Weblog (home)


Pattern of
the Month

On the Needles
(...and Off the Needles)



About the
Idle Hands

Archive Entries for April 2008

« March 2008 | Main | May 2008 »

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.