’s not. He’s bright enough but intellectually lazy – one of his Year 12 teachers advised him that he wouldn’t be able to get by on good looks and charm for much longer, at which we laughed uproariously (hardly the ideal parental response) – but even so, the biggest hurdle wasn’t whether or not he was up to the subject choices, disparate though they appeared at first glance, more that the Italian system doesn’t seem to have much space for combined degree patterns though there’s enormous flexibility within degrees. In the end that might amount to the same thing.

Be that as it may, YoungB is enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science combined degree. It’s not that uncommon here though there are other degree programs with higher enrolment numbers (anything with Law and Economics, for example, and the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Music is likewise popular; in that case largely, I suspect, because it allows music students to have better employment options at the end of it all). Because YoungB likes humanities subjects and science subjects and he had – indeed, still has – no idea of what he wants to do when he finishes his undergraduate studies, the double degree sounded like the best of both worlds and a good basis for whatever he might decide to take to higher study. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and it hasn’t been, but he’s passing his exams and enjoying himself. That’s reward enough for his efforts, we think.

While it might be the case that there are Italian universities where such weirdness exists happily, Bologna doesn’t seem to have that crossover readily available, hence the root cause of much of our recent anxiety. Once we’d curled up and nutted out a detailed but not overdone explanation of what YoungB’s subjects hitherto had involved and further explained why he’d chosen first-year subjects at 75% load – his poor Italian skills being a big part of all that, as he pointed out at different parts of the email – the very prompt response was, “OK, you’re good to go with what you’ve chosen,” or words to that effect. There was a further comment in the email that it’s unusual to be doing such unrelated areas of study concurrently, hence our feeling that combined degrees in such diverse disciplines are either rare or non-existent in the Italian tertiary sector. Never mind. We got the green light so whichever way you look at it, that was a very good use of our day.

I’m not quite back to going forward with my knitting, but there’s probably only another round to tink before I’ll once again be roaring full steam ahead with diminishing the number of stitches. My friend whose head this beanie is intended to cover is already in dire need of it – he lives in Tasmania, where the mornings are cold – so, along with the urgency of needing to explain newfangled Aussie degrees and degree patterns to an Italian at Europe’s oldest university, there’s the urgency of a bald head that needs a warm hat. It’s now going to be diritto all the way and no rovescio at all if I can help it. Would you reckon that’s going to work or will there be another slew of unpredictable reverses to push it all onto the back burner? Only time will tell.


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toobs and tubes

YoungB [thought he’d] lost his original toob. I said I’d make him another. He promptly came up with a couple of eminently reasonable suggestions for modifications. For example, he asked, would it be possible to make it so that half was double thickness and half single thickness, meaning he could simply turn it around in the really, really cold weather for extra protection and warmth on his nose? Sure, I said. I even offered to make the second layer in a different colour so it would be immediately obvious to him which bit was the thicker half. The original toob has since turned up, hidden under several others and a jacket or two, on the back of Dr B’s chair. We don’t think it was done maliciously; we know very well that Dr B has a habit of assuming that anything at all likely looking is his! I think I’m probably off the hook for immediate purposes with the toob, though it would be interesting to see if I can come up with something like the one YoungB is after. I’ll update on that if and when it happens.

Tubes? Not good for me if they’re skirts. I never did look terribly good in pencil skirts, which have a tendency to slide around because I have the wrong shape to keep them in place; and I’ve been stung before trying to make a “simple” tube skirt. The differential between my waist and my hip is too great for any of those simple solutions to produce a respectably wearable result. Out comes the old Justknits pattern #96867 and a bit of tinkering takes place. But still, you know, I’ve had a lot of years to accept that a tube skirt is not my best friend. All the same, with winter well and truly knocking on the door – I say that at a time where the week’s outdoor temperatures have been in the mid-20s; most unseasonable indeed for late May – I’m sure I’ll be able to come to terms with any less than happy outcomes of shape if it means having a warm skirt that I can wear at home and/or abroad (in the sense of ‘out of the house’). Then it’s just a matter of finding time and being dedicated and all that. I’ve got as far as cutting out and pinning a new, winter skirt. Getting around to sewing it? Yeah, not so much.

But I did manage to thread my new machine and fill a bobbin. Do you reckon that counts as progress?


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acknowledging a wounded comrade

Alpino hat with black feather (copied from Wikipedia but a universal image)

Alpino hat with black feather (copied from Wikipedia but a universal image)

Let me say clearly at the outset, we have never been Alpini. The reason I chose this image and post title will become clear, though I should also point out that I don’t mean a comrade wounded in action. But nonetheless, this post talks about a family member who was an Alpino and to this day remains fiercely proud of that fact.

Dr B had a significant birthday recently, so we celebrated by having lunch with Nonna on Sunday (we do it most years, a combined birthday and Mother’s Day affair) and a little chocolate cake – one of those bake-in-a-mug numbers – after dinner on the day itself. We also had a sing-along. One of Dr B’s cousins, Sig A, who’s close to him in age, is presently hospitalised after a major health event. His recovery is uncertain. We’re all somewhat distressed but Dr B is quite shattered. I suppose it’s an intimation of his own mortality though a part of the distress is as simple as knowing that it’s now unlikely he’ll be able to carry out the plans hatched for himself, Sig A and YoungB during YoungB’s visit to Italy (they’re three kindred spirits if ever there were any; when Sig A and his wife visited Australia nearly a decade ago, he and YoungB got on like a house on fire, though neither could understand a word the other was saying).

Sig A did his national service as a member of the Alpini (I hope the hat makes more sense now) and has attended annual reunions ever since. Those traditions are important for him and I well recall laughing at his recounting tales that only hinted at the amount of alcohol downed on such an occasion. My educated guess was “an ocean”. He agreed, surprised, I think, that I’d come to such an accurate conclusion so quickly (several oceans might have been even more accurate, but oceans vary in size. Right?). Singing is also an important part of Alpini traditions and Sig A was very willing to sing with us when he was here. We belted out one of the best renditions of Quel Mazzolin Di Fiori (“That Bunch of Flowers”) I’ve ever been involved in because he had the call and response down to split second timing. So on the evening of the recent day in question, this time accompanied by Dr B on guitar, we sang a few of the songs made famous by the Coro della Società degli alpinisti tridentini (or SAT; and you could try Google translate if you’re really keen). We have a battered, because much used, copy of the Canti della Montagna, produced by SAT, that assumes you know the tune but need help with the words. We need a bit of help with both.

Another of our songbooks is Canti Folkloristici e Di Montagna (being Folksongs and Mountain Songs; and it’s number 5 in the series of Cantaintasca or Song in Pocket albums produced by Ricordi). It’s even more battered but does at least provide a chord chart, which is a useful thing in a family of musicians. The chords are Italian – that is to say, pretty much what you might know as solfeggio – but that doesn’t present a problem for Dr B (and, because there’s a chart at the front, even YoungB could attempt it if he had to, though it would undoubtedly take him longer to nut out). We sorted out the right key and away we went with a very famous song whose melodic contour YoungB loves, Dove Sei Stato Mio Bell’Alpino? (“Where have you been, My Handsome Alpino?”).

We finished with a declared nod to Sig A by singing Sul Cappello Che Noi Portiamo which means “On the hat that we wear” and which is occasionally referred to as Su Pei Monti (“Up in the Mountains”). It relates a story of the Alpini – the long, black feather that serves as a banner (see hat above), how they pick flowers to give the girls to make them weep and sigh, and how [in place of those flowers] they build a barracks and drink to the Corps; it’s beautiful and haunting while being quite a rousing number – and, though there’s a generic version, it’s possible to insert the name of one’s own particular company of the Corps. Nonna, for example, always sings the Ninth, which is what her father used to sing (though he was not a member of the Alpini, having fought against the Italians under Franz Josef; but there you are, he had a favoured company and she fiercely corrects us when we get it wrong).

It’s possible to google either of those songs and find a host of recordings, if you’re keen.

Excuse my definite animadversion into what’s clearly neither sewing nor knitting nor anything at all craft related. I, too, have great affection for Sig A and his wife. It’s tough being on the other side of the world at a time like this. The very least we can do is sing for Sig A. So we did.

PS: I’m sorry, that should be regiment, not company.


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well, it’s like this

Another of our friends is undergoing chemo at present. This is not her first lot, but she lives interstate and we haven’t seen her for a while. We are hoping to visit her in a few weeks from now, so I thought I’d make something special for her. The only question is, will it be a cowl or a cap? And if a cowl, will it be sewn or knitted? I’m torn for good reason:

Humour me while I talk myself into trying this out for the first time!

I thought that I might sew a cowl. Well, you know – actually, you don’t because I haven’t mentioned it before! – I’ve just taken delivery of a new sewing machine like that one there, and I’m itching to give it a try. It arrived on Tuesday and all I’ve done so far is mostly get it out of the box. I know! But what with driving Dr B about the place after some minor surgery that prevented him from driving himself (recovery is proceeding well, thanks) and having a couple of things to do that didn’t involve being at home for serious chunks of the day, plus there’s this awful piece of work I’m trying to complete, there simply hasn’t been time! How sad is that??

Youngest Aunt gave me some fabric last year. Perhaps it was the year before. But anyway, I have some pieces of rayon (a couple of dresses that are worn in critical spots but too nice to throw out and from which I could easily harvest enough fabric to line a cowl) that I could combine with some fine polar fleece to make a deliciously soft and warm fabric cowl. Also, YoungB seems to have lost his original toob – somewhat to his distress; as I sometimes say, you can see why I keep feeding him! – and would be very happy if I were to make him another, please. The days are cold enough that he needs such a thing when he has an early lecture or is coming home in the dark after a long prac or lab session of some sort. At least he no longer has those ridiculously early starts associated with rowing training, but I’ll happily make him another toob. So, on the whole – and thanks for listening while I mulled that over – I think that this time I’ll sew a cowl.

However, as I bought some silky soft yarn yesterday, I might also knit a cap. Dr D lives in a jolly cold part of the country and her hair is just starting to experience what she wonderfully describes as fallout. Her head will definitely need covering. Therefore, the plan at the moment – I know, I’m not good with plans, but let’s just call this an idea of how I might go about achieving what I need – is to sew a toob for YoungB, a cowl for Dr D and then knit a cap. I’ll make the cap the negotiable factor, I think (life might prove busy with YoungB’s looming international travel to organise; and while I could sew a cowl and a toob quite quickly, it would take me considerably longer to knit a cap unless I went for my Inca beanie, but that would require different yarn that I simply don’t have).

Anyone want to put money on how quickly all of that goes off the rails? 🙂


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the satisfaction of being a volunteer

Each bow carries a coloured number. Also, there are boat holders up on the pontoon, keeping things straight for the start.

Each bow carries a coloured number. Also, there are boat holders up on the pontoon, keeping things straight for the start.

Like any parent and anyone involved with kids and sport, I’ve volunteered to help out at all sorts of things over the years. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve just finished four days of heavy duty volunteering at the Australian Masters Rowing Championships, which were held at West Lakes last week. I was supervising the area allocating bow numbers, where our days started at least an hour before the day’s rowing and finished well after and, really, we just stayed in one spot all day with the occasional comfort break when there was a lull between bursts of frantic activity. Dr B came down to see us one afternoon and he thought we were busy. At that particular point, we were having a quiet moment where we could pretty much tick off numbers as they came back in and hand them out as required without too much delay.

For those of you unfamiliar with rowing terminology, let me explain what I mean by bow numbers. Each boat carries a little colour-coded square with an alphanumeric code on it, to identify it by lane and correct race, which goes in a holder on the bow (I know, duh). There’s a set of numbers from A1 to A8 all the way through to Z1 to Z8 so, as you’d understand, in a day that has anything more than 26 races, and they all do, you go through the set of numbers more than once. Therefore, it’s important to get all the information correct AND to get the bow numbers back ASAP after races so they can be reissued for their next use. There is a system of fines for non-return of bow numbers, so I’ve spent four days reminding people that the club will cop a fine if they don’t get that bow number back in time, then further threatening them with removal of digits and limbs and calling in my Italian mate with the cement truck if they really don’t bring their bow numbers back in time. (Yeah, it has been that much fun.)

The weather was appalling the first two days but Saturday was not bad and Sunday was lovely, if a shade cool and perhaps occasionally windier than you might want. The race schedule was reinvented a few times which meant that there was a day where the alphabet began at O. Luckily, by that stage we were using a linked computer system, which expedited matters enormously (we’d previously had a manual system that kept being outsmarted by folk with smartphones). By and large, rowers are a fairly good-natured lot and they were patient through the trying part of getting the systems in synch. We made one mistake in handing out numbers, which we caught fairly promptly and notified to the referees, so no harm done. By the last day, as you’d hope, we had things running very smoothly and received many a word of thanks and congratulations for our efficiency. That’s always heartening. Bad weather can and does happen everywhere but if the event is well organised and runs smoothly in other respects, then you don’t feel quite so grumpy about what’s beyond your control.

As part of the packing up procedures, one of our admin/runner volunteers did a sweep of the boat park and nabbed a few bow numbers that had been overlooked and brought them in for us. Because there were so many composite crews, the chain of communication and responsibility was often a shade smudgy, with one club assuming another had done the right thing and nobody having actually managed it. It’s therefore truly astonishing that we managed to pull off what we were told was a first: that is, not lose any of our bow numbers. By that I mean that we had a full set of numbers at the end of the regatta and were only missing one from the spare set for which we really couldn’t account, because it didn’t appear on any list of lost numbers (truly, it was probably lost at sea on the day where conditions were so rough that a couple of bow numbers broke). I personally think the threat of the cement truck did the trick. 😉

It would really be remiss of me not to mention our young boat holders. They were all high-school kids and some of them probably in their early secondary years. They did a fantastic job. One lot received a thoroughly deserved standing ovation from the rowers when they finally staggered into the main pavilion at the end of the day when there’d been whitecaps on the water. They’re not that common a sight at West Lakes and those who’ve been around the place a lot longer than I have were saying they’d never seen such bad conditions there. Through all of that, two lots of kids were working hard on the pontoons to hold the boats. I heard that one of the girls was chucking up over the edge but, heck, the waves were breaking over the pontoon so you’d need to be a very seasoned sailor indeed not to be adversely affected. I hope they haven’t been put off by that, though I’m not sure I’d blame them if they were, because they are the sorts of people who will be the tireless volunteers of the future.

Lest you fear that there was a complete absence of knitting and things of that ilk, I’m pleased to report that I discovered that one of the other head honcho volunteer folk is a very serious knitter who makes lovely little scarves in yarn that’s a wool and silk blend, bespoke dyed by one of her friends in muted colours, and as soft and cosy as you could wish to have around your neck (I accept that my Ballarat scarf is a little on the scratchy side because of the metallic yarn). We swapped a few yarns – sorry, couldn’t resist – about our various knitting projects. During one of my short strolls around the place during a comfort break, I was complimented on that very same Ballarat scarf by one of the vendors (I resisted the merchandise). She said that the colours are lovely. So they are.

Not Great Aunt Susie's sofa despite appearances to the contrary.

Not Great Aunt Susie’s sofa despite appearances to the contrary.

Besides knitting confreres (I spotted a few amongst the rowers, too), one of my bow number co-volunteers admired the above tote that I made from those samples of furnishing fabric given to me by an erstwhile colleague (I’d used the tote to tote my day’s supply of water bottles). She recognised it as a particular linen – apparently that furnishing fabric is distinctive – and congratulated me on how sturdy it was while reminding me that I’d pay a lot of money if I wanted to buy such a thing. She’s quite right. And while I suppose it might not be everyone’s idea of chic to cart around a bag made from fabric that’s recognisably the same as Great Aunt Susie’s sofa, I’m really pleased with mine (and couldn’t care less whether it’s chic or not). It works well and I know it’s much better made than any I’ve bought so far.

Have you been volunteering of late? f so, I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed yourself as much as I did.


Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Knitting, Rowing, Sewing


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