On bucket lists and never saying never


With ref to recent comments:  I have never seen nor heard of a yarn shop that winds your yarn for you.  I sit here having a brief dizzy moment of thinking that maybe if, post-Brexit, the current government-facsimile** decides to follow up by expelling all citizens of the country that elected*** that fat ugly evil narcissist blowhard son-of-an-ebola-epidemic bastard%, if America has shops that wind your yarn for you, it might not be so bad . . . No.  It would be that bad.  I can’t deal with a life that doesn’t include striding over the Hampshire hills with a hellhound or three.  But the idea of a yarn shop that winds customer skeins does give me a moment of vacillation. 

And yes, I do have a swift, as readers of the old blog may remember, since I posted PHOTOS.%%  It is a beautiful object, and, furthermore, it prevents me from hanging myself in unwound skeins.%%%  I do not have a winder however because they’re scary.  I think I’d manage to hang myself after all, trying to use a winder.  As it is I’m remarkably inept with the swift.  It has a lovely rotating thingummy in the middle so you should be able to keep winding and it’ll spin around as you take up the yarn.  No.  If I do it that way I end up stretching my nice chunky 6 mm yarn down to cobweb laceweight.  If I stand over the swift I can probably make it spin more lightly but I don’t stand well, and winding yarn TAKES FOREVER.  Especially when your freaking skein is 400 metres.$  So I sit down comfortably, unwind a few spins onto my lap, and roll them up.  And yes, I regularly have to undo the KNOTS that somehow create themselves in my lap.  But at least I don’t—ahem!—wind up with—1,000,000,000 miles of laceweight.

* * *

And so . . . the insurmountable problem, even to a writer as creative as I am, is that this is my bucket list and my educational experience in never saying never, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to put it over for you in the mind-blasting manner it happened to me.  So you’ll just have to allow me some, er, rope here, or perhaps a very long skein of yarn . . .

How even to begin, for maximum impact?

I was at the Mauncester library last week.  I complain about the new library being mostly café, art gallery, local shows of something or other$$ and internet connections, but grudgingly admit that sitting in the caff and working one’s way through a pile of books one has pulled off the shelves—because there are still some shelves of books—and deciding which ones to take home is highly enjoyable, not least because the whole free book thing never gets old.$$$

The only drawback is that a lot of high-school-level tutors meet their students there and sometimes the noise level gets a little extreme.  Usually it’s fine and occasionally I kind of get off on listening to some poor bloodless-faced& teenager trying to find their way through thickets of algebra or chemistry.&&  These are also the pairs that tend to get a little loud as the tutor loses confidence and the student loses consciousness.

Last week I was reading the first few pages of a murder mystery and I overheard someone speaking Japanese.  I can still pick up the sound of Japanese—I mean from any of the other Oriental languages that might sound something like it—but we get yonks of Japanese tourists here every year, so no big.  Except that . . . I looked up.  And there was a woman talking to a teenager with a book and an open laptop between them.  They didn’t look at all like tourists.

At this point, background, for all of you recent readers of McKinley, either blog or book, or, possibly, revision, for those of you with better things to do than remember author histories.  I was a military brat, my US Navy father was posted overseas, we spent five years in Japan when I was a kid.  One of the great shaping experiences of my life was coming back to America at the end of that five years and discovering it was no longer home.  I was gaijin, I didn’t speak the language, and with curly blonde hair and hazel-green eyes I couldn’t begin to pass even if I kept my mouth shut and wore a hood . . . but Japan and the Japanese and Japanese culture had totally got under my skin, and have stayed there.  I’ve fooled around with the idea of taking Japanese language lessons any number of times over the years but circumstances, finances and courage have never successfully combined in the same place at the same time—Japanese is not one of the usual adult-ed catalogue offerings and I have NO gift for languages, make that NO NO NO gift for languages, and it’s taken me a lot of years to resign myself to the fact that I seem to be most drawn by the things I have NO GIFT FOR.  Feh.&&&

And readers of the old blog will remember that I sweated a lot over the half-Japanese character in SHADOWS.  At the time I even looked seriously into Japanese language lessons—but they aren’t to be had in the wilds of Hampshire, are they?  They aren’t.  And I have neither the time, stamina nor money to commute to London for the privilege . . . and also, speaking of courage, I quail at the idea of going to that much effort to attend a class I will be the bottom of.  Sigh.  And I thought I could probably get away with the few sentences of Japanese that Taks says because he hasn’t spoken it in several years.  And—as I told the old blog—I didn’t, quite.  I had a few emails from real Japanese speakers saying, er, um. . . . Before I started writing SHADOWS, and Taks showed up, because, as I keep telling you, I don’t make up my stories, they come to me to be written, and the Story Council was really, ahem, pushing the envelope sending me a character who needed to speak Japanese—before then I had mostly figured out that taking Japanese language lessons wasn’t going to happen in this life.  And since I never write sequels, the fact that I can’t write a sequel to SHADOWS unless I have a proper Japanese speaker to help me DOESN’T MATTER.

It’s even become official.  When I talk about stuff that isn’t going to happen in this life, one of the examples I use is learning Japanese.

You see where this is going.  You see where I hope this is going, since it hasn’t quite got there yet.

So, sitting in the library last week, I decided that I was imagining that the woman was speaking Japanese in a tutorial manner to someone who certainly looked like a student.  I know perfectly well what Japanese sounds like.  But because I was about to have an assumptions-shattering experience it was easier to decide I was hallucinating.  But I went on listening, and I heard her say ‘Tokyo’ and ‘samurai’.  IT HAD TO BE JAPANESE.

Now try to imagine how enormous a twit I felt, when the student packed up to leave and the woman stood up to (as it turned out) fetch her next student and walked past me and I squeaked, Excuse me?  I had to squeak it twice because I made so little noise the first time, but she may have been half-expecting me to say something to her because she’d also been telling her student (in ENGLISH) about the earthquakes, living in Japan—and I’d looked up and caught her eye and smiled—I remember the earthquakes:  I hated the earthquakes.  You had them at least once a week and about once a month they were severe enough you ran outdoors.

So she stopped, politely, and I said, er, um gulp gah oof, pardon me for listening in, do you tutor Japanese?

Yes.  She does.

In Mauncester.  In the wilds of Hampshire.  She lives only a few villages over from New Arcadia.  And she can apparently face the prospect of an artery-hardened, brain-cell-losing sexagenarian as a student.  Makes a change I suppose.  She gave me her details.  And I emailed her that night . . . before I lost my waning little smoky whiff of courage.


I am sixty five years old.  I have ME.   I am crazy.££  And it may be a disaster.  Probably not tomorrow, but next week.  Or the week after.  Or . . . But . . . but I’ll have tried, you know?

Get out your bucket list and look at it again.  Never say never.£££

* * *

* How surprising.  How unprecedented. 

** The shrieking gormless circus at present can hardly be called a government

*** Not me boss!  Not me!

% I hope I am making myself clear

%% Which include having put in the yarn-holding pegs backwards because I thought . . . ahem . . . they looked prettier that way.  Some practical reader pointed this out to me.  Sigh.

%%% AJLR totally has the right of it here.  I will just add that two years, I think, ago, I had a mad idea of knitting fingerless gloves, since amusing ones seem to have gone back out of fashion and I have NO INTEREST in olive drab that leave my fingers clear for the triggers of my shotgun.  Fiona and I went to a yarn shop that—horrors—has a café attached, which means you never leave, you know?^  And I was so IMPATIENT to begin that I started the wrist of my first glove without having wound my skein first.  With the result that—two years later—it is still hanging on a cupboard door between me and the Aga.  It adds to the decorative appeal of my kitchen of course^^ but it’s getting a little dusty.  And no, I haven’t knitted any other fingerless gloves either and no I haven’t found the other end of the cupboard-door skein and wound it up backwards.  I have actually tried to find the mythic other end, and of course since I’ve already started knitting the obvious end, I can’t find it.  It’s quite thick yarn, and, you know, dazzlingly and confusingly coloured.  And with the wrist of a glove dangling off the known end even if I did find the spare end I probably couldn’t use the swift.

^ If it also had a bookshop we’d still be there.


$ And to Marion:  it’s your own fault for buying laceweight.  100g of frelling cobweb is going to be London marathon long.

$$ Knitting, for example.

$$$ Since I felt this way sixty years ago, I assume I do not have to put it down to being a poor old thing with no sense of adventure.

& Going out on a political-correctness limb here, Asian skin certainly can noticeably pale with dread and despair, and I’d say most black skin that isn’t actually black gets a little grey.

&& It’s not all bad, being old.

&&& Riding horses.  Bell ringing.  Singing.  Playing the piano.  Knitting.  I can draw a bit, but I need put a lot more time into it.  And my idea of gardening is you plonk a plant in a pot or in the ground, feed and water it, and expect it to get on with things.  I do not do the rocket-science form of gardening.  I do not grow difficult plants.^

^ Well . . . roses.

£ Yes.  I told her about the ME.  She has a friend who has it worse than I do.  She’s still taking me on.

££ But we already knew that, right?

£££ And even I know that the end of SHADOWS looks like it ought to have a sequel.  That wasn’t my idea!  It was the way the frelling story came out!  Bad Story Council!  BAD Story Council!!!

34 thoughts on “On bucket lists and never saying never”

  1. I know there are some etsy shops you can post your skeins to and they will wind them and it only costs £5 or so, i’m one of those weirdos who actually enjoys hand winding

    best of luck with japanese!

  2. In Winnipeg, Canada our specialty yarn shop has the winding things there on the counter and will wind for us when they are not busy. My daughter always comes along so she can do the winding. Now she has started buying her own yarn.

    Me too with bucket list languages. Mine is Arabic for similar reasons. I have not found the courage yet to follow that one.

    I have just started piano lessons after quitting 37 years ago.

    Very glad to have you back!

  3. I fell in love with your writing 14 years ago. I read your old blog sporadically at best. So to now find out that you love Japan is just overwhelming. Thank you for writing. I love you. Congratulations on the Japanese tutor, I know you can do it!

  4. I’ve read somewhere that people with tons of interests who can’t decide which one they want to focus on should be … hmmm … WRITERS.

    I have this problem too. I never became a professional writer. I just wish I could live long enough to have twenty or thirty careers.

  5. Heh. When I get home (I’m at a knitting group right now!), I’ll see if I can post a photo of my Morgain shawl, knitted from a previous skein of 1200m of (50% wool / 50% acrylic) laceweight…

  6. I *think* the Liss wool shop will wind skeins into balls for you – they certainly have a swift in there – or they did the last time I was there, which admittedly is a while ago, as for various reasons I tend to look to to Salisbury and points west rather than eastwards nowadays. I have a ball winder, which was very cheap, but the whole process is a bit of a performance, and one has to be in the right frame of mind and/or desperate to actually use that skein of wool…

  7. Apparently, there are some people that actually *enjoy* untangling yarn. They take on other people’s tangles *for a hobby*.
    Just putting that out there…. 😉
    I have 2 spare ball-winders here. Not that it is much use to you…

  8. If this works, here’s Morgain, taking up most of my bed… Slightly fiddly, but very repetitive to knit.

      1. Stunning! I love the colour.

        Hm, I haven’t done lace in a while. But I do have a pair of socks (knit from a 1940’s book brilliantly called Modern Knitting Illustrated) to finish first. With wool hand wound using my nostepinne, purchased because my ball winder is buried in our garage in California…

  9. Do you know you can wind a center pull ball even if you have started to knit? Use something for a nostepinne (the middle of a toilet roll will work in a pinch) and put your started glove on the handle end. Then wind your ball on the other end, slide it off and carry on knitting. You tube has videos of this process if you are not familiar with it.

  10. Enjoying your blog very much. Good luck with your Japanese lessons. Are you still taking singing lessons?

  11. This is brilliant! Learning new things staves off senility! I’m going through a facination with all things Japanese a the moment. Have binged watched hours of anime (the good stuff like Violet Evergarden, not rubbish like Dragon Ball Z). Watching japanese lifestyle shows and japanese food shows like Samurai Gourmet. Plus, as I embark into the brutal world of authorship and trying to get published, the second book in my series is set in a Japanese-esq world of Ashi Kabi. Kosuke Koyama is one of my favourite theologians next to N T Wright.
    I am wondering why this is.
    Never mind, I’ll just enjoy it and go back to watching Noragami.

  12. I have loved you since I was 9 and wandered into a library. (Which by the way was rarely free as my love for books was only equaled by my absentmindedness in all walks of life, i clueing returning said books. Sigh.) Anyway, I walked in and the Newbery Medal winners were displayed. I have read all of your books, and you have shaped the inner workings of my mental dialog. Do you ever have people travel to meet you? It would be the greatest honor I can imagine. I have never touched yarn, but I will happily YouTube how to wind yarn and do it to the utmost of my ability. I will keep in mind your counsel on buckelists. Much love, from a beleaguered American who is among the many horrified anti-trump countrymen who voted for the other candidate.

    1. *** please ignore all typos. I am currently in France and wondering if I could abandon my tour long enough to swim across the English Channel to meet you. But my body thinks I am in a time zone several times removed from my current one!

  13. I am useless at languages, despite my parents being linguists, anthropologists and grammar specialists. I even have trouble deciphering accented english on occasion, which makes me feel COMPLETELY racist. Totally have the cross cultural sensitivity and understanding down pat, but my ears are completely mono-lingual! I will be interested to hear how you find lessons, and if previous tentacles of experience unfurl and wiggle in your brain as you learn.

  14. I love libraries and have my kids trained, “We are here for books and not the computers!”

  15. That is so cool that you’re going to take Japanese lessons! That’s one of those things for me too, one of those things I’d love to do and look into every so often and decide I can’t. Because money, time, health (allergies, asthma, fibro, and EDS), kids, side businesses that suck time, wanting to write more, etc. And it’s too overwhelming and difficult to teach myself. But you know, maybe eventually I can learn it. I love Shadows and love Taks. Shadows is one of my comfort reads. Along with Sunshine. I don’t get why they’re comfort reads. They just are.

  16. I so enjoy your blog and where it leads. I am no where near brave enough to knit, but I can crochet. I have tried knitting and it was dire. Couldn’t get the purl down, so unless you need lots of dishcloths, I’m useless.

    Libraries – how do people live without them? I grew up in them and so did our kids. Best thing we did was raise three readers. How great you are taking lessons in Japanese. Wonderful things happen to library users. Your new adventure is a perfect example.

    Finding a new post is a bright spot in my day. Thank you for that. We here in the states haven’t had many of late. Time to pull out the bucket list again.

  17. My husband, an Air Force brat, also lived in Japan for a few years as a pre-teen; he remembers a bit of the language, but never internalized much of the culture beyond a facility with chopsticks. Brava you for forging ahead with the Japanese lessons. Do you detect the not-so-subtle hand of the Story Council here, getting ready to dump a SHADOWS follow-up (no, I won’t say “sequel”) into your head?

    And–I love my swift, as both a beautiful object and a piece of perfected technology, but if I tried to use it without a ball winder it would leave me surrounded by a heap of tangled yarn. It is in fact *swift*. I, alas, am not.

  18. That sounds awesome! love it! especially since the tutor is local and she understands ME <3 well done for going for it! I'm all for the Never say never thing, and I reckon learning Japanese will be great (doesn't matter if you have a gift for learning languages or not 😉 ) Learning a new language can be fun and because Japanese is something you always wanted to learn and never thought you could, that's even better!
    (……and if it somehow sends the sequel to Shadows heading in your direction from the story council with the feeling that you *have* to write it – even better still !!!! *evil laugh* 😛 … ahem…. *innocent smile* 🙂 )

    Also ..good thing I wasn't drinking my cup of tea when reading the comments about the partly knitted glove hanging up as a kitchen decoration with the end of yarn that has apparently vanished ( – probably into another dimension like socks in the laundry basket do?!) – and the tutor/ student pairs that get loud as 'the tutor loses confidence and then the student loses consciousness' *is still laughing*
    So, since it's now Thursday, I hope you'll tell us how your first Japanese lesson went? hopefully you enjoyed it 🙂

  19. Some of my earliest memories involve the entirety of my family getting up early on weekends so we could walk to the library a mile away just as it opened, and then walking back some twelve hours later with heavier backpacks and full hands. I swear, some of those librarians knew us better than their own children.
    I happen to know that library possesses each of your published works. Not coincidentally, so do I.

  20. Yay language learning! As an alternate plan to not having children, I developed language learning as a hobby. Whatever you can do to incorporate story into your language learning, I recommend. That’s, of course, harder with Japanese…with German I just read lots and lots of readers for beginning German students. But the point is to get so interested in the message being communicated that you stop fretting over grammar or case or tone or whatever…ok. I admit I also teach language. I’d better stop now.

  21. Oh my! That is just amazing. I totally have a crush on Taks (despite being 40 years old). I remember when you were writing Shadows and struggling with the Japanese, blogging about it and your love of the country. And now to have someone stumble past your desk…! Kudos to you for squeaking out at an obviously busy woman. And remember, if she takes on teenagers, she can probably handle you 😀

  22. My local yarn stores will either wind yarn for you or let you use the equipment (if you ask nicely).

    A suggestion for the skein-with-glove attached? Wind the skein around the glove. After you’ve got that done, rewind the other direction until you’ve unearthed the glove again.

    I do this double winding sometimes when using a swift/ballwinder creates a ball that’s super tight (and that’s clearly stretching the yarn). Rewinding from the first ball (without the inertia of the swift adding tension) allows me to make a nice squishy ball.

    That said, I’m super patient: I’m currently working on a shawl knit from yarn I rescued from a store’s sale bin, where it was nearly hopelessly tangled. The hour plus I spent untangling that luscious silk was very much worth it!

    (Here’s hoping the bureaucrats Figure Out The Errors Of Their Ways and straighten this whole mess out!)

  23. Huzzah!! The blog is back!

    (I just wandered back around to it recently–I’m not signed up for updates so I would occasionally visit in the forlorn hope it would be live again–and I may have done a small happy dance when I saw it was alive and kicking)

    Is it weird that I find your “never say never” experience a kind of hopeful relief? I have a good deal of things that I would love to get around to doing, and it’s nice to know that even if I can’t imagine getting to them in the (near) future chances may come ’round again. I’ll get that geochemistry masters degree yet! But now I wonder, does this mean I should keep saying “I’ll never do thus and so” to prod the universe into helping me actually do it? Or should I stop because the universe takes it as a challenge to throw my life into disarray? (example: I grew up thinking I would never live outside of the US. I have been living in China for the last two years and am moving to Armenia in a month. This is not what I had planned.)

    P.S. I blame this blog for making me take up knitting. It made me curious and now I am stuck down that rabbit hole. Thanks. I think. 😉

  24. Congratulations! That’s so exciting (and terrifying, yes). Best of luck to you!
    I *adore* the aside about your gardening strategy, and about roses. Very much my way with plants, too. Anyone who’ll grow until less-than-ideal conditions can stay, and anyone else will be briefly mourned and replaced.

    (Also, I am one of those weird people who likes to untangle other people’s yarn. If I lived on your side of the pond, I’d volunteer! As it is shipping would be slightly silly.)

  25. It is certainly to be hoped that the Story Council (or your interpretation of it…) relents and allows you the luxury of an occasional sequel. More with Taks would be nice. More with Majid would be twice as nice (bother — apologies if I spelt the cat’s name wrong, failing eyesight means my partner has read [most] of SHADOWS to me…)

  26. The DAYS and WEEKS of my life I spent winding yarn for customers when I started working at my LYS….. And the complaints I would get when I couldn’t get the skeins done immediately because there was a queue. *Eyeroll*

    P.s. I am glad to see you are back on a blog.

  27. I am currently working at an organic farm in the south of Denmark. I meet one of the owners some years ago, and she told me about her place mentioning the young volunteers who work here, and I thought ‘what about not so young volunteers?’. I did not have time last year, but this year I took 6 weeks off and I am here – living in a marvelous old circus wagon (!) and drowning (!) in gherkins and squash that need to be pickled or used, I have just survived the flood of black currant. Fun.

    I can show you a video about the place (in English), that one of the volunteers made. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4TxIHr7e3c&feature=youtu.be

Comments are closed.