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Archive Entries for August 2009

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Monday August 31, 2009

Books in August

My peaceful August boating holiday gave me plenty of time to catch up with my reading as well as listening to the spoken word.

  • The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
    BrassVerdict.jpg I think it's fair to say that I could not wait to get my hands on this book and enjoyed every minute of reading it. Our hero maintains some of what seems the Connelly tradition of being unable to retain any kind of settled relationships (and I mean that loosely - not with a capital "R") but maybe that's actually how life is, as well as adding drama to the book. He (hero) has been through a lot since we last met him and is having to reshape his life as the books starts out - and we leave him at the end of the book with a stated direction of reshaping his life yet again - but through choice this time.
    His interaction with Bosch is quite interesting. I find it hard to see the character we know and love portrayed as he is in this book - but it's just because it is through anothers eyes. And Bosch has some relevant baggage that he's hefting around.....
    This book is excellent in my opinion but .... although I hate to say it out loud.... not as good as the Lincoln Lawyer. I don't think it was simply due to my high expectation - I just think Lincoln Lawyer plot was so excellent that it's hard to match it - and I am not at all disappointed that Connelly did not quite do so.

  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
    Penelopiad.jpg Helen recommended that I read this book - she felt it was just the sort of thing I would enjoy - and she was right. It was very refreshing and funny. For some reason I conjured the idea of Ray Winston as Odysseus - not necessarily given her physical description of him (in case he finds my comparison offensive!).
    I have enjoyed a number of other Atwood novels - they are a joy to read in the sense of the written word - and they break your heart. I recommend Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, and her short stories.
    Rob lent me Alias Grace, (which I like a lot), and I gave him Surfacing, which he found perplexing... I have yet to read it.

  • Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris [Read by Diana Bishop]
    QuartersoftheOrange.jpg This was the novel I listened to while we were chugging along in our boat - and while I was knitting. It was brilliant and exceeded my expectation. I have seen the film version of Chocolat, and I have also read Blackberry Wine - which was perfect for me as the hero reminisced about his childhood in the same period as my own - and the book was set in two separate time periods with two stories running side by side, with a good dollop of romance thrown into the present day.
    Five Quarters of the Orange was of exactly the same form, but with an elderly heroine looking back to a much earlier period - and still managing an, albeit mature, romance in the present day. She described the struggle during her adolescence in her relationship with her Mother and siblings - and I found it all very resonant despite not having been brought up in poverty on a small holding in occupied France during WW2. Added to this there was almost a murder mystery element - so I was charmed and enthralled.
    The book was helped a lot by being simply beautifully read - totally convincing voice for the mature heroine, sounding both slightly wistful about the past and yet firmly settled in the present, and the inevitable phrases in French were excellently rendered - neither pretentious nor over-emphasised. Just perfectly judged.

Posted on August 31, 2009 at 12:45 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday August 25, 2009

A "Whatever" Day

Janet from the Guild invited everyone for a spinning, knitting, or whatever day at her house. I say her "house" but we were meeting in her greenhouse - in a moment you will see why that is not as odd as it sounds. My sister came along too - but with great trepidation in case someone tried to make her do some kind of fibre craft. However, she was there to investigate animal husbandry. Specifically Janets "boys" - who were very pleased to come and meet us.


Alpacas look very cuddly but sadly do not like to be touched at all. But they are very friendly - especially if you have a few bits of carrot and apple about your person. They also tend to nibble each other (and humans) affectionately.


Janet's greenhouse is in truth a huge conservatory. It's a massive Victorian construction, as her property is part of an old estate - her house being the "gardener's cottage". [Not so much a cottage though - but rather a house, emphasising the status of the man who managed a team of gardeners on the estate.]
We had a lovely day sitting spinning among the exotic plants - as well as the less exotic cucumbers, and courgettes. I was lucky enough to be given some wonderful courgettes to take home at the end of the day.


Posted on August 25, 2009 at 8:02 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday August 13, 2009

An old friend

I took lots of knitting on my holidays - that is lots to knit but not lots of projects. One was my Debbie Bliss summer wrap - which I duly completed. The other was a cardigan for George.
For some time I had been planning this item - ever since last summer when he said he wanted a lighter weight jumper to put on at the end of hot days in France. So I decided it should be practical and not too precious, - but still look good. I chose the ever-practical fine Phildar Luxe (almost a 3ply) from my stash and selected an irresistible man's cardigan from the 1970s (what were they thinking?!).

The lower part of the cardigan is patterned with a twisted rib section but the rest - including the sleeves - is plain. There was a good deal of peaceful time for knitting, so by the end of the holiday I had finished the patterned sections. This meant there was nothing for it but to execute the second part of the plan.
Plan B was to use a knitting machine to complete all the stocking stitch knitting in that very fine wool. So now I have to confess - I do in fact already own a knitting machine.

In about 1981, and at great expense at that time, I purchased a second hand Toyota machine in Watford where Rob was working. I used it a lot in the 1980s - my favourite yarn was a light weight double knitting by Phildar (Pronostic). Rob still has much striped knitwear from this era (!). In all the years since, the machine has been loaned out, been through a number of house moves, and been deserted in the wet environments of various cellars and garages. In all that time I have been too frightened to open the case and come to terms with the results of my neglect. But now is the hour.


The great reveal showed it had stood up to all this very well - but every single needle was rusty and needed replacing. Since these are user-replaceable parts, this was not such a disaster on the face of it - though maybe a slight economic disaster. I searched on the web and to my amazement found the most wonderful shop (which seems to be not only the perfect shop but the only shop): Bedford Sewing and Knitting (or BSK), and they were able to sell me needles for my model of machine - amazing when you think that this was a already a second hand machine almost 30 years ago. I ordered 200 needles from them - and they even offered additional advice on my project - but more of that in a moment.

So - heartened - I took all the casing to pieces as much as I could...


... and cleaned all the parts, washing all the plastic elements with soapy water and oiling all the metal parts. I took photos as I went to try and ensure I knew how to put it all back together again, and carefully preserved each screw and bolt with notes on its origin (I have done this kind of thing before ...). My needles arrived and I put everything back together.

The advice from BSK was that I should check that the "needle retaining bar was not worn" as this makes the needles stick. Until I came to replace the needles I had no idea what a retaining bar was - and even when my machine was all back together, but not quite working properly, it took me some time to relate the symptoms of my problems with the helpful advice from BSK. But I had no idea what the bar was supposed to look like - only when I looked on the web did I realise quite how bad mine was (you mean there's supposed to be sponge in there?!). Surprisingly, I found quite detailed advice about "refurbishing the sponge bar", and so I did it - had to make a few adjustments to work with the raw materials I could get hold of in the UK, but now it all seems to work fine - in fact, rather better than it ever did as far as I can remember.

I know I should finish with a splendid photo of it looking all shiny and lovely - but that will have to wait for another occasion - George (who never before realised I owned such an item was quite put out when he saw it - thought aliens had landed in the kitchen).

Posted on August 13, 2009 at 6:50 PM. Category: Crafts.

Sunday August 9, 2009


We extended hour holiday as much as we could by executing a slight detour to the town of Lavenham. It is an almost fossilized medieval town in Suffolk, about 5 miles from Sudbury (where my Granny used to live..). It prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th century, and became massively wealthy exporting the trademark blue broadcloth - high quality worsted cloth made from Suffolk sheep fleece (the same type given to me by my friend Ava).


We were there to see the National Trust property - the Guildhall of the wool guild of Corpus Christi. It is in the centre of the village overlooking the market square, and dates from 1529. Inside there was an exhibition detailing the history and manufacture of the cloth, and outside, a pretty dye garden with pictorial guide to the plants.


Yesterday, on our way to the coast, we briefly stopped at the National Trust property Horsey Windpump; the pump and the day were fine, but we were hoping to take advantage of a Tea Shop. Unfortunately theirs was just not the kind of cosy tea shop we were looking for (and sort of "expect" at NT properties, though they do vary according to their situation) - so we left.
Move on 24 hours and Lavenham provided the perfect venue - and so we ended our holiday - tucking into the perfect cream tea for two. If this picture makes you feel a little sea-sick, remember that Lavenham is renowned for its little crooked houses.


[This was probably the only saving grace for George, since his disgust equalled my delight in finding that the exhibits were devoted to spinning, dyeing, and weaving.]

Posted on August 9, 2009 at 10:58 PM. Category: Days Out.

Great Yarmouth

You can take your "pleasure craft" from the North Broads down to Yarmouth but this is not really a holiday for amateurs like us. The waters become tidal and you have to be very careful not to become stranded, and there are many other hazzards. So we decided to visit the historic town by spending our last night there before returning home.


Yarmouth's history is all around - and pretty easy to spot through the trappings of modern additions. Our hotel itself, the Imperial, was delightful - an old building on the sea front, originally opened in the 1800s as a boarding house for men - its fascinating history with photos is displayed in the hotel foyer.

However, Yarmouth was not quite what I expected. A little more like Blackpool rather than Portsmouth - though, as my colleague Tony points out, I do not think I have ever been to Blackpool so I cannot really make that comparison! It is a real bright-lights-and-entertainment-like place. True - there were many people with tattoos but just not the jolly jack tars I was expecting (ok I admit - my ideas lie somewhere in the 19th century). So - we were able to finally get an excellent "fish and chip supper" at the famous Harry Ramsden's - unfortunately not its traditional home, which is in Yorkshire, but part of a worldwide chain.

The town is full of relics of the Victorian era - read about them here - I wish I had printed off these walks and information prior to coming here. Many music halls and other venues are all still standing - but either derelict or mutilated by modern annexes and flashing neon lights. The saddest was the Winter Garden - where some attempt has been made to commercialise it as a theme park of sorts - but currently it is closed up (supposedly only temporarily for "essential maintenance") together with its theme park contents, and only the lovely Victorian glass house left to admire from the outside.

There was a lot more to offer beyond gazing glumly at the past - here I am reclining on a concrete sofa (modern sculpture) - and almost alongside are some archaeological remains of an ancient monastery.


Once we had moved along the sea front to the more industrial part, at the mouth of the river, we found the Nelson monument. It is out of the town and (on a Sunday at least) quite deserted. Some suggest it does not have the pride of position it deserves but I loved it, in all its splendour, surrounded by light industry.


On our way out, we saw the complications of living in a town divided by a busy river.


Posted on August 9, 2009 at 12:58 PM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday August 8, 2009



Our overnight destination was Great Yarmouth - but we first reached the coast at Caister, (that is the place of origin for Alison's knitalong gansey pattern).
Here we wanted to have the true seaside experience before going to (what turned out to be only) my vision of an industrial working port. More of that later....

In Caister we were lucky to witness their moving the old lifeboat - both George and I thought this was the lifeboat - as that's what they were like when we were kids! However you can see the two views of the boats: one, destined to be housed as a museum piece and the other, the modern boat they now use.

Caister_20090808_0684.jpg Caister_20090808_0689.jpg

There are wooden commemorative boards listing all the boats and "lives saved". From 1857 to 1969, a British record total of 1814 lives saved. And these guys are all volunteers.
"Caister Men Never Turn Back"

Posted on August 8, 2009 at 6:17 PM. Category: Days Out.

Leaving the boat and on to Hickling


We set off early - and cruised across Barton Broad in delightful sunlight. We were so early, we took a little diversion up to Sutton and back, before handing in the keys to the boat and returning to dry land and our car.

As we were not able to get under Potter Heigham Bridge and cruise around Hickling Broad, (frightening the living daylights out of the wildlife I suspect), we decided to visit the nature reserve at Hickling by road. It was an incredibly hot day, we took the nature trail, and saw "nothing" at least neither the crane family, nor the bitterns - which you see if you are patient - but we were not. We had lovely views across the Broad, but very few birds about in the middle of such a hot day.


Amusingly though, we saw a lot of "little birds" ahead on the dusty track and making a lot of noise in the adjacent scrub. They were not all the same species and having made notes of what I glimpsed of them, I concluded (after reference to the books) that one of them must have been the bearded tit I have been wanting to see all along. Not being a twitcher, I would have preferred a longer and better view of him - but maybe next time.

A Duck a Day: The Cormorant

No - these are not shags (butt of many a British joke) but cormorants.


They made a beautiful picture lining our route through Barton Broad, as they were drying their wings in the early morning sunshine on every post marking the navigable water.


Posted on August 8, 2009 at 12:20 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday August 7, 2009

Cockshoot to Gayes Staithe


Our final day and night on board.
We spent the day at Cockshoot Broad, which is adjacent to the nature reserve at Ranworth Broad. You cannot motor into, or moor at the Ranworth - so you moor up at Cockshoot and take a riverside board-walk from there.

We decided to moor for the night at one of the staithes closest to the boat yard, as we had to be back there by about 9am the following morning. They are quite popular so we made good time and took the first berth we saw at the peaceful Gayes Staithe. However there were a couple of families there who (I would say somewhat charitably) were "having a good time" so in the end it was not quite as peaceful as we would have liked...
However we were able to walk into Neatishead for an excellent meal at Ye Olde Saddlery Restaurant.
While walking there we purchased some home-made fudge and flapjacks from unmanned stalls at the end of resident's gardens - an honesty-based industry. And our journey back was by moonlight (though in addition we had prudently packed torches).


And by the time we returned, peace reigned - the boisterous families having obviously collapsed in their beds ("tired and emotional" no doubt).

A Duck a Day: Tufted Ducks

A duck at last.
These may not look much like the typical picture of a tufted duck - in fact I had to reassure myself that I had identified them correctly with someone else's photo of a pair.


We watched this little duck family for some time from a hide in the nature reserve.


She had more than 3 ducklings but they were never above water all at the same time!


Along the board walk we also observed this secretive moorhen. We saw plenty of coots on our holiday but hardly any moorhens.


Posted on August 7, 2009 at 11:14 PM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday August 6, 2009

Horning again


We moored up opposite Horning*, that is, on the other side of the river. Try as we might we could not find a means to get to the other side and revisit the Bure River Cottage restaurant. There is a ferry but it does not run after 5pm - very frustrating - next time we vowed we would be towing a little rowing boat, even though that makes mooring even more stressful. So we had to settle for a walk through the nature reserve and "home cooking".

* note that the view of nature above is not our mooring at Horning, but taken earlier while on the move.

A Duck a Day: The Heron

Another amazing bird we take for granted. They are still as statues when at rest, and it seems incredible but you can miss spotting them even in the most obvious places.


They are so BIG - and so amusing in flight, with their untidy wing action and impossibly long legs trailing behind.


Time to dry out.


Posted on August 6, 2009 at 10:22 PM. Category: Days Out.

Wednesday August 5, 2009

North of Horning

In the spirit of a traditional self catering holiday from our youth, there have been many fry-ups and bacon sandwiches as brunch, lunch, and dinner (usually not all on the same day!). In this vein, it was our ambition to find somewhere to have fish and chips - but such places seemed hard to find; though one exists at Potter Heigham, we were not there at the right time to eat.
Last night in Horning however, we found a fish restaurant, and decided to eat there - but it was so much more than a "fish and chip" restaurant. It is a simply excellent restaurant, and you can find many other rave reviews on the web of the Bure River Cottage Restaurant ("possibly the best restaurant in East Anglia" etc). We tucked into much healthier (and tastier) fish cakes, sardines, and grilled sea bass.

Norfolk5-boats_8775.jpg Norfolk5-boats_8776.jpg

The pictures show two of the "other" types of boat we saw quite frequently - one the tourist trip mock paddle steamer, and the other an old style wooden sailing boat. The tourist boat regularly "steams" up and down the river form Horning all day. But this evening as we had we moored up in a peaceful location away from any of the towns, we discovered that it also does night trips....! First we heard a terrible disco beat in the distance which gradually got louder and louder until a brilliantly lit boat came into view - it passed by, with cheering party-goers shining spotlights on us as we stood gazing open-mouthed in horror from the deck of our little craft. The whole experience was quite unbelievable. Then the noise faded into the distance - and then grew louder again as it went into the Broad adjacent to our mooring, (this is a Broad with clearly well-heeled residents on its banks, so heaven knows how they put up with it every night! ). We were treated to this cheerful serenading for well over an hour, with their passing us on the river yet again before they returned to Horning.

A Duck a Day: The Grebe

The great crested grebe is no longer an uncommon sight on any of our rivers, but is such a wonderful and extraordinary bird. Grebes are some of the oldest species of bird, and do have a rather prehistoric look about them.


This is my favourite picture - not the usual smartly turned out grebe. It is sometimes hard to catch a picture of grebes - especially little grebes - no sooner you get the glasses on them than they dive. This is the result of all that effort - a bit waterlogged.


Here with a hanger-on...


The young do not look at all like the adults, and if you did not see them together you might not easily guess.


Posted on August 5, 2009 at 9:12 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday August 4, 2009

South Walsham and Horning


We took our time cruising around the Broads on our way to Horning - which was hosting a regatta, held over several days. They were fine about allowing tourists to blunder through the racing ("keep to the right pleasure craft - you are fine"). Perversely we managed to blunder through quite a few times in our travels.
Mooring in Horning was difficult, but one of the major riverside pubs, the Ferry Inn, had closed down (hopefully temporarily), so it was possible to use their mooring without much difficulty, though they had annoying taken up all the mooring rings. It was then a short walk into the town for amusement and supplies.

A Duck a Day: The Coot

A very under-rated bird - by me at any rate.


But I do love their "almost" webbed feet. You mostly see them swimming, but their feet, when revealed, are huge and somehow ridiculous looking - like unintentional clowns.


I am not doing so well on showing actual ducks in this feature. However, here we have some Muscovy Ducks - not natives of course but fairly common in the UK - mostly domesticated rather then feral, I think.


Posted on August 4, 2009 at 4:37 PM. Category: Days Out.

Monday August 3, 2009

Potter Heigham... and back again


We went on what may develop into a ritual visit to Potter Heigham, hoping to be able to get under the bridge, and thus on to Hickling Broad. [It is my ambition to see a bearded tit (it's a bird) and they frequent only the north Broads]. However, the water was high and nothing of our height was being let through. We were only about 2 inches too high for the water level, and they said we could wait for low water at 5pm but we abandoned the enterprise and I accepted it wasn't going to happen this holiday. We turned back towards South Walsham Broad and Horning. Use the pop-up to see the map.


A Duck a Day: The Goose

I had forgotten the Egyptian Goose who features all over the Broads, so he was a lovely surprise for me all over again.


Such lovely plumage I can't resist another view of it.


This one looked very amusing to us - stuck on the skyline on the roof of someone's house. It shows you two features of the holiday - the goose and the wonderful decorative ridge of the thatched roof. Thatch is no longer a quaint olde worlde feature in Norfolk but is recognised as the economic and practical roofing material that it always was. The sedge is once again being properly managed (improving wildlife habitats) and more younger people are training as thatchers.


There were other geese too - here are some greylags. Huge honking flocks of them wheeled overhead at dusk.


Posted on August 3, 2009 at 6:36 PM. Category: Days Out.

Sunday August 2, 2009

How Hill to Thurne

Our first night was a How Hill - a well-known centre in the Broads.

Norfolk2-How Hill_0041.jpg

It is very beautiful - the Broads are full of views like this. Even the ubiquity of pleasure craft like our own does not spoil it (though I guess it might take the edge off it for those trying to sail!). And, amazingly, you can always find some peaceful places to moor up in the evening.


A Duck a Day: The Swan

Norfolk2-Duck_0576.jpg There are a lot of birds on the Broads - from the commonplace to the unusual. So rather than holiday snaps, I am featuring them. They are not all ducks, so forgive me.

Our very first bird was a splendid view of a Kingfisher - he was posing on a mooring rope but we failed to get a picture. After that we saw quite a few more typical views - just a flash of bright colour across the water.

So today we feature swans - as in our fist view here - they know how to exploit the tourists ...aaah.....


Much later in our trip we were to see black swans - on the Broads north of Horning.


Posted on August 2, 2009 at 9:12 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tranquility on the Broads

So what did we do?
We went on holiday!


It was great - we hired our "pleasure craft" (Ruby Gem) from Richardson's boatyard at Stalham. It started splendidly with nice late afternoon sunshine on Day One* and a reasonable mooring at How Hill. You can see that George immediately took to the relaxed way of it all.

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*Night One the rain absolutely swamped us and the retractable roof of our little craft leaked like a sieve, but I am glad to say that despite other rain incidents, this was not repeated.

Posted on August 2, 2009 at 6:42 PM. Category: Days Out.