Saturday, January 31, 2009

Red Sky in the Morning

I'm definitely a lark, a morning person. I usually wake early and prefer doing the bulk of my activities in the morning. The mornings are my own special time. No one to bother me, space to do what I need to do and no one using all the bandwidth on the bloody computer.

Today the morning gave me a gift too - the most beautiful sunrise. I looked out and saw that the sky was streaked with pink, blood red and pale orange. The horizon positively glowed with the still darkened houses silhouetted against it. The effect was transitory though and within three minutes the sky was a uniform pale grey, the sun having risen weakly on a cold winter's day.

I did manage, however, to take a photo of nature's ephemeral light show. I showed it to Flora who responded with the adage' Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning.'. We shall see.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Literacy, Numeracy and Laminatecy (ahem)

My new job involves testing other people - from teenagers to middle aged people - to assess their level of numeracy and literacy. Regardless of their age or intelligence, people typically greet this prospect with a resigned grimace. No one likes a test and no one likes to find out they are innumerate or illiterate. I, on the other hand, have the advantage of sitting there quietly while they go through this ordeal, thanking my lucky stars - truly dyscalculic as I am - that I'm not having to do the test.

This week, however, the boot has been on the other foot. I decided that I should show solidarity with my learners and attempt the numeracy test myself. So I sat at my desk, took a deep breath and worked through the paper. This was a brave move on my part as maths, or rather my lack of ability in and fear of maths, has been the bain of my life. I didn't 'get it' at all as a schoolgirl and after a while the teachers simply lost interest in me, leaving me without an O' level in Maths. The very thought of having to do arithmetic makes me hands sweat and my heart skip a beat.

It was only when I was in my late teens that I discovered a teacher with the skills to help me and by then I had gained enough confidence to ask for help. In all other respects I was an intelligent enough girl but my utter fear of maths dented my confidence severely. What it did give me however was a valuable insight into what life is like for people who find learning totally bewildering and compassion and understanding for them.

I managed to answer most of the questions but a couple about ratio and converting Euros to sterling I found impossible. So I was surprised to discover that I had achieved Level One and was only one point away from Level Two. This means my arithmetical ability is on a par with a nine year old but, let's face it, that's all I need. It was relieved not to be deemed Entry Level!

Today it was the turn of literacy. I started a course in teaching adults today, for which must have a Level Two standard literacy. As an English graduate and one time copywriter and press officer, I expected to be at least Level Two but I was quietly concerned that some terrible inadequacy would be revealed by the test.

We took the test online wearing headphones, going through questions that involved clicking on the correct answer. The test was simple enough but all the way through I had a nagging concern that I hadn't clicked convincingly enough on the answers and would thereby be rendered a dunce.

Well, I'm glad to report that not only am I reasonably numerate, I am also reasonably literate. I feel now I can set my learners their tests and know that I've been there too.

However in one area of my work, I remain incompetent. I was laminating some documents today and started to wonder what else one might be able to laminate. In a spirit of exploration I took some old pencil shavings, emptied them into a laminating pocket and fed them through the machine. Standing there smugly contemplating the astonishingly innovative work I was about to produce I suddenly realised that nothing was coming out of the machine. and there was a suspicious smell of hot plastic. The reason? It seems I should have put a piece of paper in the pocket and then placed the shavings on top not just shoved a load of shavings into a pocket!

Hurriedly I turned off the machine and, panicking, turned to my colleague Sharon for help. She has huge long acrylic nails with which she was able to prise the shrivelled and melting laminating pocket from the mechanism. I was heartily relieved not to have to confess to our facilities manager that I had busted the laminator by, er, seeing what laminated pencil shavings would look like.

Really I should be praised for my innovative approach to the science of lamination, as I would if I were working at Apple or Google. I reckon they would admire me for 'thinking outside the box' (as we business types like to say). In fact I bet they positively encourage their staff to experiment with the laminator, photocopy their private parts, write 'arse' on the noticeboard and stick paper clips up their noses. . And my pencil shavings did look rather cool!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Shoes, glorious shoes!

I received the maintenance payment this week from ex-h, so decided the time was ripe for taking Flora out to buy some new school shoes. I usually take her the Start-Rite shop in Harpenden where the two delightful Greek Cypriot owners fuss around her, offer her sweets and always find just the right shoe that fits wonderfully. However time was not on our side so I took her to Clark's in Dunstable, where the choice is somewhat limited.

Her feet were measured on their all singing all dancing machine and size 5 and a half was decided upon - the same size as me as it happens. Then I made the fatal error! I suggested that as her feet were adult size, it might be worth perusing the adult shoes too. Excited, Flora took a look at the choice in the exciting adult area and set her heart on a particular pair. At the same time we asked the assistant to show us some of the children's shoes in her size. The assistant emerged from the stockroom with three different styles, one of which I felt was suitable. Unfortunately the adult shoe was not available in Flora's size and I decided to plump for the least offensive, and actually rather nice, child's shoe.

That's when all hell broke loose! Flora was fuming and said she hated the shoes and would not wear them. I just looked at the assistant, gave her a wry and knowing smile and said we would have them. Cue more remonstrating from Flora and a wack across the legs with her boots for me! By this point I was furious with her, especially as she was telling the whole shop how much she hated me. To be fair, most people gave me sympathetic smiles - I'm clearly not the first person to be in this position.

On the way home I was accused of buying the shoes simply to be unkind and apparently I had smiled at the assistant when Flora said she didn't like them and had decided to buy them simply because she hated them. She was not going to wear them and that was that. I was horrible, unkind, unfair and never let her have anything she wanted.

I told her she was bloody lucky she wasn't me when I was her age. My shoes were purchased in Gordon Scott, a big old-fashioned shoe shop in Watford that sold Start-Rites. It's now in the Harlequin Centre but in those days it was on the High Street. I had wide feet with narrow ankes and high insteps so the only shoes for me were called Gina. Oh how I loathed them and oh now disappointed I was when every year the assistant would bring out Gina, yet again! The very name Gina fills me with despair even now.

The assistant did not ply me with Opal Fruits or even smile at me. She was a a very stern German lady with steel grey hair in a bun and a ferocious attitude to selling shoes. If I as much as dared to complain she would slap my legs and say 'In my day we had to wear hob nail boots'. I think my parents were as scared of her as me!

The sad thing is that from my earliest days, I had a passion for shoes. There are photos of me as a small toddler clerking about in my Mum's shoes and at five I remember having a burning desire for a pair of 'clip clop shoes'. I even used to swoon over my grandmother's little square high heels. In those days shoes were an even bigger outlay as a percentage of income, especially as my parents weren't particularly well off, and so your school shoes were it - for school and play. You might have one pair of bumpers if you were lucky but mainly you wore your school shoes as evidenced by photos of me as the school May Queen, all bedecked in flowery loveliness but with my Gina's peeping out from underneath the pretty dress my mother had made.

I've made up for this in later life by indulging my passion for shoes, as much as my income allows me too. And so I have pink shoes, flowery shoes, red shoes, little flat shoes covered in flowers. I love beautiful shoes and find myself hyperventiling when I see a pair I like. And so, I do have some sympathy for my horrible one, who incidentally apologised once she'd cooled down, and have agreed to take her to a bigger town centre where the selection is better and see if we can find a compromise pair. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 23, 2009

To tuck in or tuck out, that is the question?

Tucking in has always felt to me the height of nerdiness. It shows a want of style and a sort of fastidiousness that borders on the obsessive. You tuck a baby's clothes in to keep its little belly warm but no self-respecting fashionista goes around with her clothes tucked in - or does she?

Leafing through the Guardian fashion section I see, to my surprise, a model wearing jeans with her blouse tucked in. On her it plays stylishly on the border between prim and sexy, mostly on account of her endless legs, washboard stomach and small waist. Believe me, if I walked around with my blouse tucked in my jeans, I'd look like I was playing with the boundaries between care in the community and Bonne Marche.

To reject tucking in denotes loucheness, the idea that you've had to put your clothes on in a hurry because you've been doing something much more interesting, that you're abandoned, artistic and really rather sexy. Tucking in is for wimps, for people who are dressed by their mothers and for grey men like John Major was was said to tuck his shirt into his underpants - nuff said really.

To be honest, there are times when tucking in does come into its own. I sometimes tuck my thermal vest (I know, but it is quite a chi-chi one, if I do say so myself) into my trousers but always make sure I have something untucked on top so that I'm not caught committing the tucking in crime.

But when it comes to it, if tucking in is the new tucking out, this woman's not playing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Poet

I went to my parents' house yesterday to pick up the children after work and was just in time to see the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The five of us sat there, rapt, as he spoke. Before us was an orator of breathtaking ability, who touched me at a visceral as well as intellectual level. There he stood - still, solid, planted in the ground - and spoke in a way that was at once direct but deeply poetic.

What struck me forcibly was that Obama speaks in Biblical cadences as though he has absorbed the Kings James. Again and again I was moved by the sheer poetry of his utterances, which for me almost superceded their meaning. But then as much as Barack Obama is a man who must act immediately and powerfully in extremely trying times, he is also, like poetry, symbolic; a potent symbol of how the world has and can continue to change for the better. To see a black man take the oath in a country where fifty years ago a black person could not even go into the same cinemas as a white person or had to stand up on the bus if a white person boarded , was the most hopeful and deeply moving thing I have seen for a long time.

Let's hope that he can live up to the poetry of his promises, is allowed to fulfill his dreams and that all the hope and joy that so many people have felt on his success isn't found to be hollow. I for one hope not.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Carwash Art

Last weekend was to be honest rather dull. The children were away visiting their father and I was doing jobs that I don't like doing but have to be done. However one asset I have is the ability to make my own fun. And so it was that I ended up in the carwash taking photos.

The day before I had taken my camera out and gone up on to Dunstable Downs to take photos of Pascombe Pit and the Five Knolls. I took so many pictures of Pascombe Pit however that once I got to the Knolls my battery gave out. So the next day I tried again and attempted to take some moody photos of the Knolls. The fact that my elongated shadow looked unsettlingly like a penis gave, I felt, my pictures of the neolithic barrows that extra 'Wicker Man' touch.

As I came towards my car, I saw that it was covered in splatters of mud and a layer of fine yellow dust so I decided to make a trip to the carwash. Carwashes are boring places to be - your radio doesn't work, there's not much to see and you just have to sit it out. Except that it is also rather exciting. I always wonder whether, if I decided to get out, I'd be flayed alive by the brushes or if I'd just emerge beautifully coiffed and sparkling like Penelope Pitstop in 'The Wacky Races'. I'm always a bit worried that the sensor in the dryer will malfunction and it will come crashing through my window and decapitate me and I'm always struck by the thunderous beauty of the brushes as they make their soapy progress along my car.

And yesterday I had my camera so what better than to try and take some photos. What has surprised me is how beautiful some of them are. The droplets of water look like stars while the blue brushes provide a profound yet delicate background. Two people have described it as looking like supernovae or similar in space. I'm tempted now to visit a carwash with different coloured brushes to see what interesting affects I can get.

Finally, I'm always struck by the fact that carwashes are made by a company in Germany called Christ. Surely it's significant that you go into the great glass canopy and have to stay there until you are cleansed when you emerge fresh and ready to face life. Could I be the first person to see the light in a carwash? Not likely but you never know.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taking MY name in vain!

In a moment of fanciful egotism, I decided to make a Facebook friend of a girl in South Africa with exactly the same name as me. I was interested as although my first name Jenny is a bog-standard, traditional English name, my surname is somewhat unusual. My family history research has shown me that, nine times out ten, I can trace someone with the same surname to a common ancestor in fairly recent history.

Today though I had something of a shock. The other Jenny said in her status that she was 'excited about the hand gun course. Gonna shoot ya all down bitches :-). ' Seeing MY name attached to this statement made me feel quite weak at the knees. I immediately told my colleagues who knowing me could see why I would find this rather, well, unsettling. I am a vegetarian, abhor the idea of shooting at things for fun, am a pacifist at heart and, an Aquarian through and through, fancy myself as secretly unconventional, idealistic and given to thoughts of good will among men (these are the good bits about being an Aquarian by the way!). I am definitely not the sort of person who would say 'Gonna shoot ya all down bitches' - even with a smiley at the end.

Of course other Jenny isn't me just because she has the audacity to have my name, which may I add I had first! But somehow I felt my name embodied Jenny-ness which isn't about shooting fluffy animals and waving guns around. I am probably being unfair as other Jenny at no point mentions shooting animals or using guns in a dangerous way. But as someone who even feels sorry for clay pigeons, shooting is an anathema to me.

Sensibly I must accept that my name is a label and there is nothing intrinsically 'me' about it. Language, as all we post-structuralists know, is arbitrary and slippery. There is no relation between object and signifier except that which we impose upon it. Therefore it is silly and rather pointless to get sniffy and possessive about my own label. Except I do! You wanna mess with my label, yeh? I'm gonna shoot ya all down bitches!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

He's just not that into you

I've never understood men. I was brought up in a very female dominated family and while I get women, I've never 'got' men. I don't understand what motivates them, what they are trying to communicate or any of the secret signs that some women seem to have an implicit understanding of.

So I was rather interested when a friend gave me a book called 'He's just not that into you' by Greg Behrendt and Lisa Tuccillo. Both authors have worked on 'Sex and the City' as writers and it's a frothy piece of work but the basic premise is that you should not waste your life and efforts on a man who basically is 'just not that into you' or think you can change a man to make him 'into you'. It just ain't gonna happen, so don't even try.

Three of us have read this book and all of us have had 'problems' with men. None of us is ugly (I flatter myself) and one of us is a shameless and incorrigible flirt who gets a lot of male attention as a result. I think I am the world's most useless flirt but find that I accidentally attract people I'm not interested in, whereas those I am don't even seem to know I exist.

The book tells you that if a man says he was too busy to call you, it's not because he is terribly under-pressure and important (I've made it sound rather English here but it's actually more New Yorkish) it's because - yeh, you guessed it 'He's not that into you'. If a man wants to be your mate, then again you are not going to convert this into a passion for you as if he was 'into' you, he would want to be more than your friend. Don't be fooled either by the 'I'm not ready' one because if he was 'into' you, boy would he be 'ready'. It also tells you not to ask a man out (as if!!) as if a man is 'into' you, he'll ask you and then you know he is.

I couldn't decide whether the book was depressing or liberating. It's depressing to think that it's all done and dusted in the first interractions and there is bugger all you can do about it. But it's liberating to think that you can save a lot of time and stop agonising about situations that are not going to reap dividends for you. Greg Behrendt spends a lot of time reassuring his female readers that they are beautiful and special and deserve to be treated well and should not twaste their time on men who don't treat them like they're special and gorgeous.

As someone who has spent not months but years on someone who didn't consider me special in any way at all and who I erroneously thought I could change by being somehow better myself, this last thought is attractive but somehow I can't quite believe it's possible. I can't imagine anyone at the moment thinking I was special or gorgeous. Indeed last night I dreamt that someone was in love with me (no one I knew) but he was constantly sneering at me and telling me that I wasn't doing well enough. At times he wouldn't even speak to me and I wondered if he was 'into' me at all. So you see, Behrendt's premise requires a huge paradigm shift for the walking wounded such as me.

His co-author Lisa Tuccillo definitely thinks the theory works:

'There is something great about knowing that my only job is to be as happy as I can be about my life, and feel good as I can about myself, and to led as full and eventful a life, so that it doesn't feel like I'm just waiting around for some guy to ask me out. And most importantly, it's good for us all to remember that we don't need to scheme and plot, or beg anyone to ask us out. We're fantastic.'

I am thinking I might bring out a rejoinder to this book called 'You're just an arsehole: what women are really saying'. If a woman buys you aftershave and deodorant she's telling you that you stink, if she offers you a mint or some chewing gum it means your breath smells, if she asks you if she looks fat in something, she wants you to bolster her confidence not look her up and down and tell her where her flabby bits are. Oh and if she says 'I'm really flattered that you like me but.....' she's 'just not that into you'.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy Birthday Patrick xxx

Patrick is 15 today. I remember the day he was born very clearly still. I was due on the 3rd January and spent Christmas looking like Babapapa. On the 4th the labour pains started and 24 hours later on the 5th Patrick was born by Caesarian section. It was a difficult and prolonged labour and I was exhausted but full of joy at bringing into the world such a beautiful baby boy. From day one he was a sweet natured, pearly, contented baby and he continued to be such and still is.

But at 15 he is also that hormonally deranged creature a teenager. So sometimes my lovely boy disappears and in his place is a grumpy, challenging slug who only a mother could love. And she does because I always know that this is just a phase, as hard as it is, that the boy I love so dearly and who is so special and precious to me is under there and will dispense with the slug. Today he kicked a hole in the wall and incurred my wrath (slug territory) but he also talked to me about Macbeth and enjoyed sledging down the hill in the snow. He is a conundrum but there seem to be lots around like him.

So we got together this evening and enjoyed a cake Flora and Mum made in the image of the moon on The Mighty Boosh. Patrick lit the candles (astonishingly the first time ever he had struck a match) and then in a moment of macho display put them out with his hand. I felt this said everything about boys of his age - the playfulness but the need to show that they are manly and tough. The challenge for me as a mother, particularly as a mother without a man in the house to help me bring up a boy, is to support and guide him so that these two sides to his character are melded in a way that will make him a good man who can love properly, live well, make the most his abilities and overall be a happy and contented person. As we lit the candles these were my wishes for my darling son.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

L I N E and Y N EN J play Scrabble

Last night, somewhat unwisely as I was under the dual influence of alcohol and MSG, I challenged my friend Neil, who was visiting, to a game of Scrabble. I love Scrabble and feel I ought to be good at it. I have a reasonably good vocabulary and love words but the sad truth is I am a poor Scrabble player. For Scrabble, it seems to me, is less about words and more about seeing the opportunities and I'm usually too busy thinking about the nice words I could make to see that points mean prizes.

Thus it was that Neil had a less than thrilling Scrabble opponent, particularly as my brain was somewhat addled. While he was making words like 'it' and 'on' and getting high scores, I was struggling to score over 5!

There is a shaming precedent for the absolute trouncing I received last night at Neil's Scrabbley hands. A few months ago we took to playing one another at the online game. The beauty of this is that you can go away and think about your 'go' , playing for time in a way you couldn't possibly do in real life. After all you have such an amazingly exciting and full life that you don't have time for online Scrabble for goodness sake. Why, you have the supermarket to visit and may even have to go to the toilet.

The other beauty of the online game is that you can 'test' your more unlikely words as the programme will reject them if they are not bona-fide words. So if, for instance, you think 'mig' could be a word (or at least you think it bloody well ought to be as you have M I and G on your rack) for say the hairs on your arms ('Oh my, I was that afraid my mig stood right up'), you can just plonk it in and see what happens. The other joy of online Scrabble is that there is the potential for, shall we say, educating oneself in the privacy of one's own home, ie: having a quick peek at the dictionary without your opponent knowing (tee hee). Neil however was soon on to me, particularly when I started coming up with Arabic words for wombat urine, dialect words for agricultural implements and two letter words for fish spleens.

Despite my tendency to use the online game as an opportunity for 'self-improvement', I still lost to Neil on almost every occasion. Though it pains me to say it, he's a much better Scrabble player than me but what care I? I made mincemeat of him at Pictionary. My stick drawing of Kate Winslet on the Titanic will go down in gaming history - a triumph of communication over style.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Miss A needs to live for a day

I've been reading a wonderful book called 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' by an author called Winifred Watson. It was published in the 1940s and is the story of how a dowdy spinster and unsuccessful governess Miss Pettigrew has her life changed in one day by a chance meeting with nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse. It is charming, frothy, beautifully written and insightful, one of those books which entertains so effortlessly that you hardly know you are reading it. I'd compare it to 'Cold Comfort Farm' or 'I Capture the Castle' - two of my favourite books.

Much is made of Miss Pettigrew being, oh my goodness, forty. At forty and not married it's clear that she might as well be in her coffin for all that is left of her life. There is much made of her age although in the end she finds happiness in a surprising way. Being over forty myself and feeling, yesterday at least, a bit washed up Miss Pettigrew chimed with me.

I was having one of my 'what will become of me?' days yesterday. I decided on a solo walk in the countryside to cheer me up but it had the opposite effect. I would have taken the children but taking Flora would have involved preparations akin to turning a tanker round and Patrick simply gave me one of his new withering looks. So it was that I found myself on top of the Downs in my wellingtons. I did enjoy my walk but unfortunately it did not empty my mind in the way that I hoped and I started to ruminate rather badly on the fact that I was a woman in her forties, on her own, unloved and undesired etc etc etc.

So I went home, cried a bit, read 'Miss Pettigrew' and took one of my tablets! Her Cinderella story seems a little unlikely but it did cheer me up. Perhaps I won't meet a nightclub singer who will transform my life but you never know, maybe this will be the year when Miss A lives for a day!!!!

Knitting - my New Year's Resolution

My relationship with the art of knitting has been a complicated one throughout my life. The experience of trying to learn to knit as a child was mainly an unhappy one yet I have always enjoyed watching others knit and harboured a desire to be able to master knitting myself.

My first exposure to knitting was the knitting sets an aunt used to send my sister and me. They comprised of a plastic container - more often in the form of a beehive (what else, bees are known the world over for their knitting prowess) - bendy plastic needles and some yarn. I would diligently try to learn but was hampered by my innate cack-handedness. Another aunt was an extremely good knitter, one of those people who take knitting to a more artistic level. However, not a patient teacher, she was frequently frustrated by my lack of dexterity. Her own daughters were, and are, very talented needlewomen and my aunt could not understand why I couldn't get it. The only person who could show me was my little Welsh grandmother. Her knitting was functional at best but she had the patience to show her awkward granddaughter what to do and found my clumsy attempts amusing rather than irritating.

What really put me off knitting were the knitting lessons at school. In hindsight, I suspect they only went on for a term but to me they felt interminable, an ordeal of humiliation and stress to be endured rather then enjoyed. The lessons were run by a stern old teacher called Miss Lyneham, who seemed extremely tall and rather forbidding to me at the age of nine. We were first told to select some yarn. I was a jolly but not terribly pushy child and found myself at the back of the queue for wool so that by the time I came to choose, all that was left was something stringy and off-white.

I gamely tried to knit my first square but it was clear from day one that I possessed no natural ability, unlike my friend who was on to a teddy while I was still trying to knit a decent teacloth! The lessons were purgatory, with Miss Lyneham inspecting our work and stalking around the room in predatory fashion as we sat there clicking our needles in silence. We were allowed to take our work home and every week I would bring mine to my mother who would undo my raddled knitting, wash the wool in a saucepan on the stove (I found the lessons so stressful that my clammy little hands would turn the already off-white wool a delightful shade of grey) and then knit it up again adding a few extra rows, though she herself was no great knitter. Every lesson, Miss Lyneham would look down her glasses at me and ask if my knitting was my own work. One only needed to look at the difference in quality between the my mother's knitting and the work I did in class to see that it patently was not! However I guiltily said it was and prayed not to be found out.

It was in my twenties that I really fell in love with the idea of knitting. Kaffe Fassett appeared on the television and I had an epiphany. Knitting is transpired could be artistic, edgy, a mode of self-expression far removed from my awful knitting lessons at school or the booties my aunt churned out for the latest baby. Kaffe may have been somewhat ambitious role model for a woman of my limited abilities but, optimistically, I was soon asking my grandmother to help me learn again. Inevitably my old knitting problems resurfaced. As I started to knit my work became tighter and tighter until only a pneumatic drill could move the stitches off the needle and I dropped so may stitches that quite often it looked more like crochet than knitting! I took to taking my knitting around with me, fancying myself as Kaffe of course. The result? Complete strangers would take pity on me and take my knitting from me to sort it out. So even if I didn't quite master knitting, I had some good conversations and quite a few rather nice rows added to my knitting. It was like Miss Lynham's class all over again!

In my thirties, my desire to knit resurfaced and again my grandmother tried to teach me. This time my knitting was a little better although still very tight. Eventually though I became despondent and gave up. So here I am a month shy of my 44th birthday and determined to knit once again. My dear Nan died a few years ago so I can't ask her to help me anymore. Last night my mother's friend, a very accomplished knitter, helped me. I was pleased to see that some of my Nan's lessons had stayed with me but it's clear I'm going to need plenty of practice, not least to loosen up a bit. I'm also taking advice from other knitting friends. Knitting has had a bit of a renaissance lately and is actually rather trendy. So again, I am seduced by the image of me sitting there with my knitting looking rather boho and folksy and in with the noughties zeitgeist of shabby chic and making your own. Anyone hoping to see me make something though will have a long time to wait. So far my knitting is a lumpy affair, all in garter stitch with a fair few holes! But who knows, by the time I'm 50 I might just be a proper knitter. Send your orders for scarves now but don't wait up!

When Jenny met Violet

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that meeting someone you've only ever known via the internet is both foolish and dangerous. However, that's exactly what I set out to do on Monday this week. To put it in context, I didn't feel as though I didn't know the person. I've been in virtual contact with Violet Fenn for a few months now - sharing our thoughts on this and that, our experiences of life, the things that hurt and concern us and having quite a few laughs in to the bargain. Added to this I 'knew' her from Bad Mothers Club and Facebook and felt that if she really was a psychopath, she'd gone to enormous lengths to create an identity for herself (or even himself)! And what an identity; a highly imaginative, individual person with a delightfully different take on life, the universe and everything. I reckoned that designing a fake persona that included making the wackiest soft toys ever and enthusing over hyperbolic crochet and vintage fabrics was too much for even the most determined loony.

So it was that I suggested we meet at Birmingham New Street. I was incredibly excited about meeting Violet and as I stood waiting for my train I wondered if she'd look as I'd expected (I'd seen plenty of photos of her), what her voice would be like and began to panic that I'd invented a Violet I liked and that the real person I was about to meet wouldn't be 'her'. We exchanged a few excited texts from our respective trains and the Violet who was texting certainly sounded like 'my' Violet but my heart was thumping and I wondered how people coped with internet dating. At least the person I was meeting wouldn't have any of those expectations of me!

Violet arrived slightly before me as my train was delayed. As the train stopped for the third time outside a station, I fell into conversation with a young man opposite me. I explained what I was doing and he asked if I would recognise my friend. I told him she had a mohican hair style which was the cue for Violet to text me to say 'don't look for the mohawk'. I needn't have worried, I recognised her immediately and was so overjoyed to meet up at last that I flung my arms round the poor woman.

It was soon as if we had never not met. We talked ten to the dozen (we both talk far too fast) and spent the next few hours getting to know the real people behind the internet personas. Except the internet personas were the real people in our case and I really did feel I was meeting someone I already knew. The sort of person with whom I could admire lampshades , grope Anthony Gormley statues and try on the worst wigs ever (one that made me look like a sort of demented version of Vivienne Westwood - no bad thing in my humble opinion).

I didn't forget though to ring my mother to inform her that Violet was not a murderer bent on tricking me into meeting her/him at a station and whisking me to a den of vice and violence. Violet equally rang her partner to inform that, contrary to worries the day before, I was not a 20 stone trucker called Brian.

Knowing Violet 'virtually' had already enriched my life but knowing her properly has put the tin hat on it! We both said that one of the wonders of the internet is that you make friendships with people that a) You might never have met - certainly true in our case and b) You might not ordinarily have become friends with. We felt that, had we met in the conventional manner, we would probably have liked one another but there are so many people that you do end up liking that you would never have thought of as a potential friend before.

Of course this is the beauty and equally the danger of the internet. Just as you can be judged for what you say and think rather than how you dress and present yourself, there is also the potential for people to be something they aren't at all and trick the trusting or naive. A very dear friend was caught out in this way in spectacular fashion and this certainly preyed on my mind as I made the trip to Birmingham. But overall, making 'virtual' friends has been a boon and if nothing else makes you realise that there lots of people out there thinking and feeling the same things as you, enjoying the same things, laughing about the things that make you laugh, suffering and enduring in the same way and from whom you can learn a great deal and really open up your world. Provided of course they don't try to murder you first!