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Is Good Enough good enough?

I’ve been pretty quiet on line lately.

It’s not that I haven’t been working. Not as such.
But I have been finding it almost impossible to work in the way I used to. My creative conveyor belt has a kink in it for the first time in decades and it’s proving to be a challenge to straighten out.

You see, we’ve had a few minor emotional blows lately, and with the background effects of the pandemic adding daily stressors already, these minor blows have felt more like mountains than molehills.

In the past I’ve spoken at length on the effect of detriorating mental health and an increase in stress and negative emotion on our creative flow. In a nutshell, the more stress we’re under, the more our monkey brain thinks we’re being stalked by a tiger, and the less importance the monkey puts on pausing to admire a beautiful sunset or a pretty flower.

If we’re worried, we don’t create so well. Pretty simple.

Oddly, though, for me the bottleneck right now isn’t so much in the ideas department – I have plans, folks, ooooh, I have plans. It’s the “the sitting down and working out the maths” department where I’m having the problem instead.

The nature of the emotional blows I’ve faced have been rooted in childhood traumas and I get the impression that that is making me feel less confident in my abilities than usual.
I’m starting to obsess too much (as I did as a kid) about things being perfect and about the possibility of “getting in trouble” or angering people if a pattern is a little fiddly, or not as clever as I feel it should be.

Case in point:
I’m working on a mitten pattern for Tunisian Crocheters that I am SURE will knock your socks off IF I can just figure out this thumb.

I’m stuck on the construction of this last puzzle piece and have been for over a month. As I’m essentially reinventing the wheel, I keep getting stuck in the Shit Writing Vortex*, and it sucks.

Man, does it suck.
I hate this feeling.

I am so excited to show you what I’ve been at as I sit quietly in my bubble and create, but I’m also scared in a way I haven’t felt in decades. It’s right in my gut and I’m not sure how to get over it.

Do I keep working on the thumb until I have full confidence in it?
Or do I say “Good Enough is good enough” and hope for the best?

Neither options feel good right now. I feel a bit bereft.

What would you do?
How’s your head feeling these days?

*Oh sure, the sample LOOKS good, but you know it’ll be a nightmare for people to follow the pattern with such a dogpile of techniques and exceptions in such a small area.

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The Blind Mind

Think of an elephant.
Or an apple.
Or a happy honeybee.
Or a daffodil with a top hat on.
Or any one of a bazillion other physical objects, real or imaginary.
There is a very high chance that you can see the thing in your mind’s eye, right?

If you can, congratulations, your brain is functioning pretty much as expected.

If you can’t, well, you’re probably like me, then. You most likely have aphantasia to some degree or another. Basically, your mind’s eye is blind, or out of focus, or fuzzy.

I’ve never been able to find my way from A to B without getting lost.
I can’t draw accurate pictures for shit.
I am very face blind, and will not recognise you on a second, third… fifteenth meeting without a lot of context. (Sorry!)
I forget movies I’ve seen because I have no way of storing visual memory.
I don’t dream in pictures, just in emotion which can get very trippy.
I have zero sense of colour and fashion, so I stick to the most basic of clothing.
I don’t see the value in reading fiction; historical facts are far easier to recall and focus on, so I read a lot of biographies and fact-based literature.
I can’t visualise the faces of my loved ones when we’re apart, which makes being apart even more difficult.

I have absolutely no clue what my shawls will look like until I have them quite literally completed and off the blocking wires, and I had NO IDEA until quite recently that other designers could.

So, I guess, on its surface this weird wiring in my head could be classed as a low-key disability. I mean, yea, look at all that stuff up there (and I’m finding more and more to add to that list all the time), it’s all gonna add a level of difficulty that others don’t have to deal with, especially when we’re talking about my designwork.

And it does suck. No two ways about it.
But here’s the thing. It also gives me a perspective on the design process that most others don’t possess. Because I can’t see the finished design in my head in any form at all, I have nothing in particular to aim my focus towards.
I end up then, meandering off the path others may stay confidently on. Where others have a direct, efficient and logical highway from idea to completion, I barely have a dirt path. I’m flailing around in the dark!

It takes me longer to get wherever I am going, but the scenic route affords me more opportunities to experiment and invent.

For me, designing isn’t about the visuals anwyay; it’s about a certain lingering, attractive tension and flow, and a sense of “rightness” in the maths (even when it’s not exactly accurate) that I don’t think I really can adequately explain. This is something I have struggled to articulate for decades because I simply didn’t have the language to make sense of it, and it’s something I’m only now beginning to understand. “Where do you get your ideas?” was an interview question I lived in dread of because I hadn’t a clue, and much like a magic eye picture (which, for the record, I also cannot do to save my life), I was worried that focussing too hard on the question would ensure the answer would simply disappear.

“I don’t ‘get’ ideas” is the best answer I have come up with so far.
I don’t get them, they don’t get me, I basically start with a hook and some yarn and I doodle til something happens that I can hang an idea on. I’m the proverbial monkey with a typewriter, folks.

It’s an unpredictable, inconsistent and precarious method, and it feels extremely amateurish to me, but it’s also the only way I know how to do this, so… I guess until they invent mental spectacles for aphantasiatics, it’s the only way I can work.

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What’s in a name?

It’s not like my parents were thumbing through an English/Irish dictionary when they were pregnant with me to find the most epic-sounding name possible for their little bawling bundle. But, despite this, they hit the nail on the head pretty darn squarely.

My full name is Aoibhe Caitríona Ní Shúilleabháin.

…I’ll give you a minute to get over the shock. Take your time.

There’s a lot to digest in there, I know. You’re not alone in your puppy-dog head tilting, I promise. How to pronounce my name is a question I get aimed sheepishly at me on a regular basis.

I used to feel the need to apologise.
“Sorry, I know it’s a crazy name”.
“It’s so complicated, I apologise”.
“Oh, just write it “Eva”, I don’t mind”.

But as I matured I started to see the power that comes with an unusual name, a traditional spelling, something that stands out. My name is spelt exactly the right way when you are an Irish speaker. The letters follow a distinct set of rules understood by people across this island, and scattered around the world. I learnt that just because it’s not the standard set by English spelling, doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely 100% valid and correct.

So, I stopped apologising, and instead started to educate.

This past weekend I was in England, at the gloriously inspiring Hillview Farm Creativity Fest. All weekend I had a lanyard with the truncated, professional version of my name around my neck. “Hi!” it proclaimed “I’m AOIBHE NI.”

I got the question a few times. Once, directly, other times with a sort of a faux-casual sidle, all asking the same thing; “How do those letters… make that sound?

So, here it is folks. Short of my going around with a flip chart and a laser pointer to everyone’s house, this is the best way I can explain it.

In Irish, as in many languages, the sound a consonant makes can be altered by something either before or after it.

Think about the difference in English between “trust” and “thrust”, “sip” and “ship”. Just, with Irish it happens with different consonants in different ways.

So, the “bh” in my name isn’t a B sound, but a soft V. It’s like as if the B sound just sorta gave up and didn’t put all that much effort in.

The “Aoi” combination is a classic in Irish. It’s pronounced a few different ways depending on the region, but in Leinster, where I grew up, it’s a kinda AY sound (as in Hay, or Ray, or Stay). Other regions make it a sharper EEE sound, (as in Need, or Creed). They’re both valid, and I will answer to either.

So, smushing it all together, we get AY-v-ah.

…yea, that e at the end is pronounced like an A (as in Lamb, or Bath)

Ní is pronounced exactly like that bendy bit half way down your leg. The fada (that’s the accent) on the i changes it from a short sounding vowel to a much longer, broader version.
So, i is ‘ih’, í is ‘eeeeh’.

Once I had learnt all that aged about oh, 6 or so? came the next phase of self discovery; working out the translation for the words in my name, and folks, this is where I suddenly developed a life-long grá (love) not only for my moniker, but also for the process of explaining it to interested people.

My name, when translated directly from Irish into English means… ahem;

The Radiant and Powerful daughter of the One-eyed Man

I mean, c’mon… what’s a girl to do with that? It’s a wonder I don’t obsess about spending my entire life inside a Tolkein novel, yearning to be a Rider of Rohan, tbh.

And, for what it’s worth, my father has two, perfectly serviceable eyes. A more suspicious person would be worried about that. 😉

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The power of a purchase

The 22nd of May is an auspicious day for me.

It’s not because that was the day Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka;
or because it’s the day that Apollo 10 came within a tantalising, eight miles of the surface of the moon;
or because it was the day Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister of the UK…

I mean, all that stuff is cool, sure, but for me that day will always mean one thing;
It’s the day I made my first ever pattern sale.

The 22nd of May, 2009 seems like a lifetime ago now, and indeed it, was.
I hadn’t had my Tunisian crochet lace epiphany yet and had no idea of the career that lay before me, the people I’d meet, or the friends I’d make.

Dave and I were together a year or so, maybe a little longer, and we had just moved into our first place a few months prior. The recession had seen us both lose our jobs in late 2008, but things were still good despite that little hiccup.

Lemme give you some background here.

Ravelry was launched, in beta, in May of 2007, and I became a member some time after that. I can’t now recall if I was given a waiting time to join, or what my ticket number might have been if I was, but I do remember that I had to wait for a friend to submit my email address before I could register.
This was clearly the dark ages, folks.

This was back in the Web 2.0 days when manual data entry was the norm for all start-ups. I can’t imagine Ravelry’s Cassidy had an easy time of it as all us insular, hermit-like crafters squirmed out of the shadows to see if maybe, possibly, we were capable of having more fun crafting together as a group rather than alone in our corners.
Turns out, we could! Turns out, it was exactly what many of us needed!

I doubt very much if she got a lot sleep in that first year or two, poor lady.

But, eventually, my email was submitted by a friend, inputted into Rav, and I got my acceptance email. Whuppie!~

It’s hard to imagine now the impact that something like Rav had on someone like me, but believe me when I say it was huuuuge. See, I grew up in the middle of nowhere between two towns, only one of which had a library. That library had maybe three crafting books?… none of which really held my attention, so when Rav happened, it was seismic, opened up a world of ideas I hadn’t even considered in my wildest dreams, and eventually lead to that first, shiny pattern sale.

One dollar, folks.
One, siny, digital dollar for a hat pattern. From a complete stranger. Not a friend, looking to be supportive, but a total unknown entity.
Someone I didn’t know and had never met had thought my idea was good enough to part with money for. They had money, they gave it to me, AND were satisfied with the set of instructions they got in return.

Wait, what?!
My imagination had made me money, people! Holy crap!
My brain had essentially become a neurotic, cantankerous ATM. Like, that fact still blows my mind to this day; but that first sale, that first spark of potential? … wow.

That feeling is why I’m writing this post today.
The power of a purchase is a profound thing, folks, even now. Each one is a small vote of confidence that the ideas in my mind might just be worth showing people, might be worth working on, might be worth my time, my heart and my creativity; that they might be worth someone’s hard-earned money.

Each pattern purchase reminds me that this is worth working on.
I know that sounds very capitalist, I do. But it’s nonetheless true. The things I design take a lot of time from conception to completion. To do this at all it has to be full time. And as much as I love the idea of creating without any thought of money, this is a full time job or it’s nothing, and rent needs to be paid.

So, next time you see a design you like (be it from a new designer, or someone more established), do me a favour and buy it if you can?

Maybe you don’t intend to make it any time soon, or maybe ever, but the designing of a thing takes time, patience, and a spark that not many people have and that so many people lose because they don’t get the tiny little shows of support they need to keep trying. So, next time, rather than just liking a thing, or sharing it, or adding it to your wishlist or your queue, buy it. Spend the few bob. Vote with your Dollars and your Euros and your Yen.

Maybe buy it for yourself, or for a friend, or just do it for the designer.

Give a designer a boost, folks. It’s the most praticial, predictable way to ensure we get to keep designing so you get to keep making.

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A Speck of Immortality

I had intended, dear crafter, to write my next post about the wondrous sense of immortality I get from every stitch I work up, and every pattern I publish.

I was planning to wax overly-lyrical about how, as creatives, we are in an enviable position. That every poem we commit to paper, spindle we turn, thread we lace, stitch we make, daub of paint blobbed, note sung, flower pressed, we ensure a little speck of us will last long after we’ve breathed our last.

I was planning on describing how I feel about this.
I had phrases I was excited to use in context like “the breath of history” and “wrapping future generations on our soft, squishy stitches”, but all of that has been hastily set aside as all of this came into timely and desperately sad focus two days ago.

That was when I got a text from a former crochet student of mine late at night about another student from the same class. Short, and to the point as she always is; “Did you hear about Susan? RIP.”

I hadn’t heard, and what followed was a frantic, sleepy search for confirmation online, wondering what had happened, how her family was, and a little unexpectedly, I found myself wondering what her last crochet project had been, and if she had managed to finish it.

Of course, there are more important things in life. Of course there are.
But brains go to odd places when they’re in shock, and that one thought has stuck with me since.

Susan was not my most naturally gifted student. She’d tell you that herself. In fact, she did tell me that, at least three times every class.
Whatever the opposite of the phrase “duck to water” is, that would have fit her at the beginning. She hadn’t held a scrap of yarn in her life, so this, as she was closing in on retirement was totally new. But she was by far my most determined student. She worked at it like I have never seen anyone work before. She chipped away at those stitches like they were a coal face, and little by little, stitch by hard-won stitch she began to see the pattern in each double crochet, each half treble, then her fabric smoothed out, her hook stopped sticking, and she immediately started to make things for her beloved children.

A scarf for him as he began a new job.
A slouchy hat for her because she could find nothing that fit around all her curly hair.
Christmas decorations for her neighbour.
A hat for the dog…
And she gifted me with some spare fabric from a ill-fated attempt to learn dressmaking years earlier, a serger she’d never used, gluten free flour when I expressed a curiosity…

She was such a effortlessly generous lady and I have no doubt in my head she would have continued to make things that would have brought pleasure to others for many years to come, if she had been given the chance.

And now, with her so suddenly, so sadly gone, I know for sure that those gifts, those beautifully imperfect, ragged-edged, gloriously unique gifts that she worked so hard to produce will be more precious to her family and friends than anything else in the world, and that they will remember her every time they reach out and touch the same stitches she did.

That may not be immortality, but it sure is close.

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The shields we choose

When I was a wee tiny thing, I found myself impressed on a head-spinningly regular basis by my Mammy, and her seemingly endless list of creative skills.

She could trace images from my favourite story books (especially popular was a book about a young witch with stripey socks and curly toes, anyone remember the name of it?), she could embroider (she can still french knot like the wind), press wild flowers (and not-so-wild ones), knit me and my little sister jumpers (even if they were sometimes made of itchy mohair with necks so tight I tried repeatedly to ‘lose’ them in friend’s houses…), french darn, regular darn, crochet (of course).

But the thing that struck me the most – a kid of the 80’s whose life was all hand-me-downs and mass-produced kiddy clothes – was the fact that she’d tell us tales of when she was young and would make her own clothing.

She’d. Made. Her. Own… Clothes.

I don’t mind telling you this blew my little tiny brain.
Where, I wondered, would you even begin with something like that!?
This was magic to me. Was my Mammy a witch or something?!

As I grew up, she introduced me to her hand-crank Singer sewing machine and patiently taught me how to thread the needle, load the shuttle-shaped bobbin, and sew the only stitch the machine could do – a straight hem.

I was in heaven.

Of course, I was undisciplined, and used it more often to punch holes in paper to make “stamps” than to do any actual sewing, but the fascination with making my own clothing has remained with me ever since. It’s the benign, ever-present monkey on my back I have no intention of shaking.

More recently, I have gotten to grips with my own machine (a 1970’s electric classic I found for 20 quid in a charity shop in England. Bargain!), and have begun to experiment gently with it. And suddenly having the opportunity to make my own things, and with a mind bent eternally towards design, I have been pondering the possibilities and the magnitude of expression that comes with this burgeoning superpower.

All this creative experimentation has got me wondering about the off-the-rack clothes we choose to wear, what draws us to them, and why? I mean, every single item has been designed by strangers, made by strangers and sold to us by strangers who have no concept of the nuances of our personalities (or, the shape of our butts..)

I feel it’s important at this point to say that I am not being judgemental here, folks. This is purely me musing aloud about a thing I have not really reached a conclusion on yet. I am aware that dressmaking is a skill, and takes time, money and patience to get even half-way decent at. I am lucky I found that machine, and that it works. It has, nonetheless taken me ten years to get from “Oh, that’s how you thread the bobbin!” to “why is the tension all over the place!!?!” to “hey, that stitching is actually straight for once. Hurray!”

The dress I am perfecting the design for could not be less fussy if it tried. There are no ruffles, no ruches, no prints or patterns on the fabric. It’s plain cotton, is bordered with bias binding, fastens with two, very unassuming plastic snaps and I can put it on or take it off almost as fast as Wonder Woman could. It is gloriously utilitarian and I cannot wait to make a billion more.

I have always used home-made things as a form of emotional armour when going to events that make me nervous. Having a hand-knit jumper on for Christmas at home reduces the considerable stress that day inspires for me. Wearing a home-made dress that I have designed, sewn, and dyed to a crafting event I know next to no-one at affords me a level of protection I simply don’t feel in a shop-bought piece.

And I think it’s the intention behind the make that gives me such comfort. It’s almost like these events – these times when anxiety is crinkling the edges of my brain and the memories of past, public panic attacks are looming – are easier to deal with when I have slipped on my very personal, very individial armour. I spend time preparing a piece, making every single decision about how it should look, how it’s made, how it functions, and I get to wield it as if it’s a shield on which is emblazoned my tribal alliegance.

“This is me,” is whispered with every flick of a hemline, every turn of a cuff.
It’s suble, subliminal even, but spectacularly uncompromising.

I present an image as I wear that dress, that jumper, that shawl, and I am showing the world exactly who I am without even having to open my mouth to explain. It’s a visual shorthand I rely on very much, indeed.

I guess maybe there’s a life lesson in there somewhere? I’m not sure.
For now, perhaps it’s enough that it’s a trick that works.

Perhaps, it’s best if I just keep sewing…

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Feminist youth and the importance of pockets.

Let’s face it, folks. I’ll never make a fortune doing what I do.

My design work is niche, and requires a certain level of commitment from a buyer before they can get all down and dirty with with one of my patterns. And that’s OK. These are the songs I sing, and I am grateful for the attention of those who care to listen.

But it does mean that my financial circumstances are thus that D and I have always needed an extra housemate to help with the burden of rent and utilities.

This past year and a half, we have been living with an actor whose 9-year-old daughter, J, comes to stay with him every other weekend.

Now, guys, I’m no huge fan of kids, but this young lady is seriously, the business.
J is smart, sensitive, perceptive, funny and kind. And my heart grows at least one size bigger when I hear her and her father discussing the matters of the day while they cook. It brightens my day to hear him speak to her with respect and patience, and to answer her slew of questions in measured, considered ways. It is a wonderful relationship and I am immensely glad she has that in her life.

She’s also taken to me in a big way, which is incredibly flattering.
I have taught her to crochet, we’ve harvested veggies from the garden, picked berries and made jam. We’ve given names to the hoverflies in the garden (Gordon, and Petunia, for the record), and marvelled at the huge spiders that occasionally bolt across an Irish autumn carpet. We’ve baked several birthday cakes together, and have had many interesting little chats on the nature of people, animals and gymnastics.

But it’s eye-opening, guys, to see the things this nine-year-old notices about the world;

She’s outright pointed out her thigh gap to me and noted that I didn’t have one.
She’s been straightening her hair for years already.
And she watches endless make-up tutorials on youtube.
She. Knows. How. To. Twerk.

The pressure to become society’s idea of the perfect woman is already on her little shoulders and it breaks my heart to see that happen so early – especially when compared to my own childhood only a stone’s throw from where we now live.

But, this post isn’t meant to be yet another lament on the lost youth of our glorious girls. It’s meant to be uplifting, so let’s get to the good part!

I have recently come to grips with my sewing machine, so my natural urge to design has broadened, and I’ve begun to make myself simple wrap-around dresses, and skirts, and I have all manner of plans to make a pair of trousers in the near future, too (ones with the waist in the right place and that may actually fit my thighs! omg, excitement!). Occasionally, J will hear the sewing machine going, and will pop in to see what I’m at.

One day, a few weeks ago, she did just that, so I took my bare foot off the sewing pedal, and explained that clothes in the shops are usually only made to fit a certain shape, and anyone outside of that shape will either have to deal with what’s available, or find ways to get clothes that fit them nicely. I told her that since I found it difficult to find clothes to fit comfortably, I was making some of my own.

She absorbed this with a pensive nod then asked me what bit I was sewing right now.
“The pockets”, I told her.
“I find that a lot of women’s clothes don’t have pockets, or only have tiny ones I can fit nothing into, so that’s something else that I can fix by making my own things.”
She was satisfied, and off she went to blow bubbles for Rosie to chase around our garden.

Cut to last week, folks.
In comes J with her suitcase and teddy bear, as per usual. She comes up to me with a big smile and says, “I got new shorts.” And she gestured to a new pair of denim cut-offs.
“They’re really nice,” I said “I bet they keep you nice and cool while you’re busy running around in all this sunshine.”

“Yea,” she replied. “And.. Look! They have huge pockets.”

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In defence of shrubbery as a form of personal expression

I have been at this game for about ten years now, so you’d expect that I had the hang of it.

It’s certainly reasonable to assume that, at this stage, I’d know how to chat to yarn dyers, that I’d be adept at introducing myself to other designers, and that I would be capable of both formulating sentences and expressing myself intelligibly in front of people whose work I admire

But alas, I am not.

Well, in fact, I am. Intermittently.
But much like a kitchen tap with air in the pipes, I go on and off at a moment’s notice, and usually end up either disappointing, or startling my unfortunate, hapless victims.

I feel the need to apologise to the likes of Ysolda Teague (I didn’t mean to interrupt you mid conversational flow that time and cause an awkward silence), Kate Davies (it’s not you, trust me, it’s all me making those short exchanges unbearable), Louisa Harding (I didn’t snub you, I was just just scared!) and Kieran Foley (it seems every single compliment I come out with about your work ends up sounding like an insult, I have no idea why…) a huge apology for acting like a half human, half whirling dervish in their midst.

I have considered it may be a long, long, loooong-lived case of imposter syndrome, but I don’t think that’s the all of it, really.

In actual fact, I suspect it may be that I simply don’t know how to human.
Yes, I’m using human as a verb here, folks. Bare with me.

You see, I grew up in the country, and spent the vast majority of my formative years blissfully under or literally in one hedge or another (no, really), or in the middle of a field with sticks in my hair (no… really).
I made houses for myself out of oil barrels, and two by fours, and the giant, slate roof tiles left over from my aunt and uncle’s next door house build.

I made kilns and baked mud pottery; I hammered together rudimentary aeroplane-shaped swings and slung them up on the tired branches of ancient, groaning apple trees. I took time to identify and tag wildflowers along my country road with little, home-made flags so that I could come back in autumn and collect a few, precious seeds to add to my own, tiny wildflower meadow down by the rhubarb patch. I knit, and crocheted, and sewed on my Mam’s old hand-crank Singer sewing machine.

You’ll notice, perhaps, in all of this there’s no mention of other children, and so it was. Well there was my little sister, but she doesn’t count because she was younger and way, way cooler than I was (cooler than you Aoibhe?! Noooooo…), and seemed wholly uninterested in the somatic delights of hedge-sitting.

So, now, as a 36 year old, who is apparently supposed to be able to both adult AND human, I over-react when I’m in social situations and forget how to word.

You see, I panic, and I immediately misplace everything I know about the person I’m talking to. Even if I know them well. Even if I love their stuff. Even if I’m literally making one of their patterns at the time and adoring every minute of it. So, I can’t ask questions, in case I ask something dumb. I barely trust myself to say their name out loud, in case I garble it. I can’t comment on their work, in case I mix it up with someone else’s. Oh, boy, folks… honestly, the inside of my head is a mess.

So, I guess, this post is both an explanation, an apology, and a warning.
If you fall victim to my garbled babbling in the future, I am sorry, so so sorry. I’m really much calmer when there’s no one around.

If you HAVE fallen victim to it. I understand entirely if you resort to ducking behind the nearest available bush when you next suspect I’m around. I’d do the same thing if I had to witness me in a public setting. Trust me. It’s fine. I understand.

Just remember, I have long history of hiding in shrubbery, so I might already be in there …