Superstition

If you were to ask me if I am superstitious, I would say ' 'No – superstitions are folk myths, fantasies, make believe, people trying to control a world they really have little control over.'

And yet… If there is no wood available, I touch whatever's nearest, I seek out black cats – because I like cats – and I have been known to look for four-leaved clovers, though I've never found one.

On the other hand, I deliberately walk under ladders, if there is room and no-one on them.

I came to understand how such things might develop when I spent some time learning how to dye with indigo. After you've prepared the dye vat – which takes time – immersed the fabric, being careful not to get too much oxygen into the vat, and then pull it out and the green colour gradually turns to blue – it is like magic. Working with a group of dyers was an almost spiritual experience.

But indigo vats can be temperamental: everything has to be just right, and even with modern knowledge about the process, what works one time may not work the next. So the first dyers, lacking scientific knowledge, may have developed superstitions about how they had to behave when dyeing.

Having a ritual to follow – wearing lucky socks, having a lucky mascot, turning widdershins three times before you start – may build confidence, and increased confidence may contribute to success. And so the ritual is reinforced, perhaps taught to others, generalised to other situations – and a superstition is born.

Clarity

 

Clarity in writing and speaking is something I strive for. I learned when I was teaching that if you don't give students clear instructions, they won't do what you want them to do, and that is your fault, not theirs. I also learned that some of my colleagues were not as careful as I was: part of my job was to help students with written work, and even though I had more experience of reading between the lines than them, there were still occasions when neither of us could work out what it was they'd been asked to do. How do you tell a colleague that what they have written doesn't mean what they think it means – or worse still, is incomprehensible?

I have given up buying needlework magazines, because so often their instructions are unclear – or downright wrong. Textile books are usually better – but not always. I am experienced enough to know when something is wrong, and how to get round it, but even so sometimes I'm stumped, because the instructions are so unclear. I think proof-readers and editors must be a dying breed.

Handwriting

My handwriting is bad. It's worse than bad, it's criminal. Half the time, I can't read it, so I can't expect anyone else to do so either.

I used to say that it had deteriorated when I was at University, because I was making lecture notes in a hurry, but I recently found some old Uni notes and they were perfectly legible.

I am very impatient, so I write, like I do many things, in a hurry, even when I'm just writing a shopping list. I try to slow down, and my writing gets a bit better, but then I forget I'm trying to write legibly and speed up again. I've tried using all sorts of different pens, but nothing seems to make a difference – a spidery inky scrawl is no more or less legible than a thick pencil one, just more likely to be smeary as well.

I do know why my writing is illegible, and I know how I could improve it. I don't finish off the letters fully – o's don't meet at the top and look like u's, e's and i's are both tight diagonal loops, risers and descenders are too short. It's a common problem in bad handwriting – I know, because I used to try to teach students how to improve theirs. Unsurprisingly, they didn't take much notice.