3 February 2020 – St Blaise's Day

Today is St Blaise’s Day. St Blaise is the patron saint of woolcombers for the slightly ghoulish reason he died while being pulled apart by iron combs… That is some next level darkness, woolcombers. 

Anyhow, given that Blaise was all about the wool (he wasn’t remotely about the wool, he was a doctor who performed healing miracles), I thought today would be the perfect moment to finally sort out my wool basket. Don’t let anyone tell you I’m not rock and roll. 

Mothy wool is one of the most dispiriting things I can think of, second only to perfectly good cheese falling onto a surface where the three second rule cannot apply. I never used to have moths, and I can’t figure out how I got moths, but get moths I did. Luckily, my carpets are synthetic, and as I am a firm believer that life is too short to handwash, hardly any of my clothes (bar the odd mitten) are made from wool, so I wasn’t too disturbed beyond having to listen to the headbutting of various light fittings. But then I went to into my wool stash to start knitting a hap, a traditional Shetland shawl, and found all my good stuff, all my expensive stuff, shredded. And the rest of the acrylic yarn dotted with moth eggs. 

I know, I know, this is entirely a catastrophe of my own making for not thinking about the impact of moths on ACTUAL WOOL, but I thought I’d taken precautions: everything had been sprayed, the glue strips were empty(ish), I hadn’t seen a moth for ages, and I’d stuffed like a hundred commercial moth balls into the basket, but this was obviously not enough. I’d like to say that upon my discovery, I shook my fist at the heavens, upended the basket and dealt with the problem immediately. Reader, I did not. And thus ‘mothy wool’ has loitered on my To Do List ever since.

So today was the day when, overseen by the shredded patron saint of woolcombers, I thought I’d find out if anything was recoverable from the wreckage. It was not. Had to throw the whole lot away, along with the basket, and then had a big respray just in case. I also finally got round to throwing out the last holey mitten, before remembering my King Lear scarf. Back in the 90s, I was Assistant Stage Manager on a production of King Lear at the West Yorkshire Playhouse staring Warren Mitchell in the title role. There wasn’t a lot to do backstage during the show other than wear a balaclava and balance a giant telescope over my shoulder for various scene changes, so I knitted a scarf to pass the time. And when I say, knitted a scarf, it was actually me and a lot of the cast (theatre is super glamorous, you see). And the scarf grew long, so long it had to be knotted at the ends, so long it became unwearable. But it’s my King Lear scarf, so I’ve kept it hidden on a peg behind all my coats ever since. Except not so hidden from the goddamn moths. The scarf now has aspects of colander about it. But rather than ditch it, it’s gone into rehab. It’s now in the wash, and once dry will go into the freezer, where it will emerge to be liberally sprinkled with lavender oil and rubbed with bog myrtle. And if that doesn’t blast the masticating bleeders, I will….. think of something else.

Luckily, I have a second stash of unsullied non-woollen yarn stuffed into various crevices, so all is not lost. Perhaps all that carding and weaving I learnt as a child paid off, and Blaise was looking out for me after all…


Resources

Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Roud, S. (2006) The English Year: A Month-By-Month Guide To The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, From May Day to Mischief Night, London, Penguin Books

Vickery, R. (2019) Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-king-lear-west-yorkshire-playhouse-leeds-1603501.html

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