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Archive Entries for September 2007

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Sunday September 30, 2007

Books in September

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J K Rowling
    It's official.
    I am the last person to read it.
    Nuff said.
  • Clerkenwell Tales Peter Ackroyd [Read by Nigel Graham]
    I'm fond of Peter Ackroyd - his books and his expressed interests in history and London. This book is set in the reign of Richard II. Chaucer is an obvious influence on the work, with short chapters, each focussed on one of the characters borrowed from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It's very educational for me, knowing little about the politics of the period, and full of charming (and disgusting) period details of medieval life.
  • White Jazz James Ellroy [Read by L.J. Ganser]
    Set in 1958, this another story of crime and corruption in the LAPD of the time. I have not read an Ellroy novel before, (though I saw and was very impressed by the film LA Confidential), so I was quite taken aback by the writing style; that and the intense slang of the period made it very hard to listen to - but more evocative to listen to with the right accent. It became easier as the CDs and I progressed together through the story, and I think now that perhaps it would have been equally hard for me to read, and that part of my confusion was trying to take in all the character names presented to me in the first few chapters.
    I now find Ellroy is renowned for writing in fragments rather than sentences, and it is certainly a powerful method which he uses very skilfully. Quoting from the publisher's review: "Ellroy's telegraphic style, which reduces masses of plot information to quick-study shorthand, captures the seamy stream-of-consciousness."
    This is the last volume of what is known as Ellroy's "L.A. quartet" of crime novels, which includes his previous L.A. Confidential (1990), The Big Nowhere (1988), and The Black Dahlia (1987). It's disturbing but riveting.
  • The Last Detective Robert Crais [Read by William Roberts]
    Having seen a very amusing TV series with Peter Davison and also a 70s film with Bernard Cribbins in the title role, I thought it would be fun to "read" the original book; I should have known better, as I well know that the "Dangerous Davies" books were written by Leslie Thomas, (popular in my teenage years for the "Virgin Soldiers" which was appealing to me and my peers at the time as it contained "adult themes" - we were just lucky it was well written and funny).
    I was alerted to my mistake by the opening chapter which was read by an American, and pretty well unmistakably about bear hunting in Alaska. After a few minutes minutes it began to dawn on me that the venue was not about to change to 1970s North London. Once I had overcome my disappointment, it turned out to be a pretty good detective novel set in LA.
    Yet another case of mistaken identity - I seem to unwittingly extend my literary choices and find new authors in this manner so I try to think of it as a positive thing.
  • Bad Moon Rising Sheila Quigley
    Rob bought me two books by this author as a present; they turned out to be her second and third books, so I borrowed and read the first (Run for Home) from the library. The author was first published in her fifties, is a grandmother living on an estate in the North East, and writes about what she knows; there is a Woman's Hour interview with her from 2004. The books are thrillers set on the (fictitious) Seahillls Estate and have a "gritty realism" that also seems quite comfortable and reassuring, if that's possible. Slightly sadly, I think she's writing about how she would like the atmosphere of the estate she lives on to be (minus the evil drug barons etc!) rather than maybe how it is.
    This is the second book of the four she has written to date. (Grannylit apparently).

Posted on September 30, 2007 at 12:02 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday September 25, 2007

St Catherine's

I am attending a conference at St Catherine's College in Oxford.

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It is a really lovely, as well as interesting place to be. It was designed in the 1960's by Arne Jacobsen; it opened in 1962, and the planned design was finally completed with the Bernard Sunley building in 1968. It is a striking modernist design, characterised by strong geometry, and, apparently became one of the first five post-war buildings to be given Grade 1 listed status.

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The Bernard Sunley lecture theatre is unusual and pretty wonderful - but the seating is rather in need of refurbishment; however the college has some difficulty with this due to its listed status!

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Unlike most quads, St. Catherine's is not closed off; instead hedge-lined walks lead to other buildings. Here is a detail from the above photo, showing the rather odd maze-like narrowly spaced alternating walls of brick and (I think) yew hedges, which flank the walkways.

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Jacobsen, considered the garden as an integral part of his design. As such it is now a Registered Garden to accompany the Grade 1 Listing of the buildings. This view of the quad shows the entrances to the accommodation blocks ("staircases") on the left; I was lucky enough to have a room here in the older original buildings, (although some aspects of the room clearly need a bit of decorative attention, I'm afraid).

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And here is the rear of the block showing the view from my room's window, on the ground floor; there is a door opening on to this area - but sadly an instruction to the effect that I should not open it "except in emergency".

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I know this looks like the usual 60s concrete block which we ("the man in the street") often - shortsightedly, I think - hold in contempt; however, the design details of, for example, unusual metal doors, huge picture windows, and just the overt use of modern materials, make it clear this is something special. A wonderful place to stay, and, I imagine, to study - never mind the dreaming spires.

Posted on September 25, 2007 at 10:18 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Monday September 24, 2007

Furrow...finally

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Please excuse this entry if it's a bit fuzzy round the edges, only I have been up all hours of the day and night finishing Furrow in time for Rob's birthday. There's no excuse for it - I started it well in time about a year ago, (my first entry of "On the Needles"), but somehow "plenty of time" dwindled rapidly to "o my god I've finished the knitting but it takes an hour for every inch of sewing up".

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I took it to the Creative Fibre group last week and the pattern was much admired. I must admit I am warming to it, and beginning to think that the designer, after all, was not carried away with the method as much as I had first thought, and I now think the chosen technique is, after all, the simplest way to achieve the design.

furrow2.jpg

atonement.jpg After the grand present-giving ceremony, we went to see Atonement at the Screen in Reigate. It's a fabulous film, beautifully and brilliantly filmed, and I can hardly feel they left anything out, (obviously stretching the truth, as how can that be so?). Nonetheless, the book is ... wonderful... and the film does not disappoint, being true to the spirit of the book and evoking the same emotions I felt when reading it some years ago.
Just to prove I am not superficial I did have some views shared by other reviewers. They have indeed changed the focus of the story to be more about Cecelia and Robbie, whereas the book is definitely about Briony - it is after all her "atonement". And the end of the film is slightly altered, and you could say explicitly chooses to miss out the point of Briony's writing her own book; however in the film Briony explains why she "changed the end" of her book, and in doing so I think (à la book within a book) makes some sort of case for any change to the end of the film.

It worked for me - and the photography and the music.... fabulous....

Posted on September 24, 2007 at 7:25 AM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday September 16, 2007

South Coast Tour

Bird_string.jpg We went to see George's sister and her family, and especially his niece, who has just had her 18th birthday. The whole family was recovering from the previous night's wild teenage party - but everything (and everyone) looked in pretty good shape to me. The puppies were exhausted having been up all night with the revelers. We took Elizabeth the "coming of age" gift, which in our case was a white gold necklace with tiny diamonds.

On the way down we made a stop at my sister's, where we were treated to the perfect lunch, and swag from her recent visit to Chennai (formerly Madras). She went to a conference with Carole, and both were surprised by the place. Hard for me to explain succinctly why - but, in a nutshell, it was the general level of dirt and lack of any influences of tourism. Even the most up-market and expensive local hotels they tried were very down-at -heel (and dirty apparently). I think it was the fact that it is the 4th largest city in India, and the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu which made this remarkable. [There were Marriots and Hiltons but they rejected these being determined to try something a little more "real"]. On the right is a souvenir string of birds with a bell, and below is a delightful bracelet, (a bit of a struggle for little fat hands!).

Bracelet.jpg

Finally we dropped in on George's parents, where he helped his Mother with her latest computing scheme (putting photos on DVDs as slideshows). She showed me her current artistic endeavours with her quilts, and I (at last) got to deliver the birthday gift of "short and sweet". Here she is posing for me in her lovely garden.
Note the beautiful display of hydrangeas - such a wonderful and unusual colour.

Sheila3.jpg

Posted on September 16, 2007 at 8:23 PM. Category: Days Out.

Wednesday September 12, 2007

He is no more.

He is an ex-parrot.

Well! I was only talking about him just recently .... and this evening listening to PM on the way home from Warwick I find he has died at the age of 31 - not old for a parrot apparently.

Alex.jpg I am a terrible bore on the subject of "talking" animals - I was completely captivated by Washoe the chimpanzee - and this is what led me to watch a Horizon** programme, where I first saw Alex the African grey parrot, along with Dr. Irene Pepperberg, the researcher who started working with Alex (Avian Learning EXperiment) 30 years ago. What I always found so amusing is that Alex, although he speaks cognitively, is actually a perfect mimic, so his voice, intonation, and accent are exactly that of Dr Pepperberg herself. She did have a rather obvious and somewhat maternal relationship with the bird ... but ... why not? He was very appealing. Here is a link where you can see him at work. Go on - he was one of the truly great parrots...

These animals who have learnt to communicate with us on our own terms are fascinating, and I enjoy reading articles on the research. I enjoy the fact that chimps are interested mainly in food and tickling (and sex I guess but that was never dwelt upon in the reports I heard of these studies). Although this communication is all in the form of signing, it seems very clear that they do have "language" - which maybe we would understand better if we were able to communicate with them on their own terms, rather than teaching them signing that we have invented.

This brings me to the second point that always amused me. Some (famous) linguists are quite determined that whatever these animals have, it is absolutely not language. They then define language to exclude these other forms of communication- the first attempt was suggesting that the chimps just use words but not sentences and have no idea of syntax. Then the researchers pointed out that the chimps knew full well the difference between "I tickle you" and "You tickle me". So the linguists changed the definition of language yet again. Such is the arrogance of the human race. I can see that they seem to have a small vocabulary, and limited grammar, so they have nothing like the sophistication of our verbal communication... but who knows? They are communicating in, not just a foreign language, but more like an alien language. I have not seen any more recent studies on chimps but I'm not sure we ever got to learn their own non-verbal method of communication, even though empirical research made it clear that they have one.

** I think the programme I watched was "HORIZON: SIGNS OF THE APES, SONGS OF THE WHALES" in 1984. Horizon is a TV documentary programme with a long history of excellence (here speaks a woman who watches only crime drama on TV). It covers a wide range of topics within the world of science and technology - which may be why I find it more appealing than other documentary series.

Posted on September 12, 2007 at 8:54 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday September 9, 2007

Hog

About 11pm last night we heard a clanking noise outside the kitchen door. I had been forced to commandeer some porcelain bowls for use by the cat (due to large number of kittens - other bowls in the kitten shed...). To my delight I found a new pet tucking into the cat food (I had heard they do this but never experienced it before). We captured him on camera - the cat also came to investigate (cautiously...) and then he obviously thought discretion was the better part of valour and made a bid for freedom - they move pretty fast - no rolling up into a ball.

After the excitement had died down, and we had retreated back into the house, we heard the clanking yet again, so I quietly opened the door to check - and he was back, noisily snorfling down the crunchy dried cat food. I closed the door and left him in peace this time - not that he seemed at all put out - most determined to tuck in.
Note his sleek fur and bristles - that will be all the healthy vitamins in Hills Science Diet.

Hog.JPG

Posted on September 9, 2007 at 11:45 AM. Category: France.

Saturday September 8, 2007

Baking

The weather over the last couple of days has been fantastic.

We chose the hottest day to rip ivy away from the bakehouse. It's been dusty hot work, and the result is never wholly satisfactory. However it was more than necessary to make a start. The ivy is a variegated domesticised variety which is much more tenacious than the wild variety (both were present so we had a chance to compare the two).

After this we joined Lloyd to share tea and banana bread.
Perfect.
I mean: parfait.

Posted on September 8, 2007 at 6:20 PM. Category: France.

Friday September 7, 2007

Friendly Tortoise

I finished my woolly tortoise and he is now safely written up as pattern of the month.

As a kid, I had a number of tortoises, and funnily enough they all seemed to run away - I remember I acquired my first one as it was "on the run" and we could not find the original owner. They would just launch themselves into mid air down the steps from our garden - sometimes we would find them at the bottom, stuck with their legs waving uselessly in the air, but sooner or later (law of averages) they would land the right way up - and they were off...

Anyway the woolly one made it in and out of my life in record time. We went to Moulin de Jean this evening with Ava and Peter, and they dropped in to collect a Gnome (don't ask). Ava spotted the tortoise (Terence apparently) and said "I always wanted a tortoise" and to my amazement when I offered him to her she joyfully took him home. I do hope she wasn't just being polite. I know he's friendly and everything but....

Posted on September 7, 2007 at 11:19 PM. Category: Knitting.

Wednesday September 5, 2007

Maiden Over

Now the cricket season is safely over, and after several false starts, I finally completed the cricket pullover. Here is Lloyd being measured up one evening at the end of June - he doesn't look too optimistic at this point - and I must say, it's the first time I have been tempted to stand on a box in order to reach a bloke's chest.

Lloyd2.jpg Lloyd3.jpg

And here is the final result - tantara:

Posted on September 5, 2007 at 6:18 PM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday September 2, 2007

La Fermette - un siècle de la vie rurale

We saw a fête at Bellefontaine advertised on a poster, so, having missed the (similar) annual festivities at St Martin le Bouillant this year, we decided to give it a go. The poster said "rôtisserie à midi" but we failed to appreciate that the meal was the start of it all, and thus we arrived a bit early. However, we bought our tickets (repas compris), and headed off to kill some time, deciding to take a stroll around the now familiar Cascades at nearby Mortain.

We parked in the town this time and took a different walk altogether to get to the Petite Cascade. We walked through Place des Aiguilles - which I can easily translate due to my excellent knitting vocabulary, if not due to the obviously eponymous rocks.

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We reached the Cascade from exactly the opposite direction from last time. This enabled me to actually see and experience the tranquility, take the picture, get the T-shirt etc.

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La Fermette

We arrived back at the fête promptly at midday, briefly toured the fields - and then went to eat:

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After this we had a great afternoon: there was a parade of rural workers in costume, and various demonstrations of old farming methods, including different techniques for harvesting, threshing, bailing, and also pressing apples for cider.

There were a number of stalls with people selling their craft wares. I fell in love with this lady's stall. She obviously takes old objects, and then paints them. I could not resist purchasing the colander.

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Another rural craft item that interested me a lot was the making of rope using a slightly Heath-Robinson like machine. This is exactly the process used to prepare your threads for ply-split braiding - but on a much grander scale. [The contruction of the machine is like the advice given for making your own automatic winder using some cup hooks and an electric drill]. Note also the eccentric well in the background... seems to have gladioli growing out of the ridge....

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The final item was very interesting for us to see: the cider pressing - especially since we have all this equipment rotting away in one of the out buildings at La Gonfrairie. (The building is a little odd since the boundary between our land and our neighbours cuts right through this building - it is half on our side and half on his!).
Back to the cider.
The apples are first minced in a machine....

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....then packed into shape with straw bundles ready for pressing:

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Posted on September 2, 2007 at 6:16 PM. Category: France.

Saturday September 1, 2007

J'ai faim

Heard George call me from the bottom of the garden and on joining him, he pointed out that his Mother had been wrong and that there were three kittens with our little cat, not just two, as she had reported when visiting a few weeks ago.

A moment or two later, one detached itself and it became clear there were in fact four kittens.

Cats1.jpg

I watched for a while then went back in the house.

A while later I heard George chuckling away, still watching the kittens.

This was why.

Five.

Kittens1.jpg Kittens2.jpg

Posted on September 1, 2007 at 11:14 AM. Category: France.