Wednesday, 21 April 2010


If you were to create an opera, there are certain subjects that lend themselves easily to the art form. Those two old chestnuts, Love and Death, tend to rule the roost, but every-so-often something wildly original comes along to surprise us all. So when my very excellent friend announced he was producing and directing an opera about knitting, I dropped a stitch.

‘Knitting?’ I asked. ‘Are you sure? Do you even know what knitting is? I can’t remember ever seeing you knit.’

‘One does not have to have lived through the experience one’s self in order to create an opera on the subject,’ he replied, rather tartly, I thought. ‘Puccini felt no need to become Japanese, Beethoven was never a prisoner, Gilbert and Sullivan were not compelled to become pirates.’ I bowed to his superior knowledge on how to create an opera, and waited for the reviews.

Well, not only was the opera a terrific success, but it went on tour....from Britain to Norway. And the link was?.... knitting and fishing.

It turns out, where there is fishing there is also knitting. The two are not mutually exclusive, and there is, of course, knitting where there is no fishing. Surprise, surprise, where there are sheep there is wool and hence, there is knitting. But knitting went particularly well with fishing because being on a boat was a cold, cold needed wool to keep warm. In Scotland, I know the two were even more closely entwined for a rather sombre reason. Different fishing communities invented different knitting patterns, and so if a fisherman were ever lost at sea, his body might be identified at a later date by the knitting pattern on his sweater.

Knitting was always an important skill in both countries in the past. Fishwives were able to knit as they went about their daily business, without even looking, ball of wool in their pocket, their hands always busy ....I’ve tried that while watching the news on telly and all I got was a big fankle.

Nowadays in Scotland, knitting is becoming trendy again, having gone through several decades of being for grannies. Nowadays, one can spot cool chicks on the Clockwork Orange (Glasgow’s underground system) knitting all sorts of gear....clothes, toys, bags, decorations. I once spotted someone with an entire basket of vegetables, all of them hand-knitted using a very straight-forward plain/pearl pattern....quite the thing.

However, I suspect the Norwegians are ahead of us in the knitting game in that it seems to be more common here. While I struggle away with my idiotic selection of needles, I never seem to produce anything that any sensible person might wish to wear. The TA is at a loss as to why I continue to knit, but I think it’s something to do with that old, engrained Presbyterian work ethic....I can’t just sit around and not be doing something. The trouble is, everything I make looks slightly mad, as though intended for some kind of avant-garde art installation. Every garment is extremely large and voluminous, fit only for a giant with a beer-gut. I have to PAY people to wear my creations.

By way of contrast, several Norwegian people I know of a similar vintage to myself are absolute knitting champs. They knock up a pair of two-toned, ribbed socks in the twinkling of an eye, they do nightmarish projects like individually-fingered gloves with intricate, four- colour patterns, they take their knitting to important meetings and manage to concentrate on major decisions while adding fluted edges and complex button-holes to any number of garments. They even knit on the bus...I mean really, you have to be enormously confident to get away with that kind of showing off.

I suspect they all learnt to knit very early on. Back in that ‘Barnehage’, otherwise known as a Kindergarten, they had several years, up until the age of about six, to perfect all kinds of skills, knitting being just one of them. So nowadays, when young Norwegians tell me they can’t knit, I think they are fibbing out of politeness, so as not to wound me.

Anyway, my friend’s knitting opera turned out to be a magnificent success in the UK, and was soon touring a variety of Norwegian coastal towns to rapturous reception. It would appear that if you want an opera to be successful, make sure it concerns something to which your audience can relate strongly.

Happy knitting.

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