Thursday, 11 February 2010

Knit one, trounce one


New year, fresh start, and what better time to take up a new hobby? But of all the possibilities, what should you go for?

Well, I like old fashioned things. In a discreet kitchen drawer I keep a stack of dollies for serving biscuits and I’m on the Past Times mailing list. So, when I came across knitting lessons I couldn’t help myself. It seemed like such a nice, ladylike activity, presumably filled with other genteel women making pleasant chit chat while learning something new.

Due to the phenomenon of ‘hip knitting’ there was actually a waiting list, but finally it was time for my first class. A little nervous about my left-handedness and general issues with brain-hand coordination (I only mastered catching aged 22), I arrived early and made small talk with the other early birds. The students were all female, thirtyish, dressed in office wear and being nice in a suitably English self-deprecating way.

Before a needle was lifted from the table my new classmates were all competing to persuade the group that they in fact would be the worst knitter, infinitely more hopeless than the girl next to them at learning new things. Due to my persistent habit of telling the truth, I believed them. That was my first mistake.

Within minutes it had descended into the tedious aggressive rubbish which finally made me abandon the gym. Why do people say things like “I’m just here to enjoy myself and meet new people” when that is a barefaced lie? They’re only there to engage in some sick game of one-up-manship with the unfortunate person who made the mistake of sitting next to them.

Miss “I-learnt-as-a-child but-have-forgotten-it-all-now” had practically finished a scarf while I was still fighting with the basics of casting on. Across the table one of them has dropped the facade as she rapidly throws stitches on her needles, in the continental fashion. “Well actually I can already knit,” she announces smugly. I wish I had so much extra money I could afford to take pricy classes in things I can already do.

There’s something genuinely uncomfortable about this scene. It makes me wonder: are we all so painfully insecure that validation must be sought at every waking moment? I’m starting to crave some as I realise I’m in real trouble. The teacher is nice enough to call my work ‘interesting’ when really it looks like it might turn into a woollen map of Britain complete with big holes for the major cities. I can’t help but envy the neat squares the competitive knitters are producing effortlessly while throwing the odd glance at me to check how far behind I really am.

With real venom I imagine what these creatures must be like in the offices they’ve come from. They’re the girl who urges you to leave 10 minutes early promising no one will notice, and then stays an hour late herself making sure she booms at the top of her voice that you’ve gone home and left her in the lurch. The office bitch. And now I’m stuck in a room full of them, all knitting me into the ground.

The following week they’re moving onto more complicated techniques while I carry on trying to master what we did the previous week. Practice during the week turned Britain into France but at least I am a bit more confident in the fundamentals. However, the damage is done. I’m now clearly the remedial student of the group. Judgemental, self-satisfied giggles greet the painfully unfunny humour I have resorted to using to cover how awkward I feel.

The week after that I stoop to new lows and, in a fit of self-loathing, bring the class homemade cookies. I want them to like me, I want them to know I’m better at life than I am at knitting and I want to be able to comfort eat my way through the whole horrible experience. Mouth filled with buttery, sugary pain relief and hands battling with my big tangled knot of misery, I wonder if there’s a way of banning people like this from any activity labelled as fun.

Have we become so obsessed with achievement that even something so simple at learning to knit turns into a way of beating somebody else? Someone actually brought in a finished project they knocked up during the week in between holding down a job, looking great and probably saving the planet all at the same time. Looking at my nemesis across the table I continue trying to knit one, purl one while resisting the temptation to scratch her eyes out.

I took this class in the nostalgic hope that as a nation we longed for a simpler, kinder time where people made things with their own two hands. Instead of a warm glow of sentimentalism, I’ve been left with a nasty case of post modern melancholy. Read more by Rosie.