A knitsuke from the dovegreyreader


I have just arrived back at home from the Port Eliot festival in Cornwall, where I was talking to Lynne Hatwell at the dovegreyreader tent, interviewing Linda Brothwell at Hole & Corner, and talking at Caught By The River. To top a good time I return home with a knitsuke, one of the individual gifts/mementos knitted for each speaker by dovegreyreader’s KnitAngel.

My knitsuke depicts a Yorkshire farm, complete with dry stone walls, gate, red tractor and farmhouse. dovegreyreader and KnitAngel said they made it for me to compensate for the loss of my family’s actual farm, and it is certainly a beautiful reminder. It was certainly moving to be given something that someone has spent time making for you. I particularly the unintentional (I asked) detail of the white band on the horizon, as the white reminded me of the chalk that underlies the Yorkshire Wolds, and whose eroded contours does indeed shape the curves of the horizons there.

KnitAngel also made me a pig to live on the farm. Both will be going on frames on my wall.

I also talked about making things with Linda Brothwell. Linda is a Nottinghamshire farmer’s daughter and trained jewellery maker and silversmith, who has turned to making tools as part of an ongoing art project; she makes the tools needed for specific restoration work on buildings. I was fascinated to see how the audience became very attentive when she began picking up the chisels and hammers she had made in order to explain their purposes – it confirmed the truth of her belief that we have strong emotional and cultural bonds with the tools we make and use.

Particularly striking was the similarity she saw between tools and jewellery. While this might seem odd to someone who has never thought of it before, it reminded me of conversations I have had with my brother in which he grumbles about other people borrowing from his toolbox. The tools either never come back, he says, or can be slightly changed by the other person’s grip, thus spoiling the feel you have for them. Here are two of Linda’s hammers, made for use on her Acts Of Care project:


At Caught By The River it seemed fitting to talk about the escape that the people I wrote about in The Valley found in the countryside, and particularly in fishing.  I read a section in which my cousin David took his girlfriend – and future wife – Marie – fishing for the first time, only to watch helplessly as she hooked a pike, overbalanced, and fell headfirst into the river Wharfe.

There was a kind of connection between miners fishing and the tools for me, just in that the craftsmanship of tool-making and the tranquility of angling can feel like rural activities, but are often carried out in or near industrial settings. (I wrote about this a few weeks ago here). Thanks in part to the outcry against industrial working conditions in the 19th century, and to the influence of Ruskin and Morris, we have a false notion of the distinction between “industrial” and “rural”. “Craft” and “tradition” tend to be associated with rural life, the city and industry a force working working for their destruction.

Barry Hines likes to tell the story of how, after the success of of A Kestrel For A Knave and the film adaptation Kes, southern fans and critics asked him how a man from a mining community could have such a feeling and knowledge for the countryside; the fact that mining was as much a rural industry as an urban one had not fully registered in Britain’s consciousness of itself. Caught By The River, a project founded by men who worked in the London music industry, has gone some way towards rectifying that.