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Archive Entries for June 2009

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Tuesday June 30, 2009

Books in June

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, (translated by Reg Keeland)
    DragonTattoo.jpg This is yet another much publicised book that passed me by - my friend Helen said "...have you read it yet..." as opposed to "...have you heard of...." - so I immediately went to order it from the library to find it was another 30-copy investment on their part - but still with 12 reservations outstanding. There are two further novels involving the same characters, so I had better get my name into the reservation queue...
    I notice there has been some criticism of the actual writing style, and a suggestion that the characters may not be fully drawn, but it did not spoil my reading of the book. Jonathan Gibbs in the Independent says if it is "a little amateurish, then perhaps that works to its advantage. This never feels like a by-the-numbers thriller."
    The author was a journalist and this is his début novel. Given my devotion to Michael Connelly, I am further confirmed in my view that there is something about journalistic style in crime novels that I find particularly appealing. I say Larsson "was a journalist" since the author presented his publishers with this crime trilogy and promptly died of a heart attack. This sounded so unlikely - and since these are conspiracy-type books involving investigative journalism - I wondered if it were some kind of warped publicity stunt (début novels, died "suddenly" etc). However, all too sadly, it is true and so we also have to enjoy these books as his first and last.

  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
    LMNOP.jpg This book was featured in BBC's "A Good Read" on Radio 4 in early June. It sounded so intriguing that I had to read it.
    In order to intrigue you as well I have to mention the plot:
    There is a statue dedicated to an island's most famous celebrity, the (supposed) inventor of the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.". However, the sentence, which is inscribed on the statue, begins to crumble, and one by one the letters gradually fall off - so the council decides to bar islanders from using the fallen letters. Read on...
    The island on which the book is set must be modelled on Tangier Island (a little like Sark in the Channel Islands) - proud to embrace an "older" style of life and proud of its isolation. The book is slightly satirical about that in itself. However, mainly it is about the dangers of political power, religious manipulation as a tool of the state, and corruption. One cannot help making the comparison with Orwell, given the linguistic distortions imposed on the islanders by the council, though this is a much more light-hearted, (nonetheless thought provoking) novel. It is a very clever book and has lots of fun as it presents itself in the form of letters, each written to conform to the new and increasingly impossible laws.

  • Deep Black by Andy McNab [Read by Clive Mantle]
    DeepBlack.jpg I read Remote Control after I found I much enjoyed listening to a couple of other McNab thrillers (read by Colin Buchanan) on OneWord Radio*. Remote Control was his first fiction book in the Nick-Stone-action-hero series and introduced us to his ward Kelly; it was very moving and his relationship with Kelly was charmingly drawn. Hence I was a bit bit disappointed to find she had been despatched somewhere along the line and this book sees Nick in a resulting slough of despond at the start. It soon picks up, of course, and the usual exciting thriller ensues.
    His books are very convincing, and I retain a lot of sympathy with McNab after hearing him describe his childhood "in the system" prior to joining the army. I don't mean I feel sorry for him, just that, again, everything he said rang so true of that era from my own experiences. (I should make it clear that I did not by any means have a deprived childhood, but could see many around me not so fortunate).

    * OneWord Radio - the "only radio programme devoted to the spoken word" - specialised in broadcasting famous literary works, read either by the authors themselves or by well known actors; it ceased broadcasting at the beginning of 2008.

  • Dead Heat by Dick Francis and Felix Francis [Read by Tony Britton]
    DeadHeat.jpg This and other recent books published under the "Dick Francis" brand have been written with his son Felix, (and in at least one passage I can clearly hear the voice of the jump jockey's son coming through in the voice of the hero). This type of collaboration is not really a departure as he always acknowledged the heavy contributions of his wife to his previous books, even though she was never overtly credited as an author. However, this book lacked something - as much as I can narrow it down, it failed to convey the underlying threat of any real danger to the hero, and there was no sinister-villain-with-a-smile-on-his-face. I don't necessarily attribute this to being to do with the new co-authors - I remember being a little disappointed with Reflex which was written in 1980. Mostly I attribute it to being more of departure from the racing themes. There is no doubt that the racing-based novels are the best ones - and although they all seem to have a link with racing in some way, some seem less contrived than others. The heroes always have some less than average profession, and some of the novel is spent in telling you all about that profession - somehow this works better for Francis when the description is about racing - he knows what to explain and what to assume you know.
    And while we are on the theme of formula writing - his novels are written to a clear formula - explained in Wikipedia - though I beg to differ on their description of the love interests of his heroes. I always found the personal circumstances of the heroes and peripheral characters most interesting, often not revolving around simple nuclear family ideas - nor even conventional "difficult" marriages. They often express people quietly adapting their lives to their own requirements for modern living and making a go of things as best they can.
    His heroes are usually very successful in what they do, and in their prime - aged around 30. And this brings me to my problem with the reader. Tony Britton is an excellent reader and I have heard him read other Francis novels... but... Even in his prime Tony Britton always sounded avuncular and mature. He just does not sound like a 30 year old, and this is accentuated by the books being written in the first person. I note that there is a version of the book read by Martin Jarvis - he is no young slip of a lad but I would be interested to hear if he sounds any more convincing.

Posted on June 30, 2009 at 9:50 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday June 27, 2009

Homeward bound

Still great weather as I head off back south after another substantial breakfast in perfect surroundings. As it's a 400 mile drive I decided to actively plan to take all day and make a couple of scheduled stops. First I found a National Trust property that was about half way and not too far off the M6 at Congleton:- Little Moreton Hall.


As you can see, it's a (real!) Tudor building in an amazingly good state of repair; I realised we must have visited it before when we were returning from a holiday in the Lakes about 10 years ago - but it is sufficiently remarkable that it certainly warrants more than one visit. It's one of the finest surviving timber-framed moated manor houses in the country. The earliest parts date from 1504, and despite being lived in and used as a farmhouse until 1938, the whole house has hardly changed since 1610.


Above is my best attempt at capturing a view of the internal courtyard design; the plants in the foreground are for sale - I bought my self a sorrel, which is not a herb I have seen much in supermarkets - it's a bit like a weed. But now I can make Delia's baked salmon and sorrel creams.

The sorrel was extra to requirements for the herb gardens they have planted - there's a charming hedged knot garden, which I could not photograph very effectively. However the herbs are also in beds outside the knot garden, with explanations as to how they were used as remedies. Here is a pretty view to one side along the moat - herbs on the right.


As I walked alongside the moat I saw this wonderful family of ducks. There were at least eight ducklings, but they kept diving under the water so not all in view at once! So cute...


Inside the building I could not take photos, but there's access to an example of the famous Tudor Long Gallery, grain store, and bedrooms, etc I was sorry to miss the exhibition on weaving and textiles planned for July, but this months exhibition was of medieval musical instruments, such as the tabor, and hurdy gurdy. There was a chap in full costume demonstrating how to play them and full hands-on for anyone who wanted.

I resumed my journey in the early afternoon and was able to round off the day by visiting Sheelagh and Roger as I passed through the Oxford area. As usual, they were very hospitable and I had a lovely break with them - plus (several) cups of tea and biscuits!

Posted on June 27, 2009 at 9:23 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday June 26, 2009

Woolfest 2009

The second I entered the building (Mitchell's Lakeland Livestock Centre) and the faint but delightful smell of sheep hit my nostrils, I knew it was going to be a Good Day.
Indeed, it has been such a fantastic day I can hardly begin to describe it - but I shall anyway ...

I made my way first to the information desk and happily was able to book for the Natural Dying Lecture as well as the Tatie Pot dinner in the evening. I browsed the exhibition stands and immediately made my first purchase of a small bag of Spelsau fleece - I fancy it for the colour (grey) - Berit Kiilerich is doing a workshop on knitting directly from the fleece, but I plan to try spinning it.
I had a word with Nancy Bush, who seemed relatively thrilled to be here; I am not sure where she hails from but I think it was something to do with being here with the weather and "where it all comes from" - though the weather is atypically sunny here and everywhere is pretty hot at the moment.

I visited the large vendor's stands (P&M, Wingham, and Herring/Ashford) as there were one or two specific items on my list to buy while there. From there I worked my way towards the livestock stands, and the lovely old sheep, who were very brave and well-behaved considering all those human eyes staring at them. At this end of the building, there was an area devoted to the private sale of fleeces - I took the opportunity to look at as many different types of fleece as I could, and I did (in the end) buy a small black Hebridean lamb fleece (about 2lbs).

Just before lunch I went to the rare breeds parade in the auction ring. I really enjoyed this part. I found the information about rare breeds, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and the specific sheep, truly fascinating. Here are all the stars of the show that I went to meet later in person.










Manx Loaghton


Rough Fell

Rough Fell




After lunch - more browsing to the constant faint sounds of traditional tunes from the Music area. Here you could sit down and (in my case) review your purchases. The later part of the afternoon was the lecture on Natural Dyeing given by Carol Leonard. I made lots of notes, and afterwards, I purchased the small booklet Natural Dyes - Fast or Fugitive by Gill Dalby, but as I suspected, when I got home I discovered that my earliest book on spinning from the 1980s is also by her and has similar information. I also bought a couple of natural dyes (Brazilwood and Alkanet), but mostly the lecture encouraged me to experiment and try out more natural substances - and as Carol said: "you can get some simply wonderful colours - if you like yellow...".

Then it was time for the final purchases before the Tatie Pot dinner and Spin-In. I was lucky to impose myself a lovely group of knitters from Coventry (by chance) who made me feel very welcome - whatever they thought! I had bought a pretty spindle - just for its looks (from Whorl Drop Spindles) - it's made from an exotic seed pod of some kind. So I spent the spin-in trying to spin some alpaca I had also just purchased. In my case, there was more dropping than spinning but Clare, Julie, and Jane were really encouraging, and I had great fun.

Finally, it all ended at 9 and I set off back to the hotel; it is very light in the evenings now, so I could fully appreciate the wonderful scenery of the winding back roads.

Finally - my pictorial album of the day:




Nancy's stand

Long Draw

Parade Ring


Fleece Sale

Fleece Sale


Herdwick Sheep


Swill Baskets

Music Area

Herdwick Rope

Herdwick Rope

Herdwick Rope




Posted on June 26, 2009 at 10:22 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday June 25, 2009


Some time later I arrived at my planned destination in the Lake District. The drive up here was pleasurable and easy (although 300 miles and I am exhausted). My hotel is on the banks of the lake, and could not be more beautifully set.

I took a brief tour of the grounds, read my book in the gardens...

and then continued to read in the conservatory accompanied by a G&T. I retired to bed quite early. This is a self portrait - I have been unable to suppress this grin the entire time I've been here.

The hotel is at the north end of the lake, allowing me an short drive to Cockermouth tomorrow.
Because tomorrow....
Tomorrow I am going to... Woolfest!

Posted on June 25, 2009 at 9:21 PM. Category: Days Out.

Sent to Coventry

I have had the most fantastic few days, and it has taken me a while to gather my thoughts and write about it all here. It all began when a colleague asked me to visit a customer in Coventry....

The morning meeting went well, and at lunchtime I felt I should take the opportunity of taking another look at Coventry Cathedral.

I first went there when I was a child - it seemed an important talking point in my childhood both at school and at church - and I now realise it was because it was pretty well brand new at the time (foundation stone laid in 1956 and consecrated in 1962). Because of Coventry's history, for that generation of adults, it must have been a beacon of splendour, representing the final re-emergence after the "dark days" of World War II. These "dark days" were still very evident all through my childhood - everything was affected by them even though I had no real understanding of what it all meant.

The original cathedral was notoriously bombed in the 1940s and always rumoured to have been "left to burn" despite the government supposedly having prior information of the raid. As a consequence, Churchill was never accepted as the hero of the hour by the people of the Midlands, who felt he was personally responsible for letting them down. It was a devastating blow to see the spendour of such a beautiful building reduced to rubble.

Today, the old cathedral remains as a ruin alongside the new building which "bridges" from it. If anything I find the ruin a tranquil and beautiful place which seems strangely even more reverent and holy for its minimalism - perhaps because of the contrast with the modern.

The new building was designed by Basil Spence; his design was chosen after a competition, and used fragments of the rubble reset to create something quite remarkable. Warped nails were used as the centre of the main altar cross, and countless splinters of glass were used to create wonderful abstract stained glass windows. There are a lot of poor photos of these on the web but I liked this one - it gives some idea of being there.
The new stained glass windows are set at an angle to the walls of the building, so that as you face the altar you cannot see them. This is a design point intended so that as you walk away from the altar (after communion), you are struck full on by the wonderful light and glory - and so on...

The tapestry behind the altar was designed by Graham Sutherland - a controversial artist at the time - Churchill's wife is rumoured to have burnt Sutherland's portrait of the great man which demonstrated a little too much realism, showing not the hero but an old chap in decline. I seem to have disproportionate amount of Sutherland trivia in my brain which must have been drummed into it while at primary school.

After the cathedral, I walked past the adjacent Holy Trinity church and decided against entering (feet hurt - long journey ahead). Turns out this was a mistake. From 2002-4 a major restoration was carried out to make a Doom Painting dating from around 1430 visible once again. Something for my next visit - in sensible shoes.

And after all this excitement - instead of travelling home in the afternoon I set off North....

Posted on June 25, 2009 at 4:20 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday June 23, 2009

Croydon College Festival of Creativity 2009

This evening saw the opening of Rob's students annual exhibition of their work.

As usual there were a lot of weird and wonderful ideas from the traditional costuming through props and puppetry. Below is an exhibit of some reject moulds and head explaining how the puppets for a live show were created.

This year seemed to have a greater showing of animations of one sort or another, (including one so peculiar that I did not really want to watch it - though I do think it was technically interesting, it included a lot of cultural symbolism that I was unable to understand - being not of that culture).

A more comprehensible rendering was a delightful piece called "Sewing Basket" created using stop animation by Sarah Slee. Below is the set on which it was viewed, plus a close up of the box itself.

My favourite costume was inspired by the music hall era.

Posted on June 23, 2009 at 11:19 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday June 20, 2009

Straw into gold

Alison went on a retreat today - and I went to a Creative Fibres meeting - so we were united in spending the day spinning, and probably spinning the same fleece too - albeit separated by 8 hours in time. However, before I set off, the postman delivered the most beautiful gift from Alison...

...which is an Ishbel Shawl - and I had no idea she was making it for me - see the details here.
Isn't it wonderful? it is so soft and lovely - such a beautiful colour!

So to explain her entry where she says "in thanks for the fleece she prepared for me" - take note that I sent Alison this:

... and magically I got a wonderful silky bamboo shawl in return.

I am not sure how she did it - but now all my spinning friends want to send her their old fleeces, hoping she can effect the same transformation. I'm not sure that's how she did it, though....
[... and have they even read Rumplestiltskin? - there's always a price....]

Posted on June 20, 2009 at 11:07 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Friday June 5, 2009

Spider's Web

I have seen several productions of this play before* but luckily I never seem to retain much about the plot - although it incorporates a number of favourite AC devices, like the faked bridge game where the players set everything up but fail to notice that they are supposed to have played several rubbers with a card missing from the pack.

This version was excellently staged by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company who were responsible for And Then There Were None [from the book of a different name, based entirely on a (now) totally unacceptable nursery rhyme], and which we saw a couple of years ago in the West End. Melanie Gutteridge carries the show as the perfect and charming 1950s little woman Clarissa - a role apparently originally written with Margaret Lockwood in mind. The performances were convincing and made the dialogue light and humorous - quite unlike And Then There Were None which was suitably dark and menacing.

* I have also listened to a strangely-written talking book version of this play. "Strangely-written" since this was not originally ever a novel but always a script. The talking book more or less actually described the play and all its action within the single setting of the drawing room. Very odd.

Posted on June 5, 2009 at 11:39 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Wednesday June 3, 2009

Billy Again (again)

This should really be an entry early in May but it has only just come to my attention. Here are Offspring Morris at the Kingston May Merrie performing Constant Billy.
(I hope I have named the right dance - usually they sing a little when performing this but I detect no singing **).

A tidy and fairly pacey performance - probably due to slightly younger members these days!

** I am told that I have previously seen them perform Constant Billy as a long stick dance in the Adderbury tradition, which is often accompanied by songs. This is a different version that they have added to their repertoire - a short stick dance in the Headington tradition.

Posted on June 3, 2009 at 8:57 AM. Category: Art and Culture.