The Spirit of the Stairs

This is a non-knitting post, so if you are here for the knits & purls, feel free to skip this! I live in the UK, but I was born in Denmark. This makes me an immigrant - an EU immigrant, to be precise. I settled permanently in the UK because I fell in love with a Scotsman. Luckily, I also fell in love with Scotland and this is my home now. My Bella Caledonia. However, I was racially abused yesterday in a manner that left me shaking and upset.davekarina

Nine years ago Dave & I were talking about wanting to live together and we had to decide where that should be. We decided the UK would be the best option because Denmark has huge problems with racism and xenophobia. The Danish People's Party is a right-wing anti-immigration party which is considered mainstream in Denmark (it has just polled as the biggest party in Denmark, incidentally) and it sets the media agenda in Denmark. Did we want to live somewhere where Dave's accent would always set him apart and he'd never really be considered welcome? No. Did we want to live somewhere where his name and lack of Danish language skills would affect his job opportunities severely? No.

I've now lived in Glasgow eight years now and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I was worried about racism before I moved across, but it has been manageable so far. I've had a few drunks shouting things about foreigners, but that's easy to shrug off. The drunks also recant as soon as I point out I'm a foreigner: Eh, I didnae mean you, hen! I have one kind individual occasionally forwarding me anti-immigration articles (you know who you are) but I find that somewhat amusing.

November 2013 166In recent years the UK has seen the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric. From British Jobs For British People slogans to blaming foreigners for a National Health System struggling to cope with budget cuts. Britain even has its own anti-immigration party now which enjoys disproportional media coverage. I have a strong feeling of deja-vu as sentiments I recognise from Denmark have spread to the UK.  Encouraged by certain corners of UK media, it has become more and more acceptable to say things that are overtly racist. Being one of those pesky EU immigrants blamed for everything from how sandwiches are made to pot holes in the roads, it is rather disconcerting.



Yesterday I was travelling from Glasgow to Edinburgh when I found myself next to a nice 50-something lady with nice hair, sensible shoes, a jolly yellow rain jacket and a posh accent. Without any prompting she began to inform everyone around us that Polish drivers were to blame for British road accidents, that Europeans had a different driving culture ("if you can call it culture"), that she once went to Germany and was shocked by how drivers did not stop for her when she crossed the street, and how foreigners coming to Britain needed to sit a driving exam before being allowed to drive on good British roads filled with decent Britons (although when challenged, she allowed that tourists may have a fortnightly exemption if they pledged to be law-abiding). This was the start of an hour-long monologue directed at different people around her. EU immigrants were welfare benefit cheats, killing people on the streets, stealing jobs from honest Britons, invading Britain under the cover of EU laws, intent on destroying Britain &c. The solution was clear, according to the nice lady. All foreigners should be thrown out of Britain! "What we need is a revolution!"

At the beginning I was tempted to interject. I wanted to challenge her on what she was saying but I didn't. Instead I started shaking. She noticed - oh, she noticed - as did a nice gentleman across from me who started talking to me about the sock I was knitting. Eventually I began laughing every time she said something particularly outrageous. It was a choice between laughter and tears - and I did not want to show her any tears. My laughter shut her up, finally, and she spent the rest of the journey reading a certain right-wing newspaper.

Today I have made plenty of speeches in my head. I've worked out all the things I could have said to her - "I am one of those EU immigrants you fear so much. Look at me. I hold two university degrees. I've never claimed any benefits. I run my own business. In my own country, people are saying all those things about my Scottish partner. What do you want us to do?" - but that is the spirit of the stairs talking. I have had racial abuse hurled at me before but it has always been by people I could dismiss as either drunk or incredibly stupid* - it is less easy to dismiss a a nice 50-something lady with a posh accent. It is scary because she is the type of woman who is recognisably, reassuringly an upstanding member of society.

Dolores Umbridge. Picture via Warner Brothers.

(* a nod to the guy who shouted "go back to your pervert country, you terrorist" at me on the day after 7/7. I was biking through Copenhagen wearing a tank-top and shorts - both items of clothing not usually associated with Islamist terrorists, but I guess my dark hair & my light tan confused him.)

Friday Linkage

I came home from my holidays Monday. Apparently I cannot leave the UK for seven days before the place is going to hell in a handbag as I have been rushed off my feet ever since returning. I'd share details but nobody really needs to hear me whine about my mountain of work! Denmark was lovely - absolutely lovely - and I want to share some of the highlights with you. There will be knitting involved (of course there will) but there will also be some tales of history and culture. Before I do so in a series of posts, let me just link some of the things I've read/seen/enjoyed on the internet over the past few days..

It's Getting Cold Now

It is premature to write my Reading 2011 entry but I did leave a comment on a newspaper site yesterday about one of my favourite reads so far. I miss keeping a literary blog - but then again my old literary blog was never just about books. I wrote about whatever took my fancy and I like to think I still do that. November 30 2011 has been a day of strikes across the UK as a reaction to the Tory-led coalition's "austerity measures". I have been watching the news unfold from my cosy home, but part of me did wish I could have been out there. Some years ago I would have been. It has been interesting to see how most of them media have been shouting that this one day of strikes could push the UK back into recession .. I seem to remember most of the UK got an extra few days off for the sake of a certain royal wedding earlier this year but that was "a celebration", of course. Interesting, also, that this strike comes the day after the Chancellor's "Autumn statement" which I was following with incredulity yesterday. You can read an acerbic and pointed response here.

Moi? Cynical? I think I am turning into a grumpy old woman (I have the grey hairs to prove it). Maybe just realistic rather than grumpy.

And so with a boot firmly planted in the realistic camp, I was delighted to find other people utterly bemused* by the never-ending editorials about The Party Season. I think I had a party season once when I was 20 and as a skint student, I wore secondhand 1970s silver-lamé frocks accessorised with green Doc Martens. And nobody cared that I wore the same 1970s frock to every single drunken student jig. I do not think I live in the same world as the glossies - who does? And who buys** them?

Let me share something amazing and lovely with you: Someone has been leaving small, intricate paper sculptures all over Edinburgh. Who? No one seems to know. It is a woman who proclaims that she is used to "making things" and that she has left these art objects to voice her support for libraries, books, words, and ideas. I absolutely love these objects - I would call them book art rather than artists' books (there is a distinction, I feel) - and I love the quiet making and placing of them. There is something so utterly wonderful about art objects that do not scream but whisper.

Knitting posts to come soon. Tonight I just wanted to write about slightly more .. cerebral things.

*) Sorry about using italics so much **) Actually I use italics way too often.

The Week That Was

Last weekend I took part in a crochet workshop taught by designer and author Carol Meldrum. Carol was running a class called "Love Wool? Love Crochet!" to celebrate Wool Week 2011 and to promote her new book, Love Crochet. I wasn't able to stay for the entire workshop, but I have been bitten by the crochet bug ever since. Following Carol's pattern (from an old Rowan magazine), I made a necklace from some mercerised cotton and a leather string. It was super-easy and very quick. I think it took me about an hour from the initial idea to the finished object. The leather string's a bit too skinny, but I'm still quite pleased with the result.

My partner snapped a photo of me wearing the necklace that very evening. I do apologise for lack of make-up/styling and the crap indoors lightning, but you can clearly see how smug I am about my lovely new accessory.

In other crafting news, I have purchased some black corduroy and I am very excited about making another skirt. I have a very, very specific idea for this skirt. I'll need to try my idea first, though, as it could be a complete disaster. I tried googling my idea but everything I find is twee crap. I am many things, but I am not twee.

This week I have been grabbling with Apple as someone in Canada has set up an account using my email address as her AppleID. Personally I would have thought that Apple have checked that her email was her own, but apparently not. I am currently on my fourth (rather terse) email to Customer Support. I am not impressed. Definitely not impressed.

This week Something Very Good happened. Denmark finally decided that they had had enough of xenophobic party Danish People's Party being the kingmaker in Danish politics. Cue Denmark's first female prime minister.  The DPP played a part in me deciding to leave Denmark and when I heard they were not longer the power behind the throne, I shed a small tear. I cannot begin to express my relief - although I think it will take a lot of time to undo their damage (Denmark has some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe and you encounter casual racism everywhere).

The Danish essayist Carsten Jensen wrote an excellent column (google translate + tweaked quickly by me). I do not agree with everything he wrote, but this passage really struck a nerve.

Something went terribly wrong in Denmark during the past decade. We did not just damage the foreigners who found themselves among us, whether they were refugees or immigrants and their descendants. We did not just damage the countries whose domestic problems became ours thanks to reckless wars.We also did moral damage to ourselves, and the marginal, ambiguous election victory of the Left shows a lack of willingness to confront ourselves - something which we must inevitably must do, if we are to forge ahead and not only think about growth, but also morality and humanity. We have toyed with callousness too long, and this has left an unhealthy cynicism within us.

Here is to better times.


I always say that the best blog posts I have ever written are the ones I never post. Recently I had conversations with other long-term bloggers (I've been at this for over a decade) about why we continue to blog. One remark stuck with me:

Because I love it. Many new bloggers think it is a quick and easy short-cut to fame and fortune. It is not. It is hard work. I do it, because I cannot NOT do it.

I have been thinking about blogging and my blog's various incarnations. The posts I will never post but which I have written in my head so many times. Posts that would increase traffic, get linked and re-blogged, and maybe even get some attention from outside the blogosphere. Stories that will never be told because they are not mine to tell. Two go back six years. One goes back just a few weeks.

I am thinking of these blog posts as I watch big-scale news unfold here in the UK. People who told stories that were not only not theirs to tell, but also obtained illegally (allegedly, I hasten to add). I have a hard time believing that they told these stories because they loved writing or because they truthfully believed them important stories to tell.

Words are powerful - even in these increasingly visual times.

And I am sitting here on a Friday night and I think about my little, totally insignificant blog and I think about the written word and readership.


I have been very good at walking away from my blogs when they became too unwieldy and too .. too widely read. I was always very proud of Bookish, my literary blog, but I was also relieved when I pulled the plug.

Fourth Edition has grown into something to be proud of as well. It chronicles my journey from being a stuffy academic to an odd-ball creative type. And I meet so many lovely people thanks to this blog. Sometimes I get a bit overwhelmed too. I continue to walk the tightrope: I am continuously torn between my desire to maintain my privacy and my need to write these blog entries.

Don't think I have not thought about walking away from Fourth Edition (because I have) but I also know I would just start over again. Lather, rinse, repeat..

I guess there was a point to this entry but I lost it along the way. I just remember what I was taught and what I went on to teach: always look for the gaps, the absences, what is not being said.

This is worth keeping in mind. Not just for blogging but also for news coverage.