While Hamas and Israel have been throwing deadly sticks and stones at one another yet again, and causing the deaths of many civilians caught up in the mess seemingly without end, all over the world there is another silent army connected by the Internet, working tirelessly to another end. The rockets and bombs from the Gaza protagonists have been fuelled by self-righteousness, and aided and abetted by long-held enmity and strife over real estate, ideology and misconceptions about God and whose side he is on. The Mosaic commandment, “love they neighbour as thyself” has been forgotten.
Getting back to this unseen society, neither Mr Bush, nor the Israelis or for that matter Hamas are aware of its threat to the bellicose men of this world. No, it is not a religious order or an armed struggle. My wife belongs to this covert group and receives packages regularly from around the globe. Our post office mistress, if I may use this antiquated name, often recounts to me that she has received yet another parcel of “crack” as she has often heard my wife calling her secret packages.
On Friday I went to the post office with her to get a parcel. When she got back in the car, I saw it had foreign stamps on it and a green label from Customs. She unwrapped it hurriedly and then streaked with joy. “You’ll never guess what this is, Roger!” she exclaimed. I add here that it is my job usually to guess the species whence the stuff comes. I made some outlandish guesses all to no avail. “It’s musk ox. This is the crack of the knitting world”. Now I never would have guessed musk ox. Angora, yes, mohair, yes, llama, yes but musk ox, no.
She belongs to an international internet group of knitters and our house is, dare I mix metaphors, awash in wool and even some wool that has not been washed or is “raw”. I have occasionally unwittingly opened a cupboard to find myself on the floor under half a ton of wool. Now she is no ordinary knitter but a “black belt” knitter of socks using five thin bamboo needles and daily she communicates with fellow knitters across the globe. They are mostly women but even knitting knows no gender boundaries. For non-knitters the five knitting needles are removed before you wear them lest you end up in an orthopaedic ward.
I don’t know if you know what a musk ox looks like but is a great hairy sullen-looking beast with long curling horns that is usually found up to its waist in snow somewhere near the Arctic Circle. We Australians are used to scenes of shearers hunched over, holding a sheep between their legs while with one hand they shear off the wool in one large connected layer we call a fleece. Now if you try that with a musk ox you’ll soon find yourself in an ambulance. I leave the rest to your imagination and you will see why musk ox wool is so dear.
The prevailing spirit of this coven of knitters is their generosity. When my wife was having treatment for breast cancer over eighteen endless months, one lady from Scotland sent my son a maroon Harry Potter jumper/sweater she had lovingly knitted complete with his initial, “K” on the front. Daily emails from fellow knitters kept my wife afloat at times I thought she’d sink under the appalling and seemingly endless burden of her treatment.
As a sailor who loves the hand-knitted cabled Aran jumper I wear at sea, I pay tribute to the women of Norway, Scotland, and many nearby islands who until recently, knitted their fishermen kinsmen jumpers with special patterns to identify them and also their bodies when they were lost at sea. Sleeves were reknitted when they wore out and they were passed on from father to son.
With regards the Vikings, the cloth they used for sails was not linen or cotton but wool from a special sheep with very oily fleece, and made by women on a loom. This had special properties of water resistance and stretch which imparted to the sail a curve which in turn allowed the longship to point closer to the wind than any ship for hundreds of years after.
If only the leaders of Hamas and the Israelis could settle down to some sock knitting for their children instead of the rampaging of indiscriminate fire and brimstone of their anger, and trade wool and advice. It is impossible to knit in anger. It is an act of love and patience, done in contemplation and not without its mistakes and undoing at times. The end-product is warmth and loving which clothes and comforts the soul. It is a complex art that would befuddle the minds of most world leaders and is folly to the haughty. It is no small matter to make something in three dimensions with a bend in the middle for the heel and to fit the foot of your child or husband. Indeed “turning the heel”, as knitters say when they fashion the heel, requires serious intellectual function including memory, mathematics, geometry and physics, not to mention physical skill, the right tension etc and much more than is required in the aiming of a rocket by computer or the dropping a bomb from ten thousand feet using GPS.
There is a hymn I sang today which ends like this:-
“Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm,
O still small voice of calm.”
Dr Roger K.A. Allen
Sunday, 11th January 2009