March 31, 2010

Guest post by Mrs Redboots

Drain Cleaner and Cooking Fat, revisited

I am occasionally a signal failure as a mother, and one way in which I proved this to be so was last Christmas, when I totally forgot to provide my daughter with any of my soap for her to give her in-laws. So as we were all going to my daughter’s choir concert* last weekend, I thought I had better rectify this. However, as the sort of soap I normally make, cold process, does need a good three or four weeks to cure, I thought I would make hot process soap. This is ready to use at once, but it isn’t quite as satisfactory as “normal” soap, for reasons which will become apparent. I normally make it only to mix with olive oil and sea salt to use as a soap scrub, but it has its uses!

I was only making a small batch, so didn’t use any “filler” oil, just corn and coconut. But I thought I would make lavender soap, and colour it with alkanet root, so a few hours before I wanted to make the stuff, I put some alkanet root into one of those empty teabag things you can buy in Whittards and put it to soak in the corn oil. Soap2 003

Soap2 004

Once it was all nice and red, Soap2 005I added the coconut oil, and then the caustic soda solution. Temperature doesn’t matter so much in hot process soap, as what you then do is put it in a double boiler, or in this case over a saucepan of boiling water, to cook.

Soap2 006Soap2 007Soap2 009

Look how blue it went while I was stirring it up! That is due to the alkalinity of the caustic soda; alkanet root, like red cabbage, is a pH indicator. Coconut oil melts quickly – you can tell summer when it is liquid in your cupboard rather than solid!

The soap traced quickly, Soap2 011

and then you basically just keep an eye on it,Soap2 014stirring from time to time,

Soap2 015rescuing it when it overboils,

Soap2 016and suddenly it turns into soap!Soap2 017

It’s difficult to describe, and the moment of transition is often impossible to detect, but suddenly you are aware that what you are stirring is a mass of molten soap, and if it wasn’t quite so hot, you could wash your hands with it.

At this point, I added the lavender oil, and then it all went a bit pear-shaped, because what I had planned to do was to spread the soap out in a foil dish**

Soap2 019and then cut out shapes with cookie cutters, but unfortunately it stuck Soap2 020and after a few half-hearted stars and circles I gave up in disgust, Soap2 021melted down the rest of the soap Soap2 022and put it into my trusty silicone moulds, as I should have done in the first place!Soap2 023 The finished product doesn’t look nearly as nice as ordinary cold-processed soap, as it is rather rough round the edges; however, I know from experience that washing one’s hands with the bar two or three times will sort that. And it is a lovely colour!

Soap2 026

And it smelt good!  My daughter’s mother-in-law was delighted with the soap, and I have kept one bar*** which is in my bathroom now!Soap2 027

* * *

* The London Forest Choir were singing the St Matthew Passion, and very good it was, too, but oh, the pews in the church where it was were uncomfortable; I couldn’t move next day!

** What I needed, but did not at the time own (since rectified) is a silicone baking sheet! That wouldn’t have stuck and I could have cut out cookie shapes to my heart’s content!

*** the small one on the bottom left of the photo, I think!

Chocolate and ranunculus

 

It’s still raining. 

So I bought some ranunculus.*  IMG_0487 crop 

This is clearly the right thing to do, even if nothing else is clear through the rain on the glasses.  I bought my new little friends** on my way to the optician, who proved to be a young Sri Lankan with the most amazing name, it’s enormously long and sounds like a song when she says it.*** 

            I need new glasses.  I already knew that.  What I was not expecting however was that oval rimless with narrow plain gold earpieces are presently out of fashion.  Good grief.  How can plain gold rimless go out of fashion?  It’s like rectangular black plastic going out of fashion.  Dunno, maybe they are too.  Although right at the moment it’s all rectangles.  I was briefly—briefly—tempted by a pair of very minimally framed glasses, which were a kind of faint metallic pink and had, on their very narrow hinges, a few tiny rhinestones.  Barely noticeable, these rhinestones.  Barely pink, the barely-frames.  Subtle.  Mmm. If the lenses had been oval I might have been seriously tempted . . . so what a good thing they weren’t, since the frellers cost over two hundred pounds—WTF, are they diamonds?—and that’s before I’ve bought my madly expensive new varifocal lenses.

            Meanwhile the Spectacles Warden† was hunting through spectacles catalogues and the tiny Sri Lankan is going to—ahem!—scope out the selection at the other optician she works for.  Who knew a new set of spectacles would be a quest?

            I went home with my ranunculuses.  It’s still raining. 

            I want comfort food.†† 

This is originally from the second Rosie’s bakery book—the Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No Holds Barred Cookie Book—except I’ve messed it around in small and medium-sized crucial ways because I’m like that. 

Chocolate Orange Shortbread 

1 large egg

½ tsp orange essence (remember I’m talking about ESSENCE not FLAVOURING.  Essence is pure distilled oranges and strong)

2 c ordinary unbleached white flour

¼ c fine rice flour (you can use all ordinary flour, but a little rice flour assists that shortbread to-die-for melting texture)

Probably half a cup of sugar.  This is one of those places where you need to experiment (I know, I know, I’m already expecting you to experiment with the flour).  The original recipe calls for 6T confectioners’/icing sugar and 2T regular granulated.  This is about texture again.  A lot of granulated sugar will give it a gritty texture—which is lovely, by the way—pure icing sugar will make it wickedly smooth.  I like 6/2 but that’s not always what I use.

1 T grated orange zest (REMEMBER TO BE CAREFUL TO AVOID THE WHITE PITH.  Which will make it bitter.  And for pity’s, and your liver’s, sake, if you’re going to be eating the rind, buy an organic orange.  Your average commercial orange is sprayed forty-six ways to Sunday, and not all of it will wash off)

1 c slightly salted butter, soft enough to work but not runny

6 oz very good very dark chocolate, chopped, grated or shaved.  Chopped is easiest.  I like the texture of grated, if your chosen chocolate will put up with this. 

Cut the butter up fairly small and mix it loosely into the flour, and then start rubbing it together seriously either with your hands or the back of a spoon.  When it all gets to the coarse crumbs stage, make a well in the middle of it, break your egg into the well, add the orange essence, and beat gently with a fork so the egg and essence get blended before you mix it into the flour and butter.  Then mush it into the flour and butter.  At the end of this stage you should have a fairly homogenous blob in your bowl.  Then knead in the chocolate till it’s evenly distributed.  Unless you’re planning on feeding the chocolate-free end to someone you’re mad at.

            At this point you’re supposed to pat it into a cylinder, wrap it up and put it into the refrigerator for a few hours, and then slice it into discs.  If you actually want to put off making them, this is fine.  If you’re a lazy, last-minute slut like me . . . slap the dough into the middle of a cookie sheet with edges and pat it out to the rim.  There’s enough butter to make it come out again easily, but if you want to make one extra step (and even I will acknowledge this is a good one), cut a piece of parchment paper to fit your cookie sheet, put the dough in the middle of that and then you can roll it out to size, which you’re not going to be able to do easily on a sheet with edges—but you want those edges to contain the creature.  You then transfer the parchment paper—cut it long enough to provide you with handles—to the cookie sheet.  You can also not pat/roll quite to the edge of rimless sheets to allow room for squidge, but then it doesn’t bake quite evenly and the finished product doesn’t look quite so satisfactory (I think).

            It’s a good idea to mark out the lines you’re going to want to cut on later, but if you forget you can just break it.  Crazy-paving shortbread is fetchingly artless.

            Baking is also a slightly find-out-what-suits-you-and-your-oven situation.  I like 325°F for about half an hour.  It may take as much as 45 minutes, depending on the size of your cookie sheet and the thickness of your dough.  Your shortbread should be visibly golden (despite chocolate mottling) and you do want it crunchy.  (Probably.  Doughy shortbread is supposed to be anathema but I think it’s rather good.)  If you’ve patted it out evenly then you can stick a knife point delicately in the middle and if it goes crunch you’re set.  In fact take it out immediately or it will overcook.  It will get crunchier as it cools and you don’t want it brittle.  Let cool before you finish cutting/breaking.

            And if I’m going to go to bed early I’d better get at it. 

* * *

 * Ranunculaceae?  Except that’s the whole wretched family, including such blighters as creeping buttercup,^ scourge of gardeners all over Britain, so far as I know.  It’s certainly a scourge in this bit of Hampshire.  And since I won’t use weedkiller I have a lot of it. 

^ http://www.dgsgardening.btinternet.co.uk/crbutcup.htm

Ooh.  I like ‘devil’s guts’. 

** No, they didn’t have pink.  Some horrid greedy selfish person had probably already bought all the pink ones.  That’s okay though.  I like these.  

*** It’s also a good bit longer than she is.  She comes up about to my elbow.  The only other Sri Lankan I’ve met whom I know to be Sri Lankan is tall and thin, like me. 

† A small room floor to ceiling with racks of spectacles begins to look a bit like a kind of filigree prison. 

†† I also want to go to bed early.  Daylight Savings Time and I have not yet reached détente, and I’m losing.

My car, my computer and my brain are all broken

 

GEEZUM FRELLING CROW WHAT A REEKING DESPICABLE RATBAG OF A DAY.*

            It began, as the mornings after the great spring chronometric wallop begin every year, with me waking up with a confused sense of doom.  It’s already an hour later than it should be and it doesn’t feel an hour later.**  I found some clothes and put them on, released hellhounds to cavort and gamble, and herded us toward Wolfgang for our first squish of the day.***  To get Wolfgang out I was going to have to move all the dustbins away from the middle of the road where the dustbin men had thoughtfully left them†.  In the process of moving my own I discovered they hadn’t dranglefabbing emptied it.  Some efficient chap had merely lifted the top bag out and hadn’t bothered with the rest . . . which is mostly the plastic packaging†† of 1,000,000,000 little green things that have come by post in the last fortnight and there is more where it came from. 

            The strange hollow moaning noise that Wolfgang’s steering is producing is becoming rather alarming and the wheel has begun to vibrate gently against one’s palms.  I rang the garage.  Describe it to us, they said.  I did.  Hmmmmm, they said.  We can fit you in on Wednesday and meanwhile it would probably be wise not to drive it in case it explodes.

            I was supposed to have a voice lesson this afternoon.  It’s Easter week;  Blondel could fit me in today.  I’d been planning on asking him if he had any shatteringly spectacular solos this week of a lot of extra singing, to let me know.  Not much point now:  I haven’t got a car.  Meanwhile it’s already noon and I need to tell him I’m not going to be there in three hours:  Mauncester is fifteen minutes on the motorway from here, he lives on the far side of it, and I have an exploding car.

            This is where it starts getting embarrassing.  I’ve never done the ordinary thing of writing Blondel’s phone number down anywhere.  But why should I?  I have computers!   I have Outlook!  I have everything backed up on everything else!  I have a RaspBerry!  No problem!

            Except I don’t have everything backed up, as I discovered today. 

            Sodding Outlook has become increasingly unstable lately;  some days it’s so determined to take umbrage and fall over it’s hard to get any work done when work involves things like downloading jpegs and rewriting flap copy—you have to be able to get to what they’re sending you.  I figured this probably has something to do with the size of my inboxes, so I’ve been painstakingly dragging stuff out of inboxes and into folders.  But to make Outlook believe that I am really doing this, I have to delete the stuff that’s been moved to folders—which means that’s what’s in the folders now only exists in the folders . . . on one computer, which happens to be the mews laptop.  So I copy all the folders on to a memory stick.

            At the cottage this morning I whip out the memory stick to look up Blondel’s email and phone number . . . and discover that all I’ve copied is a lot of empty icons, like a screen shot of your desktop.  Okay, I’ll have a nervous breakdown about that in a minute—right now I need at least Blondel’s phone number.  But Outlook also periodically takes against people, and when it does that, it eats their contacts.  Usually I catch this behaviour in time, like screaming DROP IT! before Darkness swallows that discarded sandwich††† . . . but not always.  Which means that the next time I plug the RaspBerry in and Outlook updates it . . . Blondel is not on the RaspBerry.  Blondel is also not in the phone book.‡  So the one place I still have Blondel’s phone number is in a folder on the mews laptop.‡‡

            As it happens Peter is having his own technodrama, and Computer Men are already bearing down on us.‡‡‡  I arrive just as they finish staking Peter’s monster§ and I pour out my troubles to them, and they look at me pityingly, that I could ever have thought I could copy Outlook folders.  They begin to speak in tongues, as befits Asmodeus’ minions, the gist being . . . I don’t have a freaking clue what the gist is, except that I’m in big fat trouble.  Meanwhile they say kindly that while they contemplate the Ultimate Solution I can copy the ENTIRETY of Outlook, including the wretched folders, by doing some flimflammery with export—says Minion One, his fingers flashing faster than my overdue-for-eye-exam-which-is-tomorrow gaze can follow, and then leaves my computer to get on with it while they gallop off to their next salvage operation.

            THE COMPLETE BACK UP TAKES FORTY FIVE MINUTES.  During which time, of course, Outlook and all its folders are unavailable.  I am hysterical.  I take hellhounds for another squish to get out of the house before I throw myself out a window.  We get back indoors again in time to see Outlook yawning and stretching and tidying off the last few crucial mail order plant come-ons which of course I want preserved forever . . . and I fall on my folders

            I got to Blondel with maybe twenty minutes to spare.

            It was at about this point that I posted to Twitter that I had enough material for a blog entry for tonight and that the day could start improving from here. 

             It didn’t. 

             I will however merely finish off by remarking that on the last squish of the day my feet went gaily out from under me on a long wet slope and I slid to the bottom on my ass.  I have mud in places I don’t know how it could get to, barring tiny missile launchers, which I suppose are a possibility.  I am trying to look on the bright side:  I didn’t fall on either a hellhound or the Walkperson.   AAAAAAUGH.  IS THIS DAY OVER YET. 

* * *

* Let’s get the serious stuff over with and then we can go back to watching the universe make a jerk out of me. 

            Really lousy news about poor Luke.  They had the latest consult with the big doc honchos this week who say that the progress he’s made is mostly superficial—you might almost say cosmetic—and that not only is it no indication of more of the same, the indications are, if anything, the contrary:  that this may be as far down the road toward  recovery as he’s going to get.

            We want a miracle, okay?  Please send out for a miracle.  He may be permanently off the short list of first shuttle pilot to Mars applicants, but he deserves to have a life.  I know this doesn’t matter a spider fart in the great scheme of things but he’s one of the good guys

** Note that I was still so wired last night that I again had trouble getting to sleep, although some of that was the news about Luke, which made the saying-to-hell-with-it-and-keep-reading option a lot less attractive.  Once I did get to sleep I slept like the proverbial Dead Thing . . . and woke up like one too, convinced there was a stake through my heart and that daylight was poisonous.  Although daylight wasn’t a big issue today.  Drowning was.  And another pair of All Stars have sprung an undammable leak.   

*** Rain to the right of them/ Rain to the left of them/  Rain in front of them/ Volleyed and thundered 

† There are only four houses on my cul de sac.  Explain to me why better than twice that many keep their dustbins here. 

†† I have often noticed that cardboard boxes full of mail order plants are TARDISes really.  By the time you’ve unpacked them there is clearly NO WAY that all that came out ever fit in in the first place. 

††† Yes.  Hellhounds won’t eat their food but they will pick up street rubbish that will make them sick.  Remind me why I wanted dogs? 

‡ It did occur to me I might ring Directory Enquiry because I imagine the only reason he’s not in the phone book is because they weren’t here yet last year.  But by this stage of proceedings I’m melting down fairly seriously and I can’t remember his street address.  I can find it—if I had a car—but I can’t tell you what it is. 

‡‡ Right next to the folder for the person who originally put me in touch with Blondel.  If I could get at that folder either. 

‡‡‡ Hi yo Silver, away!  They take turns to play Tonto. 

§ It’s been a day for Mr Pointy

The Day After the Night Before

 

I’m doing extremely well for a woman who got about three hours’ sleep last night* which is not the same thing as being sharp, clear, coherent and/or having something to say.  Blurg.  I made it to and through bell ringing mainly by habit—it’s Sunday morning, where’s the bell rope, ow ow ow ow**—and other than that, and one hell of a lorry load of caffeine, I’ve spent most of the day in the garden, planting and potting on like a madwoman.  Since I have broadband, a working credit card, and the self-restraint of a two year old, the year is punctuated by flurries of cardboard boxes arriving on my doorstop marked urgent live plants but March-April-May is probably the worst—even worse than the bulb and bare root rose orders in the autumn—and cries of, I can’t believe I ordered that! rend the air.  You know you’re in trouble when you start hoping things will die.*** 

            Today I was feverishly potting up this week’s haul of urgent live plants:  plug plants from the big factory producers and fancy specialist stuff from small nurseries.  I dourly note that I’m on to kill off a few more Malmaison carnations this year—I’d forgotten I’d ordered them again.  Sigh.  I’ve just been cruising the web for photos of the Malmaisons that will give you any faint clue of how amazing they are, and there don’t seem to be any.  The few out there just make them look like biggish carnations.   Well, they are, but . . . they are amazing biggish carnations that look more like peonies or . . . wait for it . . . roses than carnations AND they can knock you down at fifty paces with their perfume.  They’re sort of . . . baroque carnations.  I saw a display of them at Chelsea† years ago, fell in love . . .  killed a few at the old house and then let ’em go because with over five hundred roses I had my hands way too full.  But then we moved into town and little gardens . . . and the possibility of fussing over something emerged.  Malmaisons actually aren’t long-lived so perhaps my killing my last ones after two years isn’t as bad as all that.  I’ll see how these do.

            Sorry, I keep waking up when my head hits the keyboard.  To be continued. . . . 

* * *

 * Most of the year I tend to be comparatively laid back about Daylight Savings Time.  I think it’s a silly idea and I wish they’d stop mucking us around twice a year, but . . . meh.  I have larger, hairier, bitier things to worry about^, like whether the Very Weird Noise Wolfgang’s steering is making—Wolfgang, who passed his road test less than a month ago—is ominous or merely that my 14-year-old VW Golf has started channelling dispossessed spirits.  Or that PEG II is going to spawn PEG III which is going to spawn PEG IV which is . . . I have the not-a-sequel to SUNSHINE to write!  I have the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh Damar novels to write (having left out the trilogic third)!  I have (on conservative estimate) 1,734,992^^ fairy tales to yank around!  I cannot afford to get stuck on proliferating pegasi!

            But one day a year . . . probably more like one week a year . . .  I am absorbed in my loathing for the chronomeretricians^^^ responsible for this cheap farce.  ARRRRGH.  Springing forward . . . ARRRRGH

           Falling back in autumn is unnecessarily depressing—the extra hour reading in bed the night before is amusing, but it is not worth suddenly having night fall in the middle of the afternoon.  And by the time they get the chain round our necks and jerk us forward again next spring the evenings are already getting nicely longer, thank you very much.  GO.  AWAY.  This time of year—when the weather cooperates urph grmble flurb— it becomes hard to get me in from the garden anyway, I don’t need another daylight hour’s temptation.#  And this is all aside from the fact that the sun is supposed to overhead at noon (more or less).

            It’s become a sort of annual ritual that I don’t sleep much the night the clocks go ahead##.  All those long leisurely years I didn’t ring bells on Sunday mornings I could struggle with my missing hour in private.  Now . . . this was kind of a bad year.  I can’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that I was reading Another Fabulous Book.###  At least I wasn’t wasting time staring at the ceiling in the dark=.  But I may conceivably have turned the light out half an hour later than necessary. 

^ And no I’m not talking about hellhounds, though I could be, especially today, when we seem to be sharing a certain intestinal confusion.  Family togetherness!   Give me exile and opprobrium!  But they ate dinner.+  Indeed the loopy and painful creation of this entry was interrupted by Chaos at my elbow.  They had lunch late++ so I was going to give them supper late so they wouldn’t be threatened by food again too soon.  But Chaos came round and started banging my elbow with his head.  Yo.  Bang.  It’s past dinner time.  Bang.  We’re hungry now.  Bang.  If you wait half an hour we may have got over it.  Bang.  –Not to mention trying to type when your right arm keeps crashing forward and caroming off the screen.  Okay.  Fine.  Whatever.  I duly fed them.  And they ate.  It’s a good day after all. 

+ Yes, I fed them.  If I didn’t feed them every time they had a minor confusion they really would forget how to eat. 

++ Hey!  I was working! . . . Well.  I was staring at a computer screen. 

^^ And 4,012 folk tales 

^^^ sic    

# I have to hurtle hounds and write a blog entry.  

## One of these years I’m going to remember to stand in front of my self-adjusting clock and watch its digitals fwump.  It’s far more amusing to watch a clock with hands whirr around, but my self-adjuster is part of my little kitchen-window weather station, from which I derive a great deal of innocent pleasure and devastating betrayal, and it seems extreme to buy a self-adjusting clock with hands to forget to watch it adapt to the local time lords twice a year. 

### No, I’m not going to tell you, because unless she blows the last hundred pages—and it will surprise me very much if she does—I will blog about it.  

= Through the patchy lace of what I fondly believe is more bed canopy than cobwebs> 

> Miss Havisham?  Never heard of her 

** Stop turning my ow ow ows into o wow o wows you idiot programme 

*** This doesn’t do you any good.  They never give you a credit.  They always send you more plants.  Sometimes they send you extra, in apology.  And gods help you if you protest before the originals have actually croaked I ended up with about six dozen random dark maroon pelargoniums two years ago because I wanted Lord Bute and they kept sending me random dark maroon pelargoniums and I kept saying, these are not Lord Bute!  They’re just random dark maroon pelargoniums!, whereupon they would send me more.  Fortunately winter got most of them, but I have one in flower right now on the kitchen windowsill at the cottage.  It’s a very nice . . . random dark maroon pelargonium. 

† I used to be the kind of gardening snob who insisted on going to Chelsea.  http://www.rhs.org.uk/Shows-Events/RHS-Chelsea-Flower-Show/2010

Then I became the kind of garden obsessive who insisted on going to Hampton Court. http://www.rhs.org.uk/Shows-Events/Hampton-Court-Palace-Flower-Show/2010  Now I stay home with the hellhounds and Peter breathes a sigh of relief every year.  I don’t need any more ideas about things to do with my garden(s), I have too many ideas now.

Guest post by Ajlr

On being cack-handed 

When I was sitting on the edge of the bed the other morning, trimming my fingernails, I was once again mildly exasperated about the way the nail-scissors only work really well when I’m holding them in my right hand to do the nails on my left hand. When I hold them in my left hand, the way that the blades are aligned means the cut for my right hand is much less accurate. I know that everyone will have a similar problem, no matter whether they’re right- or left-handed but to a left-hander like me it’s one of a series of little exasperations about living in a right-hand dominated world. 

Now I’m not for a moment saying that this exasperation is in the same class as, say, my total bemusement at the current failure of national leaders to act on the need to move quickly to low-carbon economies, or my deep dislike of the way so many people see animals as toys or weapons rather than fellow living creatures with needs of their own, or the way that so many of my fellow humans act as though education was something to be avoided if possible, or… Well, you get the picture anyway. No, what I’m exasperated about is the way that so many attitudes, not to mention manufactured goods, assume that being right-handed is the right and only way to be. There’s that slightly suspicious tone in the ‘Oh, you’re left-handed’ comment that one often gets, as though one is thereby likely to run amok at any moment and start re-ordering the world away from the Right Path. Because language and attitudes do so often seem to assume that right is right, if you know what I mean. European languages (I can’t speak of any others) often have an inbuilt assumption that being right-handed is the correct way to be configured. To be ‘adroit’ is to be nimble, whereas to be ‘gauche’ is to be clumsy. To be ‘sinister’, heaven help us (from the Latin word ‘sinestra’ meaning ‘left’ as Wikipedia notes, along with a wealth more information about the condition) is even more of a problem! And would you really like to know that you were cack-handed? 

My own realization that I was different from most of my peers came when I was about seven. We had just been introduced at school to joined-up writing and I can remember we were really excited about the fact that we were going to be taught italic writing with special nibs for our pens (yes, I know, but the world was made of such small excitements for a child in the 1950s! J ). When the special nibs arrived, guess what…? Yup, they were all for right-handers. It took the school around a month to realise the need and then get hold of a couple of left-handed nibs for me and the other sinister person in my year. We were encouraged in the meantime to ‘try hard and use a pen the right way’ but, as you can probably imagine, this was not a wild success. 

As I grew up and came into contact with more things that had a right-handed bias I became first tetchy and then – making a virtue out of necessity – proud that I was a left-hander and therefore slightly different. I don’t know if anyone else can remember doing something similar while growing up or whether it was a purely personal foible, but I used to make little lists of the ways in which I was different to the majority. Left-handed, check; O-negative blood, check; naturally fair hair (in those days…), check; can-see-things-really-close-to-that-others-can’t, check; probably a princess or a genius in disguise, check… It’s a great game as long as one doesn’t take it too far or too seriously! 

The first left-handed problem that really stymied me occurred around the age of 14, when my mother yielded to my requests to teach me how to knit. Both she and my grandmother were accomplished knitters and I wanted to be like them. However, both of them were also right-handed and we were all a little bemused that I couldn’t get the same results as them with the way that I held the wool and the needles. Try as we might, what I did just didn’t work smoothly. OK, I could produce, with much labour, something that was technically a knitted scarf but I wasn’t really sure that it had any other desirable virtues. It would probably have strangled me, in revenge for the torture of its creation, if I’d tried to wind it round my neck. (These days, with the wonders of YouTube resources and others, I’ve seen that there are many ways to hold the wool and needles and for a left-hander to knit beautifully. However, the wave has passed, rather, and I’ll probably stick to occasional crochet now.) 

I’m not such a total left-hander as some people are. I use cutlery the same way that most people do – apart from the use of a teaspoon when eating a boiled egg. In such instances the spoon has to be in my left hand as I’ve had too much egg on my face in the past to do it any other way now! When using a computer mouse I’ve trained myself to use either hand even though I started off with it in my left hand. This makes life more comfortable at times when a lot of mouse-use is demanded. A left-hand mouse setup frustrates colleagues who may try to demonstrate something on a PC I’m using too, so I try to make it easier for the poor sad one-handed things. J I wish someone could get the banks to make the chains on the counter pens longer though. 

Kitchen knives are a bit of a bugbear. You didn’t know that nearly all knives are ground for use by right-handers? Well they are, and if one’s stronger/cutting hand is the left-hand, then you get better and safer results if you use a knife made for a left-hander. It’s a similar situation with can-openers. If I use an ‘ordinary’ can-opener, I can either feel the strain in my (weaker) right-hand through trying to use it the way it was designed, or have to reach over, awkwardly, and do it back-to-front. Thank heavens for sites such as this one

One of the areas in which left-handers are apparently supposed to have stronger abilities is spacial awareness. I’ve heard that a lot of architects are left-handed, although I don’t know enough of them to try taking a poll. Of the two I’ve asked, one is left- and one right-handed, so as left-handers only make up 5 – 10% of the population, I suppose that may indicate a degree of truth in the idea. I’m not sure that my own ability to visualise shapes and hence my liking for jisaw puzzles is part of the same thing or not. Probably not. 

So I shall continue to fuss, periodically, about the unconscious assumption by the majority that their way of physically doing things is the only way, while at the same time feeling mildly bemused at how many areas the difference affects. And I shall go on enjoying my left-handers’ view of the world, as being an aid to deliberate awkwardness when needed!

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