Why I Wear A Padlock Around My Neck

I wear a padlock on a chain around my neck. Not just any padlock, mind you. I do have my standards. This is a 20mm solid brass three-wheel combination lock.

combination lock

Sitting on the couch knitting one day (as you do), I looked down and realized I was wearing a lump of green and white plastic around my neck. And I thought: why? I don’t even like plastic, why am I wearing it like a treasure round my neck? At this point, logical brain kicked in and reminded me that I needed this lump of green and white plastic to keep track of what row of my knitting pattern I was on. (Why logical brain can’t make itself useful and keep track of these things itself, I don’t know, but there it is.)

Row counters have been around for a while, but most of what’s available these days is either a) a lump of plastic or b) a braceletty chainy thing which requires you to count along to figure out which loop you’re in, so you know which row you’re on. The former is practical but ugly; the latter is aesthetically pleasing but requires more mental effort than I am prepared to expend. (In my defence, I am generally doing something else besides knitting at the same time, and there’s only so much brain to go around.)

Beaded row counter

Then I found out that there’s a woman who makes sterling silver row counter rings, which are both practical and beautiful. There are only two downsides: they’re expensive (sterling silver, after all) and they’re not available.

So I carried on with my knitting and my lump of plastic, fulminating against the knitting world that apparently couldn’t combine aesthetics and practicality – and if anyone could, you would think it would be knitters, yes?

And then I had my brainwave: combination lock. Of course, the first combination lock that came to mind is the one I already possess: my bicycle lock from high school. A moment’s reflection ruled this out, however, as the numbers only go up to six and it will be a cold day in hell before I start trying to knit in base six. That way madness lies.

Next thought: padlock. A quick online survey of hardware stores suggested that for a modest outlay, a small brass combination lock could be mine. The first one I went to only had the lock in the slightly-larger-but-twice-as-heavy size, so I went on to the second one. (And that was a mission in itself, having only a rough idea of where it was, and no map. On which subject, Libraries: Not Just Good for Books.)

The second store had the lock in the size I wanted, but only in aluminium. It’s a step up from plastic, true, but if other women can make a fuss about whether gold or silver is more becoming to their colouring, I figure I can make a fuss about brass and aluminium. I went home and ordered it online.

It arrived a few days later. It was aluminium. A few days (and apologetic emails) after that, I went back to the store to exchange the aluminium padlock for a brass one, ordered in from another branch – which turned out to be the larger size. The very helpful man at the locks desk hunted up the supplier’s brochure for me, which showed only aluminium locks made in the desired size.

By now, of course, this was beginning to take on the dimensions of a full-blown quest.

Honoré Daumier 017 (Don Quixote)

Having found exactly what I wanted, I was reluctant to give in, just because it didn’t seem to exist. Perhaps the 30mm lock would do. 80 grams isn’t that much, is it? Could I bear to have that weight around my neck for hours at a time? I decided to find out. I took the sturdiest chain from my jewellery box and weighed it with my heaviest glass pendant. And a large ring-shaped coin. And a rhodonite cocktail ring. And a large rhodonite brooch. Together, they weighed 80g.

It was bearable. Just. Then the Caped Gooseberry (bless his wooly socks) suggested that just because a manufacturer does not make a product available in one part of the world, doesn’t mean it’s unavailable in other areas. (Why this is, I couldn’t tell you. You would think they would want as big a potential market as possible.)

So I went a-hunting on the internet (not as quest-worthy as hunting through a dark forest, but the potential for getting confused and wandering off is similar). I discovered a few very interesting facts.

Gustave Doré - Dante Alighieri - Inferno - Plate 1 (I found myself within a forest dark...)

1) The padlock I wanted was apparently no longer being manufactured.
2) The padlock I wanted was, however, still being sold.
3) But only in the E.U.

Amazon would send me one from the UK for what seemed an excessive quantity of money (more than twice the price of the aluminium one in the local stores, though obviously postage has something to do with that). E-bay might possibly sell & send me one for less, but details as to whether the seller would ship outside their part of the world would not be forthcoming unless I signed up for an account with them. (Side note: if companies make their terms & conditions and privacy policy that long, one suspects they are hoping people will not go to the trouble of reading them.)

There were, of course, many companies with an online presence who were selling these padlocks for less than they’d cost here. But they either refused to post outside the EU (I hear the sailing ships take months to reach the Antipodes) or else they were more than happy to do so! Shipping will be calculated on checkout page: €100. ONE HUNDRED EURO!


So, obviously, that wasn’t going to happen. As I was getting overwrought, the Caped Gooseberry once more came to the rescue and suggested I sleep on it. (Figuratively. One does not recommend sleeping on an actual combination lock: they are hard and knobbly.)

The next morning I decided that while the price quoted by Amazon was quite remarkably expensive for a small padlock, it wasn’t that bad for a combination of practicality and symbolism, and I bought it.

I bought it not only to replace my lump of plastic, but also to replace the little gilt cross I used to wear about my neck until the gilt wore off. Which is why I wanted this 20mm brass 3-wheel combination lock, and not another: because this one has the word Master engraved in it, to remind me of the Master whose way I follow.

Eccentric, ethic & æsthetic, all in one useful pendant. What more could one ask?

Number Crunching

Sometimes progress is slow.
Sometimes it is very slow.
Sometimes it is so slow you don’t actually want to admit to yourself just how slow it is.

Imagine these:

Herd of tortoises

stampeding through this:

Peanut Butter Texture

and you get the idea.

But sooner or later you have to be brutally honest with yourself. The WIP isn’t going to write itself.
If things do write themselves at your place, you’ve got problems.

Rembrandt - Belshazzar's Feast - WGA19123

I have, over the *cough* years since I started working on Tsifira, accumulated about 18,734 words. (Including some of the excerpts I’ve removed for now, and some of the notes, but not all of them. Basically, I’m counting anything that was worth typing up.)

A novel is, of course, as long as a novel is long, but taking geographical distance as an indicator of word count (it’s a road story) I’m about a quarter to a third of the way there. Not knowing, of course, how many detours might occur.

One step after another

Say 80,000 as a guess.

In the just-over-two months since I started keeping a word count, I’ve written 1,651 words for Tsifira.*

80,000 – 18,734 = 61,266 words to go.

1,651 words ÷ 69 days recorded = 24 words per day (average, obviously).

61,266 words ÷ 24 words per day = 2,553 (to the nearest day).

So at this rate, I will finish the first draft in just under seven years.^

A Frenchman in America

There are only two alternatives.
One: give up.
Two: speed up.

I’m going to go with Two.

It is far easier to write that than to execute it (rather like Rasputin in that respect, although probably not in many others). How do you change gears in your mind and in your life? Is there a human equivalent of a clutch pedal?

I found an interesting exercise on A Cat of Impossible Colour – she got it from The Relaxed Writer.

Basically, you take ten minutes to write down one side of a piece of paper everything you don’t want your writing life to be like.
Then you write the opposite of each thing down the other side, and you figure out how you’re going to make that happen.

Moreless plus minus button

She recommends it as a beginning-of-the-year exercise, but I think we can all agree I shouldn’t wait that long, so I did it today.

I wrote the first column out by hand on folded paper, as instructed, but then I went off-road a bit, ending up with three columns instead of two, all typed up in a spreadsheet.
Column A: I Don’t Want
Column B: I Want
Column C: I Will

It was a bit disturbing to get such an insight into my own mind and misgivings. Apparently I struggle with self-doubt and fear the waste of time. I also fear guilt from doing/not doing, don’t take myself seriously enough as a writer, and tend to defer hope til tomorrow.


That’s rather a lot of personal insight to arrive at in ten minutes.

So, what will I do?
I will increase my writing time, guard it from erosion, and focus on my new-hatched target: finishing the first draft of Tsifira by the end of 2013.

By my calculations, I’ll need to write approximately ten thousand words each month. Two and a half thousand each week.
Half a thousand each working day.

Speed Writing

I can write over four hundred words in an uninterrupted morning half hour. Increase that to twice a week: eight hundred. Two hours, one evening a week: sixteen hundred. Total of 2,400, and the other hundred can be dashed off almost any time a moment presents itself.

It will require discipline and dedication. But it can be done.
I can do it.

And keep up a blog on the side 🙂

* I know this is pretty pitiful for a Work In (supposed) Progress, but over the same period I have also written roughly 6,000 words in Morning Pages, 8,000 words of blog post (not counting this one), 1,187 in a journal, 1,114 in letters and over 5,000 of Other. A total of nearly 23,000 words (that’s equivalent to 332 words a day, 7 days a week).

^ By which time publishing technology will have leapt beyond my comprehension and Neil Gaiman will be the only one who knows that the thing in my hand is called a fountain pen.

Living the Story

Well, after Thursday’s dramatic line in the sand, reality turns out to be not so heroic.

After a few days (nights) of reduced sleep, I struggled on Friday morning. The weather forecast was unexpectedly nasty. I had to replan the multiple layers of my wardrobe for the day, and in the end I didn’t get any writing done at all.

Bundled up 7897

But I did get up. I thought about piking out and sleeping in, but I didn’t.

It makes me wonder: how much of what I do is because that’s part of the narrative I have determined I will live? How much is that helping, and how much hindering?

Surely, I can’t be the only person who weaves narratives around themselves to ameliorate the mundanity of their life?
Anyone? Anyone at all?

Away with The Fairies Part2

Having cast myself as the dedicated but struggling writer, I can’t very well turn round and sleep in past seven. It ruins the story. And living the story helps me keep going.

Of course, this can turn against you (no, I mustn’t have the heater on! the starving garret-writer wouldn’t have that!) but for the most part, it helps.

Being true to the rôle is more fun than following the schedule or the regulations. It’s more creative. It’s more like play.

On the spotlight

So, now that I’ve put my internal child quivering in the spotlight for playing make-believe at the age when other people are doing Serious Adult Things like having mortgages and career aspirations – who wants to join me?

We can be prisoners of war, plotting escape (thank you, Professor Tolkien); knights under siege (merci, Monsieur Buhet); or a misunderstood girl on a heroic quest (thank you Terry Jones).

Medieval woman defending her castle

Sometimes it even helps to pretend things are worse than they are. Sara Crewe may have pretended to be a princess to escape the drudgeries of domestic servitude, but how many people since have pretended to be Sara Crewe?

girl and cat

I don’t mean to suggest that I spend my days thinking I’m someone else – I have grown up a bit, after all. But when I find myself in adverse or tiresome circumstances, it can be enlivening to think: what characters (fictional or otherwise) have been this way before me? What would they do? What did they do? What if -? (And incidentally, would it not be very cool if I was a superhero?)

I can be efficiently domestic with Lucy Eyelesbarrow (this is more productive when at home), persist to the bitter end with Cazaril, or be quietly indomitable with Jane Eyre.


So what narrative eases the flow of your days? “Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow.” Or do you do it the hard way, scratching the beginnings of a new groove with each succeeding day?

Is it just me?