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Archive Entries for April 2009

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Thursday April 30, 2009

Books in April

  • Black Plumes by Margery Allingham [read by Francis Matthews]
    BlackPlumes.jpg I have fun listening to Margery Allingham's work, but it is very dated. In fact that's probably part of the fun. It is so very dated by the language and manners portrayed - the society it reveals in the more casual asides to the plot, one can hardly believe ever existed... and yet it did, and therein lies some of the interest.
    This book is all about a wealthy upper class family who, when a murder happens in their midst, seem most concerned about being shunned by society, rather than by the shocking conclusion that one of them is going around murdering people. Quote of the book for me was: "....and the terse notes which arrived from him for every member of the family, stating fully, in the most abominable commercial English, that he would be glad if they would give him their attention for half an hour at 3 o'clock...". No need to tell you that "he" is not one of the Family, but merely one of their employees.
    Written in 1940, Albert Campion is not featured, though there is a hero (David) in similar mould playing the romantic lead. However, this book is a little darker than the Campion series. The story is not told through David's eyes, but those of Frances, the youngest girl in the family. It's an interesting viewpoint as she is not solving the crime, she is just the victim of the events going on around her, and does not fully understand them. The plot itself is an interesting mystery.

  • A Cure for All Diseases by Reginald Hill
    CureForAllDiseases.jpg This is a very enjoyable book if you like Jane Austen as well as Reginald Hill. It is a kind of extension of the unfinished Austen novel "Sanditon" - of which, I confess, I had never heard prior to this book drawing it to my attention. Apparently, Hill often uses "one writer or one oeuvre as a central organizing element of a given novel".
    It is a Dalziel and Pascoe novel, and set firmly on the contemporary Yorkshire coast (rather than 19th century Eastbourne). He has taken some names from the original, and it definitely has that Austen air in the humour and the claustrophobic society he describes - though possibly fewer murders in Austen.
    He uses several characters and methods to tell his story. Alongside the usual narrative of the police investigation led by Pascoe and Wield, we have a convalescing Dalziel dictating his thoughts into a tape (as well as secretly taping others inadvertently and otherwise), and we have a character writing a series of letters to her sister abroad (which would be very Austen but for the fact they are emails).

  • Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
    ThreeBagsFull.jpg I set out to find this book in my local libraries, as it was reviewed by Cathy, and sounded like the sort of book I would like. [A sheep detective story - neatly combining all my interests in one]. However, it's obviously a very popular book that many have liked as there are about 30 copies of it available in Surrey libraries (and that's a fair number).
    The novel is set in "Glennkill" which is nice wordplay as Kill or Kil is common in Gaelic place names, meaning chapel or church. And chief among the amateur sheepy sleuths is "Miss Maple". However, picking these puns in isolation makes the book sound a bit crass - which it is not. It is full of charm as the sheep loyally think their woolly way through the mystery to its conclusion.
    Its anthropomorphic view of sheep is probably comparable to the rabbits in Watership Down (but less scary). Fun and easy to read.

Posted on April 30, 2009 at 3:11 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday April 29, 2009

Old favourites

It's been a hectic season of art and culture this year. I signed up for a bunch of tickets available through our company, and George managed to acquire tickets to "see" a recording of the new series of I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue (the antidote to panel games) on Sunday night in London. With the death of Humphrey Littleton last year, there was some doubt as to whether there would be a new series at all, but it does have pretty solid supporters, who made it known that they could not do without 'Mornington Crescent', 'One Song to the Tune of Another', Name that Barcode', and so on - so on it goes. Of course, it wasn't the same without Humph, but Steven Fry did a very creditable job as host, and the guest, alongside Graham Garten, Barry Crier, and Tim Brooke-Taylor, was Victoria Wood, which was excellent as well. Just before the interval (they record 2 shows in an evening) Steven Fry recorded - and posted - an "audience boo" - some kind of techno-twittering joke that is beyond the middle aged from Surrey. However, if you like, you can hear it (me) here.
The shows will be broadcast on Radio 4 in June.

Yesterday, Rob and I went to see Defending the Caveman at the Rose in Kingston. I got the tickets to give Rob his first opportunity to see the Rose (inside at any rate). He was a little critical of the layout - thought it should not have restricted itself so much to the layout of what is known of the original Rose, and been a bit more adaptable, (and thought the lights were not very accessible.. ever the professional eye!).
Anyway, the show was lots of fun; a kind of humorous lecture, which in truth was a very digestible form of the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" - and unsurprisingly has a positive review from John Gray. We laughed a lot.

Posted on April 29, 2009 at 3:03 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday April 26, 2009

New age craft

You know the kind of thing - craft is hip** - you take some old junk and recycle it into something else - which you then call "useful", "thrifty", "craft", and "green". Except in my opinion none of the above - you spend a fortune on other bits and pieces which usually includes a mountain of epoxy glue - and how's that good for the planet? I suppose I would grant that it is "Art"...

Anyway - I really did do this - and it really was "useful", "thrifty", "craft", and "green", though not Art. [OK, I did use a bit of PVA glue...]. And I, too, am disproportionately pleased with myself as I have been meaning to complete this little project idea for ages.

When I first did some flick carding, I decide to find a piece of leather from my attic treasure trove to protect my knees. I have bits of leather for making doll shoes but this is mostly gloving leather, which would be too lightweight. However, G's Mother finds me odd pieces and I remembered that she had come up with a large piece of pretty heavy weight leather which was a bit much for the dolls - I think I had already snicked a little for soles, and to support the back of some buttons in repair work.
When I found the piece, I remembered it is part of some kind of seat cover - car or airline (reminds me of American Airline seats but maybe too small). And, lo! it was already in a shape begging to become a spinner's apron. So here is it:

...the top was already stitched to be folded over, the bottom was already tailored into an apron shape. I covered some webbing with polka dot cotton from my material stash (Yes, I have one of those too...) and stitched it on as a neck piece (through stitching holes already in place), ditto for a waist tie which - and get this - was threaded through cuts in the leather already there in the perfect position. I then lined it, partly stitching in place, and partly gluing it round the edges.

** This Guardian newspaper site is actually pretty fun with links to good projects - tips on how I can use my inherited button collection and "the rebel knitter" [I especially like the "fruit cosy" - which had me puzzled for a bit but if they really did protect my bananas I guess it's worth a try...
My particular dislike was a project from a book called How to Make [Almost] Everything and featured in an article "The Borrowers" (Observer Magazine, September 2006). This was a lace doily made into a fruit bowl by saturating it in epoxy resin; I have no quibble if you want the "Thing" - it was quite nice looking. I have a quibble with calling it recycling or thrifty.

Posted on April 26, 2009 at 10:49 AM. Category: Crafts.

Sunday April 19, 2009


I took these views of the garden while it was still sunny in the evening.
The wisteria which just popped out during our stay:

The raspberry bed, still looking good. I weeded out a couple of nettles and buttercups, and George, having cut them back last year, contained the canes with some poles and twine:

Finally - the pieris forestii, of which I am not so very fond, it being more Surrey than Normandy - but - what a fabulous example, and especially splendid right now.

I always thought they were little shrubs, but now I read that they can reach over 5metres!

Posted on April 19, 2009 at 10:04 AM. Category: France.

Tuesday April 14, 2009


One man's rubbish is another man's (toad's) wildlife sanctuary.
Yesterday (at last) we started to bag up the rubbish evicted from the bakehouse. The lovely damp plasterboard (which helpfully disintegrated as we picked it up) had become home to a number of toads - sorry about that chaps. I carefully moved them to another suitably damp abode. No toads were harmed in the making of this blog entry.

(We also found a nest of shrews, which unavoidably had a slightly sadder outcome.)
Here is the bakehouse without rubbish pile, and showing the trench that Lloyd has dug to carry electrics, water etc from the main house. (Currently the electrical cable is strung through the apple trees!).

Today, Peter arrived at 9:30 with a trailer to help us move the rubbish to the déschetterie in Brécey. Unfortunately he did not realise the déschetterie is not open in the mornings so he was compelled to spend longer in our company than he had planned. We padded out the time until 2 pm with coffee and cake, and also lunch. But it wasn't long before I had inveigled him into moving our fridge and exploring the subsidence of our kitchen floor - which is such a disaster area of apparent dry rot that I don't want to dwell on it.

After he had gone, we went to buy new flooring, and later still, Lloyd came round bearing a circular saw, and set about cutting the wood to shape. Tomorrow we plan to soak everything in wood preservative/anti-fungus, and reassemble the floor.

Late in the evening I found one of the toads had decamped into our kitchen, imagining that under the cooker was a good place to set up a new house - even though it is not at all damp on top of the vinyl flooring as far as I know. I removed him back outside - explaining about the anti-fungus etc.

Posted on April 14, 2009 at 11:12 PM. Category: France.

Monday April 13, 2009

Kool Socks

The knitted socks have proved yet another surprise in colour variation. The knitting has pooled the colours more than they were in the skein (which was more my intention when spinning the yarn) and so the colour variation is more noticeable and less blandly grey. Lloyd says they are very New Age, (and I suppose he should know - and I am taking that as a compliment).

The colour is still very suitable for traditional mens socks (which is Good), whilst having a subtley wild air due to the pink.

I swatched the yarn and achieved 28sts to 4 inches using finer needles than usual. The yarn is not really as fine as a 4 ply weight, so knitting to this tension has produced a dense fabric. Some of the socks I have knitted in the past seem to have been a bit loose, so as well as using finer needles, I reduced the number of stitches for these socks. George likes these denser close fitting socks, which stay firmly on his feet "even in Wellingtons".

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 4:08 PM. Category: Knitting.

Thursday April 9, 2009

Encounters in Richmond

I am just slipping in a retrospective blog entry which was by-passed due to my hurried departure to France (it's always hurried).


The day before we left I had theatre tickets for "Brief Encounter" and Rob came with me as George was hard-pressed to finish up at work in time for our holiday. We had moderate expectations, but how wrong we were - it was brilliant. And I am now so very particularly glad Rob came with me to see this.

It really was a "theatrical extravaganza". It involved a full plate of multi-media offerings that really worked, including the actors stepping into back-projected films, singing and dancing, and many delightful tricks, with charming references to the famous film. It was original and fresh - and in Rob's words "restores your faith in provincial theatre" - if that's not too patronising - it's not meant to be.

The production was witty, entertaining and quite jolly, as it actually followed the interaction of 3 couples, not just the main protagonists. The projections were used brilliantly - designed by Jon Driscoll* with Gemma Carrington. They created such drama that the scene where Laura returns from the brink of flinging herself into the path of "the express" actually moved me to tears.

* Unbeknownst to me, Jon Driscoll is one of Rob's ex-students who worked on an amusingly short version of Brief Encounter for one of his peer's "Sound to Light" exercises while at college.

The production opened originally in the Haymarket and is now on tour - see their website, and also a much better review than I can give here.

Tempest revisited

If that weren't enough - I also need to say that, I failed to give a proper mention to the last production at Richmond that I went to the week before.


It was the Tempest, and it was more slight nostalgia that caused Rob to be my companion again on this occasion. Once again, our expectations were moderately low - and we were almost late (though not so in the end) as the curtain went up 30 minutes earlier than usual for Richmond. Yet again, how fantastic was this production and how lucky for Rob to get to see it, given his world music and theatrical interests. It was an "African" version including dance, live music, puppetry and lot of "theatre". It starred Anthony Sher as Prospero, and here is Ariel (Atandwa Kani) trapped by the witch's magic, giving some small idea of the power of the puppetry and spectacle.
Again - see the review.


In my defence, all these low expectations are based on the previous few touring plays we went to at Richmond, which were, in my estimation, adequate but not extraordinary. [And the Hound of the Baskervilles, which was downright poor!] But when you find yourself seeing something so terrific, it makes up for the rest - and the pleasure is even more when it is so unexpected.

Posted on April 9, 2009 at 11:22 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday April 5, 2009


I finally finished spinning the last of the llama fleece my sister gave me - the cream colour. I have finally chosen something to knit from it - based on my sister's expressed wish that I "knit myself a nice scarf or something", and finding a pattern shown in similar colours in my "Fine Fleece" book.

I did start with the main colour in brown and the contrast in cream, (this was the colour option shown in the book), but this did not work out, so I started again. The brown was the first bag of llama that I tackled and I spun it into a thicker yarn than the cream; the pattern itself has a different quality of yarn for the contrast stripes - a mohair - which I thought may have been thicker than the main, and my hunch paid off as the result with the yarns swapped is quite good.
In knitting with this - the first and the last colour I spun - I find my spinning and plying has improved a little. The cream colour is pretty acceptable on the whole.

Posted on April 5, 2009 at 5:11 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday April 4, 2009

More blending and plying

So now I have plied pink/grey with green/white. And here it is.

I plied the two blended singles - one pink and grey Suffolk, the other natural Suffolk and olive synthetic. At this stage of competence, I did not do myself any favours by using two different wool qualities to spin and ply, but the result is: OK.

The colour mix is "interesting". I discussed it at some length with Rob (colour being his Thing, in one way or another). I am sure this is all in the books I have about dyeing and colour theory, but this is what our discussion came around to: my mixture is an overall sludgy grey, as I suspected it would be. I tried to choose colours opposite each other on the colour wheel, as these are deemed to go well with each other. Indeed, if they are set side by side, then they do set each other off, and increase each others intensity; however, if they are blended together, complementary colours make black or white (depending on whether we are talking absorbing or reflecting), and in practical terms, given that pigments are not perfect, this will be sludgy grey. So you need to consider different aspects of colour mixing when dyeing, blending different coloured fibres, or Fair Isle knitting in blocks of colour.

My next steps in Kool Aid dying and spinning will be mixing red, orange, lemon, and lime green. They look good with the lumps of fleece side by side - but then orange and lime are almost complementary colours.

Posted on April 4, 2009 at 5:10 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday April 2, 2009

Blending fibres II

I planned to make a second yarn to ply with my pink/grey mixture. I was going to use a soft olive coloured synthetic fibre of some sort (it was given to me), thinking it would go well and give the sock strength. However, I decided it was all a bit dark, so I have blended some of the natural Suffolk fleece with the green fibre.


After experimentation, I carded the two fibres together before spinning - they have such different qualities and staple lengths that just spinning them roughly together was not working.

I am expecting that the overall effect of these colours together will be rather like when you start at primary school and make your first picture; you try to make wonderful colours by mixing all those other lovely colours together, but you always achieve a sort of sludgy grey.

Posted on April 2, 2009 at 11:03 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Wednesday April 1, 2009

Stitch in Time

StitchinTime.jpgI have been waiting for some months to feature this book, as I wanted to keep it as a secret gift for Alison's birthday. The waiting has been hard - but is now finally over (Happy Birthday Alison). It is such a wonderful book but as usual my skill with words is not sufficient for me to describe how much I like it. It has obvious appeal to me, of course, but who could fail to be entranced by its beautiful production and styling?

The book was first printed in 1972, but in a very different form. I purchased the original in a 1980s reprinted edition. This did contain the basic same material, but with only a few colour prints showing some of the patterns reknitted in contemporary yarns. Subsequently - and lucky for us - the plates for this edition were lost which has led to the entire book being revamped with all the designs not only being reproduced as per the originals, but with the patterns redrafted to include modern instructions and yarn information. All the designs are knitted up and beautifully photographed. I particularly love that the knitters are also individually credited for their work in the book.

From my original book, I always liked this design for a Sun-Ray jumper from Woman and Home 1936.

SITsunray1.jpg SITsunray3.jpg

As all the original patterns were published with black and white photos the imagination was fired by the descriptions in the text. The yarn colour names were intended to be evocative of actual colours ("Lipstick Red"), rather than the current trend for yarns and colours with names that inspire an emotion ("Rustic", "Tickle", "Calm"). This pattern came with the following Helpful Fashion Advice on colour co-ordination:
"If you'd like it in Blue - choose a pottery blue with yellow buttons. Wear a buttercup-yellow woollen skirt. A yellow belt, Blue and yellow bracelets."
"If you'd like it in Pink - choose a coral with white buttons. Wear a two-piece of heavy natural tussore*. A matching coral-pink hat trimmed with white petersham ribbon. White shoes and handbag. Wear coral-pink gloves of fine suede" (* Tussore is a coarse brownish silk produced from a tussore moth Antheraea paphia).
"If you'd like it in White - choose glass buttons for the yoke. Wear a white linen tweed skirt. A matching linen hat trimmed with dark green ribbon. White court shoes with green leather trimming. Dark green gloves. Carry a green and white handbag."(sic)

Here is an example of the pages from the new edition - restyled with modern instructions, and reknitted in contemporary yarn, with great colour photos - all printed alongside the original black and white pattern, quoting the source and the year.


Please feel free to offer your own fashion advice in the comments, starting "If you'd like it in Red...".

If your interests are anything like my own - do buy this book. Even if you feel you will never knit these designs, it is a lovely book to own, crammed with historical design interest from the period.

I note it is called: "Volume 1 - 1920-1949", so I am hoping the book is a success and we can look forward to a Volume 2. If this kind of book does interest you, then you may like to look at Jane Waller's Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns and History which, like Stitch in Time is also available from Amazon. (And "no - I don't have any shares in these publications"!).

Posted on April 1, 2009 at 9:50 AM. Category: Knitting.