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Wednesday December 31, 2008

Books in December

  • The Death of Dalziel by Reginald Hill
    DeathofDL.jpg I love these books - and I used to love the TV series - until they started to deviate so substantially from the novels. I have no purist objection to additional stories written for TV (as in "Morse") but Ellie Pascoe and "Ivor" Novello were two of my favourite characters - played by really strong actresses - and they were just written out. I was sad, as they left the door open in the script at one point to get back on track with Ellie - but then closed it again. Ivor was replaced for a while by "Harris" Tweed - which was a bit daft as they could have simply changed the actress, if that were what drove it, though I don't think a changeling would have worked for Ellie.
    In this book - and increasingly - Ellie and Peter's relationship is really important to the novels, so once they removed her from the picture they have been forced to change the plots more and more. The disconnect happened at around the time of Arms and the Woman - again one of my favourites, being a lot about Ellie - and I can see it would have been very hard to portray this book on screen, at least hard to portray it within the straight police mystery genre into which the TV series falls. It, and this book, Death of Dalziel, have a surrealist or sci-fi element which is both humourous and witty/intellectual, as well as excellent writing - but (unsurprisingly) absent from the TV interpretation.
    I should also say I admire Ellie for representing a class of woman all too often absent in mainstream drama. [Although increasingly common in mainstream "life" I think]. Namely, a strong intelligent middle class woman portrayed in a supporting role. Some might imagine that she appeals to me as a Bolshy feminist lefty - well she might - or she might not - but that's not it. She has her own life, and I do not think the substance of that life matters; it just matters that she has one. And she chooses to live it with Peter Pascoe and their daughter.
    PS - you don't really think he's dead, do you?

  • The Secret Hangman by Peter Lovesey
    SecretHangman.jpg Peter Lovesey is what I would call a traditional English crime writer - as Agatha Christie probably was, prior to her somewhat surprising rise to megastar status. His settings are ordinary contemporary situations, not 1930s period piece locked-room mysteries, but happily with the expected (unrealistic) high body count. In the books I have read, (The Circle and The House Sitter), he writes about police detectives rather than amateurs, even if the police are not necessarily the main players.
    Having said that, his first books in the 1970s were the "Sergeant Cribb" series, which is set in Victorian London. Cribb is probably his best known character due to the 1980s TV series starring Alan Dobie.

  • All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre
    [Read by Cathleen McCarron]
    AllFunGamesBook.jpg This book seems to have had mixed reviews. It seems that Brookmyre fans have had expectations stemming from what they subjectively felt he was expressing in his previous books, rather than maybe what he really was expressing. Some readers put off reading this book owing to the apparently negative reviews, and were then pleasantly surprised when they finally read the book.
    It is definitely not a very realistic book - at many levels - it involves a fictional international Bond-style organisation from the outset, and progresses through a middle-aged woman's wish fulfilment. I was a bit neutral after the first chapter, but it swiftly drew me in, and as usual his witty writing and plot digressions were a lot of fun.

Posted on December 31, 2008 at 9:01 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday December 30, 2008

The Rose

Finally managed to go to the Rose theatre in Kingston, which officially opened in January of this year. We saw A Christmas Carol - and it was really excellent, with a small cast playing many parts, a narrator, and excellent use of carols to carry through the plot and scene changes. It was witty, entertaining, and altogether everything that the Hound of the Baskervilles at Richmond should have been, but was not.


I knew nothing about the theatre and its construction prior to going but was delighted that it is (almost) theatre in the round, and as well 3 levels of seating, there is a traditional "pit". It struck me that the design and the name might be in some way connected with the Rose in London - and indeed, of course it is...

Posted on December 30, 2008 at 12:18 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Monday December 22, 2008

Relaxing (or: another go at the apples).

Now the pressure is firmly off finishing any last minute knitted gifts due to lack of raw materials - I can relax in the knowledge that extra wool is at least on the way. So I made some mince pies.


To use up more apples, I had already made a small amount of mincemeat - which to reassure you Americans - especially those with jobs in US customs - there is absolutely no meat in mincemeat - but there are apples. The mincemeat recipe is from Delia (but I was given a similar one at school). The pastry and mincemeat construction is from my Jocelyn Dimbleby Christmas Book - as before. The pastry is a very buttery mixture, not the usual half and half, making it very short (12oz butter to 16oz flour or that proportion in whatever units you like) and it is a sweet pastry - so you have about 3oz of sugar in there as well - and she adds zest and juice of orange to mix. The final secret ingredient is that as you build each pie you not only put a teaspoon of mincemeat in each one but also a dab of cream cheese before putting the top on.

Due to the unexpected missing knitted gift for... someone..., I went (unsuccessfully) last minute late-night shopping in Kingston. I may have just popped into the local John Lewis branch - and bought some Rowan Big Wool to knit a gift for my friend Helen. I have already sent her the Interweave Knits Dumpling Bag for Christmas - so hope she will not be too tired of my little woolly offerings. I bought the whole project on a whim, along with yet another book by Kim Hargreaves Amber. The pattern is for a little cape called Charity, (as in "cold as charity" maybe).

Posted on December 22, 2008 at 7:13 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Sunday December 21, 2008

Gold Star Service

So the panic flurry of finishing off Christmas gifts was in full flood when....


So the question was - could I get delivery in time to carry on and finish before the big day? To this end, late Friday night I submitted my request to my "LYS" - which is local to where I lived as a kid, and I buy from them on-line as they still have shop premises, which I like to support (nothing quite like feeling and touching...). To my horror, on Saturday the store called to say they no longer had my dye lot! (Full marks to them for a speedy response of course...)
This I did not expect, and the panic shifted from 'could I get delivery on time' to 'could I get delivery at all, ever'?
I then started to call all my LYSs (local to where I live now) - more in hope than expectation - but no luck - and even worse it was clear that this was an early dye lot - no-one had anything near. After I had thrown the net as wide as I could within the context of the word 'locaI' I then started to call shops listed at the back of the latest Rowan book, in alphabetical order starting at "A". Many of the local yarn stores had completely closed for the holidays, and by this time it was after 5pm so I was restricting my call to John Lewis branches which were opening late. I finally got (almost impossibly) lucky at "C" Cambridge where "Jenny" pulled out the whole display and found me what I needed. So I would like to offer my special thanks to her and all the JL departments I called. Plus, I would congratulate JL on maintaining a cheerful and consistent method of managing all calls, and producing members of staff willing to go and check their shelves, with great good humour, on what must be the busiest Saturday of the year. Sadly, although everyone helped me, I did not get such a pleasant response from all the privately-owned stores I called.

Every time this happens I swear I will never do it again - and then somehow I forget.

Posted on December 21, 2008 at 3:10 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Saturday December 20, 2008

Finger of Fate

Said finger seems to have singled out the village of Banstead to be at the forefront of the defence against the Great Downturn. Our local Waitrose supermarket there has been rased to the ground last Friday night by a huge fire; it was a remarkable event in the village. It took 15 hours to put out the blaze and the High Street was closed for almost a week.

I was ignorant of the fact all week, since I went elsewhere to shop in larger towns (Christmas shopping). All week I meant to pop into Banstead and failed to do so; I can't imagine how stunned I would have been to see such a sad sight without being pre-warned. In fact, I still have not plucked up courage to go and look. George says the saddest part is that it still has the basic shape of a supermarket (so not quite rased to the ground). However, they estimate it will take up to two years to rebuild.

[This picture submitted to a local website by Nicola Court]

So - it is a very sad event for the locality, and much speculation that it will add to the pressures on the local shops to try and retain customers without the draw of a major supermarket in the village.

[Waitrose (Mr Thompson) wrote to their customers (me) "apologising" for the fire and giving me vouchers to spend in other stores - it is so devastating (in the context of the comfortable environment in which I live) - I felt it would have been more appropriate for me to write a sympathetic letter to them! To everyone's relief, it was only property that was damaged - no people.]

Posted on December 20, 2008 at 2:28 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Thursday December 11, 2008

Goodbye Woolies

A shop on every high street. From Lancing, (village of my birth), to the present in Banstead village. A permanent fixture. Until now.


I went to the closing down sale of one of the saddest victims of the financial crisis. It's all sentiment of course - all us middle aged middle class middle-of-the-road folk, who no longer shop there but remember it fondly as the only affordable place of our teenage youth. Now where will I get my minit-mop replacement heads and my "old stock" range of dyes?

The whole store was full of people saying "I remember when..." and "...how sad..." - but what can we do? all club together for a nationwide buyout? Because the truth is we certainly did not shop there enough to keep it going.

Goodbye Woolies - I hope you have gone to a better place.

Posted on December 11, 2008 at 3:17 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday December 7, 2008

Sunday Matinee

In which we go to see the film Quantum of Solace - the new(ish) Bond film (where have you been?), and I eat a whole overpriced bag of toffee-coated popcorn.

As I understand it, the film had mixed reviews, but I found it everything a Bond film should be. Perhaps lacking a Sean Connery or two but you can't have everything - and we all knew about that before we bought the tickets. I found the Times Online Review expressed my positive feelings about the film. Daniel Craig portrays a Bond for our times.

George and I both noticed that the plot very much followed on from the previous film - as pointed out in the Times review. We felt it would have been fun to have maybe rewatched the DVD of Casino Royale before going to see this one. That's my only advice - and if you like Bond that's no hardship is it?

Posted on December 7, 2008 at 8:48 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday December 6, 2008

Time for tea (or Yet More Apples...)

"Any cake?" [Peter Ustinov anecdote as retold by George's Father...]

My cake of the week is Delia's Date and Walnut Loaf. In the recipe I used (taken from her Complete Cookery Course) she specifies apples (not prunes), for which "you may substitute prunes if you wish". (I did not wish).


So if you use the link to her "new" recipe online, just use a medium cooking apple, roughly chopped, instead of the prunes. Her earlier instructions in the book do not follow the usual cake method as given online; they say: mix the butter sugar eggs and flour with an electric mixer, and then add the dates, nuts, apple, and milk. I used a hand mixer, but did cream the butter and sugar prior to throwing in all the rest.

It is jolly good, but best eaten very fresh - as is the case with most tea breads.
No real problem there.

Posted on December 6, 2008 at 4:11 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Sunday November 30, 2008

Books in November

  • Monday Mourning and Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs [Read by Barbara Rosenblat ]
    MondayMourning.jpg BreakNoBones.jpg Two detective-aficionado friends have told me they are keen on these Temperance Brennan novels, while sharing my scorn and derision for the TV series based on the characters - so I thought I should read them. And they were right; the stories are interesting and well written.
    The TV series is "Bones" - and when I say 'based on the characters', I use the term loosely, since the name of the leading character seems to be the only item in common with the books. However, it seems the TV character is intended more to be based on the author herself (who is an academic who writes detective mystery novels...).

  • The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters [Read by Stephen Thorne]
    BrotherHaluin.jpg Over the years I have really enjoyed the Brother Cadfael stories. I am not sure why - perhaps the historical context is interesting, but I do like the simplicity of the tales and the certainty of right and wrong that is portrayed in the stories; any inconsistency of what was considered right in the day, compared with what might be right 1000 years later, is overcome by making Brother Cadfael a little more of a liberal thinker than his peers. However, they are tales of human nature, and when it comes down to it, that has not changed very much.
    I really enjoyed the television series with Sir Derek Jacobi, supported by a strong cast of excellent and experienced British actors. [I always thought, though, that Jacobi was miscast in this role. Don't get me wrong - he is excellent and his portrayal is excellent, but he does actually look credibly like an intellectual monk, whereas there is an implication in the text that Cadfael's physical appearance always betrays his background as an aging but tough ex-soldier.**].
    This is one story that I did not know at all, so it was interesting to find it. However, almost from the moment of the "confession" in the first few chapters, I could see the entire plot laid out before me, and simply had to wait to hear it unfold. This did not spoil the pleasure of it, but it was a bit slow in the telling. Of course, in real life, and to the characters, the outcome would not have been expected in this way, but unlike them, I knew they were in a mystery story....
    **Years ago, my friend Helen suggested Don Henderson (now no longer with us) for the role. In 1989 Henderson had a great part as a priest (opposite Leslie Grantham, his fictional brother) in "The Paradise Club" - but he has appeared in many mainstream productions in his career, even including StarWars, and towards the end of his life in Red Dwarf. Here is a lovely picture of him with another of my favourites, Michael Elphick from their cookery series "The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Cookery".


Posted on November 30, 2008 at 1:31 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday November 23, 2008

Stir-Up Sunday

What?! (I hear you cry) Stir-up Sunday already!

I chose to make my Christmas Puddings and cakes this weekend, (started yesterday in fact), thinking I was a little early. But the arrangement of dates this year has meant that the last Sunday before Advent does not fall on the final weekend in November - so I am just in time. I made several puddings (which have to steam for 6 hours - for the largest one) and 2 of Delia's whisky Dundee cakes.


For the puddings I always use a recipe from the Jocelyn Dimbleby Christmas Book, which is a book I can recommend, but you will have to look on eBay, as it was published by Sainsbury's in 1987. It offers a light weight pudding made using breadcrumbs rather than a heavier cake mixture; I think several cooks now produce a similar light weight version in this way - it's not too sweet either, and not too much brandy, though it can be as alcoholic as you care to make it!

The sight of all these unavailable cakes made us want one to eat, so I made a classic Victoria Sponge with home-made raspberry jam filling for us to have for tea. This is Nigella's recipe from How to Eat - a great book - Nigella gives us good recipes but to my mind is an excellent journalist, so it is a pleasure just to read her books, as well as cook from them.
"This book changed my life" (o - and my figure!).


Posted on November 23, 2008 at 10:49 AM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Thursday November 13, 2008


Just a pretty sunrise on the way to Portsmouth, and the ferry to Caen.



Posted on November 13, 2008 at 11:39 AM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday November 8, 2008

More Apples

Continuing to "deal" with the apples - this is one of my favourite desserts. It looks very pretty with its icing sugar dusting, and is quick to make, (once you have assembled the ingredients); in fact, the quicker the better, as it needs to go into the oven as soon as possible after the flour is mixed in.

Almond Apple Dessert Cake


(serves 6 - or 4 greedy people)

  • 3oz butter
  • One large egg
  • 4oz castor sugar (I like the 'golden' variety)
  • 1 teaspoon of almond essence
  • 4oz self-raising flour sifted with 1 rounded teaspoon of baking powder
  • 12oz Bramley apples, (weight before peeling)
  • icing sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C in a fan oven, or Gas Mark 5. Use ½oz of the butter to grease a 6 inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
  2. Melt the rest of the butter in a pan until just runny.
  3. Peel and core the apples - you can slice them now, or wait until you are ready to use them, to try and avoid their turning overly brown.
  4. Beat together the egg, sugar, and almond oil; then pour the melted butter into the mixture in a thin steady stream while still beating. (Use an electric whisk if possible as it makes it much easier to do this).
  5. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder.
  6. Spread about two thirds of the mixture in the bottom of the tin.
  7. Quickly slice the apples and put them roughly on top of the mixture.
  8. Finally spread the remaining mixture over the apples. This seems like an impossible task as there is very little mixture left with which to work, but smear it over as best you can (use a flexible spatula to get all you can out of the bowl), and don't worry that it is not smooth - this will even out in cooking, and the mixture will rise up to mostly cover the apples.
  9. Now put it into the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the apple is soft (test with a skewer); check towards the end of the cooking time to make sure the cake is not going too brown on the top.
  10. Once out of the oven, loosen the sides of the cake with a knife, and carefully push out. When slightly cooler, dust with icing sugar.

This can be served warm or cold, and keeps for a couple of days (covered) in the fridge. I'm afraid this is another dessert designed to be served with cream.

Posted on November 8, 2008 at 10:55 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Friday October 31, 2008

All Hallow's Eve

Somehow I need to make my own personal acknowledgement of a friend that I have not seen since I was at school. Over the past couple of days I have been reminded of a lot of people I have not thought of for years. I'm sure I have better photos than this one, but on reflection this is the most appropriate. Here are some of the lads, (the ones who could sing), who still keep in touch with one another - all in costume for HMS Pinafore (just in case you think I went to a rather odd school).


Lots of fun ...but life can play hard tricks.

Posted on October 31, 2008 at 11:50 AM. Category: Friends.

Books in October

  • The Lincoln Lawyer Michael Connelly [Read by Michael Brandon]
    LincolnLawyer.jpg Having already read this book "on the page", I listened to it as a talking book; it was just as enjoyable second time around - and I could knit at the same time... Now I am suitably prepared for for Connelly's next book which features the same hero - and I must say I am looking forward to this. I feel warmly towards Michael Haller - I wonder if he shares more, or fewer, characteristics with the author than Harry Bosch?**

    **Colin Dexter said that you cannot help writing a certain amount of your own views and tastes into your characters: "like me, he, [Morse], is diabetic, an atheist, and a lover of music and art". But also admitted that it was not true of all characteristics and I thought I heard in an interview that Dexter himself does not like beer - though I am sure I have seen film of Dexter (apparently) enjoying a pint.
    It amuses me that, (judging by the publicity photos in the books), when physically describing Bosch, Connelly could be describing himself - and I notice this is also true of MC Beaton describing Agatha Raisin.

  • Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came M C Beaton
    FloodsCame.jpg Continuing my reading of the series in which Agatha gains a new (dishy) next door neighbour, and her aristocratic friend gains and loses a wife.
    Small exchanges between Agatha and the vicar's wife never fail to amuse me:
    Agatha: "... [middle-aged] men let themselves go."
    Mrs Bloxby: "Not necessarily. Look at my husband. Alf's in good shape."
    Agatha thought of the vicar - grey-haired, glasses, scholarly, slightly stooped - and reflected that love was indeed blind.

  • Death Message Mark Billingham [Read by Paul Thornley]
    DeathMessage.jpg Here we find Thorne, in the latest novel in the series, settling down to some kind of domestic life - the only sort that 2 working detectives can share; however, there is even talk of fatherhood, so it must be serious.
    As in the previous book, there is, I am relieved to say, much less of a perverted mind at work; you are made to go along with Thorne and have sympathy with the killer, and thus accept Thorne's rather strange choice of rough justice.
    I note that Billingham's next work departs from the Thorne series - maybe getting too bogged down with the threat of all that domesticity on the horizon. Time for a change.

Posted on October 31, 2008 at 8:57 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday October 28, 2008


They all fell off my Bramley apple tree - so I have a mini apple mountain.
We are resigned to our fate of putting on pounds through eating extra apple desserts; it's tough but someone has to do it.

Apple Betty is new to me and this chocolate version was suggested to me by Tony. I found it a bit too sweet, though it might depend on how sweet your apples are. Next time I might try adding a little lemon or lime juice to the apple layer, and using less sugar and syrup in the topping.
Some traditional versions of this pudding use alternate layers of crumbs and apple.

Chocolate Apple Betty


(serves 3 - or 2 greedy people)

  • 1lb Bramley apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into large chunks
  • 1oz butter
  • 2oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1½oz light soft brown sugar
  • 2oz dark chocolate*, roughly chopped
  • 1½oz butter, melted
  • 1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup

* Choose a good quality chocolate here, as the flavour is very evident.


  1. Mix the crumbs, sugar and chocolate. I blend them each separately in a food processor to get the right degree of "chopping" and then mix them all together.
  2. Cook the apple pieces for a few minutes with the ounce of butter melted in 1 tablespoon of water over a moderate heat. When the apples are just turning soft and far from mushy, put them in the baking dish.
  3. Cover with the crumb mixture.
  4. Mix the melted butter and the golden syrup then pour it over the crumb topping, making certain to soak it all.
  5. Bake in the oven at 190 degrees C or Gas Mark 5 for 30-35 minutes until the apple is soft and the topping is crunchy.

Delicious served with cream or ice cream.

Posted on October 28, 2008 at 10:54 AM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Friday October 24, 2008

A Pretty Big Dog


Rob and I spent the evening at Richmond Theatre for a version of the Hound of the Baskervilles, with Peter Egan and Philip Franks. This cast, (and my love of Sherlock Holmes), meant I was thoroughly looking forward to it - but really it was.... not very good. I am left thinking I cannot put my finger on why, as the cast was strong and the staging interesting - Rob's brief synopsis was poor direction and tacky set. During the first Act, I noticed Rob was asleep - normally my reaction to this would be to crossly wake him up - but I thought 'no - it's just not worth it - he probably needs his sleep more than this ...'

It was not so bad that I wish I had not gone. There were some interesting aspects of the staging which used projection and gauze techniques to try and create the rather challenging backdrops, since the book's plot revolves around the moor and Grimpen Mire. But for all that, it was not good. I was left with the impression that the staging and tiny cast were adapted more for a fringe production than a mainstream theatrical tour. The projection of the turning pages of the novel were a delight - but only for the first few minutes - after which it became a rather tedious artifice.

I see that it had the same director as "The Woman in Black", which I saw in the West End some time ago - this was also a Victorian-style gothic horror story from the 1983 novel, by Susan Hill. The staging was similar - sharing the same type of challenging external scenes - but "better" I would say.

The Hound has a website for the Tour - which I would say is better than production (!) - and I feel I must offer here some previous reviews of this production:

  • ''One of the cleverest piece of theatre you will ever see'' [British Theatre Guide]
  • ''Excellent. Highly enjoyable'' [Daily Telegraph]
  • ''Fiendishly clever'' [Spectator]
  • ''Gripping theatricality'' [Sunday Express]
  • ''The most stunning theatrical production of the year. Takes your breath away'' [The Stage]
Maybe they were just having an off night... but I am left to wonder if we saw the same play!

Posted on October 24, 2008 at 11:57 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday October 19, 2008


SupremesPoster.jpg Lyn and I finally arranged our outing to the V&A to see the Supremes exhibition - we had been promising it to ourselves since May (before it opened) and just made it before it closed (today).

We enjoyed it as much as we expected - I learned a lot - and it struck me that even though I know what was happening in America at the time of the emergence of Motown, it is not possible to really understand how it was for them. It was similar environment in England, but not the same, and I was too young to understand. Indeed I vividly remember seeing my first black bus conductor during a trip to London when I was about 5 years old - I was utterly fascinated (he was very understanding, and chatted to me for a bit.).

In addition to what we saw, they had family events and sessions offering, for example, "Motown Moves" (which I think we would have loved) which examined "the iconic choreography of Motown moves - from hand gestures to simple dance moves, exploring how the 'look' of Motown evolved".

We saw how these young women evolved from the Primettes ... to the Supremes.


The stars of the show were, of course, the costumes. The ones shown above were by Michael Travis - a striking 1960s black and white pattern - all in sequins - spectacular for television. His designs were notably flamboyant and included the famous 'Butterfly' dresses, which were even more lovely to see close up. The "wings" were diaphanous patterned fabric, somewhat besequinned, but the shaped dresses were entirely covered with sequins, forming the same fabric pattern.
See the extended entry.


Most of the outfits of the period were lavish with beading and thousands of sequins (sewn by hand) and costing between one and two thousand dollars each in the 1960s ($13-26,000 at today's prices).

Posted on October 19, 2008 at 4:00 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday October 10, 2008

Alexandra Palace Knitting and Stitchery Show 2008

This entry is a little late but here we are at last at the Knitting and Stitchery Show.


The entrance exhibit this year was a knitted coral reef that everyone could contribute to - you could knit something while you were there and hand it in to be added to the "organic" entity.


Here's my attempt to capture the whole reef - there's a popup to try and give you a better idea - but it was really lovely - showing both skill and artistry.

Our first item of the day was a "fusing fabric" workshop, which involves burning translucent coloured synthetics to make patchwork "art", using soldering irons. I enjoyed it a lot - not sure I will be investing in a new craft but I may join Sheila one day and have another go using her equipment.


Then we were off to visit our favourite stalls - I purchased some grey tweed Aran from Texere Yarns, some silk and cashmere in sea greens and blues, buttons to match, and some beads for my next River Rock scarf. More of these in future entries, no doubt.

1 Texere Yarns

2 Black Hills (UK)

3 Sailors Society Hats

4 Sailors Fancy

5 Heritage Jars

6 Helping Hand

7 Young Designers

8 Young Designers

Posted on October 10, 2008 at 6:17 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Tuesday October 7, 2008

Twenty One Today

(Cheating a bit as the party was on George's birthday rather than Deborah's).


"...your Father says you can do as you like, so shout hip hip...."
Hang on.... what were they thinking?!

Posted on October 7, 2008 at 5:04 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Saturday October 4, 2008


This is what I've been up to. There have been major, and in some cases unwise, eBay purchases - but more of that another time - and they have led me to really begin to pull together Narvik. This pattern immediately struck me as one suitable for a hand spinning project, but that was really an artistic judgement and not a practical one (ie it looks like a homespun ethnic jumper).


It does have some ideal qualities - it's mostly rectangles - which can be easily adapted to suit whatever wool weight you end up spinning- but it is written for a chunky wool, and I find it hard to control my spinning to any consistent thickness - I am hoping that this might improve with experience.

Posted on October 4, 2008 at 8:47 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Tuesday September 30, 2008

Books in September

  • The Knitting Circle Anne Hood
    KnittingCircle.jpg I chose this book for its title of course, and I did enjoy it very much, although the nub of the tale is very sad indeed, made all the more so by the knowledge that it is the author's own experiences of grief that we are reading about. However, this is a feelgood novel about female friendships and the path to recovery from loss - mostly bereavement - and very well written, given the grim little histories that each of the characters reveals as we move along. The only thing I was less keen on is the idea that knitting is therapy and that a circle is some kind of support group for the mentally ill - of course, it is therapeutic and so on - I'd just be worried to have it thought that this is all it is - as if, now they are all feeling better, they can stop all this silly knitting stuff.
    Ann Hood has her own website about her books, her biography, and with a blog.

  • Buried.jpg
  • Buried Mark Billingham [Read by Paul Thornley]
    A disturbing but thrilling tale from Mark Billingham - his 6th book. Perhaps (thankfully) a little less overtly gruesome than previous efforts; I am thankful for this because even though he seems to be able to make the distasteful more palatable, I worry when I find myself interested in books about sick subjects.
    It occurred to me that the hero of this series, Tom Thorne, and the whole setting of the books in London, is the antithesis of Inspector Morse. Thorne is vulgar, drinks lager, and works in the less appealing police premises in North London. Both Thorne and Morse share a general lack of success with women, but I understand that this is a necessary plot device for detective heroes - reference the spin-off Lewis no longer having cosy wife and family. Though perhaps Barnaby and Wexford demonstrate that this is not a universal truth.
  • Saturnalia.jpg
  • Saturnalia Lindsey Davis [Read by Christian Rodska]
    This is all about "Christmas" - with all the usual problems of lists of presents, co-ordination with relatives, and huge supplies of traditional food. The main difference is that instead of just having to cope with one or two days it lasts from December 17th through to the New Year - heaven forbid....
    "Yo, Saturnalia!" - I'm looking forward to it already...

Posted on September 30, 2008 at 9:42 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday September 26, 2008

A Chocolate Father Christmas

Just spent the evening at Richmond Theatre for Absurd Person Singular. It was a small exercise in nostalgia for Rob's special birthday, as we both remembered it well from the Watford Theatre production many years ago. All those familiar catch phrases, and yet we'd forgotten where they originally came from. AbsurdPersonSingular.jpg The play is set over 3 consecutive Christmas Eves, and is about a power shift, between 3 couples of different classes, and power shifts between the partners within the marriages themselves. It is the rise of the common man over the snobbish professional classes - and although the latter are pretty awful people, the 'common man' really presents a rather unpleasant face as well. It is a view of a society where a philosophy of every man for himself leads to success.
The key character is Sidney Hopcroft perfectly described by Michael Billington as "a demonic reptile who relishes his growing power over the people who once patronised him"; I can well imagine Richard Briers in the original London production, though sadly I did not see it at the time. Rob observed that the final act was particularly dark in this production.
This version was set "in period" - the period probably being when it was written (1972), but, humorous in itself, it took me a while to realise it!

What it did bring to mind was an amusing tale of a little theatrical backstage error during the 1980s Watford production of Night and Day. Rob (Chief Lighting and Sound) had re-used the tape from Absurd Person for Night and Day. The latter, being set in Africa, required relentless African drums at one point, where the leading actress has the tongue-in-cheek line "O - those drums, those damn drums!". This particular evening, they had failed to rewind the tape, which overran into the previous recording, and made the line utterly surreal, as the cast were faced with a crooning chorus of White Christmas. However, the good-natured Gwen Taylor covered it with great aplomb, though the audience must have thought it a little odd, or the humour rather esoteric.

Finally - I was much relieved to see living proof that the trendy Fair Isle waistcoat (and shirt etc) fitted Rob just fine - and -
he really did get that bus pass - used it to get to Richmond....

Posted on September 26, 2008 at 11:37 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Wednesday September 24, 2008

His little face lit up...

Mmmmm cake.


And in case you were wondering about the incandescence - here it is - sparkling numbers. Rob formally gets his bus pass as of today.


Posted on September 24, 2008 at 11:59 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Saturday September 20, 2008

Last day before the holiday

Well it isn't of course, but that's what it was like.
When the teacher said "Now today we're all going to make a lovely [card|picture|advent calendar|papier mache egg|pumpkin] to take home for Mummy and Daddy". And we all got lost in coloured paper, crayons, sparkly stuff, and glue.


In fact, it was our final workshop for the year, run by Betty, Jean, and Wendy, who provided 4 card-making projects. We had lots of fun - but I do think that glue and I do not get on well together; we just don't gel.
Har har.

Posted on September 20, 2008 at 10:38 PM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday September 18, 2008


rutabaga-120.jpg In France, they don't seem very big on the range of root vegetables we seem to thrive on in England. O - except turnips - every where you look - turnips - for any foreigners (and by that I refer to the Scots - see below*) I mean those round white-with-a-hint-of-mauve unappealing tasteless vegetables. When compared with delicious swedes and parsnips (again - see below*) ... what can I say?
Turnips (the round white etc..) are navets in French and on one occasion only George did see parsnips at our favourite veg stall in Brécey market. He pounced, and Mme Batard told him they were called "navets" - he pointed out the "other" navets and she simply shrugged**.
On one other single occasion, we found swedes in a supermarket. However, we were unable to find any name for them - and none of the staff knew what they were called - so we all stood around the scales shaking our heads and shrugging in a true Gallic manner. In the end, we decided - by a process of elimination of 92 other vegetables - that they were rutabaga***.

All these linguistic mysteries were brought to mind by the Rutabaga shopping bag knitting pattern. I may have to make it just for nostalgia. Or in preparation for future nostalgia.

* In Scotland, they do not use the word swede, but seem to call everything root-vegetable-wise, turnips - except the tatties of course... So we have the traditional Haggis, tatties, and neeps which are actually pudding, spuds and mashed swede. [I mention this to goad my Scottish friends - so I probably don't have any now.]

** Using the power of the interweb I find that parsnips are "panais" - but French wikipedia does say they are a vegetable "a little neglected these days - except in Great Britain and the Nordics".

*** In fact these Normans were probably confused by the vast choice of names for a vegetable you never normally see there: "chou-navet", "chou de Siam", "choux suédois" - and all variations on cabbage.

Posted on September 18, 2008 at 11:04 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Monday September 1, 2008

Billy Again

Yesterday I went into Kingston (on a shopping trip - more of that another time) and watched Rob out dancing with the Morris side.


It was not a great start to Kingston's carnival day - Saturday was fantastic - hot, sunny... and Sunday opened with crashing thunderstorms and pouring rain. However, by lunchtime the worst of the rain had cleared, and the three sides together had a great trip, starting out at Hampton Court and then taking the boat up the river to Kingston and congregating at the Bishop-out-of-Residence (yes, that is a weird name for a pub). This was my first glimpse of them as I walked across Kingston bridge.


The other sides were Thames Valley Morris - seen here dancing I know not what (my ignorance not their dancing):

SpringGrove3Thames Valley.jpg

The other side were Bloxon Morris - which I only just realised looking at their website are a women's side - and I don't have any photos of them. They dance in blue as do Thames Valley and for most of the time I did not realise there was a third side present. I should have realised by the number of Alan's jokes about buxom "o no I mean Bloxon" women.
Nor did I take any photos of the "OffSpring" Morris women. Just want to make it clear this was co-incidence and not at all a slight on women having the effrontery to dance Morris!
Here is a link to the Thames Valley Gallery of the day - and it includes the women.

SpringGrove4amusicians.jpg SpringGrove4musicians.jpg

SpringGrove7Hankies.jpg SpringGrove8swans.jpg

SpringGrove5BillyAgain.jpg SpringGrove6BillyAgain.jpg

Posted on September 1, 2008 at 5:34 PM. Category: Days Out.

Sunday August 31, 2008

Books in August

  • The Good Husband of Zebra Drive Alexander McCall Smith
    Book-ZebraDrive.jpg I was introduced to this set of novels by Robert, somewhat before they achieved quite such world-wide acclaim. I would like to say I was immediately charmed, but I did think them childish, as I began to read the first one. By the end of the book though, I was charmed like everyone else. Ordinary people coming to terms with their problems and overcoming difficulties. The characters value the richness of their lives, and although they do not necessarily have the choice to be richer in a material sense, they do not spend their time in longing for some life they don't have. A nice parable for our own lives told in a simple way. However, as I have said before, to regard his straight-forward writing style as simple is to seriously under-rate the skill of the author.

  • The Jupiter Myth Lindsey Davis [Read by Christian Rodska]
    Book-JupiterMyth.jpg My friend Diane loaned me the very first Falco book (The Silver Pigs) in the late 1980s and I was hooked. Since then I have read the steady stream of Lindsey Davis' output ever since, usually borrowing the books from Diane, Helen, and the library (!). Lindsey has an excellent website covering her books and lots of other interesting material.
    I read the Jupiter Myth quite a while ago, but to my delight I found the talking book in the library read by none other than the fantastic Christian Rodska** - what a perfect combination! I swear CR could make any book he reads fascinating - he has such an array of voices that he can adopt, and he produces them very subtly, making the books really come to life. However, the Falco books are full of lively characters for him to play with - a complete joy.
    ** Since "discovering" Christian Rodska as a narrator I have taken great delight in watching his (again very subtle) character performances in what seems like every single British TV series ever produced - all the TV detectives through to a recent appearance in Doc Martin I noticed.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:31 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday August 17, 2008

Feeling blue - part II

A little more metaphorically and a little less literally blue this time.... but only a bit!
Alison and I had such a lovely day a week ago last Saturday, that even the Creative Fibre day yesterday was less of a highlight. Lots of folk were off on holiday so just a small band of us - I did get a lot of useful information from my fellow spinners and dyers though, and Eve confirmed that preparing Wensleydale is a nightmare and there is a lot of wastage. Pam had a fleece, which, with my tiny but dedicated knowledge of one sheep, I was able to confirm is a Suffolk - it even had the cute little occasional black hair. It amused me how instantly recognisable it was - other people had been suggesting it was South Down, so I was even able to go home and check out the SouthDown fleece from my sister to make sure.

LamourS.jpg Last weekend, Alison and I spent the day in London - haunting the knitting department in John Lewis. It was great - the Rowan staff were lots of fun and we bought books and wool. Alison bought some Kaffe Fasset sock wool and the Latest Rowan book with some Wool/Cotton, (in colour 954 "Grand", I think), in order to knit "Lamour" which was also on display in the shop. StillS.jpg

She was also very smitten with "Still" from the Kim Hargreaves book "Thrown Together" (though it's in Calmer which Alison does not like knitting), and we admired the cardigans that the staff were wearing from "Nectar". I was delighted to find that they had copies of the new book "British Sheep Breeds" - so -
net result we came away with stacks of books and inspiration.

Sheep Breeds Nectar

Posted on August 17, 2008 at 5:38 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Friday August 15, 2008

Feeling blue - part I


Blue grass, blue floor, blue cooker - blue everything basically.

My knowledge about dyeing advanced in leaps and bounds while I was in France. Sheila gave me an old Dylon pod just before I went, (Riviera Blue), which turned out to be a cold water dye and needed a "fixer". On reading up about this I found it's a reactive dye and the fixer is sodium carbonate or soda ash. I know alkali is bad for wool - and I had no fixer - so I pondered getting some and experimenting. Luckily, I was able to read all about what to do on this great website under the section "Fiber reactive dyes on protein fibers". Basically use acid (vinegar) instead of sodium carbonate.

So I cooked up a bath for my newly plied skeins. Here was the result:


I was especially pleased, as at one point I accidentally boiled the dye bath - but the Suffolk wool skeins seemed to cope OK. I resisted the temptation to panic, and avoided poking them, and allowed them to cool slowly in the bath before rinsing.
I had thought I had cracked this spinning lark (har har I hear you laugh) so was a bit sad that I still had very uneven twist and artistic wobbly yarn. However, the yarn picked up the colour unevenly to produce a rather nice tweedy effect.

Finally I went on to knit it into a pair of socks - again, a slight disappointment that my very thin 2 ply is still almost a double knit (worsted weight). But I am getting there. The uneven colour lines are produced as I changed over my spun bobbins, and purely to do with the colour absorption, not a change of skein.


After this success, I bought another reactive black dye in the French supermarket and tried that on my fleece; it produced a much better result than the Dylon all-purpose. I am unsure if this is inherent in the dye type or was due to my increasing experience. The only negative point here is that it is quite expensive dying black - you need about twice as much dye per weight of wool than for other colours (about one pack for 100g).

Posted on August 15, 2008 at 4:57 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Wednesday August 6, 2008

La Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

We went for a walk on the coast and a pleasant lunch at Saint Léonard







Posted on August 6, 2008 at 5:29 PM. Category: France.

Sunday August 3, 2008

La Colombe

We attended another fête and demonstration of les vieux métiers. The weather was (sadly) poor - but we ate sausages and crêpes and watched the dancing.


Here is a nice view of the pretty Normandie bonnets.


There was also spinning on display but the ladies seemed to be having more trouble than I do with their old traditional wheel, so eventually we went home so I could have a go on my own...

Posted on August 3, 2008 at 4:33 PM. Category: France.

Friday August 1, 2008

Dogs and Knitting

They don't exactly go together like a horse and carriage, but they do go together a lot better than cats and knitting. However, the cats are not very interested in much except food - whereas the dogs sit faithfully at my feet as I knit. They are in a permanent state of alert in case there is any sign of a game happening; periodically they lose patience and come over and prod me with a frisbee.


Our holiday weather has been excellent so far. We picked more cherries, but they are not as wonderful as they were a couple of weeks ago, and the raspberries have mostly gone now.

I have spent my time preparing - that is flick carding to remove the vegetable matter and remaining dirt - and then dyeing some of my fleece. [I know this looks in rather intimate proximity to my cooking facilities but I was very careful to keep the dying equipment quite separate.]


Perversely, I am interested in dying some fleece black, and it has been a moderate success. As expected, it is grey, or a charcoal black, but it has rather good blue/black overtones, which may work out as I want.


It did take an awfully long time to comb through 200g, though - and I need 600g of the black colour and more of other colours.

Posted on August 1, 2008 at 3:27 PM. Category: France.

Thursday July 31, 2008

Books in July

  • Devil Water Anya Seton
    DevilWater.jpg Well - it was in my local library - which says something for the quality of the book, after all this time (please read my previous entry for June). So curiosity has made me read it at last, albeit 30 years too late. And what a riveting and rollicking 18th century tale it is.
    Nicely for the American author, it is interwoven with action in Virginia - and none of this mere invention. Obviously a lot of the story includes the sort of liberties taken by any historical novelist, but this author is known for her research and you can be pretty certain that the factual information included is actually factual and not invented. Even some of the more unlikely intimate thoughts of the characters are found to be taken from their contemporary diaries and writings.
    So all in all, I also would recommend it; a fascinating historical read, as well as a good history lesson. [And with a little more meat than my usual readings, plus the actual length of the book, has meant I have read little else this month.]

  • The Cat that went Bananas Lilian Jackson Braun
    Book-CatBananas.jpg I noticed this series of books in the library and was so amused by the concept of cats and detection that I had to read one. These are mysteries featuring journalist James Qwilleran and his "lovable, clue-sensitive cats". I have to say it was pretty terrible, but there are a few mitigating factors: one is that there is a fairly gently humour being poked at small town East Coast life, which I think I don't understand properly; another is that this is the author's 27th "Cat Who..." mystery, and one reviewer implied that she is no longer at her best, [but I shan't be testing any others].
    Strangely - the cat aspect of the book was more appealing than I had expected. They were not altogether twee, or endowed with powers beyond those of a normal cat. I did find it very entertaining that every person in the book had a cat or cats and they did express something of the owner's personalities, but with rather more than a simplistic superficial analysis.

Posted on July 31, 2008 at 10:07 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday July 25, 2008

Serene Sister

Last time the Bourne Quilters had their open day in Emsworth, I resolved to make a doll for a prize in their raffle. That was two years ago, and here I am right up to the wire on my holiday and the day of the exhibition - wild look in the eyes etc - staying up late to finish the doll.
Finally here she is - a Gebrüder Heubach unmarked girl (well she is marked with my own mark signifying a reproduction). Known as Die Schwester (sister) and often paired with a little brother - though not in this case!

Schwester1.jpg Schwester2.jpg

...and before you ask - yes she is supposed to have that whopping great bow on her head.


First Prize in the raffle is, of course, a lovely quilt, and instead of raffling her, they have decided to run a "guess the name of the doll" competition. I cannot reveal her name - not sure I even know it to be honest.... Winners announced after the day.

Posted on July 25, 2008 at 6:51 PM. Category: Dolls.

Tuesday July 22, 2008

"A nice bit of Wensleydale, eh, Gromit?" - Wallace

My sister is visiting our cousin in Kent - the spinner, Ginny, so I went over to see them both. Much spinning and knitting went on while I was there, though through some oversight, I was craft-free.

I was able to quiz everyone on my little spinning conundrums (!), get lots of advice, and watch and learn from Ginny. To cap it all, Ginny gave me a "spare" Wensleydale fleece** . It is lovely - and she tells me it's not hard to spin - so we will see.


I had a lovely day and Ginny worked all her fingers to the bone, preparing a wonderful curry for lunch; it was really quite delicious. I feel a bit like a locust - I fly in and strip the house of food and fleeces....

** I must confess I left the bag of fleece in the car when I got home - so I could forewarn George and gauge his reaction. In fact, he was quite calm about it as it's already washed, so does not have to live in our lobby - and most importantly, does not smell!

Posted on July 22, 2008 at 1:27 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday July 19, 2008

Round and round it goes...

Despite my best efforts, I got a place on the circular weaving workshop. I had a duty to turn up for the day - by some default, I had the tea things.

Here we are starting out:


Actually I would have been disappointed to miss out - I am sure I would like weaving - I just don't think I can make the investment in time - given my life span is by definition limited to one lifetime. In another life, I shall be a weaver. However, in this one - I will limit myself at least to this rural form of the craft.
Apparently it is yet another dying French rural art - all done with fingers and primitive home-made loom.

Jean tries to maintain control and ensure we work only with our fingers - no needles or shuttles allowed...


...moments of hysteria and rebellion (over the finger thing)...


Art samples from the weavers guild:

CircularWeavingCushion_s.jpg CircularWeavingSample1s.jpg CircularWeavingSample2s.jpg
CircularWeavingSample5s.jpg CircularWeavingSample3.sjpg CircularWeavingSample4s.jpg

Posted on July 19, 2008 at 4:47 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Friday July 18, 2008

I ♥ London

It seems so long since the cherries. And we are missing them so much we have already booked our next stay in France - the annual 2 week holiday no less - only a week to go.

I spent several days this week at customers in London, and traveled from the various railways stations and offices by bus. It was moderately efficient, though I noticed a clear difference from when the "congestion charge" first hit London. During those first weeks and months, buses really worked; there was much less traffic in the centre. Since then, the traffic has gradually increased again - now we've all found out how to pay the charge, we are all just doing so, and going into London with our cars when the need arises, just as we did before. They need to invent some new red tape that will have us mystified for a few more months....

However, traveling on the top deck of a bus in the current English summer weather (not too hot; the occasional shower) is just the perfect way to make the most of London during your working day. The tube is more efficient but .... well it's Under Ground isn't it? [the clue's in the name]. Also there isn't a tube right next to our office - and you get to walk along the river from the bus stop.... All so perfect.

This evening I stayed on in London, as Rob and I had booked to go and see "Spamalot" (a "two-for-one" offer - George would have liked to go but has been working late all week and could not make the available dates). It was very funny - nostalgic for us but with some new material and jokes clearly fitted to the latest Arthur.


"I am your king."
"Well I didn't vote for you."
"You don't vote for kings."
"Well how'd you become king then?"
"The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king."
"Listen - strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony."

Posted on July 18, 2008 at 11:18 PM. Category: Days Out.

Monday July 7, 2008

Life is...

We have been having a great time at La Gonfrairie. I have spent a lot of time gardening as the weather has been good (for gardening) - warm but not too hot. The wind has been moderate to high; I had to effect repairs to the sun shade - and then we had to take it down altogether as the flimsy little guy ropes kept breaking. However, a lot of our time has been taken with fruit - July being the season.

These were the most surprising of all. I mean, we did know we had cherry trees - and I have seen one or two cherries on them (literally one - or two - we assumed the birds got them).
But this year several of the trees are simply bursting with fruit. [And, one or two have no fruit at all. Our neighbour explained this - and possibly the issue in previous years - that the success depends on the weather when the tree is in blossom - and, of course, they do not all flower at exactly the same time.]
The issue was actually getting to the fruit; there is a lot but way up high, well out of reach, even with a ladder. I asked George if we had "some kind of hook - like an umberella", and he said "yes but ..." - and then produced a really ancient home-made implement that we had inherited with the property; with hindsight it was obviously intended for this very purpose.

So... George wobbled around on top of our ladder while I dangled on a long hooked pole pulling the branches into reach. We dropped the cherries on to a tarpaulin and in no time we had picked 10lbs. I admit a photo of this would have been more fun but it took both of us to complete the manoeuvres.
We were going to pick more cherries, but at the moment I am not sure what to do with them. We have eaten a lot ... but there are also lots of other fruits.

My raspberry bed has developed in leaps and bounds - and has no nasty stinging nettles to deter would-be pickers any more. Day one, I cleared the bed as much as I could - such a shame, as a lot of fruit was already rotting on the canes.

No problem in deciding what to do with these - I immediately made jam - but then I ran out of containers there was so much!
We have also been picking and eating raspberries each day, as every day a new lot ripen...

Prior to finding so much fruit on our own land, (spurred on by Alison's blog), I bought apricots in the market in Brécey, where we went on our way here from the ferry. So I was also bound to make some jam from these... It is such a pretty colour... like the fruit.

Finally, we found that the red and white currants in the goat field were also ripe. I cleared the red currants (about 1lb), and rendered them down to make red currant jelly. The white currants - will have to wait. I am all fruited out. George wants me to make cherry jam. I will think about that today - I have never had sufficient cherries to try that before.

Another excitement yesterday was George and Lloyd seeing a "big white bird" in the garden; I managed to see the last of it flying around the far side of the barn - and it was a barn owl. Lloyd seems to think we do have owls in the barn but I have not seen any sign of them in residence before this.

So today we are preparing to go home - and the rain has finally started - not a bad thing for the garden when we are not actually in residence...

Posted on July 7, 2008 at 10:11 AM. Category: France.

Monday June 30, 2008

Books in June

Kids' stuff...

  • Borrower of the Night Elizabeth Peters
    BorroweroftheNight.jpg Again I picked this author originally due to a similarity to "Ellis Peters" and was smitten by the concept of Victorian archeologists combined with Thriller/Detection. However, I was not very thrilled with the 'Amelia Peabody' series, and laughed out loud at the book blurbs declaring "an author so popular that copies of her books in the public libraries have to kept under lock and key!" [on which planet I wonder?].
    This book is a 'Vicky Bliss' mystery. The first in the series, written in 1974, and quite interesting for me to read a contemporary view of modern manners - I would say "to remember" but I was not quite adult enough in the 1970s to take anything other than the subjective view of a participant. Vicky Bliss is just as irritating as Amelia. Need I say more? Strangely enough I find this author's more serious writing - which you get to experience in the Amelia series when Amelia's children take over the narrative - quite good; however I don't really enjoy what I imagine to be tongue in cheek humorous stuff which is exhibited through Amelia, and to some extent Vicky.

The view of the 1970s, in combination with the antagonistic relationship of hero and heroine brought back memories - not only Mills and Boon but - of Mary Stewart. I realised I have not given her books a thought for at least 30 years. MoonSpinners.jpg I read her novels initially as mystery/suspense/thrillers - but in fact I am sure I took to them as much for the romance angle. To quote from Wikipedia she maintains "a full mystery while focusing on the courtship between two people"; I note that they also say that she was "at the height of her popularity in the 1960s and 70s", though I also notice these novels were written more in the 1950s. She writes unashamedly to a very specific formula - and is successful every time I would say. She has an exotic picturesque setting, a 'difficult' man (who turns out to be "the one"), often some protegé, (maternal instincts), and the element of danger and mystery. Perfect fodder for the teenage me.

In this respect, it came to me that there is a strong similarity to Dick Francis - another favourite, and excellent thriller writer. It is really no surpise to relate these similarities to the acknowledged fact that Francis's wife contributed many ideas to his books. He has a hero rather than a heroine, of course, but always very sensitive with a bittersweet emotional intensity. He also chooses a specific setting though usually by means of an unusual job for his hero.

Mary Stewart also wrote fantasy/historical novels (the Merlin series) in which I was not so interested, even though historical novels were a mainstay of my reading materials of that time. This led to more memories of such intensity, I was compelled to go and review my own bookshelves, and then wander through a maze of internet pathways to recall authors that I am ashamed to say I had simply forgotten.

SwordatSunset.jpg At school we were generally encouraged to read historical novels for children - by 'suitable' authors, naturally. I began with Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth first published in 1954. It is set in Roman Britain in the 130s and follows the story of a boy's search to discover the truth about the disappearance of his father's legion in the north of Britain. This was the first in a sequence of novels: The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, and Sword at Sunset. This last one is really an adult book, and is a modern interpretation of the legends of King Arthur. This is the one in residence on my bookshelf. I feel I ought to read it again - though all I remember of it is that it is unbearably sad. I must say that I did not even realise it was related to her other Roman books in any way.
I remember her as an excellent writer, and we all fell in adolescent love with her heroes, (Beowulf, for example...!).

VikingsDawn.jpg I then remembered Henry Treece . I had somehow managed to totally wipe him from my memory. He was a little more 'serious' for me than the female writers, but I was drawn into his work by the desire for more "Roman" fiction, and then on to his Viking Series. The Eagles Have Flown published in 1954, deals with Britain after the Romans, and and again with the supposed historical figure behind the legends of Arthur.
Much as I am inclined to do today, I think I read a 'set' of books on Arthur - the third of which was T H White's famous Once and Future King - which again was suited to the adolescent reading transition from child to adult.

Even more amusingly, just like moving from Ellis Peters to Elizabeth Peters - Henry Treece led me to Geoffrey Trease (nearby on the library shelf) - another author of children's historical novels. So perhaps my easy substitution of names is not due to old age and loss of marbles, but simply a genetic trait after all...

DevilWater.jpg Finally I need to mention a book which I have not read at all! When I was at school our Deputy Head Mistress, Mrs McCarthy - amazing woman, straight out of he 1940's complete with hair roll - taught us not only about ladylike manners, and what make-up was suitable for young women (ie none), but also history. This included the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745; apart from the rather fundamental difference of which King or Prince was "pretending" at the time, we always got the events and battles muddled. Her advice (more than once) was to read a "very good book" by Anya Seton and "you will never mix them up again". I think this must have been Devil Water as it's about the Earl of Derwentwater and his involvement with the Jacobite rising of 1715, and his brother Charles, beheaded after the 1745 rebellion, the last man to die for the cause.
Sounds great doesn't it? Maybe they have it in the library...

I shall end here - Mrs McCarthy was also our English teacher, and asked my parents what I (aged 12) read, as my writing style was not very good. [And the answer was Agatha Christie - so her inferences were probably correct].

Posted on June 30, 2008 at 11:27 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday June 22, 2008

My first skein.

Here it is. New born and vulnerable.
Don't look too closely now - no - now come on, play the game. Put that magnifying glass away, now!


I went to the Creative Fibre meeting today, and took my wheel. Wendy was also spinning and was very helpful - more than anything, most encouraging. She showed me how to ply, so I was able to do that this evening.

skein4.jpg It's taken only 20 years for me to get round to doing this - and I am so pleased with myself. The wool is pretty poor - I had to deal with George prodding at the wool at various stages of production, every time he walked past me, saying "it's a bit like string, isn't it?" then "that's more like wool, o but it's a bit hard isn't it? not very woolly" and finally when it had relaxed a bit "o it seems to be fluffing up a bit now".

Earlier in the week, I found a book Rob gave me years ago "Spinning and Dyeing - an introductory manual" (Gill Dalby and Liz Christmas). Mostly I remember it as being a very useful reference for dyeing, however, being older it had very useful stuff on what to do when faced with a fleece. As I have 4 fleeces waiting to be dealt with, I am anxious for any words of comfort I can get, so this was very helpful. A lot of the modern books don't focus here as spinning is so popular now, you can source much more reliable, high quality, ready-prepared rovings and tops.

I am impatient to try knitting with it - it seems to be an Aran weight, (75g 100m). So - now I am settling down with my book "Spin to Knit" (a gift from Alison) - the perfect way to decide what best to knit with my first skein. I still have to wash it again - and possibly try dying it - before I get to knitting it though.

Posted on June 22, 2008 at 9:36 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Tuesday June 17, 2008

Festival of Creativity - Croydon College

This evening I joined Rob for the summer exhibition of his students work. The departments on show were graphic design, (very polished), video practice, and theatrical design, (Fashion get their turn tomorrow with a catwalk in the Whitgift Centre as part of Croydon's Fashion Festival).


The students take on various design projects - for example, to create complete designs for a show - they may do a model box for the set, draw a number of costumes, and then make one of them up. Here is a project to make a costume from a period deco design and see if it "could be made to work as a practical costume". [Marks are given not only for designs but also for comfort and ability to move].


I saw a lot of design projects and costumes, as well as short dramas - enacted on video and in the Peter Jackman Theatre.

"3" was the third in a series of short theatrical pieces "conceived, designed, directed" (and acted) by Clare Seviour.


These are not drama students and these theatrical pieces evolved out of the "sound to light" projects which used to be part of the lighting course. The students gradually became more and more ambitious in their desire to outdo one another - and this is what has evolved.

It is interesting to see students of the arts developing their talents. It's like watching the first life forms crawl out of the primeval soup and shake off the gloop. They make "mistakes", of course - however, it's hard to judge whether they are actual mistakes in fact - or whether they are intentionally taking a different angle on the subject - making a statement - being young and experimental.

This - as opposed to science, where we all learned what we were told at that level of development. I suppose there was some encouragement to move on from school learning - I remember spending some time explaining to undergraduates doing chemistry practicals (and pestering me to know if they had the right answer) that there were no "right answers" any more, and that any answer they got was valid and needed to be plotted on their graph and a judgement made by themselves as to the significance. Of course this was transparently not true, since they were not actually pushing back the boundaries of science at that point but....
Chemistry practicals. Thrilling discoveries from a bygone age*.
And now.... science departments too expensive to run and no longer required. Brave Old World.

[*Read "The Search" - C P Snow (1934)]

Posted on June 17, 2008 at 11:44 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday June 14, 2008

The Grand Day Out

We went to see Sheelagh and Roger and spent the day together at Blenheim Palace. Contrary to all the weather reports all week and even this very morning... it was a glorious day - and we had a lovely time. Lots of tea was drunk and ice creams consumed. Perfect.


This is an Italian style garden which was our view over lunch. Note that the interesting curved shaping is a feature of the perspective of my photography rather than the design!


...so nice I snapped it twice... our table marked on the right with a red circle...


Going to Blenheim is not an inexpensive day out, but well worth it - they have put a lot of effort into many exhibits, and restored a lot of parts of the gardens. We skipped "the Secret History" exhibition and "Music in the Afternoon" in favour of the gardens, as it was truly such a lovely day. We especially liked the "Secret Garden" - here is a tiny popup section.


I was obviously well-schooled, as, despite having no prior knowledge of the house, (except the name), the gardens really scream Capability Brown - I wonder if our school text books used photos of Blenheim as an example.

We finished our trip by going around the maze - it was late in the day but we were very confident, and we found our way in and out very easily - though it was a bit of a trek. Sadly we discovered we had entered through the "exit" so we did not quite complete the challenge they had in mind. [Duh!]

Later we were back at at Sheelagh and Roger's, being treated to a delicious home cooked meal, in the peaceful surroundings of their conservatory and garden. Even more perfect.

Posted on June 14, 2008 at 11:23 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday June 13, 2008

Art Yarn

I can spin.

I can spin...... Knicker Elastic [I believe this is the technical term used by the spinners of my acquaintance]...


...and I can spin bouclé... hurrah!


I tried the latter because the fleece with which I find myself seems to have 2 distinct layers - I think or assume due to two layers of growth maybe without shearing. An under-layer which seems to be fluff without any staple length, and an outer layer which is "normal" if a little short in staple length. I decided to see if the fluff were able to be spun at all - and came out with the bouclé. You can see the piece I tried with is not very clean - just an experiment.

Posted on June 13, 2008 at 9:35 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Sunday June 8, 2008


Last year, I made it known to sheep owners that I would like a fleece to play with - and now I am being given fleeces plural - which after about 1 has become a problem. I have "some odd wool" that one of Ava's sheep cast off, two more fleeces from Ava, and now two from my sister - one of which is a chocolate Jacob, so I am looking forward to trying that. Between me and actually spinning, though, is a lot of preparation - and having decided to go full steam ahead this weekend, I still have not done any actual spinning!

Fleece1.jpg Fleece2.jpg

I have scoured and dried half of one fleece, and continued preparing and carding the "odd wool" (amazingly slow, and probably not ideal for a beginner but I have to start somewhere). The fleeces are laden with lanolin, which is fabulous and I need to enter into another sub project of making my own hand lotion too.... It is a terrible shame that the fashion now is not to spin "in the grease".

George has become increasingly alarmed by the exponential increase in fleeces - and this morning when he went downstairs to make breakfast, he stumbled back upstairs again and gently pointed out that I had left a bunch of flowers in the downstairs cloakroom, so he could not wash his hands - and when he went into the kitchen to do so, he found the sink there full of wool....
When I said cheerfully: "that's what living with me is like", he howled "I know" - somewhat desperately, I thought.

Basin1.jpg Basin2.jpg

Posted on June 8, 2008 at 10:25 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday June 7, 2008

Flora the Red Menace

Last night, we went to see the BROS Theatre Company production of Flora the Red Menace at the Hampton Hill Playhouse. It was directed by my colleague Tony, who has been excited about it ever since his idea for the project was first accepted.
My partner in crime for the evening was Robert, who (as you can imagine) has been looking forward to it all week..... sort of..... Well it was both an amateur production and a musical - you can hardly blame him.
In the event he found it not merely OK but very good - very impressed with Tony's direction, use of stage in the round, and choice and design of the wooden blocks as props and setting. The cast were brilliant - a very entertaining night.


Posted on June 7, 2008 at 8:49 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Monday June 2, 2008


The apparent "roadway" in the grassy wilderness that was our garden, was made in desperation by Peter who has been needing to get materials in and out of the place, as he's working on the bakehouse.

bakehouse1.jpg bakehouse2.jpg
bakehouse3.jpg bakehouse4.jpg

He has made great headway, and he actually finished the roof today. The rain was quite heavy at times but brightened up enough to let Peter complete the work. The interior now needs to be gutted - most of the interior beams are rotten - Peter actually fell through one of them, which had every appearance of being sound. Here are some of the useful items removed so far - that lino looks good doesn't it? I'm sure I can reuse that ....


Meanwhile - our last day and the pixie workers carried on.

pixies5.jpg pixies6.jpg

It's Sheila's birthday today, so we managed to make her take it easy - we went to the shops for those last little items to take back home - on the way I was stopped by a group of policemen and had to go back and fetch all my "papers" - passport, car documents etc. Even worse I had failed to bring my driving license to France with me, which was very embarrassing as it is illegal not to have it - I was very lucky that they chose not to fine me.

Posted on June 2, 2008 at 7:01 PM. Category: France.

Saturday May 31, 2008


Easter was early, we missed coming over on the May Bank holidays, and the weather has been effectively tropical. Net result: we arrived yesterday to be faced with the result of choosing to leave the French house on its own for so long. All the grass is a good 3 feet high, and the weeds growing through the paved area in front of the house made it look derelict.

Wilderness1.jpg Wilderness2.jpg
Wilderness3.jpg Wilderness4.jpg

However we had brought with us a couple of pensioned off pixies who seemed to effect a magic transformation in no time at all. They always remind me of clockwork toys in that they are methodical, steady and utterly relentless workers.

pixies1.jpg pixies2.jpg
pixies3.jpg pixies4.jpg

Finally a bit of a sit down (see the director of operations was keeping a low profile under the hedge).

sitdown1.jpg sitdown2.jpg

Posted on May 31, 2008 at 8:43 PM. Category: France.

Books in May

There weren't any...
I have been completing a lot of knitting projects, and have thus been listening extensively to my iPOD - however, sadly not to "proper" books. George told me that "there are a lot of MP3s of books out there on the internet" and to prove it downloaded a stack of BBC radio plays - all Miss Marple (portrayed by June Whitfield) and Poirot (played by John Moffat) - I'm afraid I am not keen on the latter - the French accent seems to consist of strangely pronounced "w" - as if there were extraneous "h"s present.
I have a love/hate relationship with these plays but they kept me well amused while concentrating on other things. However, one or two of the downloads are David Suchet reading some of the Poirot short stories, which I am looking forward to listening to in the future.

Posted on May 31, 2008 at 8:19 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Thursday May 29, 2008

Tropical Storms

Given the terrible events that have happened elsewhere in the world recently, I use this term loosely of course. However, all things being relative, this warm wet weather has caused huge growth in the garden making for a pretty if somewhat wild look.


It's been quite hot today - I have been to a customer site north of London and am travelling down to Havant feeling hot and grubby in my crimplene* business suit. It is cooling down though, and I am keeping my fingers crossed for fine weather as we set off across the channel tonight.

*When I first joined my company as a graduate trainee we were given an induction course which included advice on business dress - delivered by a badly (or frumpily) dressed woman extolling the virtues of crimplene. It did not go down well with any members of the audience, regardless of age. Now of course - I am that woman.... and there has been a revival of interest in easy-care nylon suits (or was that last year?!).

Posted on May 29, 2008 at 12:04 PM. Category: The Garden.

Tuesday May 27, 2008

Soggy Monday

The weather has been just awful - we started the day with water pouring through the ceiling in the spare room. Not only the rain but the wind has been positively hurricane-like. How different from last weekend when all was tranquility as I snapped this butterfly (Speckled Wood?) in a patch of sun while George and I were out for walk on Sunday.


So the Bank Holiday weekend has been one of finishing projects.
I reworked the toes on the original socks I made for Terry a couple years ago, as he had worn them through, and my sister had got to the point where further darning was not possible.
I reworked the neck on the knitalong guernsey ready to take away with me to France next weekend.
I finally completed Pattern of the Month for May - just in time to post it before June starts! I was very satisfied with the result - the bamboo yarn is lovely.

So as my victories this weekend have not been very photogenic - I return to last weekend's walk: here is a little pond area - often dry, but now with all the recent rain looking quite pond-like.


A heron lands on Mere pond:
Heron2.jpg Heron1.jpg

Robert is planning to join the Africa Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square today but I imagine it will be rained off, the weather is really so bad.

Posted on May 27, 2008 at 12:47 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Sunday May 18, 2008

No strings

I have fallen in love with some pretty unsuitable chaps in my time - but despite the obvious drawbacks, I am now thinking that I cannot understand why I did not see what a cool guy he was all those years ago was when I was 10.


Ah, the follies of youth. Unfortunately now, although we are about the same age, he has remained as youthful as ever, and probably I am a bit raggedy around the edges. Years ago when he was a nerd, maybe I would have stood a chance - but now... I am not the only one to have noticed him.

Next week they promise to tell us how it was done. I desperately wanted it to be pure puppetry - but of course it isn't.
Though I don't really think I should do Britvic's advertising for them - surely after this inspired work, they deserve it?

Brains then and now:

BrainsThen.jpg BrainsNow.jpg

Posted on May 18, 2008 at 7:35 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Saturday May 17, 2008


I am posting this very late - but have stuck with the original date of the Creative Fibres group meeting. This month was an Inkle Loom workshop - I did not join it but here are some photos of the group having fun with their looms.

Inkle1.jpg Inkle2.jpg
Wilderness3.jpg Inkle4.jpg

There was a jolly band of non-weavers closeted in the kitchen - handy for the tea and biscuits. Here is Clare - who makes me quite jealous but also inspires me - she has been spinning only since last September, but produces great quality work (to me) and has been experimentally dying and making socks with the results of her work. I am a long way from making anything from my efforts at spinning I fear.


She even spins on her train commute into work with a drop spindle - which I am sure amuses her fellow passengers no end.

Posted on May 17, 2008 at 6:24 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Sunday May 11, 2008

Seriously... I do have etchings...

It's been a fabulous warm and sunny weekend. Yesterday I did some more work in the garden, and today I met up with my sister in London and we went to the British Museum to see the American Scene - "prints from Hopper to Pollock". Most impressively, this exhibition comes from their own collection of American art - it's nice to see them make use of their wealth of buried treasures for special exhibitions.

This is Night on El Train, (Hopper etching from 1918), which my sister admired:


And this is the signature piece used on the posters - and it is very pleasing - there were others of similar style but this had an appealing sense of dynamism. It's Louis Lozowick view of Manhattan from around 1925.


I was most fascinated by the work of Louise Bourgeois. At Stanley Hayter’s workshop Atelier 17 in the late 30s and 40s, she produced "He disappeared into complete silence", an enigmatic series of prints which are a collection of little parables. The first one struck a chord - it was the first of about 9 plates:

Plate 1

   Once there was a girl and she
loved a man.
   They had a date next to the
eighth street station of the sixth
avenue subway.
   She had put on her good clothes
and a new hat. Somehow he could
not come. So the purpose of this
picture is to show how beautiful
she was. I really mean that she
was beautiful.

I like the flat understatement "somehow he could not come".
You can see why she moved into sculpture, given the forms that interested her.

Posted on May 11, 2008 at 6:43 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday May 6, 2008

Later in Edinburgh

The weather is so lovely now, I decided to walk back to the station along Princes Street. Quite a different city in the afternoon - the sun had brought out the crowds. Here is a view of the castle from the gardens.


At the other end of the street, I took a picture of the (unfinished) National Monument and Nelsons Monument - it was much more romantic in silhouette in the early morning light but I found I could only get the right angle by standing in the middle of the road, and then the sun was right in the lens - so here it is with the sun shining on it.


And sure enough, on the other corner was the tourist's piper. Speaking as a tourist, the sound of the pipes is great - and he is very obliging in posing with tourists for photos.


The shine was taken off the day slightly by my train being cancelled - I just wish I had known before I got to the station so I could have spent another hour wandering around. However, finally here I am on the train home.

Posted on May 6, 2008 at 4:19 PM. Category: Days Out.

Early in Edinburgh

I got into Waverley at 6:30, and it was a good thing that the train actually split at this point, one part going on to Glasgow, the other (my part) resting in the station. My end of the train was so far out of the station, that I was calmly sitting on my berth, waiting for the train to go into the station for 10 minutes before I realised we had arrived.


The city was lovely and empty at this time of the morning - here's a view towards the castle from the station...


...and here the Scott monument


I picked up a coffee. Time was that our office boasted a cafeteria where wonderful breakfasts were available, but no more - probably best for our waistlines.... The office was deserted, and although it's impossible to park, the surrounding old buildings make for pleasing views.


Posted on May 6, 2008 at 8:18 AM. Category: Days Out.

Monday May 5, 2008

Weeds and weather

This morning, we walked into Walton to see the Antiques Fair, found nothing we wanted - my button lady was absent again, which is a shame - and so we came home empty handed. George did some negotiations and has headed off back there with some items he wants to sell to the dealers.


We have spent quite a lot of the holiday in the garden, actually working, as we haven't seen anything of the gardener yet this year. We spent Saturday touring garden centres and finally purchased a mower (all our equipment being resident in France). So George attacked the grass, while I started weeding the gravel drive. Yesterday, we continued pruning and tidying - as usual my method of working is slow and probably not very effective, so I suspect the work will continue all week - or all summer! The weather predictions are blazing sunshine after Tuesday, so I am sure I can manage a few hours of work a day in the garden.



Looking at the BBC weather report for my area for the past week, it was predicting the weekend would be "changeable" - rain and sun. As the weekend approached, it started to predict rain and more rain. Even this morning it staunchly predicted nothing but rain - and as I gazed at the sunshine outside the window, I fell to thinking that usually, even if the 5 day forecast is a bit dubious, they usually get it right on the actual day the weather is happening....
Now at 11am I am amused to see it's been updated to show sun.


Posted on May 5, 2008 at 11:41 AM. Category: The Garden.

Wednesday April 30, 2008

Books in April

  • Locked Rooms Laurie R King
    LockedRooms.jpg This is the latest in a series of novels which start with The Beekeepers Apprentice, or, "What Sherlock Did Next". It follows the famous sleuth after he retires to Sussex to keep bees. Apart from the excellent (really excellent) work by Michael Dibdin**, I have found modern Holmes pastiches to be truly poor - even comparing them with the later Conan Doyle stories, which were often poorly written. And it is true that a synopsis of the basic premise of the books [young American jewish girl meets older Holmes and marries him..] does sound pretty bad - to us fans.
    However, I'm no purist and Laurie King is easily forgiven. She writes very well, the stories are true adventure stories with the emphasis on the word story, in the very best traditions of Conan Doyle or Rudyard Kipling, and they are not pastiches, being really about Mary Russell, rather than "More Adventures of Sherlock Holmes". Probably neither she nor you need my justification, but perhaps I feel I need to justify why I read them!.
    Any changes observed in the Holmes character are easily attributed to his being seen through different eyes, and he is, after all, much older. It is amusing to see that Mary is clearly King herself, even down to physical descriptions, and I think because of this she writes with such sympathy and love for her subject matter, that you can forgive her messing about with such an English institution. She makes her premise entirely plausible - I was not so sure about the idea of Holmes marrying, but for the time about which she writes, and our own reader's sensibilities, it would be hard to create stories about an unmarried couple careering around together in such intimate circumstances. It also occurred to me that she has a good contemporary model for such an idea, in Lord Baden-Powell, who, famous Victorian hero of Mafeking, and a bachelor at 55, in 1912 met and married Olave, aged 23; wikipedia notes "not an uncommon age gap at that time".
    My favourite of these novels to date has been "The Game" - I think because it is set in India, (always interested me due to family connections) and has nice references to Kipling throughout. Now I have got to grips with my iPod, I have been listening to an audio version of it recently (read by Jenny Sterlin), in tandem with reading Locked Rooms.
    Laurie King has a great website with lots of fanzine materials and links, plus a most enjoyable blog which illustrates her charming and fun personality.

    ** The last Sherlock Holmes Story is such an excellent book that I was astonished to see it was his first and dates from 1978. It really is perfect, in my opinion, so that even while proposing a heretical view of Holmes character, the portrayal is so very accurate that you wonder how we could have ever have perceived the detective in any other way.
    I remember a similar sensation when I saw the all male version of Swan Lake - how could anyone ever stage it any other way?!

  • At Bertrams Hotel Agatha Christie
    Read by Rosemary Leach
    "In which Christina learns a new word."
    I am pleased when my excursions into re-reading Christie novels of dubious literary merit do in fact enrich my intellectual life in some way... The word in question is "simulacrum", and it is the foundation upon which the novel is set. Bertram's Hotel is not simply a nice old-fashioned hotel with all the "old standards", nor is it a commercial Olde Worlde copy for the benefit of tourists - it is a hyper-real stagey version of an old hotel. Not stagnant but actively groomed and polished to produce the required effect.
    Within the elderly class-ridden society that inhabit it, all are agreed how wonderful it all is. Yet, most satisfyingly, it takes Miss Marple - who is not one for mawkish nostalgia - no time at all to shrewdly take it all in and regard it not only with suspicion, but also as somewhat threatening. To my mind, this is most vividly portrayed in the Joan Hickson TV series, where the plot is fairly accurately followed - though it could be said, improved upon. In the book, there is a rather tedious focus on the police investigation, and perhaps more true to life, less focus on Miss Marple - she is after all just a little old lady.
    Here are some snatches of reviews which I think give a good idea of the overall quality of the book:
    "...can hardly be called a major Agatha Christie..."
    "...denouement is really too far-fetched..."
    "...seldom at her best when she goes thrillerish on you..."
    "...a reasonably snug read..."
    "...plot is rather creaky, as in most of the late ones..."
    "...Elvira Blake is one of the best observed of the many young people in late Christie..."
    "...seemingly trashy fiction that nevertheless contributes to a genre of speculative fiction..."
    This last reviewer goes on to draw comparisons with other examples of synthetic worlds that seem at first to be benevolent: The Portrait of Dorian Grey, Blade Runner, Westworld, Jurassic Park, and The Truman Show.

    MarpleCardi.jpg In addition to listening to the book, I watched (again) the Geraldine McEwan version in "Marple". This deviates from the book considerably - as do all the Marple series - but in a Good way. Some episodes of this series were very disappointing (for example Murder at the Vicarage, which promised so much with such a fabulous cast but...); however, generally, they offer some nice variations in themes and characters, which I quite approve of. Joan Hickson provided a definitive version - so why repeat that?
    The side plot with Martine McCutcheon and Stephen Mangan adds very positively to the story, and reinforces the more light-hearted tone of the Marple series. I read that McEwan has abandoned the role and it will be taken up by Julia McKenzie - it seems slightly odd as they must have filmed almost all of them by now (even some that were not actually Marple stories) and it seems odd that they have filmed Nemesis without the prequel Caribbean Mystery.... but I digress.
    MarpleCardi2.jpg More important than any of these considerations - McEwan wears a delightful cardigan throughout - which I fondly imagine having been knitted by someone in the costume department. It seems to me to be a recreation of the pattern from 1936 "My Home" (although this was a jumper not a cardigan) as reprinted in Jane Waller's 30s Family Knitting Book*** published in 1981.
    Note that Miss Marple has her trusty knitting bag over her arm, and much is made of the knitting in the recent portrayals. Julia McKenzie says of her new role "I suppose I shall have to remind myself how to knit". I think originally it was introduced to emphasise her persona as one of harmless old lady; in one story she use the pretence of buying some wool in a local shop in order to pick up information. I can't imagine Christie herself knitting somehow, but I guess it was and is a fairly common pursuit.

    This must have been a fun role for McEwan - but I was most delighted by her portrayal of Lucia in the TV series of the E F Benson books. These were surely perfect, and the audio books - some read by McEwan and some by Prunella Scales - are also wonderful to listen to.

    *** I notice that Amazon show this as a "rare" book and one seller is asking £121 for a copy. Jane Waller mentioned to me that she thought her books from the 1980s - Stitch in Time, 30s Family Knitting Book, and Mens Book - would be worth reprinting, but the publishers were not interested in doing so.

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 8:14 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday April 27, 2008

If It wasn't for the 'Ouses in Between** - Gus Elen

We have scaffolding around the house, as the recent high winds caused our weather vane to shift and (unusually) water came in at the very pinnacle of the Rapunzel tower. More true to form, I first noticed this on hearing the water splashing through my bedroom ceiling at 7am one morning - water always finds the path of least resistance so chooses to come through the light fittings.... lovely.


I wanted to make best use of the access to the bedroom window and do some repainting. Again, true to form, the window frames turn out to be thoroughly wet and rotten under the layers of paint, so now the carpenter is coming round to estimate for more substantial repairs. Meanwhile I cunningly stripped off paint and raked out putty leaving the windows all exposed, only to find the weather forecast for today and the rest of the week is rain, and more rain. Sigh.


** Music Hall ditty :-
   "Wiv a ladder and some glasses,
    You could see to 'Ackney Marshes,
    If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between."

I also notice it contains a reference to Epsom: "....you'd fancy you're in Kent, Or at Epsom if you gaze into the mews"

Posted on April 27, 2008 at 8:18 AM. Category: The Garden.

Thursday April 17, 2008

Home for tea

I have been so looking forward to being home with a decent cup of tea. And it's jolly nice. This was one of my last views in Seville yesterday... Aren't they lovely?


The "shop" was down a side alley and I did not stick around as they look kind of non-traditional don't they? I was uncertain whether I would be accosted by an angry avant garde designer who would not want unapproved photos of her work, or drawn into some sleazy flamenco underworld!

I realise I didn't show any photos of the conference centre (Fibes Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones), which was quite an interesting building; here we are exiting (schools out) heading for the coaches back to our hotels.


The sheets of water reminded me of a description in a recent BBC program about India - but I cannot remember if it were Michael Wood's or Monty Don's journey I am remembering (they did visit some of the same places)! It was a fabulous summer palace which had a reservoir on the roof, allowing water (a very scarce resource) to be collected and then showered over the open sides of the building - a sign of great excess, but all derelict now, I believe. This memory made the Fibes centre seem somehow sinful - even though they presumably have no such water restrictions.


Posted on April 17, 2008 at 5:35 PM. Category: Days Out.

Wednesday April 16, 2008

Mucho Queso

Now that's what I call a paella! None of your namby pamby skillets. O No.

Nigel and Robin:- note the use of the traditional scopolla.


This was the inevitable "Gala Dinner". Pretty well managed getting 2000 people to mill about in an orderly manner. However, I suffered considerably for having to stand up all evening - I am a desk johnny after all.

It was held at the Museo de Carruajes, which turns out to mean Museum of Carriages. We did not see much of the museum, as such - however, the buildings and layout were pretty amazing - and, I read, the historical buildings were formerly the Convent of Los Remedios. More fun follows here - don't get too excited now...


These women bravely tried to get everyone dancing - I was peeved as having spent several years of my life learning flamenco - and Sevillanas to boot - was unable to remember even the basic steps. Rather like what remains of 2 years of Spanish night classes.


I was told by a roving fortune-teller (with young translator in tow) that I was "very well loved and my husband loved me very much", and despite the odd health problem I would have a long life (phew). All that one wants to hear. Nigel then foretold Robin's future ("I see much beer"), and Robin saw "much cheese" in Nigel's hand, (did I mention the Tapas?).
After all that - we went home to bed....

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 11:27 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday April 15, 2008

Un Paseo

We tried to see a bit of Seville in the evening while it was still daylight. The Cathedral is within easy walking distance of our hotel, so that's where we headed.

SevilleCathedral.jpg The most noticeable feature of the cathedral is its sheer size (I could not get far enough away from it to squash it all into my lens from this angle). Apparently 3rd biggest in Europe? I think it may depend what criteria you apply, as another source says it is certified by the Guinness Book of Records as being the "largest Christian Church in the World" but then you have to exclude St Peters in Rome and maybe non-Catholic churches - so I am left unsure.
But Big it is, and it turns out it was built explicitly to impress - started in 1402 with building continuing for 100 years. It was built over the site of a mosque, and some of the features were absorbed into the cathedral. We did not go in, (apart from anything else the opening times made it impossible), but a fact that caught my eye was that it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus, though his bones seem to have been in and out of interment more times than someone RIP might hope.

So this is my view of what seems to be an impressive door but I can't seem easily to find out either the name of it nor the road it's in. I found this 3D view of the cathedral for orientation....


..and here is another view from almost the same place, but facing into the square - pretty, in the dusk.


Posted on April 15, 2008 at 9:38 PM. Category: Days Out.

Monday April 14, 2008

"Oranges are not the only fruit" Jeanette Winterson

"Have a nice time but don't eat the oranges" - Tony
Day1: Ate oranges.


Have to confess they weren't Seville Oranges - which is what I think Tony had in mind. In fact they were probably not strictly oranges at all - very nice though...

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 7:18 PM. Category: Days Out.

Sunday April 6, 2008

April Showers

I know it's a cliché - but I woke up this morning and really could not believe my eyes. All week it has been lovely sunshine - temperatures of 17°C - summer suits have been coming out so I would not be too hot at work. Yesterday I took some photos of primulae, basking in warm sunshine.
This is what greeted me when I awoke.

Here are the basking primulae:



Here they are today:


April showers.
This was not what they had in mind.

Posted on April 6, 2008 at 9:23 AM. Category: The Garden.

Saturday April 5, 2008

Braiding Day

Sandy ran her annual braiding day at Headley - about half a dozen of us attended, and it was great fun - like being in Primary School again. [No - come to think of it - more fun than that]. Sandy brought a good few different types of braiding for us to try out, and lots of books to look at.

LoopBraid.jpg With such an opportunity I wanted to try something new and, attracted by the pile of highly coloured wools, I learnt about loop manipulation braiding. Here is Pam starting out having a go - Japanese style - the orange wool on the table is my initial effort.

The nice thing about this is - there are no fancy tools - just fingers. I tried three methods - English, Norwegian, and Japanese. I found the Japanese easier than the English (for a change) and the Norwegian was the nicest but produced a different type of braid - flat on one side and curved on the other. You can work with more than one person to produce wider braids - on the front of one book was a photo of 10 Japanese hands working together - manic....

Sharon brought her Lucet braiding, which is not a name familiar to me though I have seen the tool (no idea where) and probably thought it was for hairpin lace. As well as the 2 pronged variety she had a 4 prong tool, which kind of reminds you of "Knitting Nancy" - however the principal of the thread manipulation is different.


Several of us brought our ply-split flowers to finish off** ...and out of the left over strands, Pam, Janice, and I made a keyring each***. The pattern is "waves" as explained in Julie Hedges book on ply-split.


There were 3 Marudais - a standard wooden one in the far distance, a lovely little dark wood one in the middle, and the one Janice made that inspired me to make mine.


Gill working Kuminhimo with a polystyrene square - I should have pictured the output as it was a fantastic woolen spiral braid.


** Here it is - my lovely craft bag (present from Alison) - "improved".


***George was delighted when I said I'd made him something and he looked at the keyring with some interest - and finally said "its lovely..... I don't want it."

Posted on April 5, 2008 at 6:21 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Monday March 31, 2008

Books in March

  • The Fourth Bear Jasper Fforde
    I think I was probably introduced to Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next novels) by Robert, and swiftly passed them on to Alison. Although I continued with Thursday Next's adventures, I never bothered with the "Nursery Crime" books until I was given (Robert again) two for my birthday. Through an administrative error I took the second one to France with me, so I have read them out of sequence, but I don't think that has impeded my enjoyment.
    Like Terry Pratchett, Fforde's novels are tagged Fantasy Satire, and like Pratchett, they are brilliant. A fantasy world makes you somehow able to look at what is obviously our own world with more objective eyes - and see humbug and hypocrisy for what it really is - and have a good laugh.
    I do not have journalistic skills to write an elegant review - instead try this.
  • The Right Attitude to Rain Alexander McCall Smith
    This is third in the series about Isobel Dalhousie; a quick read, and most enjoyable. The main character really reminds me of my friend Diane; that is really "reminds" me of her, rather than being actually the same as her. It is her sense of what is fundamentally Right, perhaps, as well as the the descriptions of the Edinburgh locations. Alison said she was very surprised by the ending of the book, and it provoked a quite interesting few moments of discussion on the characters' motivations.
    This author also has several series of books, but I have followed only the Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency** with any dedication. I am certain I would like them all, as I suspect they would all be flavoured with the authors quiet brand of philosphical ideas, as applied in every day life, albeit possibly by rather extraordinary people. Perhaps that is the key to his popularity: you can see that the people are ordinary enough on the outside, but rather extraordinary on the inside - and isn't that how we all are?

** Over Easter the BBC screened a film version of the Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency, directed by the recently late Anthony Minghella. They made some changes, which are in my opinion all excellent, in order to take it properly from page to screen. They (and I) are clearly delighted that they filmed it on location in Botswana - it was the Right Thing to do. It is my understanding that this is the pilot for a TV series, though I can't see any direct reference for it being so; I hope they manage to sustain the high quality of actors, script, and direction if it continues.

Posted on March 31, 2008 at 5:05 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday March 28, 2008

Sunshine and Showers

Just about the definition of the weather in the UK, and Normandy tends to join in with the UK in this respect. If anything it tends to be wetter, and it has been pretty dismal for most of the 2 weeks we've been here. However, yesterday it was quite sunny and warm - we even had tea in the garden. I collected some wood in the wheelbarrow early in the morning and then later on discovered we weren't the only ones to notice how nice and warm it was.

Today we are back to torrential downpours - though the temperature is definitely on the up and spring is with us.

Last year we missed these beauties - we saw instead the red tulips that you can see, still in bud, in the background of this shot.

These are such a beautiful colour that they inspire me to copy them in some way.
Flowers always encourage me towards needlepoint though, not knitting.

Posted on March 28, 2008 at 10:03 AM. Category: France.

Friday March 21, 2008

March Winds

When we arrived on Sunday, some pieces of the barn roof had blown off; luckily Lloyd was able to borrow a really long ladder and he and George effected repairs on Wednesday, when the weather was at least tolerable. It was mostly Lloyd actually up the ladder - though it was sufficiently dangerous that it needed the two of them on two ladders to control the corrugated iron.

Throughout the week, the weathermen have been stoically predicting bad weather - even snow - over the Easter weekend, and although it seemed very unlikely as the week commmenced in bright warm sunshine - the cold snap has arrived! It is alternately very bright, then dark, with sudden heavy showers of hail. The wind is really strong and bitterly cold - even when it's sunny.

Meanwhile, I am having a great time curled up by the fire with my knitting. George is the beneficiary, as I have already knitted one of the next pair of "Vintage Socks" - these also in vintage wool - Patons Nylox in a manly shade of grey/green.

Posted on March 21, 2008 at 12:00 PM. Category: France.

Wednesday March 19, 2008

River Rock

I finally started my River Rock scarf which Alison and I are doing as a Knitalong - so I hope she starts soon, as it is such a pleasure to knit, that in any other circumstances I would abandon all other projects and devote myself to this!

I really love putting beads in knitting - it appeals to a side of my nature I try to suppress for the sake of good taste. Left to my own devices I would dress entirely in frills and florals (...but my friends won't let me...). I like shiny things - so beads are perfect, offering glamour while retaining a degree of sophistication more suited to my years - at least that's what I'm hoping....

I notice from my craft group that beading has really taken off - especially (strangely) among the spinners. I believe it's the current 'big thing' - I fervently hope it will take over from card making, which has swamped all our craft fairs, squeezing out other suppliers - or forcing specialist suppliers to take on more card-making supplies.

Posted on March 19, 2008 at 12:06 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Saturday March 15, 2008


Today was Creative Fibres AGM - which lasted all of 20 minutes. There was bumper attendance, and chatting to everyone proved very jolly, as usual.

In the afternoon, we had a talk by Lee Ault from the Dickens House Museum at Broadstairs. Lee is a well-known speaker and expert on costume and textiles; today she was focusing on underwear, and had brought a hamper full of items to illustrate every era. She started out with the 1920s, before working back and forth through the Victorians and Edwardians, up to the 1960s and 70s, discussing each type of garment in turn. In the 1920s, everything was apparently even more unmentionable than even decades before; underwear was laid out by your maid - and then covered up with purpose-made linens so nothing would not be "on display". This was not a problem for the Victorians, as they did not wear any drawers at all - unhygienic - and to wear drawers was considered very racy - the sign of a loose woman.


I loved this item - a boudoir jacket. It was made of a kind of gauzy organza, with a fine pink lining, showing through to give a lovely delicate colour and drape. Naturally, it came with a "boudoir cap" to match.

I was very interested in the "new" caged crinoline invented in the 1850s, making the wide skirt fashions much more wearable, as it was so much lighter than the previous bone-hooped petticoats and layers needed to create the right shape. It was very popular despite being the subject of much ridicule, especially Punch magazine. Dress reformers used the idea of the cage as effectively imprisoning women. [One of Lee's talks is entitled "The Caged Lady (Victorian Costume and Social Attitudes)"]. Gradually the fashion shape changed, with the emphasis moving to the rear, with the "crinolinette" and the bustle.

Although, I don't think any if us dated as far back as the Victorians (!), but we have such a spread of ages, that gales of laughter swept round the room at the mention of almost every 20th century item. Each one brought back memories to someone of their Mum or Granny's underwear - or we were reminded of long-forgotten childhood experiences of being forced into archaic vests and liberty bodices. Ray remembers, as a child in Ireland, her Mother having someone come to the house to measure her for bespoke corsetry.

Mavis is constructing her latest jacket from her various pet furs; she has here a combination of rabbit, alpaca, sheltie, and good old sheep.


Posted on March 15, 2008 at 5:48 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday March 8, 2008

Knitting BAFTAs

I had been meaning to post this item for a while but it took time to get the ingredients assembled. Now - mise en place - I was spurred into action by an article at the end of the recent Interweave Knits with the tongue-in-cheek (I think!) suggestion of an Oscar for best knitting in a film - it was that time of year. It was nice to find someone as potentially bonkers as I am - period knitting never fails to catch my eye and I am always interested in the set dressing and costumes in beautifully crafted TV series which no doubt pride themselves in their recreations.

This stunning top appeared in "Yellow Iris" (Poirot - 1993) worn by Pauline Wetherby, played by Geraldine Somerville, (perhaps more well-known recently for her portrayal of Harry Potter's Mother in the recent films).
Poirot1.jpg Poirot2.jpg
Apologies for the quality but I am afraid I took the low-tech option of photographing the TV!

Poirot, Foyle's War, Miss Marple and so on, are all rich sources of delight. They are of special interest to me as I feel sure that Stitchcraft is often used as source material for the knitted fashions; I have visions of props and costume makers (Rob's students!) slaving away over these very patterns to meet the designer's requirements. I am sure I have recognised more than one cardigan in Foyle's War from the 1940s Stitchcrafts, [though I do not recognise the source of the above example - it may not even be a modern knitted recreation - I can't tell].

Posted on March 8, 2008 at 11:31 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Sunday March 2, 2008

Mother's Day, and Mirrors

When I first joined the Creative Fibres group - Spinners Weavers and Dyers - the one thing I was sure about was that I was not at all interested in weaving - how long ago that seems... Since then I have been seduced into trying my hand at braiding - both Kumihimo and ply-split. [See the extended entry to understand how this came about!].
Anyway, it's Mothers Day today in the UK and this gave me the incentive during the week to finish off some little braided items I've in mind for quite a long time. Here is the cord I made from cotton thread I had bought on eBay - I had made spiral rounded braids in two colours - this one introduces a third colour, and the bobbins are set unevenly in the marudai. Sadly the photo does not do justice to the deep purple, and green colours.


A close up shows the colours but they are not as vivid as in reality.


I had to be quite inventive as to how to finish off the ends, and attach them to retainers to attach to your glasses, [note that Jacqui Carey supplies the ends, and they are fine if you want a lot of them, but I found it cheaper to go to the optician in the village and buy a low quality cord at 75p in order to cannibalise it for the ends].

It seems to me that braid is pretty limited in its uses - certainly if you are beginner - but a fairly obvious use is to make a piece of string to hang your glasses on. As you get older, I have noticed, you go through a phase of using one of these; I think it's as you start to need reading glasses** but have not yet reached the point when you require glasses all the time. I think they are quite naff - but it's only a matter of time for me I'm sure - I have made strings now for George and his Mother, and who else is there but myself?
[**I have begun to think now that your eyesight fails as you get older, to protect you from the full force of that first early morning sight of yourself in the bathroom mirror...]

I leave you with that thought on mirrors, philosophy, and aging..... and with some more pictures of the braid destined to be George's spectacle cord.


These are both spiral braids created with 8 bobbins, 4 in each colour, and using the same movements, but the bobbins are arranged in a different sequence on the mirror.


How did this happen?

At my very first meeting (the Open Day 2006) I tried all with all the things on offer, and braiding was well-represented as Sandy is the Chairman of the Braiding Society. I had a go at Kumihimo as her Marudai was all set up, and I thought it was simple enough (I could see that it was easy to get in a muddle, even with only 8 bobbins but...) and no real interest there. However, on display was Janice's "home made" Marudai**, and I thought "I could do that!", the prospect of a DIY project being much more appealing than the braiding!
**[I should explain that the equipment for Kumihimo can work out very expensive - the bobbins are about 8 quid each and the Marudai over 100 - and thats before you buy the Japanese silk threads!].

I searched for a round plant stand all over the place - but without success, and then I found a bathroom rubbish bin, which had a wooden top with a hole already cut in it, and I rushed home to try it out right away. For my first efforts I used the bin itself as a base - this work "ok" but the bin did not have enough depth to allow any substantial length of braid to be made before repositioning of the centre weight was required - and repositioning was almost impossible as the sides are completely enclosed. Anyway I made my first piece of flat braid in this way (not so very many mistakes!) - this is a close up - the braid is about 7mm wide:

I then decided it was worth progressing with adapting the top of the my bin into the Marudai "mirror" (the top plate). I cut some dowel to make legs - I cut holes (very carefully!) in my mirrror using a router, and glued the legs in place. I then made a base for the legs to sit in - this involved a lot of careful measuring and levelling which I don't want to think about. Here are the legs being glued:

The base is an old piece of faced chipboard, which started out square, and I finally cut into a round; I still plan to paint it. Here is my "finished" Marudai.

The bobbins (tama) are probably the most cost saving part of the exercise; they are made from 35mm film canisters. I used to have a lot of these, but I purged them all and in these days of digital cameras I have not accrued any more. No problem there though. I went to my local camera shop and I mentioned what I was after and the guy gave me a HUGE bag full of them! The tama have to be weighted, for which I used 2p coins, which serve the purpose well, as you can put exactly the same number of coins in each canister. I finished them off with an elastic band to act as a "retainer" and stop the threads slipping off.

Each bobbin should weigh about 70g - this can vary according to what you are doing - and then you need a counterweight in the middle at about 50-70% of the total weights of the tama - a bag full of more 2p coins.

As a beginner, again to keep cost down, I was advised to try machine embroidery threads, as they provide a shiny look, a bit like the silks normally used. It was a bit tedious making 20-strand cords to wind on the bobbin - I was able to use my wig loom as warping posts, but the warping takes much longer than the actual braiding. I purchased some threads on eBay, with which someone had been trying out Kumihimo; they were cotton, so harder to use (slippery is better), but already pre-cut into lengths, so much quicker to wind on the bobbins.

Final Kumihimo braids:

Kumihimo supplies are available on the web from Jacqui Carey, as are books on the subject.

For information and book on Ply-split braiding see Julie Hedges site.

Posted on March 2, 2008 at 11:21 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Friday February 29, 2008

Books in February

There is an interesting and wholly unintentional link in the main 3 books of this month in that they were all written in the 1960s.

  • Several Perceptions Angela Carter
    I think I can safely say I really didn't understand this book, and further I am not sure if I enjoyed it or not. It seemed rather removed from my own experience of life. Quite some time ago I read Shadowdance, her first novel, published 2 years before this one, and I seem to remember much the same reaction to that one. Having read the glowing reviews by authors I admire, (like Salman Rushdie and Anthony Burgess), I can only conclude I don't have the intellect to quite "get it".
    I did enjoy the actual time period, as it is a contemporary work (1968) about the flower power generation and revolves around a university town. As a Sunday Times reviewer said: it offers a picture of the Swinging Sixties without the romantic gloss of middle age.
    Rob gave me two books by her for my birthday, and I will ask him to read them too to see if he can explain what I should be seeing! I think I would like to read "Wise Children" - her last book before her untimely death in 1992, (aged 52).
  • The Clocks Agatha Christie
    Read by Robin Bailey
    Moving on to a much loved (by me) favourite. I am pretty sure I have in my time read all of Agatha Christie's output - much of it in my teens, which, according to my teachers, for ever ruined my ability to write good prose, [on the up side, I have a pretty good ear for dialogue though!]. I am sure I read this one before, as I had a good grip on the plot pretty well right away and I don't think it's because I'm any better at unravelling mysteries these days. I spent the first few chapters confusing it with the Seven Dials Mystery (and a rather bad TV adaptation) until I researched it on the web.
    Anyway, I can recommend reading it - or revisiting as I did. It contains some really nice classic AC plot devices which I much enjoyed, (people being murdered just as they are about to name the guilty party- as soon as a character says "I can't tell you now - meet me in half an hour in the tea shop", you know it's curtains - and - is it 61? or is it really 19?). Hercule Poirot features though not as a main character. He does not leave his flat in Whitehaven Mansions to solve (or advise on) the mystery, and Miss Lemon is still with him. There is a nice little diversion, while Poirot offers some interesting reflections on other crime authors and fictional detectives - he has been amusing himself in retirement, reading novels and working out the puzzles. There is criticism that the plot fizzles out after an interesting beginning, but I think that is part of the actual design; it is often an AC theme that the crime is quite simple, and you have to strip away the red herrings to leave the basic elements, money, sex, etc which are the usual triggers for murder.
    The book is written in the first person by a young "hero" who ends up with the young "heroine" (in many of ACs crime books there is a strong romantic element, and she did write pure romances under a pen name). The setting is sixties but the heroine is pure 1930s - strong, independent, a good sport - but at the same time quite flawed - a dizzy dame - needs a decent chap to take control when it all gets too much (don't we all...). AC was 73 when she wrote this and the characters have words put into their mouths which are clearly AC trying to come to terms with a modern (Swinging Sixties) world to which she can't quite relate.
    The book was read charmingly and effectively by Robin Bailey, such a familiar British stalwart that I had not registered that, sadly, he passed away in 1999.
    I have read that this novel follows the style of GK Chesterton, who was admired much by AC; I have never read the Father Brown stories but now feel I should.
  • Murder in Mind P D James
    This book was also written in 1963, and I would like to say "couldn't be more different" - but hey, it's a detective story... I had recently seen reruns of the TV adaptation of this book - they are fairly faithful to the books, and Roy Marsden is perfect as Commander Adam Dalgliesh, but... they are very dated. I was surprised that this one was 1995 - I thought they were all made in the 1980s. Also these adaptations come from the days when books were adapted into 7 part series, and no-one attempted to squeeze masterpieces like Ian Rankin's Rebus books into a mere hour and a half. I think the problem with PD James books is that there is a lot of psychology in them, which is hard to portray, except by a lot of ponderous pauses - and these are frankly dull on a TV cop show, especially when they go on for so many episodes.
    So - I wondered what the book was like.
    James is 30 years younger than AC so was in her prime when she wrote this. Like the previous novel, it follows the author's typical formula, being set in an "enclosed" environment, (compare: quasi religious orders, convalescent or care homes, retreats, museums, legal chambers, organisations always privately supported by trusts - settings on islands, towers, lighthouses etc etc) and being in this case, a locked room mystery - a defined parameter from the start - so we're all clear about the suspects. Again, in the end, the answer all comes down to money - the simple explanation.
    It may not be apparent from the above, but I really enjoy her books; I think the style is slow (turgid probably too strong). However, while maintaining that nice policeman's pace, solid plodding but relentless, she still manages to have quite a gripping end (will they make it in time or not?) - the policemen end up stuck in a traffic jam, which seems appropriate.
  • Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate M C Beaton
    Another pleasing fantasy excursion into the world of the 50 year old single woman.
    Maybe I could open a detective agency...

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 11:41 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday February 27, 2008

From Russia

London seemed deserted (week after schools half term) and Robert and I comfortably got in to see the exhibition at the Royal Academy. The theme was the interaction of French and Russian art, showing the French influence which inspired a whole generation of Russian artists.


The Matisse is Danse II - Danse I being the more famous, I think, as it's in MoMA. Rob preferred the dining room picture, which was attached to a hilarious story. When purchased, it was a blue painting, but Matisse kept it for a while "to finish it off" - when the buyer received it, it had changed to be bright red - not the sort of thing you'd hardly notice.


There were galleries themed on the collections of two wealthy textile barons (Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov) who were avid collectors of the avant garde at the turn of the century. There was interest here in that though a lot of the very famous artists were represented, (Cezanne, Monet, Picasso etc), much of it was early and not very well known (but that might just be "known to me"!). Another gallery revolved around Diaghilev, and theatrical arts. Best known for his work with the Ballets Russes, he encouraged and sponsored composers and artists, especially as they related to ballet and theatrical design. Between 1897 (when he was only 25) and 1906 he organised 11 exhibitions introducing Western (French) art to Russia. Finally, we moved into the abstracts of Kandinsky, the radical abstracts of Malevich (which are supposed to be a search for pure art but seem to me to be a rejection of it eg "Black Square" 1923), and Tatlin's constructivism. There was a scale model , and a computer-generated film, of his most ambitious project (not realised) intended to be built in Petrograd, and to rival the Eiffel Tower.

Alongside the paintings there were a number of photographs of the artists and the subjects. I found this very interesting. My favourite is a fabulous portrait - but it turned out to be an obvious mainstream choice in that I discovered it was the chosen cover picture for the catalogue. It really is very striking - I loved the colours and the cubist style.


In addition to the actual painting, the subject herself, Anna Akhmatova is very interesting. She was obviously a multi-talented intellectual and with striking features - hailed as a beauty though not "pretty", as such, which I like very much. ["Woman with big nose hailed as beauty" - that kind of thing].
Of yet more interest to me, she met Modigliani in Paris, (while on her honeymoon no less! - though it sounds like her husband was not much better in the fidelity stakes), and between 1910 and 1912 Modigliani executed a number of portraits of her (see the extended entry).

Finally, I would pick out this Rousseaux. While viewing it, I was struck by the thought that I had not seen many paintings of people by him - but then immediately realised this was not at all true, and one of the most famous is a nude in The Dream, (again in MoMA). Anyway, this was a moderately large canvas called the Artist and his Muse, but actually depicting a real couple.


I am not sure that this is a picture of Anna Akhmatova, but I could not resist showing it, although it is in MoMA, and was nothing to do with this exhibition. Modigliani's paintings date mainly from a period after she had left Paris. However, you can see that her physique embodied his idealised style as shown here.


Posted on February 27, 2008 at 3:30 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday February 24, 2008

Noro socks

O - didn't I say?
They are finished!


Yet another sock from the vintage sock book (girl's lacy socks), I think the rich colours and the pattern go well together. There was minimal give in the fancy welt, so I put in an extra shell pattern (cast on more stitches) as it was too tight, as written, for my chubby little legs; I then decreased again before starting the main pattern. This means the pattern does not evenly match the pattern sets when you continue down the leg, (in case you noticed); however there is a discontinuity between the patterns in the shape of a couple of purl rows, so I was not too worried about this.

Actually, I finished the socks in the week but have been so busy, I had no time to take their photo.
Yesterday, I wore them while getting my hair cut. So when (having failed with the reliable opening gambit of 'did I have any holiday plans') Jayne said "what have you been up to lately, then?" - I was able to show her. I think she was impressed.... she used the word cosy...

Posted on February 24, 2008 at 9:31 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Saturday February 16, 2008

Ply-Split Braiding

I have just returned from the Creative Fibres February workshop, where I turned this:


Into this:


The flower is double layered, when finished, but I was too busy nosying into other people's work to finish my own. Ply-split can produce many forms, including bowls, necklaces, booklet covers - and, of course, camel girths(!). Here is Brenda holding up an original camel girth:


The work is very finely worked from goat hair, giving a coarse texture - a bit like carpet:


My preference is for the flat work (in linen) rather than the more artistic shaped work. It makes really good bags, spectacle cases etc. Sandy specialises in bags - her current opus is a bag for a computer notebook, (you can see it on the table farthest from the camera). Here is some of her work:


Finally - a bit of fun artwork from Sandy - a cup of tea with teabag in cup, and Battenburg cake.


Posted on February 16, 2008 at 5:04 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday February 14, 2008

Clickety-clack, over the tracks.

I have finished George's socks. Yet another pattern from my Vintage Sock book. They are seen here suspended on the fantastic sock drier - a little gift from Alison.


George is very taken with the stripes and is regretful that they are covered by your shoes. I was quite interested in the main pattern which is railway stitch. I followed the pattern "blind" as it were, and enjoyed seeing the track pattern emerge.


It is obviously my aim to knit my way through this book, as I am using another pattern from it for my Noro sock wool. These are coming along very well too - I am turning the first heel.

Posted on February 14, 2008 at 2:27 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Tuesday February 12, 2008

Alien soup

This involves alien, and fish.
I already had the alien to hand, but needed to step out to the fishmonger for the rest of the ingredients: haddock and salmon.


I am lucky to live only a few yards from this shop, and the owners live across the road from me - and opposite the pond. The "son" (younger than me but not a youth) served me and fell to reminiscing about the pond, and how it seemed that as kids they lived in the pond - newts, sticklebacks, and even eels abounded. In winter apparently they also skated on it. Now he is sad that some people introduced reeds and other plants around it, so it is rather choked up and not as he remembered it.


He also mentioned a duck house that "someone built" and I told him that I had seen it when we first moved in and wondered about it. It was originally intended to float freely, but is now nestled in the bank against our boundary.


I suppose things never are as we remember them... but let us not get gloomy... here, to cheer us all up: winter flowering jasmine.


Recipe in extended entry:

Alien soup recipe:


(serves 4)

  • Medium head of fennel, sliced thinly
  • 1lb potatoes cut into chunks (bigger than diced)
  • Two or three thin slices of lemon
  • Three teaspoons of fresh dill, chopped
  • A pint of stock (from a stock cube is OK - I use Marigold Organic Swiss Vegetable Bouillon)
  • 4 tablespoons of white wine
  • 8 oz salmon fillet, cut into chunks
  • 8 oz haddock fillet, cut into chunks
  • 4 tablespoons of half-fat crème fraîche
  • salt and pepper to taste


Put everything except the fish and the crème fraîche into a saucepan, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes unto the vegetables are tender.
Add the fish and cook for about 3 minutes.
Remove from direct heat, stir in the crème fraîche, and serve.
[You may need to put back on the heat for a few moments to ensure the crème fraîche has not cooled the soup to much.]

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 11:11 AM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Saturday February 9, 2008

Here they are again.

I took these pictures on my way out to work yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it was a bit of a surprise to see these splashes of colour in the garden. First a little snowdrop:


Croci and primulae: the weather has been unseasonably warm for the last 2 weeks, and I fear they have been tempted out too soon.




Posted on February 9, 2008 at 4:39 PM. Category: The Garden.

Monday February 4, 2008

New projects

I have kicked off lots of new - but little - projects.
Alison gave me a ball of Noro's sock wool; it is lovely and I don't know how I managed to contain myself for so long. I am using one of the Vintage Sock book lacy patterns. I thought at first that a plain design would be better but having viewed some samples that others have knitted, I think it will look good in this design.


This will make Alison laugh if no-one else: the initial two colours, these particular shades of purple and brown, remind me immediately of the vivid colour splash scenes from "2001, A Space Odyssey". The technique of flooding the screen with negative style colours and odd filters was very popular in the 1960s (drug culture I expect), and this film used it for the scenes travelling "beyond Saturn". The one I remember, through the spaceman's eyes, was a simple scene of a chalk cliffs and rough seas - but all filtered into purple and chocolate colours. Although it was simple to understand the filming technique, I was totally "there" in the spaceship, captivated by the wide-screen cinema; the effect of being in such an alien landscape - familiar yet awful - was utterly beautiful and at the same time horrifying.
I do wonder if it's all in my imagination, as I saw the film some 30 years ago, and even then it was 10 years old. Amazing that it was still capable of such an impact.

I do not (happily) retain any horror of the colours themselves!


Posted on February 4, 2008 at 11:12 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Saturday February 2, 2008

Here's the thing....

Rowan book 43 arrived yesterday, which provided a short but pleasant diversion for me before I dashed off to visit a customer. The problem is - this is what I find appealing:


I know, I know.
And I am never going to make it (really!). No doubt, this will relieve my good friends, who don't want to see me humiliate myself - or possibly don't want to have to walk out in public with me if I dress like this. [I'm sure one day I shall dress like this - just to warn them....].

Here are a couple of things I may actually make:
Fossil.jpg Capri.jpg Purity.jpg

I really like my Bonita top in Damask, and this Fossil summer top over a T-shirt looks very wearable for me; I liked knitting with Damask, and there are a couple of new colours on offer this year.
The Capri cardigan appeals to me, though I might knit it with longer sleeves, and is knitted in Calmer - again, a yarn I really like.
The shawl is, of course, a Sharon Miller design [**see footnote]; I love it, I'm sure I will have little reason to wear something like this, but I may knit it anyway!

I noticed (and perhaps you can see) they have used a - how can I say? - slightly chunkier model for many of these designs; she is young, pretty - but not size zero. How great is that? They are being a bit more "politically correct", (in its true positive meaning), by avoiding promoting an unachievable female form. They have listened - both to their readers, saying they want to see how the designs look on people they can identify with, and to campaigners against skinny role models for teenagers. As far as I can see they have not made capital out of this by mentioning it - they've just done it. Although I am pretty small, I am short, and thus have a stocky appearance, and I can see much more easily whether these designs will suit or not.

I read a (only slightly negative) review by another blogger - and I guess they can't help it if they don't like Rowan 43 - but I always find such reviews a bit unfair. Admittedly, the last couple of issues have not been packed with stuff I want to knit - but that's just as well for me, as I don't have that much knitting capacity, though I enjoy reading the book. I suppose I do have sympathy for those who really can't afford to buy a book unless it's good value for them, with lots of patterns they really like. But beyond that, I really admire Rowan; they try hard to keep up with trends and clearly do offer patterns outside of mainstream taste - only hindsight proves whether they were being avant garde or just weird.
I realise I am not exactly in the first flush of youth, which may be the reason, but I often come back to patterns from older Rowan magazines and find them more appealing, for example, my red version of Elspeth, from book 37, which was a great success for me, though I did not consider it on first viewing.

In the magazine they promote other new books "RYC Summer Delights", showing some good designs, in my opinion; "Purelife" which showcases a new yarn, Organic Cotton, (lovely idea); and they have an excellent articles on the production of the new cottons, and techniques for sewing up and finishing your knitting.

**Footnote: I think I have spotted a printers error in Purity, and if I'm right, correct it as follows:
Rowan 43 Page 121 Purity: "Work first edging" reads:
"Row 1: Cast on 20sts, work across these 20 sts then patt to end"
I think it should read
"Row 1: Cast on 20sts, work across these 20 sts as folls: inc once in each of these 20sts, then patt to end".
This produces the right number of sts and also matches the other side.

Posted on February 2, 2008 at 10:02 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Thursday January 31, 2008

Books in January

  • Flashman on the March George MacDonald Fraser
    I wanted to read a Flashman novel in commemoration of the author, who died on January 2 at the age of 82. He revived the cowardly bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays in 1969 to continue his caddish ways in the first of about a dozen novels. My tutor at college was very fond of these books and I feel his tastes were not to be dismissed lightly. However, I shall not be rushing to read any more.
    George MacDonald Fraser also wrote the screenplay for Octopussy - again not one of my favourite Bond films, but possibly not the fault of the script.
  • Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell M C Beaton
    Agatha moves on. Or perhaps not - her appeal for me is definitely woman in fifties behaving like teenager (mostly at its worst...).
    "I have to go home. My feet are killing me"
    "Such a shame. Those shoes look so glamorous"
    Agatha smiled at Mrs Bloxby, who always managed to say the right thing. A lesser woman would have said: "You should wear sensible shoes.".

Posted on January 31, 2008 at 10:06 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Monday January 28, 2008

Jobs for the girls

I have been working on a Pattern of the Month from the 1940s. As always, I'm slightly uncertain if it will prove a really useful item for "the Great Britain of today". I feel it might have a good application in some outdoor sports, but hard to tell when you don't actively participate in any!

This theme was nicely taken up by a news item today, that Land Girls and Lumberjills are being given recognition for their efforts during World War II. It was decided after the war that the civilian population would not receive medals in the same way that the soldiers did, but now, surviving members of the WLA and WTC are to receive a commemorative badge. There are a number of other organisations not (yet) included that also should have their contributions acknowledged formally - I hope this will happen while there are still some alive to appreciate it.

girlsonrd.jpg I feel that, for myself anyway, we do not fully realise what really hard work it was for women to take up these jobs, and certainly by today's standards, if not for those of the time, the conditions were poor, and the pay low.

I filched the picture on the right from the fashion link below with no idea I'm afraid if they are land girls or just "girls on road" as photo name implies (they may not even be English girls - who knows?). I was unable to resist the picture as they look jolly, and dressed for practicality rather than glamour, but I hope I don't offend any Land Girls as these are perhaps a bit scruffy compared with the efficient dungareed women shown on the Imperial War Museum site.
In surfing I found the following interesting links on women's work during WWII.

Posted on January 28, 2008 at 8:24 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday January 27, 2008

A walk in winter

Yesterday on the way back from a shopping trip with George (my special treat - a visit to John Lewis) we happened to be on the road during the most spectacular sunset. We stopped on our way over Epsom Downs and to photograph it over the racecourse. Unfortunately we missed capturing the more startling colours - but it's still pretty amazing. [Note that I have stitched this photo together, and the join is not perfect, but you can see how splendid it is].


The weather is so fantastic - cold** and sunny.
Perfect for a walk.
It was a bit like a rerun of the Mont Buon walk at New Year - but local to our house on the common.

We have English trees,

English Gorse


and English fungus and lichen.


Finally we have a smug person in Wellingtons, anticipating her birthday.


** "Cold" - but not relative to, say, Canada.

Posted on January 27, 2008 at 6:36 PM. Category: The Garden.

Elegant dining.

George tried to enter into the spirit of the birthday thing by taking me to a posh restaurant**. In fact, it's located in our village, so it was really nice to be able to walk there, and the weather helped with the plan.


Gemini has a "French" cuisine, (even though they seem to have a slight issue with correct spelling on the menu). There were 6 courses, (which reminded me of la Maison de la Lozère in Montpellier), but the quantities of food were adjusted accordingly, so we did not explode on the way home. You will be pleased to know George enjoyed it too - his look of resignation is in anticipation of being blinded by the camera flash.

**I simply love their web page description which includes a "gently priced wine list".... (of which I partook a glass).

Posted on January 27, 2008 at 8:23 AM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Saturday January 26, 2008


Last night (bedtime reading) I revisited a beautiful book George's Mother gave me for Christmas, which had been rather neglected in the excitement of the Vintage Socks. SashKaganCrochet.jpg
It's Crochet Inspiration by Sasha Kagan. I love this designer and had bought all her books up until Country Inspiration published in 2000; I was not so keen on the designs in Country Inspiration - and in reality I am not sure I have ever knitted any of Sasha's designs, being typically beautiful tiny intarsia motifs (my favourites!). I was however going to purchase the book, for old times sake, at her stand in Alexandra Palace in 2000, but she was a little brusquely off-hand with me and that rather dampened the warmth I felt towards her. I should have had more sympathy, as I know from experience that dealing with the general public for long periods on an exhibition stand is very wearing - but it did put me off; anyway I had a much better experience last year and she has two new books out of which this is one.

I'm not very good with "inspiration" books, ie ones that don't focus on patterns to make items, but this one had quite a few things to teach me.
Firstly, it made me realise that I may be a fairly experienced knitter but I am not up to the same standard in crochet. Sure I started with crochet at an early age, and I can follow a pattern, but that's not all there is to it. If you showed me a swatch of knitting, I could probably tell you how it was knitted and even name the stitch, but this bumper book of swatches made me understand how little I know about crochet. I know - I should be more humble....
Secondly, it really was inspirational, being packed with samples of interesting stitches and designs; I can't think of any aspects it failed to cover.

Here is a taster (hoping she won't instantly slap an injunction on me for reproducing her pictures, which I am only showing to make you interested in the book!).

SashKaganFlowers1.jpg SashKaganFlowers2.jpg

Don't go away thinking it's all doilies and lace by any means, though; I just felt I had to show her (an my) love of floral motifs in this extract.

One of the (many) things I was attracted to making was a lace mat in filet crochet! This is, however, a technique I do have experience of and am not so keen on; in stitch terms, it's just a hard repetitive grind. So I am tempering my desire to rush off immediately and weed out my crochet hook and cotton. But it's certainly on the agenda for the future [to add to my kitschy cat collection - lace mats otherwise not such a prominent feature in my house]


Posted on January 26, 2008 at 8:54 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Sunday January 20, 2008

Midwinter Dream

Last night my sister took me to see A Midsummer Night's Dream staged by the West Meon Players at Winchester Theatre. It was really brilliant. Set in the 1950s, it offered an excellent portrayal of Helena, where she showed all those humourous frustrations of thwarted juvenile love. It was easy to see why Puck found it all such fun.
My sister told me it was only for one night which I found astonishing, given the quality of staging, and performances. However it turns out it was a rerun (one night only) of their open air production for last Midsummer, when the weather was so foul they really could not perform successfully - though they did carry on throughout the storms, apparently, with the audience gradually drifting off!
I should also say that the reason Lyn got tickets in the first place was that an old friend took the part of Peter Quince (but absent from photo on the left, which shows the outdoor 2007 production). Not only was he very good but the "rude mechanicals" were all just excellent. Not at all over the top (often a flaw with amdram), but perfectly judged and had us all really laughing out loud.

Posted on January 20, 2008 at 1:24 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday January 19, 2008

The Secret of the Worsted.

Thursday was pretty frantic for me, ending with a journey down to Plymouth, where I spent all day on Friday. I took the guernsey with me for amusement during the 6 hours on the train. The guernsey has taken on an entire life of its own now, expanding in all directions as an uncontrollable amorphous sort of lump. It reminds me of an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea**, and I expect to get up in the morning and find it has taken over my bedroom, ("Woollen Man").


Cramming it back into my suitcase became like the end of a ventriloquist's act [Get back in the case - "I don't want to go back in there" - Now be sensible, its only for a while... - "It's all dark in there; I'm not going" etc]. Although, if you do start talking to your knitting on a train, I find people tend to shrink away, and get very involved in their reading matter, or see something fascinating out of the window suddenly.

** The series was "notorious for their inclusion of absurd science and an emphasis on the juvenile 'sci-fi' element", and the episode in question was Cradle of the Deep, (1965). The reason I remember it over and above the others was that it had a similar plot to some other sci-fi or horror story I had seen. It was probably my first realisation that not all plots are original! As there are many such stories based on this theme, from 1950s horror films to Startrek (all generations), I have no idea which other series I had been watching.
Recently, I saw a (not new) TV documentary about Irwin Allen charmingly hosted by Bill Mumy - and the Robot [Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!]. I am amazed that I was so ignorant that I knew nothing of this director despite 5pm Sunday afternoons of my youth being filled with endless reruns of Voyage, and Lost in Space - and I never made the connection with the popular disaster movies of the 1970s.

Posted on January 19, 2008 at 9:43 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Monday January 14, 2008


I don't suppose hoards of knitters will read this item inspired by the Yarn Harlot's item on wool (cheap or otherwise). On the down side, I don't have her readership - but on the upside, I do have lots of "opinions" - and, luckily, my own blog to keep them in - so what the hell?!
I say: "rebuttal" but actually it's a bit of a soggy argument as I'm sure I agree with her somewhere there - in fact I agree with her full stop, I suspect. This is just my excuse to write about it too.

I, also, knitted my way through the 1980s, but don't remember acrylics being so prevalent, or wool being scarce or expensive. My 'wool' stash from that period tells a different story, though, - it is not lacking in synthetic content.
However, in addition, I was a prolific knitter in the 1970s. Dictated by fashion, or the general feelings of the era, I had no time at all for any synthetics - not in fabrics or yarn. It all had to be pure cottons and wools. [My older sister, often reminds me of this fact, so I know it's true!]. We were rejecting the previous decade which had benefited from the explosion in organic chemistry in the 1950s; all those branded nylons were just old hat.

It just had to be wool - but sadly, I was a penniless student at the time, and so I always bought the cheapest (and often did not buy enough!). In consequence I have some old woolly friends that are poor quality, and scratchy to wear, (and too small!).


Here is my shawl, crocheted, from a mid-70s edition of Stitchcraft, in a Shetland double knitting wool. I did not use it much at the time - fashionable concept - but (being Stitchcraft) not quite "right". Here we are some thirty years later, and it has come out of the wardrobe again, but is rough to the touch and the fringe has matted.

I suppose the issue, perhaps, was not choosing wool suited to the task. Shetland wools are not only subject to felting but actually designed for this very quality. But at the time I did not realise this, and, thinking about it honestly now, I don't think I would have been delighted had I knitted this in an acrylic.


The other side of the coin from those days, and probably still applicable today, is that truly expensive wools can also disappoint. This is another (possibly Stitchcraft) pattern from 1977, knitted in a bouclé wool called Jaeger Catkin. As it was a speciality wool, I decided to splash out and buy the recommended stuff to get the right effect. I was really sad that it went bobbly really quickly. Strangely, looking at it now, it seems not as delapidated as I remember.**

Perhaps, again, it just requires some experience and knowledge about wools to understand what you can expect of them, and how to care for them. Worsteds are hard, maybe coarse, but hard wearing; woolens are soft, airy, but subject to pilling and felting. The blissful situation today is that the choice is out there, in colour and quality, and I am reveling in it. I am glad I have expanded my woolly horizons from the once narrow bigotry of my youth.

** This sweater is now knitted as designed in the pattern. At the time, I "improved" it by making bell shaped sleeves, which, I can only guess, were more fashionable in my eyes. I wore it day after day throughout my year in Southampton in 1977. In the 1980s, I unravelled the sleeves and reknitted them straight.... I can only assume I wore it again at that time. Although I can still just squeeze into this sweater, it is really too small for me now - which may be (ahem) a Good Thing.

Posted on January 14, 2008 at 11:51 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Friday January 4, 2008

Honfleur in winter

On our way back to Boulogne, we stopped for lunch in Honfleur and I took a few more pictures - compare with the summer pictures from last June. The "snow" scenes are Honfleur's (fake) decorations - but very seasonal and pretty.

Honfleur_Me_winter.jpg Honfleur_Me_summer.jpg



Posted on January 4, 2008 at 8:13 AM. Category: France.

Wednesday January 2, 2008

New year, new wool.

I brought my guernsey knitting with me to France, which showed good intentions. However, I also brought my new Christmas book of vintage sock patterns taken from old Weldon's magazines, (published in an era preceding Stitchcraft).

I have spent ages reading and planning socks.... and to compound the folly, I went to the Phildar shop in Avranches and rummaged in the bargain wool box, with the following socky consequences:


I say: "wool" but in fact most Phildar yarns are highly synthetic; you can forgive them as the yarns are very high quality, and of course synthetics have some good qualities. But I miss that luxurious feel. I try and make up for it by remembering previous sock projects made in vintage wools which shrank beyond recognition at the first sight of water (rather, I mean I felted them, of course - for a very small person - or my friend's baby...).
There's no getting away from it though - even the one called lambswool manages only 51% wool. I was encouraged by Préface (not one I know of old) which is 75% wool, but they actually recommend it for socks and in it seems to follow only offer it in direly dull colours; the burgundy and ash colours I chose were in the bargain box as discontinued.
Finally we have Luxe, which I do know (and love) of old. It is fairly fine gauge for the modern era, and Phildar used it as their staple family baby wool, offering it in a good colour range. I love the colour I have found here. However, the colour range is not so wide now, and it remains only 15% wool.

I expect you are wondering about all those kittens. Well here they are. One orange one seems to have disappeared, leaving one orange, two grey and one clone of her Mother (with a slightly more appealing tail I would say).


These are the two good looking ones, which I think are the boys of the family.


Posted on January 2, 2008 at 6:59 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet.

Tuesday January 1, 2008

Mont Buon

Lovely weather for our New Year Day outing to Mont Buon. George went there with Lloyd while I was in the US in October and wanted to show it to me. It's very local to our house, and among the beautiful views I am sure our property is visible, though perhaps not the house itself due to the lie of the land. Use the pop-up to see the map of the route more clearly.

Here I am, dressed for the day in my new Wellingtons, and thermal socks.


We followed the gently climbing path around the "mountain" through beautiful autumnal (or should I say wintry?) woods...

...until we reached the summit - a staggering 209m.

MontBuon.jpg MontBuon_George.jpg

Points of interest were marked along the way, including a trench, used by the Resistance**. The right hand photo shows the view of the trench at 90 degrees, a little downhill; the trench is quite invisible.
[On re-reading this I realise that perhaps I should now - some 60 years on - say "used by the French Resistance during the Second World War"!]. MontBuonTrench1.jpg MontBuonTrench2.jpg

And here is the rolling stone and "chaos" as marked on the map.


I took a few more pictures of wildlife and views which are in the extended entry.

Some surprising gorse bushes:


Slightly more seasonal puffballs:


The familiar, almost luminous, moss:


A weird tree - it pops up for a closer view [I thought it looked like a rabbit - ok?]:

And those lovely views along the way...

and at the end of the walk.

Posted on January 1, 2008 at 3:57 PM. Category: France.