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Archive Entries for June 2008

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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.