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Archive Entries for February 2008

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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.

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.

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.

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.