Jim’s running (and knitting) for Refuge

VeufTricot

Who is this man? Well, some of you may know him as Veuf Tricot, author of the scabrous and witty column in UK magazine Simply Knitting. But I know him as Jim, husband of my good friend and colleague Jen. As well as being a teacher, writer, and all-round good egg, Jim is currently in training to run his first marathon in London on April 21st in support of Refuge — a UK charity which supports women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Not content with predictable methods of seeking sponsorship through through direct donations, Jim whipped out his needles and yarn and got to work to raise some cash. With the assistance of three great independent yarn dyers and, of course, the inimitable Jen, Jim has created a collection of three marathon-themed accessories, with all sales going towards his fundraising efforts. I recently caught up with Jim to hear more about the project.

Tell us about your three designs, and the inspiration behind them. 

It started off with an email from Sarah at Babylonglegs offering to do a special colourway to help with my fundraising efforts. We then both wondered about doing a pattern as well. This was on a weekend when I spent a lot of time waiting at traffic lights driving up to Manchester. I can’t imagine where the colour choices came from! . . .

ready2(The Ready Mitts will keep your hands warm during Winter training, and are knitted up in Fyberspates MCN sport)

. . .The choice of accessories was quite straightforward. Fingerless gloves are a must for winter running, so they are as much practical as decorative. Similarly, the hat had to serve the purpose of having a thicker brim than crown to keep my Prince Charles ears warm without running the risk of overheating. I also had visions of knitters cheering me along the marathon route in London swinging their scarves around their heads like continental football fans as I serenely loped past.

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(Jim’s ears are cosy in his Steady hat, knitted up in in Skein Queen’s beautifully rich and vibrant Saffron ‘Desire’ yarn)



This is your first marathon. What has been the most challenging aspect of the training?



The training itself is generally fine. It’s the worrying when I miss a session due to work, injury, illness, or simple exhaustion that’s the hard part. My real fear is that I won’t be sufficiently prepared. That and getting up on a Sunday morning to leave the comfort of a warm bed to pound the streets in the pouring rain.


Can you turn a heel?

I’ve turned my ankle on many occasions and turned stomachs, but I don’t think I’ve ever turned heads and never a heel.



ready1

Some adventurous marathon runners, like Susie Hewer, have found ways to knit and run simultaneously. Will you be attempting to combine these two activities?

No. I can’t do more than one thing at once. Before Christmas, I couldn’t run and look where I was going at the same time, so I found myself landing face-first onto the pavement. In my defence, it was dark and the recycling box I’d tripped over was black.



Veuf Tricot had a lot to say about the penchant for pompoms this past Winter. What is your knitting-trend forecast for the Spring? 


Cabled onesies inspired by Aran jumpers. Infantile, but traditional.



You have documented Jen’s focused obsession with all things teal-hued . . . but is there a particular shade of yarn that floats your boat? 


My appreciation of all things knitted for me is well documented. I don’t think there’s a particular single colour that I must have absolutely everything in. Having said that, I do like my green Fyberspates Gloucester Tweed socks and the Skein Queen Steady Saffron for the Steady Hat in particular.



steady2

Veuf Tricot documents the world of knitting with a certain amused detachment .  . . and yet you are a knitter and designer yourself, who is completely implicated in that world. What I am saying is that despite your occasionally scabrous remarks you clearly love knitting really. What’s your response? 


I am a knitter and designer, not a Knitter and Designer. While I’ve been satisfied with the outcomes thus far, I’ve no great affection for knitting itself. My being part of Knitterworld is probably more about my marriage than for knitting. I think that the columns I’ve done for Simply Knitting are a kind of alternative to love letters or poetry, neither of which are really me. Despite my antipathy towards Knitting, I still pay attention, take it all in and support her in her incoherent gibbering.

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(Jen will be supporting Jim wearing her Go! scarf, knitted up in Babylonglegs ‘semi-precious’ in a specially-dyed colourway)



Finally, tell us why you are running for Refuge?

Domestic violence is more prevalent within our society than most people realise. It’s not something you often see out in public, but something you learn about long afterwards. We have friends who have suffered domestic violence, or lived in fear of violence, and we simply haven’t known about it until much later on. Refuge work with mostly women and children to help them to escape from their abusive relationships and move on. Some funding for the services provided by Refuge comes from the public purse, but with budgets being cut, fundraising is becoming ever more important. I could have set up a monthly direct debit and been a supporter of the charity, but felt that I could do more.
The second reason is that Refuge has become a family charity. Both my sister and one of my brothers have run the London Marathon to raise awareness of Refuge and my sister-in-law has worked for them. Last summer there was a bit of an awkward family dinner with fingers pointed at both me and my other brother with cries of, “Who’s next?”
Of course, the main reason is that I have tried to escape from having to model for Jen’s blog. Unfortunately, it has all gone a bit wrong as I’ve had to model my own designs. Still, it will be worth it if I hit my fundraising target.

Thankyou, Jim!

Running a marathon is no small feat — living with another runner I know what a gargantuan emotional and physical effort the training takes and what a massive achievement it is to run that distance on the day. Jim’s fundraising target is £2,000. He has currently raised just over half that sum. Please support him and Refuge by purchasing the Ready, Steady, Go! ebook via Ravelry. For just five pounds you’ll receive three great patterns and help him reach his goal. If you prefer to make a direct donation, you can do so here.

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Refuge help run the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 08082000247. Call if you are worried yourself or about someone you know.

marathon

Though I wanted to be there to support Tom, I was really rather dreading the London Marathon. Given that Buchanan Street has been my only post-stroke experience of a busy city crowd, and that being in places in which one is constantly assailed by visual / auditory stimuli is now both difficult and scary for me, the thought of negotiating the noise and general confusion of London on marathon day was, frankly, terrifying. Thankfully, I did not have to face it on my own, and the one thing I was looking forward to was spending the day with Felix. As a carbo-loaded Tom squeezed himself onto a packed train to reach the race start at Blackheath, Felix and I pootled down a deserted Whitehall, to set up camp at the finish. Neither of us had seen the memorial to the Women of World War II which had been erected there in 2005, so we stopped to take a look.


The memorial is in the form of a giant bronze coat rack, festooned with the uniforms of women engaged in many different patriotic activities. It is a very arresting piece of public sculpture, and occasioned some debate. On the one hand, we found something tremendously moving in the monumental nature of the monument. The empty uniforms suggested quiet, collective endeavour and a dignified anonymity, made all the more striking by the memorials in close proximity, which celebrated individual military achievement with predictable bombast.


Felix and Field Marshal Brooke: Masters of Strategy.

On the other hand, though, there is something just a little troubling about the women’s monument. The discarded uniforms are just that: discarded. The uniforms had been put on; the duties appropriate to such uniforms had been performed, and then, post-war, women had resumed being themselves again. These clothes were chrysalises from which drab, be-uniformed creatures would re-emerge, butterfly-like, into the hyper-femininity of the late 1940s.


Dior’s famous ‘Bar’ suit (1947)

I have since read that, when designing the monument, the sculptor, John Mills, was “interested in the concept of these women hanging up their uniforms and going back to their normal lives after the end of the war” (my emphasis). What does that say about femininity and patriotic endeavour? Would the effect have been the same if the memorial depicted men’s uniforms? Is the New Look to blame? What do you think?

From Whitehall, we proceeded to St James’ Park, where we found a small hillock which would afford good views of the marathon’s closing minutes. Then, from her tardis-like rucksack, Felix produced an entire room.

Examining this photograph you may see: teapot containing freshly brewed tea, biscuit barrel containing tasty home-baked treats, Monkl clutching congratulatory golden banana, and mysterious brown paper packages, whose contents will be revealed later. But the most important items of note are 1) the comfortable folding chairs and 2) the singular lack of other people. These two items are closely connected. As the day went on, things grew busier and busier, but, whenever Felix unfolded those chairs, she created an instant oasis of calm around which the mêlée surged insanely. You will also note the lack of other people in all the photographs in this post. That is because I spent the day happily inured from the crowd in Felix’s oasis. Anyone who has been on a trip with Felix knows that she comes notoriously well-prepared. On Sunday she really outdid herself. While poor Tom pounded the streets, suffering from the heat, and struggling to find his own space among 36,000 other runners, we spent a relaxing couple of hours drinking tea, eating snacks, and knitting in the oasis.

An Italian bloke approached and asked to take a photograph of us in our oasis. We suspected we were being pigeonholed as marathon-day curiosities, English eccentrics quaffing tea through all eventualities, but we did not care.

mmmmm. Jam!


Then the runners started to come in. From our vantage point we cheered wildly, particularly when a brown-vested bloke went by at around the three hour mark. We then made our way over to Horse Guards Parade to retrieve the heroic runner. Tom made it in at a very good time of 3:05 – 7 minutes slower than his best marathon in Dublin a couple of years ago. It is fair to say that he did not enjoy himself – having trained all Winter in Scotland, it was really too hot for him. However, he cheered up immensely as soon as we got him to the pub and presented him with the contents of Felix’s brown paper packages.

Could it be . . . no really . . . could it possibly be . . .

A PIE?!

A homebaked sourdough-crusted rabbit pie, no less, with which Tom was the envy of the post-race crowd. This was swiftly polished off, washed down with a pint, and followed by . . .

A congratulatory wagon wheel! The snack choice of heroes!

Running a marathon really is an epic thing. Huzzah for Tom! And a big huzzah to Felix, too, for indomitable pie-baking, chair-carrying, space-creating, conviviality-inducing marathon-like achievements on Sunday!

Cheers, Felix.

gorse-ness

The van appeared at just the right moment. A few of you guessed that I’d been going through a difficult patch. It is important that I continue to keep track of my recovery, so I’m going to try to make sense of this ‘patch’ in this post. A few weeks ago, I was signed off from physio. Perhaps I should have been pleased, but it merely left me with a number of unanswerable hanging questions- did it mean I was ‘cured’, ‘recovered’?’ had my physical improvements now come to an end? Was this wonky, uncomfortable body as good as it was going to get? For the past 14 months, I had treated physio and exercise as my ‘job’ – and I was now forced to think about what the future looked like without it. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? During my final physio meeting, we talked about the many limitations and problems I still deal with, and I asked about approaching Headway (the charity whose literature I mentioned in this post). The response to my suggestion rather shocked me: in effect, I was told that I was not disabled enough to approach that organisation. “Stick with Chest, Heart and Stroke or the Stroke Association,” I was told, “they know the score.” I kept schtum at the time, but this exchange has stayed with me, and has been the source of much anger. In no sense was it my intention to access much-needed services that are there for folk who certainly require them more than I. But I have suffered a serious brain injury, and I spend every day dealing with its after effects. Why shouldn’t I contact a charity which is there precisely to support people with such problems, and whose provision, unlike the other two organisations mentioned to me, seems specifically geared toward younger people?

Then a couple of things rather dented my physical self-confidence. In the first Buster Keaton style incident, I became stuck in an “automatic” door. I was unable to extricate myself chiefly because of my weak left arm, and had to ask a bemused bystander to assist me. In the other incident, I lost my balance and fell against a wall. It was a nasty fall, and has left me with a badly bruised hip, and a painful lower back. In fact, my back – never a problem before my stroke – is now the source of perennial pain and discomfort, largely, I imagine, because of the general weakness of my left side, and my over-dependence on my right. I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with my body, the weakness, the wonkiness, and particularly the unpredictable refusal of my left leg to do what I tell it. My left side does not feel like “me” at all, and I have found myself repeatedly wishing that I had my “old” body back or even, in some very dark moments, that I could just get rid of the unruly leg. (I am ashamed to confess that there have been times when I have felt that I would rather have no left leg at all rather than the one I now have).

All of these things have brought home to me that the many problems of having a stroke are chronic rather than acute. Perhaps some things will still improve, but I am likely to have to deal with my physical weaknesses, auditory problems, terrible fatigue, and annoying impairments in what neurologists call ‘information processing’, for some time to come. It might seem bizarre to say that the easiest part of stroke recovery is the acute phase, but I really think this is the case: I experienced total left-side paralysis, but this was followed by improvements that were dramatic and in some respects exhilarating. There was a terror in having basic functions destroyed by the stroke, but a wonder that accompanied their reacquisition. I found a particular joy in my renewed physical understanding of the use and design of tools, in my ability to teach myself to use them, in my discovery that my body was infinitely adaptable and resourceful. Fourteen months down the line, I feel that I have rather lost that wonder and that joy, and, finding myself the owner of a body that remains painful, uncomfortable, unpredictable, and woefully lacking in energy, am left only with an unhealthy sense of physical frustration.

I suppose all that I am saying is that dealing with the acute phase of stroke is one thing; addressing stroke as a chronic condition is quite another. To be truthful, one of the things that kept me going while I was in hospital was the thought that my condition was not going to be chronic, that, unlike the clearly depressed folk I saw around me who were dealing with long-term neurological problems, I was going to get better. By working hard at my recovery, I decided, I would, in effect, make myself well. I now feel that, though they might well have helped me in the short term, such assumptions were really rather shallow and self-deluding. I think I thought that through the force of will, and hard physical effort, I was somehow able to recover the ‘old’ me. What I didn’t acknowledge was that there was no ‘old’ me anymore. I might have had the volition to work at the physio, but I was ignoring the massive rupture that the stroke had caused in my life. I remember a doctor telling me, about two months in, that he felt the facts of my stroke had not ‘sunk in’. I was very annoyed by this at the time – of course I knew I’d had a stroke – but perhaps, in a sense, he was right. I certainly wasn’t addressing the fact that my life was going to look very different.

The “old” me barely thought about her body. It was just there, unacknowledged, doing its thing, enabling me to walk two hundred miles across the North of England, get up and down Scottish mountains, and generally be in the places I loved. But now my body is intrusive and annoying. Why is my leg not working today? What does that peculiar headache mean? My eyes won’t focus – here comes the fatigue. Do I really need to rest again? The unpredictable body (and brain) are very tiresome, and dealing with them also has the effect of privatising one’s perspectives, compounding the loneliness associated with any chronic condition, and, at times, making one unpleasantly selfish. To be frank, it is hard to think about the bigger picture or other people’s feelings when you feel like shite.

To be short, then, I was in a fug: a fug produced by the pressing awareness that the many problems of my body and brain are, to one degree or another, chronic, and the fact that, in the absence of regular physio or other support, I was just going to have to get on with it on my own. A few interconnected thoughts have helped me to get out of the fug. The first was reminding myself that I am not on my own at all.

There are many, many wonderful things about Tom, but one of the best is that he is full of fun. Indeed, it is very hard not to have fun with him and Bruce about.



Watching Tom and Bruce this weekend, I thought about the sheer joy and exuberance they both find in physical experience, particularly outdoors.


I said in my third paragraph that I felt that I had lost the joy and wonder of the physical. But why? My body, although annoyingly different to what it was before, is still infinitely adaptable and resourceful. Like all bodies, it is still, in fact, in a process of becoming. And my legs, though unreliable, are certainly capable of hauling me up and down a hill. In fact, if I stopped thinking about how wonky and uncomfortable I was for a moment, I appreciated the pleasing this-ness of being outdoors — the sun on my body on a warm day, the crazy coconut smell of the gorse — probably more intensely than I did before my stroke.

Perhaps this all sounds trite and Pollyana-ish. Indeed, I have been irritated myself on more than one occasion by medical professionals telling me that one of the most important things I could do was to enjoy the moment and the simple things etc. I suppose it makes a difference if you arrive at these conclusions yourself, rather than having someone inform you, in terms that seem rather patronising, that it is amazing you can make the bed at all, or telling you to chew a raisin, and appreciate the raisin-ness of the raisin (this actually happened). Perhaps the point is that these things lacked context for me: I was really not arsed about whether or not I could make the bed, and the raisin-ness of the raisin meant nothing to me at all. Gorse-ness, however, is something else entirely.

It has helped me to turn a corner, anyway. And how nice to look forward to a Summer in which, with the help of Tom, and Bruce, and our new van, I shall enjoy much more of it.

And while we are on the subject of bodies and physical endeavour, please spare a thought for Tom on Sunday, when he will be running the London Marathon. We Northern rubes are praying for a cool day, and a good run. We’ll see you when we return from Babylon.

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