Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Balaclavas and mittens

An extract from CLOTHING from Guineys book of bollix.


The name "balaclava" comes from the town of Balaklava, near Sevastopol in Crimea (now Ukraine).[1] During the Crimean War, knitted balaclavas were sent over to the British troops to help protect them from the bitter cold weather. This spurred the troops onto victory. A similar scenario at the battle of 'Mitten' in the Scottish highlands ended in disaster when the British soldiers ,freezing in the Scottish hills ,were issued with a new type of glove made in great haste -hence only having an individual space for the thumb alone ,the rest of the hand and fingers being trapped in the same woolly pocket.The gloves were named 'Mitten' (or those fuckin' bastardin' useless gloves) after the terrible battle there where British soldiers were routed due to not being able to position their mitten bound fingers on the trigger of their rifles.

I was unfortunate enough to be issued with a balaclava as a schoolboy and it did indeed keep you warm and cocooned from the world ,covering as it did your entire head including ears and all your peripheral vision.This however ,though having the advantage of thermal retension,made crossing the road like a game of Russian roulette as you could neither hear, nor barely see, the traffic.I was run over several times before the age of 10. Luckily out of the 10 accidents I was only killed twice, the other tmes escaping with broken limbs, decapitation and mild abrasions.

Also, as we were poor and mammy had already splashed the cash on the balaclava ,mittens were only to be dreamt of.Instead we went to school with just the string running through the sleeves of our coat to which normally would be attached a pair of mittens.If challenged by rich kids we merely feigned shock that our cashmere mittens had disasterously fallen from the strings.

17 comments:

Heather said...

You learn something new every day! I remember my Dad telling me that some of the balaclavas knitted for soldiers during WW2 were such a strange shape they weren't sure which bit went over the head. I think they'd learned the lesson of the mittens as fingerless gloves were all the rage then, obviously to allow total freedom for the trigger finger.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I remember the string through the sleeves with gloves on the ends - also remember being bundled up in so many clothes in winter that it was difficult to walk without feeling like the michelin man. Also remember bare knees which chapped on the insides as they rubbed together (in your case that would be in short-trouser days) so that they were permanently red and sore. Also remember "hot aches" when your hands got so cold that they burnt painfully. What got me started on this diatribe? And what task are you setting us for next Monday (please don't say you are giving up on us)
Oh - and then there were those awful liberty bodices we had to wear - heaven knows what was liberating about them (but then you wouldn't know about them would you.)

Niamh B said...

ingenius - I bet the strings were made of cashmere too, to complete the illusion...

aleph said...

I was obliged to use a "balaklava" during my early school years... Here they´re called "pasamontañas" The terrible "thermal retension" effect also provoked itching and swallowing a lot of little wool strings each time one tried to talk. They were the reason for the first terrible conflict with my mother. (which was also my first defeat, but after negotiating i was allowed to use a red pasamontañas instead of the first white one...)

SUSAN SONNEN said...

:D

the watercats said...

ahhhh.. mittens..... My personal favourite slant on the mitten front are those wooly sleeves, with just a thumb hole and (no fingers).. wrist warmers really... I'm sure they have a fancy name, probably something like, outermongolianveiners.. or something... I was jealous of kids with strings, all I had was an old tesco's bag wrapped around each hand.. (also had one on each foot inside my boots for waterproofing from the rain that came in the holes).. (that were letting in waaa..errr.. teerrr)..

Totalfeckineejit said...

Boy!Heather, they must have been badly knitted Balaclavas!Fingerless gloves and gloveless fingers are the way ahead!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Oh, Weaver, I remember the burning pasin of cold when making snowmen or snowballs,one not connected to the other naturally!Liberty and bodice seem to be a contradiction in terms, but I cannot comment.A for layers of clothes, yes, I remember, but even more vivid is the suffocating layer of blankets and coats upon the bed, a warm patch created by the hot water bottle and a dread fear of moving an inch into arctic white sheet. iremember plumes of hot breath and intricate ice patterns on the inside of the windows.Ah, happy daze!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Yes, nothing but the best string for us, Niamh!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Yes, nothing but the best string for us, Niamh!

Totalfeckineejit said...

aleph, ooh! I prefer 'pasamontanas'any day! And red ones much better than white,well done in your victory!Do you remember also the horrible wtness caused by your breathing? Nasty!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Susan! I'm expecting a poem from you!!!

Totalfeckineejit said...

I think, Watercats, they are called 'we-don't-have-enough-wool- to-' Tesco bags? You had Tesco bags? OOOh we had it tough, couldn't afford food let alone shopping in Tesco's with their fancy-Dan plastic bags!

Jeanne Iris said...

And here I thought baklava was that delicious Greek dessert!
I never had strings; We had two-ended metal clips, one for the mitten, one for the cuff, that kept our mittens handy (pun intended)....but then, I grew up in Michigan, where we also would be wrapped in woolen mufflers, layers of sweaters, pants and head coverings. Basically, we did look like 'ticks ready to pop,' but oh, what fun in the snow we had!

Argent said...

My brother had one of those balaclava things with the peak at the front to further interfere with vision. My mam made all the knitted items in our house and we had a hot water bottle in the shape of a little lamb over which we would fight every night. Out bedroom windo had a hole in the glass which was stuffed with newspaper to keep out the draught. Yeah, we've all got our hard-up stories :-)

Totalfeckineejit said...

Hey Jeanne,you're thinking of Balalaika a triple layered Russian trifle in the shape of a triangulr guitar.You wore woolen exhaust pipes(mufflers)? Well I suppose it was motor city!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Hey Argent, when you were fighting, did the loser have to have the woolly bottle? And windows ? You had windows ? And a Newspaper? You were lucky! :)