OK, I was wearing one of my oldest jackets and OK, I did look slightly windblown, but I was still taken aback.

It came when a large woman pushed her face into mine last week and exclaimed: "Are you a tatter?"

Excuse me? A tatter? How dare you! The jacket may be shabby but it's vintage M & S I'll have you know.

But it seemed she wasn't commenting on my lack of sartorial savoir-faire. Oh no. She was, she said, a tatter herself and evidently saw something of the tatter spirit in me, too.

Tatting, you see, is an old lace-making craft but today's practitioners don't sit around clad in shawls and mobcaps. Not a bit of it. Rather they wear tinted glasses, suede waistcoats and dangling earrings and hang out at arts and crafts fairs.

Which is where I was when I was mistaken for one of their very own. What struck me most about the tatters was that they seemed such a cheerful, spirited bunch, the sort of women who in adversity would fearlessly round upon the enemy, waving their tatting needles and shouting as one: "Get knotted!"

Standing in their midst, I thought that tatting might very well be just what I'd been looking for in my pursuit of A Hobby. Looking for a suitable hobby is not unlike looking for a mate . . . The questions you ask yourself are how much is it likely to cost (financially and emotionally) and how much of your time will it need/demand?

So far I've managed to go through most of my life without a hobby but as I've grown older I've started to worry about how I'll spend my time when I retire and become a sweet, little old lady.

No, better drop the 'sweet', but for the sake of any grandchildren I may have eventually, I'd at least like to look the part - snowy white hair, twinkling eyes, nimble fingers crocheting a doily or stuffing a pin-cushion.

Unfortunately, I seem to be surrounded by friends who are best described as 'good with their hands' (no double entendre intended, honest).

They produce tapestry cushions, embroidered evening bags, delicate watercolours, Aran sweaters, shirts for their husbands, quilts for their beds, rugs for their living rooms and baskets for their cats.

I have no such skills. In fact the things I create look as if I'd made them with my feet - while wearing a blindfold. So when one of my arty-farty friends invited me to join her at a crafts fair, I was all for it. What a nice, relaxing way to spend an afternoon I thought - it will be full of nimble-fingered little old ladies with snowy white hair and twinkling eyes.

And it was. There were actually battalions of grannies and great-grannies determinedly elbowing the rest of us out of the way as they made for the most popular stands or towards the best seats at the various craft demonstrations.

After an hour I was exhausted. I went home. The next day I found the leaflets the tatters had pushed into my hands. When The Mother phoned I told her that at last I'd found a suitable hobby - tatting.

"You can't do that, it's too dangerous!" she exclaimed.

"Explain, please?" I said.


Tattooing," she replied. "You'll get blood poisoning. Why can't you find a nice, creative hobby?"

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.