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Monday December 31, 2012

Books in December

  • The Complaints by Ian Rankin [read by Peter Forbes] BOM-TheComplaints.jpg
    Hopefully this is the start of a new "series" with a new hero Malcolm Fox. Our hero works in the Complaints and Conduct Department; nonetheless we are soon involved in a murder investigation, and quite a traditional chalk and cheese buddy scenario bordering on Mills and Boon (at first they don't get on but then discover a mutual respect, joining forces against adversity).
    It's great - read it. The only thing I can muster up against it is the hero's name "Malcolm" - and that's just me - it's a nice traditional Scottish name.
    I understood that Rankin had written the final Rebus book and rather like the final Morse and Wallander, I was not inclined to read it. I can go along with an author's or actor's desire to definitively put an end to a character once he has decided to finish with them, even though rather definitive ends (Holmes) have resulted in future reincarnations once the author was strapped for cash! Anyway, I imagined that Rebus, like the others, had met an unpleasant end - so I was very pleased to learn not only that he had simply retired, but that Rankin has now brought him back (and not because he is strapped for cash). Thus I now have 2 Rebus books to catch up on.

  • That (or the) Affair Next Door by Anna Katherine Green BOM-GodOfTheHive.jpg
    I downloaded two "free" vintage - presumably out of copyright - books from the internet. This one interested me for two reasons. Firstly I thought it was quite a good story and plot; I think I am quite patronising or dismissive of old detective fiction - unless it is "iconic" of course - so simple snobbery lowered my expectations. However, Green is credited with inventing the amateur spinster sleuth, (Miss Marple apparently being inspired by Miss Amelia Butterworth), and she is also said to be the first to write about the use of an icicle as murder weapon - so she probably is "iconic" and it is I who am simply ignorant.
    Secondly: the author is American and was more or less contemporary with (preceded in fact) Conan Doyle - this novel was written in 1897 - and the language and style are very similar to that used by Elizabeth Peters in her "Amelia Peabody" novels. The latter are set in the 1880s but written in the 1970s, and although they are tongue in cheek parodies, I never liked them very much as I thought the writing style was unrealistic ie what a modern author thinks old fashioned writing is like. However, it seems I am completely wrong..... so there.

Posted on December 31, 2012 at 1:42 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday December 25, 2012

Christmas Morning

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Here we are on Christmas morning - George is sporting his new reindeer pyjamas and dressing gown - courtesy of Next. (He is not awake enough to object to the picture)

The house is looking very festive with the cushions and quilts I have made over the years, and this year there were some new items.

When I split the (5ply) guernsey yarn to make some thinner yarn, I used the 2 ply to make the Arne and Carlos' Christmas Balls. I expect you are agog to know what happened to the 3 ply.
Well. Make yourselves comfortable.
I made some Christmas lettering, based on an idea from Debbie Bliss magazine No 5 for Winter 2010.

The original pattern spelled out "HOME" (highly non-sectarian and politically correct for the American market no doubt), but the pattern shied away from the difficulty of sloping the knitting by making the letter "M" from felt only.

HomeLetteringDebbieBliss.jpg

Far from critical, I really like the styling in grey and white with the splash of red - and would have emulated it but... I wanted to spell NOEL and use my split Guernsey yarn. I used the pattern for Debbie's "O" and "E", and easily improvised an "L". However, the N would not have looked so arty in plain red at the start of the word, so with some difficulty both in planning and execution, I made a pattern for the N.

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There are a couple of things to note if you want to do this - or rashly decide to make up your own letters (kid's name etc).

After I made my guernsey letters in 3 ply, I felted the pieces - by hand so I could gauge how small I wanted them. It produced a nice fabric, and the cardboard templates make for a very forgiving method to produce nice even letters. I can't really see how the 4ply yarn recommended would make letters of the size given in the pattern. The magazine photos bear this out to some extent as quite a bit of the knitting is lost in some places, wrapped behind the cardboard.

The base of the letters is a cardboard shape - which helps - especially for the sloping letters and internal corners, where you rely on being able to pull the knitting into shape around the cardboard. You can see that I not only used the double sided tape to fix the letters to the card (to hold in place while I worked) but I also laced up the back to pull it all into shape:

LetteringRearView.jpg

Once the front and back sections (latter from felt) were made up I pressed them under a pile of books, before sewing fronts to backs. Don't forget the felt backings must be mirror images of the letters (for some symmetrical letters this is not important).*

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After all that, I was pretty pleased with the result and made sets for myself and for Alison.

* I have not yet made the major confession here that I knitted these on my primitive machine, though I think they are not at all too hard to contemplate making by hand, and you would avoid the mistake I made.
When you work on a knitting machine, the purl side of the knitting (the back) is facing you. I happily started with Debbie's charted E; it worked out well, if a little large, as I started with a 5 ply version. When I turned it around, however, I found I had knitted a 3. The hearts pattern meant I could not turn it upside down as a fix.
Laugh...
I almost did.

Posted on December 25, 2012 at 12:39 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday December 23, 2012

Elephants

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So I was really pleased to get these Goebel elephant salt and pepper shakers for a real snip on eBay. I could not understand why no-one else bid - then I found out why when they had arrived. One elephant was damaged - all above board and detailed very clearly by the seller - I just had not looked.

They were a bit grimy, so first I cleaned them up. Then I soaked the broken elephant in water for 24 hours in order to get his trunk off again so I could effect a better repair. This took some doing and I found the trunk had been repaired more than once I am guessing. First with a filler (probably milliput which is what I was intending to use) and then I presume over time it fell off again and contact adhesive was used and created a very unpleasant repair.

Milliput is not ideal for sticking two surfaces together, but is good for modelling missing parts - so I persevered with it. Having created some sort of bond, I let it cure and touched it in with black acrylic.

In the end, the repair proved better than I thought.
As I was trying to exactly position the trunk (pointing down as I received it) I noticed that the paint pattern did not match. I moved it around until it did match, but found the trunk was then at a very strange three-quarter angle. Now I have never seen any of these shakers before, so I did a lot of image searching on the web until I found some originals to show me how they really should look - and the trunk really is at the very strange angle. My conclusion is that they are made to link together - and a very jolly pair they make.

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Sheila has a thing for elephants, so I plan to give them to her, with the warning that they are for display only - and never to breath on them too heavily.

Posted on December 23, 2012 at 3:33 PM. Category: Crafts.

Friday November 30, 2012

Books in November

I did not read much fiction this month, but I did do a lot of knitting! So here are a couple of knitting booklets and magazines I am enjoying:

  • Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 9) by Debbie BlissDebbieBlissWinter2012.jpg
    This is Autumn/Winter 2012, and though the designs did not hit me in the face with this issue, it does contain some excellent reading (as a magazine should):
    • Rosy devotes her letters section to some excellent advice on toy-making - including how to make those tiny little buttons you need for dolls clothes. (A subject close to my own heart).
    • Nell gives a recipe for a yummy Polish apple cake.
    • One of the book reviews is about Cute and Easy Crochet by Nikki Trench, which inspired me to think about crochet tops for home-made jam given as a gift (or for yourself if you are posh!). I was thinking you could use my Pattern of the Month motif - crochet to the size of your lid, then do a few rows of dc (or sc) without increasing, and finish with a row of increasing and picot to create the frill. I know you are supposed to be inspired to buy the book not run away and do your own thing - but they are on the cover.... I can only imagine the rest of the book is even more inspiring if this is what you get from the cover alone!
    • There is a trend report on coming fashions - which leads into the knitting.

    I have to say - on the one hand I don't want to immediately go and buy wool and make something - but on the other, there are some scrumptious things here:
    • Snow Whites - probably the most appealing to me and maybe I do feel a chunky white cabled polo-neck in the offing.
    • Furry Tales - some great accessories, with knitting in combination with fake-fur fabrics (I love these combinations), and some gorgeous pom-pom mittens.
    • Two simple knits for beginners with user experiences.
    • Little Critters - kids with animal-knit accessories (cute!).
    • Folklore - reminiscent of those 1950s Tyrolean knits with embroidery in folksy colour combinations. In theory I like this - in practice - not. Lovely pom-poms again though....
    • Boys - the perfect magazine - no less than 6 wonderful mens' designs and 2 for kids as well.
    • Home on the Range - my least favourite section (which is just me - I don't like this Peruvian/Ranch style one little bit - though having said that there is the most adorable pair of bootee moccasins with beading in 3 shades of Baby Cashmerino...)

  • Rowan magazine 52 Rowan52.jpg
    Rowan's Autumn/Winter 2012, seems very muted and traditional in style. Where there are more innovative pieces, they are too quirky and I don't want them - but then Rowan is always one step ahead of where I want to be and I often find I knit things from the magazines a couple of years after they published them (when I've got used to the idea!).
    However, there is a lot of traditional stuff here, (that I love), seemingly in rather dull colours - BUT - I happened to see one of the cardigans (Orkney) on display at Alexandra Palace this year and the colours absolutely glowed! So I had to have the wool for this cardigan (Felted Tweed - my favourite!) and I have already started the knitting. There is also an appealing pattern for some slippers along the lines of Snowflake Slippers (one of the free Rowan patterns I knitted very successfully) for which I have also bought the wool.

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 2:16 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday November 25, 2012

Lunch at Dragon's Green

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We went for our annual family outing with David at "the usual venue" - lovely food and a jolly time. [Unfortunately George couldn't make it this year as he has a cold that just won't go away, and didn't want to infect anyone else.]

Posted on November 25, 2012 at 10:35 AM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday November 24, 2012

55 Christmas Balls (well, four of them anyway)

ChristmasBalls2.jpg

I made some Christmas decorations from the well-known Arne and Carlos book. I planned to use some oddments of red and white Guernsey wool, but it proved to be much too thick. I had in mind something about the size of a golf ball, but my first attempts produced something more like a baby hat. So - undaunted - I unplied the yarn on the spinning wheel and replied to a 3 ply and a 2 ply. Hence the balls' rather homespun look as opposed to the crisp examples in the book! (I have to say I like the homespun look - which is lucky).

I started the balls a long time ago and was finally incented to complete them so we could use them as a basis for a Christmas activity at the Guild's last meeting of the year. Here we all are, knitting away:

ChristmasGroupProject.jpg

Several people brought the last of the sock-blank socks for us to admire:

SockBlanks11.jpg

In the evening I went to a Jo Brand charity evening at the Rose. She is very funny and we had a great time. I took some photos, but due to the low lighting (I don't ever use flash) the quality is not good enough to show.

Posted on November 24, 2012 at 10:33 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Wednesday November 21, 2012

Woking Library

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The Surrey Library Newsletter told me some time ago that Mark Billingham was due to appear for an evening at the Woking branch so I duly got tickets and Rob and I trekked out there to see him "in conversation" with another author.
As I have mentioned before in the context of his reading his own work for audio books, Mark is originally a performer and so provided a very entertaining evening. It seemed clear to me before the event that his billing with another somewhat lesser-known author was in order to give more exposure to the latter. However Stav Sherez is a very interesting chap and the excerpts he read sounded excellent so certainly another set of books get put on the crime list for me. His roots are as a journalist and as I have said before, there must be something I like about a journalistic style in crime fiction. I think I like the rich yet sparing prose of the journalist. However Stav is a bit more poetic than most - possibly as he was a journalist for a music paper - and I would strongly recommend following him on twitter (@stavsherez) since his poetry, music interests, and general attitude to life, make his contributions interesting and well-suited to the medium.

Stav's crime novels are: The Devil's Playground (2004), The Black Monastery (2009), and now A Dark Redemption (2012) which is the start of a series pairing of detectives "Carrigan and Miller".

Mark's next book is a Tom Thorne novel The Dying Hours and will be published on May 23rd 2013. This is deemed to be Thorne's twelfth outing and dealing with the ramifications of a major career change; apparently, readers of Rush of Blood will already know what that is. [Although the last Thorne novel was Good as Dead (2011), he has appeared peripherally in the two stand-alone novels In the Dark (2008) and Rush of Blood (2012).]

Posted on November 21, 2012 at 11:31 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Thursday November 15, 2012

The Lock In

KingstonMorris.jpg

An interesting and unexpected evening out. The Lock In Dance Show appeared for one night at the Rose in Kingston, and due to their commitment for street dance art forms, Rob's Morris side were invited to perform in the foyer before the event. Rob's side were joined at the event by New Esperance - a women's morris dancing team based in London.

So...... we all got tickets - and - what a great night it was! ... but ... I cannot believe how little pre-publicity it got - and for a single night show that is pretty awful and inevitably it meant that many seats were left empty - and not at all what the event deserved.
Here are the dancers and musicians receiving their well-deserved appreciation from the audience:

...and here - an impromptu performance in the foyer bar "after hours":

LockIn2.jpg

I have to say that the event did not sound so very promising when described to me by the uninitiated as "a folk dancing lock in" - I was already planning my escape. However, they were THE Lock In, and best if you read about them on their own website as otherwise you risk another misleading description by me.

Posted on November 15, 2012 at 11:30 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Thursday November 8, 2012

ATP Tennis at the O2

ATP2012.jpg

Just a little photo to prove I was here. The tennis was exciting enough to overcome any signs of jetlag, though our man did not do so well.
I came equipped with my chosen O2 knitting supply - another Hitchhiker scarf, in sparkly purple yarn that Helen chose for herself while we were at Woolfest. Ultimately it became this:

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Posted on November 8, 2012 at 10:28 AM. Category: Days Out.

Sunday November 4, 2012

California Cafe and Farewells

CaliforniaCafe1.jpg

So we just had time for a very special brunch before leaving for the airport. Here's Fin* tucking into his breakfast food medley. I am never able to remember to take photos at the start of the meal - too anxious to get on with the serious business of eating - however I did manage to remember this time before I actually licked the plate clean, so below is my own (minus a bite) plate of Eggs Benedict. Yum.

CaliforniaCafe2.jpg

The weather this weekend is just lovely and sunny - a bit of a change from the last week of cold grey skies - and snow! (albeit when we were further north). We strolled back along University in the sunshine - and finally we were off to San Francisco where I began my thankfully uneventful journey back to the UK.

* In case you were worried about Adam and Nigel apparently missing out on all the fun over the past two days - well, of course, they have been. They have both been at scout camp; hence I had to say my fond farewells to them on Friday. However we have seen regular updates on facebook and they seem to be having their own kind of fun.

Posted on November 4, 2012 at 10:27 AM. Category: Holiday USA.

Saturday November 3, 2012

Santa Cruz

SantaCruz1.jpg

The holiday would not be complete without a visit to Santa Cruz.
We had the usual lovely fish and chips on the Pier at Stagnaro Bros., and Fin tried a bit of fishing; it was lovely in the autumnal sunshine - but maybe a bit too windy to stand much of a chance catching any fish.

SantaCruz2.jpg

Posted on November 3, 2012 at 10:26 AM. Category: Holiday USA.

Friday November 2, 2012

At home with the Woodlands

Carmen2.jpg

Early morning coffee is always themed at the Woodlands. Today we are influenced by the astonishing banana crop from Alison's tree in the garden, and we may take coffee on the terrace or in the cabana. Often we are joined by well-known celebrities (even if only in spirit). The resemblance is uncanny isn't it?

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After coffee we had the energy to visit Uncommon Threads in Los Altos, who carry stock of Jamieson's yarns, which we each bought to make Kate Davies' Sheep Carousel tea cosy. After a great deal of deliberation, I bought the inspired combination of black and (you guessed it) white, while Alison went for a sophisticated combination of brick red and dark brown.

ChristinasCosy.jpg

AlisonsCosy.jpg

Posted on November 2, 2012 at 11:19 AM. Category: Holiday USA.

Wednesday October 31, 2012

Books in October

  • The God of the Hive by Laurie R King [read by Jenny Sterlin] BOM-GodOfTheHive.jpg
    So... part two of the narrative.
    I have not been on the edge of my seat waiting to read the rest of the story, (or I would have devoured it sooner), as there was some kind of hiatus at the end of the last book, and I was happy to maintain the anticipation of this one.
    Further, I quite approve of the author splitting the tale in this way. It would have been too much for one book, and there is sufficient interest in exploring the plot and characters not to push it all into a shorter volume.
    The all-action plot continues back to London and it's exciting conclusion. I do like the way this author has the characters think through their reasoning and conclusions - particularly important in a Holmes story. It emphasises the implied high intelligence of the characters as well as placing all their actions as a result of deductions rather than, say, Poirot's rabbits out of a hat, (which I also enjoy but in a different way!).

  • The Light Fantastic Terry Pratchett [read by Nigel Planar] BOM-TheLightFantastic.jpg
    Somehow I missed out on Pratchett's early books, and due to the availability (or lack of) in our lending library's eBook scheme, I am beginning with the second in the sequence. It is lots of fun - of course - and one day I will get round to the Colour of Magic.
    My pleasure was enhanced by my "new" (reallocated) company car which allows the attachment of external mp3 players to the stero system - or even more simply: a memory stick with a playlist. I did struggle for a while until I discovered the playlist thing; played it all perfectly but in random order - not good for a talking book.....

Posted on October 31, 2012 at 11:08 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Los Gatos and Halloween

Halloween3.jpg

What can I say?
Yes - we did go out like this.

Halloween4.jpg

Earlier in the day I went out and about in downtown Los Gatos admiring the Halloween decorations in the shops on my way to visit Yarn Dogs. On the way back I dropped in at Icing on the Cake. [Alison had taken me there on Sunday to get Nigel's birthday cake]. I picked up a few highly imaginative "vampire bites" cup cakes, which, when it came to it, we were much too full of candy to eat in the evening!

Posted on October 31, 2012 at 10:25 AM. Category: Holiday USA.

Saturday October 27, 2012

Silk and Colour (or possibly color)

SilkCocoons1.jpg

This was our final day at SOAR and I am going to start with our final class all about silk production run by Michael Cook.

I am thoroughly glad I did the class as it's not something you would casually take on at home, but I think I can say that Alison was a little less taken with it than I - boiling and stirring silk cocoons is not to everyone's taste - even when the bugs have been previously euthanised and are not suffering further. Ever since we arrived at the snowy resort, I seem to have lost my sense of smell - whether due to the cold or the altitude I do not know, but it certainly seems it was very helpful in this class, since the unpleasant smell of the boiling cocoons was quite overwhelming (apparently).

The first part of the class was producing silk thread from cocoons and the whole process was very interesting (you can see me above being very interested, winding my silk filament onto a drying frame). The thread is drawn out from multiple cocoons, boiling in a bath, dried, twisted (as opposed to spun), and finally washed to remove the gum.

The second part of the class was making a silk hanky from the cocoons, where the cocoons were also boiled, but then taken individually and flattened, after the bugs had been removed (eeuw!). Interestingly, Michael demoed this part but you can see below he really does not like it.

SilkCocoons2.jpg

Michael is a weaver producing fabulous miniature woven silks, and he breeds some silk worms himself as well as importing the many cocoons it takes him to support his habit. You can see a little weaving round his neck, which is a QR code sampler; we though this a great novelty and Alison swiftly read it into her iPhone.

Our morning was spent in a much less messy and more fluffy environment with Deb Menz. I liked this class very much - I had read all the colour wheel stuff but I realise now - not properly. The exercises in blending colours were designed to illustrate the difference between hue, value, and intensity, and to show the effects of blending with families of colour as opposed to using complementary colours (which I tell you right now, is grey). I was pleased to find there is an index card to help you decide on the value of a colour if you don't have much of an eye for it - something I could well use in fair isle knitting as well as quilting.

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The little nests that Alison and I produced with our newly acquired hackle were very pleasing - see below. While we were working, Deb talked to us about her early experimentation with colour from which she had many sample skeins to illustrate her points. This was actually a very valuable mini-lecture, given almost in passing and I thought in hindsight it warranted more of my attention than I was able to give it while working.

ChristinasNests.jpg

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After this full day of heavy concentration, Alison bravely drove us home.

Posted on October 27, 2012 at 10:22 AM. Category: Holiday USA.

Friday October 26, 2012

Wild Downs and the Market

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This is Mr Lendrum - (I know!! so exciting!) - letting us have a go on his wheels in the marketplace. We met him over dinner, and I think he was a bit bemused at our delight in meeting a real person behind the family name, (Mr Ashford was there too). Truthfully though, I have always been keen on Lendrum wheels - ever since I first tried Janet's at Epsom Spinners - and it is noticeable how many of the tutors have them, (admittedly I suspect they are not their sole wheels though, but good for travelling).

Our first class today covered drawing techniques with Jacey Boggs. It was a great class, but for some reason (intense concentration) I failed to take any photos. So as she is such an appealing teacher, here is a You Tube item where she is publicising her book about fancy plying.

She did a 3 day workshop on this before we arrived, and although our interest in either creating or using these novelty yarns is limited, we did buy her book on the subject. Alison firmly wished she had signed up for plying rather than silk - which was reenforced once we finally did the silk class... more on that later.

Meanwhile - back in our class - Jacey skillfully led us from short forward draw seamlessly through to achieving long draw with apparently no problems at all - though I will reitterate that the ability to do long draw depends a good deal on having well-prepared fibre/rollags.
This turned out to be just as well, since the afternoon class was with Judith McKenzie ** ["Three Wild Downs"], and the very first fibre she gave out came with the words "now we're going to spin this woollen spun" - where before the morning class, we would have been unable to comply. Even if we'd not spun anything in Judith's class, though, it is simply wonderful just to sit and listen to her talk - mesmorising. However, spinning the fibres was a real treat, and we hurried to the marketplace immediately afterwards to secure ourselves some cashmere, yak, and bison. [This is a recurring theme - every time we did a class we rushed to purchase the fibre or books concerned...!].

** Since returning to the UK we heard the terrible news that, while at SOAR, Judith's entire studio burnt down destroying all her work and equipment. Read more about her friends efforts to help her rebuild here.

Posted on October 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday October 25, 2012

Ski Hut

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Here we are setting off for our classes. Today it is "spinning the yarn you want" with Amy Tyler. All year we have been certain that after this we will not need any other classes, as this is all we need to do: Spin the Yarn We Want.
All I can say is - there's a lot to this spinning lark.

The class was lots of fun and surprisingly exhausting. In fact, I can say in retrospect that for some reason I never foresaw quite how tiring SOAR would be to be, getting up for 9 am starts and being so highly focussed throughout the entire day.

The event logistics, and the arrangements for the meals were excellent throughout - though no-one was quite ready for the snow, and Alison spent the first 10 minutes of the day ferrying fellow-attendees (slithering about clutching their spinning wheels) to their various classes in her car, before we finally drove to our own class.

Yesterday evening we arrived in the dark with the extremely slippery conditions and parked up at reception as we were only just in time for dinner. We swiftly established that there is no bar.... (no bar!!) - hard to imagine a ski resort with no bar - wonderful log fire but no egg nogs etc to drink around it.... Everyone helpfully happy to tell us that you can buy wine with dinner or that we could get liquor by driving to the local town - not quite comprehending the concept of social drinking somehow...
So we then drove round to Ski Hut (easily walkable in better weather) and settled into our well-appointed room, which has 2 huge beds, a simply vast bathroom, and a comfortable sitting room (where we could make a start on our solitary drinking without the embarassing possibility of being seen to imbibe).

Posted on October 25, 2012 at 10:20 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Wednesday October 24, 2012

To Tahoe

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So our journey North (or possibly East... not entirely sure where we are!) begins (and ended as it turned out) in the snow.

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....

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... and it's only October...

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Posted on October 24, 2012 at 12:17 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Tuesday October 23, 2012

Dyeing at the cabin

Hurrah! Here I am at long last after a year of anticipation visiting Alison - currently at her "cabin in the woods" prior to travelling to SOAR in Granlibakken. We came here to do some dyeing well away from children and her new kitchen work-surfaces.

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A great start on the week of fun - though surprisingly tiring - and boy is it cold here. To everyone's amazement, (as I arrived in San Francisco last Friday and it was hot and sunny), they were predicting snow at Tahoe this week. Sure enough, when we woke at the cabin this morning, everything was covered in a layer of snow. The route we had planned to take to Tahoe across the mountains is closed so we are taking the main roads on the long way round tomorrow.

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We made quite a day of it, mixing up all the dyes (far too much!) and colouring 3 sock blanks and several types of fleece, including some silk and merino. (Note the Nordic Cushions just visible in the background).
We finished the day spinning and watching sentimental children's movies in the shape of Pollyanna (not the Disney version with Hayley Mills 1960 but the TV movie from 2003) and Ballet Shoes (also a TV movie from 2007). Both of these are British productions, where Polyanna, in an interesting departure from the norm, relocates the American story to an English location (the Lake District - so the backdrop scenery is particularly beautiful as well). I always thought they did a very good job of this movie, though a real flavour of the American manners and society still seeps through somehow, seeming not quite right for even rural Victorian England; this isn't a detractor though - thoroughly charming.

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 8:16 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Monday October 15, 2012

Night at the Museum

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Just before dashing off to America, I joined Robert for an invited evening of performance art at the British Museum, which had opened "out of hours".

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Being able to wander seemingly alone in the softly-lit museum was quite an eerie and wonderful experience in itself. We were able to check out the newly opened "members area", which is great - worth membership in its own right - I'm now thinking of just "hanging out" at the museum with my book... It seems to offer refreshments as well as a comfortable seating area and I am wondering how crowded it will get in the longer term; I have no idea how many members they have or are aiming at but clearly they are marketing membership quite heavily and feel this is the way forward with a good potential revenue stream.

As to the performance pieces, commissioned specially by the British Museum and the RSC to respond to the collection: I am out of superlatives so I can only say they were "really good". You could walk around and admire the exhibits of Shakespeare "Staging the World" while at the same time, watching each of the performances.

Upon entry we met Nigel Mound a new and enthusiastic safety officer "here to keep you safe and sound!" - brought to life by Blind Summit, (Mark Down and Nick Barnes).
Once inside there were 3 more scenes played out (multiple times) in various rooms, so you could catch each one as it started while you walked through:
"Out of Character - Othello No More" by Lemn Sissay - where an actor in his dressing room after the show reflects on how he lives with today's racism comparing with his role as Othello.
"Thin Air", by David Leddy, performed by Angela Darcy and Neil McCormick - where two con artists head to a museum in an attempt to sell a forgery, and are now on the run from the "shy locksmith" who backed the scam. The piece is full of clever puns and references to Shakespeare and thoroughly engaging.
However the piece that really surprised me was This Same England presented by Pentabus Theatre and performed by Lorraine Stanley. It seems a simple concept:a young woman soldier gets ready, interacting with the audience as she puts on her kit, and packs her bag with her survival rations. She performs in front of the exhibit with a rolling projection of Henry V's St. Crispin's Day speech, and times the performance to work with the film. All I can say is the simplicity was deceptive and I found myself thinking of her long after the event was over. When she leaves the performance area with "right - see you when I get back", I could have burst into tears on the spot.

Posted on October 15, 2012 at 11:04 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Friday October 12, 2012

Alexandra Palace 2012

The main entrance exhibit at the Knitting and Stitching Show this year was dedicated to the "unfinishable" projects. Everyone has them but the underlying concept here was an interesting one: some are just in hibernation - but there are some projects that will be kept in their unfinished form with the full knowledge or even plan that they will never be finished.

The tent exterior was alive with colourful collage panels of unfinished samples.

Whilst the interior had panels in shades of white as if the colour had all bled away, creating a contemplative dream-like quality.

There was a tiny round seat in the centre - where you could sit and resolve to finish all such projects.
[Note to self: Foolish Virgins].

Once in the the show itself, there was many other wonderful and inspriting projects as usual. The knitted village was delightful - I have snapped only part of it, but I love this depiction of the shop as it was just as in the village where I was born, where the greengrocer grew many of the vegetables himself in a very orderly garden out the back.

The artistic display Jabberwocky by Ann Small and Sue Walton was absolutely lovely.

And the display in the concourse was simply beautiful. The North East Embroiderers’ Guild created more than 80 pieces of work on the theme Mining a Golden Seam to show the mining heritage of the region and its geology and resources. I was particularly taken with one major canvas and yet am ashamed to say I had to have it explained to me by a fellow visitor alongside me; ashamed because I am such an ignorant Southerner when it comes to mining, where to someone from the region this is simply commonplace.

Posted on October 12, 2012 at 7:02 PM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday October 4, 2012

Matilda

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A fantastic musical - as promised. I would strongly recommend it at any level for both joy in a fun musical, and amazingly tight staging. The players, while remaining convincing and natural, were able to portray the wonderful Quentin Blake illustrations for the book with costuming and body language; they made almost mobile tableaus (I know - a contradiction - yet in a way quite true to the original drawings which are static on the page and at the same time so full of movement).

Do get tickets if you can.

Posted on October 4, 2012 at 11:24 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday September 30, 2012

Books in September

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke BOM-JonathanStrangeAndMrNorrell.jpg
    So this book (mighty tome) surprised me before I even opened it. When I went to the library, I had some difficulty finding it, as it had been misfiled under the author "Jonathan Strange". I further found from the staff that it is classified "science fiction" - and yet was recommended by Alison (not known for her affection for SciFi). When I got home, it seemed George was well-familiar with it too.
    I have really enjoyed reading it though it has taken me for ever (apparently - probably due to the fairies if the book is to be believed). Despite previously reading the short story collection, the content was unexpected and very interesting, and I look forward to finding some more stories by the same author.

  • Not in the Flesh Ruth Rendell [read by Nigel Anthony] BOM-NotInTheFlesh.jpg
    It's such a pleasure to find all these newer Wexford novels (that I never got round to reading) as audiobooks in the library. Ruth Rendell may regard these as her bread and butter novels but they are well-written and interesting to read - which is more than can be said for much published detective fiction. That sounds like damning with faint praise doesn't it? So to be clear - she is always excellent - no less so for being a reliably high quality writer.

  • Good as Dead by Mark Billingham [read by the author] BOM-NewgateJig.jpg
    It's good to have the author reading his own words - who better than he knows how the dialogue should be expressed. Sometimes authors do not read well*, but Mark is a performer as well as a writer and thus, excellent.
    This book features a character who has so much back story that I suspected she had appeared before, but I could not remember in which book. In fact she was a key character in Mark's "stand-alone" thriller In the Dark (where Tom Thorne appears really peripherally). In the manner of Michael Connelly, creating your own crime universe populated by a familiar set of characters but not always using the same protagonist works really well. For the reader there is always that familiar background, while allowing the author to explore a different character or viewpoint; it provides a method of weaning readers off just the one popular fictional hero. This also improves the writing** which must get stale as it becomes harder to churn out best-sellers with little new to say. Anyway - it has worked for me; I had immediately passed over In the Dark, but now I am sure to go back and read it.
    * Often poets seem to read their own work rather oddly - there are obvious exceptions like Roger McGough or John Cooper Clarke, but, again, they are performers as much as poets.
    ** I think Connelly's recent Scarecrow was one of the best, and I am very smitten by The Lincoln Lawyer which is now a series of books.

  • The Winter Ground Catriona McPherson [read by Hilary Neville] BOM-BuryHerDeep.jpg
    I was a bit puzzled by the artwork on the various covers of this book - until I read it, and found that of course it really is all about the circus. Again, a great picture of the era, with the circus backdrop that provides a lot of interest yet cleverly avoiding it taking over from the actual plot.
    Having already exhausted my limited ability to add more to what I have already said about this series, (apart from "they really are very good - do read them"), I read some other people's opinions and find not a bad word to be said - they really are....... you know...

Posted on September 30, 2012 at 8:28 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Brilliant Bags

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I made this lovely little hand-quilted purse from left-over Amy Butler fabric, which I used to line another bag (see below). It was meant to be a much smaller purse to fit into the bag but I had some difficulty finding just the perfect frame, and while looking came across these lovely retro frames, which I just had to have. I still had a purse in mind, though these are really evening/cosmetic bag sized, until the last minute when I decided to use up all the left over fabric and make a bag for a spindle. (Yes, I know it looks like a spectacle case but that's because you can't see the scale.)
I have also bought a frame with red clips, and so now I am planning another spindle case - maybe felted fair-isle knitted fabric - as I have so many spindle projects that could potentially to live in cases....
I've little experience with bag construction, but from this one, I think the top should be more gathered to better fit this type of frame, (I had little choice here as I was limited to my remnant), and the side slits should be a little deeper. The bag is a bit too stretched when opening it. Other than that - I really do favour clip closures over zips for knitting or fibre - so ... perfect.

I also completed the original bag with its lining. This is really Felicity's bag. She crocheted most of it and then lost interest, so I have finished it off, and added handles and lining.

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Posted on September 30, 2012 at 10:07 AM. Category: Quilting.

Thursday September 20, 2012

The Mystery of Charles Dickens

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We were unexpectedly offered preview tickets for this one-man show. Simon Callow was his own lovable self, and produced a wonderful evenings entertainment. He is now adept at portraying Dickens through his characters, having recreated a version of the author's famous lecture tours at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008.
This is a different take on the subject seeking to illustrate Dickens' life through his work, where Dickens used his own boyhood experiences bringing them vividly to life in his writing. Peter Ackroyd is responsible for the script, and who could be better suited to draw out such a scholarly comparison in such a tangible and entertaining form.

All this was much appreciated by the audience - standing ovations, and cheers for "more" all round. A wonderful evening from one of our favourite actors.

The Mystery of Charles Dickens runs for a limited season at the Playhouse Theatre until November.

Also look out for Callow's A Christmas Carol at the Arts Theatre from 29th November until 6th January 2013.

Posted on September 20, 2012 at 1:17 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Tuesday September 18, 2012

A Chorus of Disapproval

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For old time's sake, I got some more tickets for another Ayckbourn revival - this time one that neither Rob nor I know well, though I did see some of the film version with Jeremy Irons.

It was quite fun - adapted for the period in which it was written I think (1984). However, somehow it missed out a little** - not sure what. Rob said that it can be hard to get Ayckbourn right, and the play has only just opened so it may improve. Certainly Rob Bryden is excellent as usual, but the play has two leads - Bryden is the "character" acting lead, "Dafydd Ap Llewellyn", and to his credit plays him perfectly understated. [Scenes of the technical rehearsal with the lighting had Rob clutching his sides with laughter].
Nigel Harman is "Guy" but somehow failed to bring that little extra something to the role, (although having said that - Guy reminds me of an Evelyn Waugh hero in that he is an innocent and passive victim of circumstance). Overall the cast is stuffed with excellent actors and directed by Trevor Nunn, so it ought to be good. I await a further report from Tony who has tickets for October.

A Chorus of Disapproval runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre until next January.

** I note the Guardian review from Michael Billington who seems to agree with me, (I didn't read it first - honest - but he expresses it better than I do, being a professional and all that...).

Posted on September 18, 2012 at 12:23 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday September 15, 2012

Never Ending Blanks....

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Here is the pile of colourful offerings that we made from our first lot of blanks.
It was such fun doing the dyeing, that we all wanted another go, so I knitted up 10 more blanks on the machine; (not as bad as it sounds - the winding of the skeins and doubling the yarn that takes the time, as the tension has to be kept even). Here they all are hanging up to dry in our beautiful Indian Summer sunshine.

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...despite the title, I am expecting that the project is now at an end... just a small matter of some more knitting....

Posted on September 15, 2012 at 12:29 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Friday August 31, 2012

Books in August

  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. SayersBOM-BellonaClub.jpg
    This is a BBC radio play which stars Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, in a charmingly implausible plot involving luggin' bodies around a gentlemans club, (don't 'ya know?). It has to be said that this particular ruse is quickly uncovered, and the main murder story is pretty well plotted.
    When I was a child, Ian Carmichael was the personification of two characters: Bertie Wooster initially, and Wimsey later in the1970s. I always mentally dismissed him - but that was very arrogant and he seems pretty perfect to me now as Lord Peter; (this, despite the fact that in my eyes Edward Petherbridge protrayed the definitive version in three adaptations in the 1980s alongside Harriet Walter playing Harriet Vane).
    I have never warmed to Carmichael playing Wooster with Dennis Price. I think Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry breathed new life into those characters with the delightfully lavish 1980s version very much in the spirit in which the books were written, (with the two men being both young and of a similar age).

  • Ripley Radio Mysteries by Patricia HighsmithBOM-RipleyRadioMysteries.jpg
    I always wanted to see the Talented Mr Ripley film - but never did - so was keen when I saw this audio version of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novel, not quite realising the were the BBC Radio 4 dramatisations starring Ian Hart.
    Not being familiar with the character I did not realise there were 5 novels. I previously thought Ripley was simply a mad bad hat, rather than a weird anti-hero.
    The Ripliad includes:
    • The Talented Mr Ripley
    • Ripley Under Ground
    • Ripley's Game
    • The Boy Who Followed Ripley
    • Ripley Under Water

  • Bury Her Deep Catriona McPherson [read by Hilary Neville] BOM-BuryHerDeep.jpg
    As mentioned when I read the previous books, I am really in love with this character. She presents herself candidly in the first person and I immediately warmed to her humour and good sense (despite or maybe because of peripheral touches of the mad flapper). I love the contemporaneous turns of phrase woven so naturally into the text, and the simple presentation of what could be complex relationships with her husband Hugh and friend Alec.
    Having read the author's biography page, I suppose you could say she was lucky in her success as an author. But her writing is really so skillful and witty, I think much more than luck came into it.

  • Child's Play by Reginald Hill [read by Colin Buchanan] BOM-ChildsPlay.jpg
    I have read this novel before, as well as seeing the TV adaptation. However, that did not spoil the enjoyment in any way - the writing and the narrator are excellent.
    Read this review by Michael Walters (a proper writer!) to tell you why Reginald Hill is so extraordinary. [Though he does say that Underworld "is also the book in which the stone-faced Sergeant Wield, always one of Hill’s best characters, first emerges from the closet" whereas I actually think to all intents and purposes that it happens in this book - the previous one in the series.]

Posted on August 31, 2012 at 8:16 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday August 24, 2012

Spinning with the Boys

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Ah - it's you again. Any news?

Posted on August 24, 2012 at 6:49 AM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday August 18, 2012

Dragonfly

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At the guild today, we all embroidered a picture using "mixed media". We painted, stuck, and printed the backgrounds, and then used various 3D embroidery techniques, and appliqué to create a picture. We even used Margaret Beale's fusing techniques learned in June, (to create diaphanous wings).

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Posted on August 18, 2012 at 6:13 PM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday August 16, 2012

One Man Two Guvnors

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Well it was just as hilarious as we had been led to believe.

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We snatched a picnic meal in Trafalgar Square before the show. I saw the latest "plinth" offering for the first time (though it has been installed there since February). It's called Powerless Structures and is a 4.1m high bronze sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse. I really like it. The media view is "you either love it or hate it" - but what's not to like?
The design by two Scandinavian artists is intended to be provocative and playful, representing the idea of "daring to be fearless". As well as that, it's an obvious play on the usual formal statue theme of generals on horseback - the plinth itself was intended to host a bronze equestrian statue of William IV by Sir Charles Barry, which was never installed. Now the plinth is home to temporary art installations - this one will be there for 18 months.

[While in Trafalgar Square, I noticed we now have "Heritage Police" - an interesting concept - their main role being to continually say to the visitors "get off the Heritage" ("please").]

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 11:29 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday August 12, 2012

Painting the Parlour

So we went to France for the week - and what a fabulous week it has been - hot and lovely. And I don't have any pictures barring these....

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And that's because I spent my time tiling and grouting in the Bakehouse - which is - sadly - my idea of fun. It's not quite a bad as it sounds, as it was cool (weather really was very hot) and airy with all the many doors open. In addition, I really like the space we have created, so it was like having a preview of the living experience.

I also painted the undercoat all over white upstairs, and finished painting the downstairs walls, which are a nicely retro shade of sage green*.

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* Having recently seen a set of TV programmes about how everything changed in the 1950s, I am slightly less certain about saying that. I do feel I lived through the era, however, I learned a lot - especially about how much paint changed post-war, and how that had such a dramatic effect interior decor, (I thought people actually liked dark green and brown...).
I was very keen on the insights offered in the series but the comments lead me to add - I think it is a mistake to infer (or imagine they imply) that everything applied to everyone in the 1950s. The reason it was all so familiar to me is that we still had the post-war house in about 1964. [We had no fridge until the mid-sixties though that was by no means usual among our peers.]

Posted on August 12, 2012 at 8:11 AM. Category: France.

Friday August 3, 2012

Olympics at Wimbledon

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I was so very lucky to be able to get a ticket for Centre Court today, and see the mens semi-finals, along with Helen, Ethel, and Sue. And what a fantastic experience it was. I have never been to Wimbledon before (to see the tennis that is - I did live there for a time but not "up the hill"), and I was absolutely thrilled for such a once-in-a-lifetime outing.

Play opened with Federer and Del Potro at 12 noon. Astonishingly, they went on all afternoon with the match finishing at 16:50: 19-17 in the final set. Even taking into account that it's a 3 set match, that was some marathon. It was so evenly matched and not really expected to be such a struggle, so most people were planning to get lunch after it finished. One wag in the crowd was driven to call out "come on Roger, I'm hungry!".

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Following that, Serena dispatched her semi final opponent in much shorter order, and so by about 18:30, Murray and Djokovic finally entered the arena.

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I hate to say something so commonplace, but the atmosphere was simply amazing. The Serbians were quite vocal, but the mad British cheering for every point was enough to bring a tear to the eye, never mind the exciting play. I think we are quite used to our tennis heroes being not quite good enough on the day, so Murray's success is very cheering.

Murray played well, but I think we were all a bit surprised that he won in straight sets. The score (7-5, 7-5) does not entirely express the closeness of the match, and though one might have expected more of Djokovic, he seems not to be at his best of late, given his Wimbledon performance, and his subsequent loss of the bronze medal. Having said that, I don't mean to diminish the achievements of Murray (and Del Potro) who were playing brilliantly.

London2012MurrayWins.jpg

By now, we all know Murray went on to get the gold medal. I am delighted, of course, on chauvinistic grounds, as well as for him (and Ethel!). However, I do feel for Federer (and Helen!) who somehow missed out in Beijing when he must have been at the height of his powers, and it seems unlikely he will get another chance at Olympic gold. Currently he is a worthy champion with No 1 in the world rankings but it would be hard to anticipate his retaining that position for another 4 years.

London2012TennisMedals.jpg

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 6:13 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Tuesday July 31, 2012

Books in July

  • Black Ice by Michael ConnellyBOM-BlackIce.jpg
    The first Harry Bosch novel I read was The Concrete Blonde, which was his third outing - and I was hooked. This one is his second, and I think I must have missed it in my haste to devour all the others. It was interesting reading an early Connelly book after all the later ones; interesting to note his changes of style - though I could not put my finger on what the changes are as I'm by no means capable of such an analysis. I guess it's a little less polished, but I'm not implying that this is a negative thing at all, just a little different. I like the way Harry started out like this - a conventional policeman in fiction - a loner and misfit - and also I admire the fact that you can see the character has not changed over the years; he has managed to continue with his police career, so has by defnition mellowed and been very canny in his dealings with his bosses, but fundamentally just the same.

  • U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton [Read by Liza Ross] BOM-UisForUndertow.jpg
    The author works her way doggedly towards Z and her retirement - or so I assume. Despite the elapsed time of her literary journey through the 1980s, the stories remain varied and interesting; there is often some sort of theme but this never takes over the dialogue and thus I think it serves any "cause" better than a soapbox approach in the writing.
    "V" is already available, and I'm still very much looking forward to continuing the series.

  • Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs [read by Katherine Borowitz] BOM-GraveSecrets.jpg
    This was the author's second book I think. It was quite interesting, but with all her books I have read now, I am seeing a pretty well the direct opposite to my comments above. Reichs always does seem to have a theme and, although that part is fine, I find the heroine's continual pontificating on the issue in question to be more than a little irritating.
    I have read reviews complaining on the formulaic nature of the stories, and also about the co-incidences that bring the strands of the plot together. I have few complaints about those points: a thriller has to have some sort of denoument with the heroine in danger, and as for the coincidences - it's a fictional story....

Posted on July 31, 2012 at 12:04 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday July 29, 2012

Bourne Quilters

This weekend saw Sheila frantically busy with the Bourne Quilters biennial exhibition. It was a fabulous event with a huge variety of wonderful entries - many of them were themed projects and yet each individual entry was entirely original and so utterly different from one another. I took a huge number of pictures but am limiting myself to those that caught my eye as inspirations to make something.

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This Mackintosh inspired panel is very appealing. It captures the design, but is at the same time made very simply, by choosing the right fabric, and using applied ribbon. I particularly like the use of actual quilting on the white background; again, it looks deceptively simple - a pattern of straight lines - but I think in practice, keeping those lines dead straight shows the skill of the quilter - anything slightly off would show up very badly as this is the only decoration on a plain fabric

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I always associate quilting with Christmas somehow, so the "Christmas Room" had great appeal. This place setting is quite delightful, and yet created from simple (yet precise!) shapes using lovely fabrics.

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The fashion for random bunting continues. I like this, as you can easily use up odd triangles of suitable festive fabric and the lettering is a gold fabric that is fused (not sewn). In this case "Happy Christmas" but applicable for any occasion.

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Posted on July 29, 2012 at 6:11 PM. Category: Quilting.

Saturday July 28, 2012

Go Cav Go

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What a fantastic day! (...and if you'd asked me at the start I would never have predicted that's what I would be saying).
We got up at 6, cycled over to Box Hill, and were installed at the roadside (x marks the spot below) with our chairs and provisions by 7:30.

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Unlike other road races, they did circuits around the Box Hill zig zags, so we were able to see them 9 times from about 11:30 until 3pm. We were so close to the riders I could have touched them and I cannot describe how thrilling it was as they flew by.

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A bit of fun from the Australian support vehicle.

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Well - we got home just in time to see he didn't make it. I am always astonished that a sport with an individual winner should rely so heavily on team support, and a privilege to see the team in action, though a terrible shame for Mark.
But what a great win for Alexandr Vinokurov of Kazakhstan.

Read about the race here - not too chauvinistic I think and so exciting to read about this race all through my various domiciles in Surrey (previous and current).

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Posted on July 28, 2012 at 4:33 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Tuesday July 24, 2012

Torch in Kingston

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This is Anna Smith, who carried the torch in recognition of her bravery in going to the aid of another, at great personal cost. Having read all about her, it is excellent to see her in such fine form.

So far I seem to have been to several locations on the same day as the torch but not actually seen it. So Robert shared his early morning's experiences with me, via a home movie.
He and I had a beer in the garden before walking round to the pub for some al fresco dining. As we went, we observed the terrapin, all shiny, having freshly exited the pond, as he crawled up the side of the submerged duck house roof to his customary place in the evening sunshine.

Posted on July 24, 2012 at 3:49 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday July 22, 2012

Rare Breeds at Singleton

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It was a lovely summer's day for the rare breeds show at the Singleton Open Air Museum, and we had a great day - not only at the show, but also looking around the museum itself.

We visited the Weavers Spinners and Dyers exhibition, which - not being totally familiar with the site - we found quite hard to locate. But it was pretty impressive.

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I loved these rugs - one of them made by one of our members. Makes me want to weave.

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The lovely woven pattern is shown in the details below.

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This delighted me - it's a dyed panel illustrating the natural dye colours with embroideries of the plants.

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The down side of its being quite such a lovely day was that the traffic getting into the site was terrible (over an hour just getting in) which seems pretty inexcusable - it is hard to see why it takes any extra time at all to simply drive in and stop. We were also a bit unimpressed with the food we bought (to eat there). It was a natural farmed hog roast, but the meat served in the bun was basically down to the chewy bits and not enough of it; I am not sure about the value for money aspect (it wasn't that expensive) but really I was not impressed to queue (again) for 20 minutes and be presented with a bread roll full of bread stuffing with a bit of added gristle. I am not averse to chewy bits, but I would rather pay more for something with a reasonable amount of edible meat. I am taking the trouble to moan here as it's not the only experience I have had like this, so maybe the caterers or pubs planning a hog roast might take note.

Posted on July 22, 2012 at 10:19 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday July 3, 2012

Encore!

We took up the offer of tickets to see the NT Live (encore) screening of Frankenstein at King's College in the anatomy theatre - preceded by a talk on Gothic Horror and science in the 19th century. With interval drinks and an intimate audience, it was a thoroughly civilized evening.

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However - all that says very little.
What a truly amazing production this was. The two actors, took the roles of creator and monster on alternate nights during the run - we saw Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster, and it would be really interesting to see reverse option with Jonny Lee Miller. (Yes, that's how good it was, I would see it all over again).
Helen had seen it locally up in Scotland as part of the summer screenings and recommended it to me - but I never imagined what an extraordinary interpretation it would be - and how wonderful it would have been to see live - in fact possible too overawing given how it came over on the screen.

Posted on July 3, 2012 at 11:13 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday June 30, 2012

Books in June

  • The Burry Man's Day by Catriona McPherson BOM-TheBurryMansDay.jpg
    I was very keen to read more of Dandy Gilver's doings, but could only find a "real" book of the second novel so it took me a while to get round to it. I did guess at the nub of the story before it was clear to the characters, but judging by the previous book, I think that is the author's intention. This is another author that really seems to be able to evoke the period she is writing about. I think this is a difficult line to tread from the perspective of today; I have read others questioning Dandy's attitude to her offspring, which I find quite easy to accept, and this may because I have no children, but also, the environment in which she exists means that she cannot be so fully absorbed by her children in the way we all are today, otherwise all parents of that era and class would have been in a perpetual state of torment and loss. The stories in general, and this in particular, strongly reflect on the effects of WW1, about which our attitudes to fighting, "lack of moral fibre" and desertion have done a complete about face in the intervening century; I think it must be hard to keep your characters sympathetic while keeping them true to the times, and have their expressing views that they must have feasibly held, but which are not the normal PC views today. However, I think the author does an excellent job and, as before, I am looking forward to reading all the following books.

  • Straight by Dick Francis [read by Tony Britton] BOM-Straight.jpg
    I was surprised to find a Francis novel I had not already read - and pleased of course. This is one of those novels where the action is around a non-racing theme, but unlike some, I think this one works particularly well for two reasons: it is firmly embedded with a racing background, and the hero is a jockey who has been thrust into the world of gem stones by the death of his brother. This gives a more plausible way for the gem stone business to be explained to the reader - ie through the eyes of the novice hero. Other than that, the usual exciting thriller with minor romance thrown in.

  • The Reversal by Michael Connelly [read by Michael Brandon] BOM-TheReversal.jpg
    This is a great book which offers all I have come to expect in anticipating each of his crime novels. It brings together almost all his heroes in one book, as Haller, Bosch, and Walling all appear - which is fun. I like the way he rings the changes on his characters; for example in this book, Haller is prosecuting. I know it sounds unlikely, but the basic premise is well explained and his inexperience on the other side of the fence is also nicely covered. I did think this was his latest, but there are 2 more after this and another expected to be published later this year, so I am much in arrears, but with lots to look forward to.

  • Silence by Jan Costin Wagner (translated by Anthea Bell) BOM-Silence.jpg
    This was a book suggestion from the Slockavullin Book Group. From what Helen said I was expecting this to be glum and introspective in the same vein as the non-Wallander Mankell novel that I accidentally read. As such I was pleasantly surprised to be reading a fairly solid detective story plus interesting features of the detectives' lives. I would recommend this as a pretty good read, and I understand it to be the second one featuring the same characters; see also Ice Moon - the first book - and The Winter of the Lions published more recently.

Posted on June 30, 2012 at 8:55 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday June 23, 2012

Keswick

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We spent the day in Keswick. I was keen to review the pencil museum but for some reason Helen was less so. We began by parking at the little theatre and getting our tickets for the evening performance of Dry Rot - a revival of the Whitehall farce of 1954.
After that we went for a short walk on footpath opposite the theatre, skirting the incumbent flock of sheep - which served only to ensure I had sopping wet feet throughout day 2 as well. After astute observation (!) it became clear to us that the water was very high and had submerged footpaths (to the right of the photo) and boathouses (to the left). The solitary little figure is Helen.

After pootling about shopping, we returned to the hotel to relax and warm up before heading out to the theatre again. Helen was a bit tight lipped about the play ("dated") - but for myself it pretty well lived up to my every expectation.

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Posted on June 23, 2012 at 11:06 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday June 22, 2012

Woolfest 2012

There were some delightful exhibits this year including these 3D fabric renditions of well-known paintings; the sunflowers I thought were especially good.

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I bought lots of excellent items (mostly fluff and string so I'm not documenting them in detail here). I met up with Carol and Pete Leonard again, and David Herring who supplied the missing "bits" for my wheel - so tiny I need to keep a firm hand on myself to avoid misplacing them after all that. I gave one of the exhibitors cause to giggle as I was wandering around muttering "I must not lose my washers and spring pin" - which she felt was some kind of euphemism of the same ilk as keeping my hand on my ha'penny...

I notice that Susan Crawford had a nice retro "Jubilee" book of patterns on sale (Coronation Knits) - all from the era of the coronation - charming idea. And Kate Davies ("Needled") had a lovely new pattern for a sheep tea cosy which I acquired on a commission from Alison.

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We came down to the Lake District yesterday, with Helen satisfying my need to visit TK Max and the outlet centre on the way. The weather had turned grim as we drove south - but I seem to have booked a rather splendid country house hotel, which puts a better complexion on things. We immediately booked into the restaurant for last night and tonight, where we found the food excellent - as was breakfast this morning.

Despite the comfort of hot baths and good food at the end of the day, I have to say, Woolfest was not such a great experience for me this year. Overall, I feel that this is a very personal experience and I am not sure that I expect that the organisers could - or should even - take any notice of my gripes.
In summary I think, I am not enjoying the fact that the event is getting bigger - I saw no need to extend the range of stallholders; the consequence seems to be to have changed the mix to include more straight knitting wools, fabrics, buttons etc - so I am seeing all the same people I usually see at Alexandra Palace. The previous exhibition area is now given over to teas and seating, and the Long Draw Spinners (to name but one exhibitor) had been banished to a small corner stall which is not appropriate to view their demonstrations. I can see the visitor numbers will inevitably increase and I am pleased for the organisers - but it had somehow lost its unique emphasis on the animals and the raw fleece and materials. [In passing the Ring several times and having a quick look in, there seemed to be no rare-breed parade this year - or I certainly missed it if there were - and all I saw was a man reading from a rather dull script to a tiny audience, where the ring had been packed out in the past.].
My other selfish whine is that I was not able to park right outside the front of the building as in past years. Now - I know - not everyone can and the increased visitor numbers and vendors mean they have to use the facilities to better suit people's real needs - it's inevitable. But to lose this privilege in conjunction with the truly awful weather - having to park in a field some distance away for the first time, walk across a swamp, through a stepped cascading river of water down to queue outside the back of the venue in the torrential rain to buy tickets - which along with the programme were drenched before we even made it inside..... an unfortunate combination. I think even their attempts to improve the toilet facilities (I admit there was always a queue) were also thwarted by the weather. And - again purely selfishly - the things they had "improved", I do not see as improvements because basically I had no issue with them in the past.
If you had asked me in advance, I was not at all concerned about the bad weather, thinking that as it is all under cover it was not really a weather-dependent event. However, starting (and continuing) the day with sopping wet feet and carrying a sopping wet kagool around (which made my purchases wet - not good for books and patterns), made a great difference to my pleasure in the day. I know there is a supposed British stiff upper lip and we're all in it together making the best of things despite the weather and so on... but it's just not fun.

Posted on June 22, 2012 at 11:56 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Wednesday June 20, 2012

Glasgow Culture Vultures

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Today we are in Glasgow to see an outdoor production of The Tempest in the Botanic Gardens. Here is the excited audience before the play begins; excited with the thrill of worrying whether or not we will all be drenched. [It has been raining solidly in various parts of the country for some days now, although my stay in Slockavullin drove me to don my shorts at one point.] However, despite the much publicised downpour predicted for the evening, it stayed fine throughout, and was a great performance.
Our hotel was marvellously convenient, and I had to take this picture of the room - resplendent with chandelier, and chaise longue (as well as the twin beds) - and you can just see that Helen has just made 2 mugs of tea. It was all charming and not to mention very good value - but don't even think about trying to check in after hours.... you have been warned...

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Posted on June 20, 2012 at 11:35 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday June 19, 2012

Crinan Canal Walk (...and tea...)

I am staying with Helen for a few days and then we are off to Woolfest.

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We went for a "wee walk" (hike) along the canal. And - as Helen says - the best thing about a wee walk is the tea room at the other end.

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Posted on June 19, 2012 at 9:02 PM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday June 16, 2012

Fusing Fabric

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We were lucky enough to have Margaret Beal ("Burning Issues") along to our guild for a workshop to learn her techniques in fabric manipulation. Essentially you use a very fine-tipped soldering iron to burn synthetic fabrics in a controlled manner. Margaret explained to us how she had first come to the idea - which was as a quicker way to remove excess fabric in cut-work embroidery when she was a student - and developed it into this unique art form.

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Posted on June 16, 2012 at 10:45 AM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday June 14, 2012

Herring

In March I finally achieved my ambition of owning a Frank Herring wheel. The reason you have not heard about it before now is that I did not have a lot of success spinning with it. Although it can be optionally set up for scotch tension, my other wheels are like that, so I wanted to leave it as I had received it - double band drive. However, the wheel band would sporadically slip off as I was spinning, and I could not decide if it were me or the wheel.

Last week I was spinning at a garden party and had the opportunity to try a friend's similar wheel, and found I could use it quite easily without a problem. And so, long overdue, I decided to sort it out. I was loathe to start by randomly dismantling the wheel, so I looked carefully at it, comparing with at the photos in the manual - I noticed 3 things: the wheel did not line up with the pulley blocks, the bobbin was clipped in wrongly (easily fixed), and the mother-of-all was not positioned relative to the machine in the same way as in the photo.
I felt the latter was key so that's what I dismantled. Sure enough I found a couple of tiny parts missing.

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They are not uncommon pieces to obtain but as I had nothing to compare them with I went to Herrings to ask for specific replacements, and David Herring is bringing them to Woolfest for me to collect.

Posted on June 14, 2012 at 2:05 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Sunday June 3, 2012

Jubilee in France

We had a very satisfying Jubilee weekend in France.
When we arrived (forewarned) the garden was totally out of control -

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I always like to leave incidental plants and the stachys is delightful growing between the cracks in the granite paving - when it is small. This variety, (I rescued half dead from a garden shop), grows up to produce brilliant almost fluorescent flower heads and it's huge. Every year it reseeds itself all over the place. In addition here you can see foxgloves, chives, and tansy - all growing in the cracks.

The main thing however was that the grass was waist high. George spent most of the time fixing that with the stalwart new mower (plus it's new add-on gadget which we picked up on our way to Cuves). It hardly complained at all despite the fact that the grass was far too long for it and a little damp. So George mowed and strimmed in rotation in between the showers - and, as usual, once the grass was shorter, the whole garden was transformed.

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You may think this is not an improvement - but we can't just leave it as a meadow.

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I spent the time working on the bakehouse, and had great fun tiling and painting - even George joined in painting the ceiling with me - and it's all coming on pretty well.....
... and in addition to all this activity, we were able to watch the Queen (on TV) making her fantastic and rather surreal voyage down the Thames.

Posted on June 3, 2012 at 6:56 PM. Category: France.

Thursday May 31, 2012

Books in May

  • TV Detectives Omnibus edited by Peter Haining BOM-TVDetectives.jpg
    This is an omnibus of original short stories by the well-known creators of detectives who have subsequently made it on to the TV screens. The book I have is the 1992 Orion edition, so it's a snapshot of TV detectives to that date. For me it's a very interesting book including not only the (then) more recent TV detective adaptations like Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes and more recent detectives such as Morse, but also refers to the more historical original stories about Charlie Chan, Perry Mason, Ellery Queen, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and so on. each story is carefully chosen with a few - often fascinating - facts about the character and author at the start of each section. For example - who knew? - Miss Marple made it on to American TV in 1956 with Gracie Fields in the starring role (!) and Roger Moore playing the part of Patrick Simmonds.
    Peter Haining has also done a similar Crimebusters Omnibus at a slightly later date including Taggart, Tennison, Spender, Columbo and Kojak.

  • The Ladies of Grace Adieu: and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke BOM-LadiesOfGraceAdieu.jpg

    An excellent introduction to the folklore and stories of Susanna Clarke, hopefully a good preparation for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which was recommended by Alison and is a mighty tome currently waiting to be read - but more of that next month.
    This book of short stories is much easier to digest, and has great variety and interest in the way each story is presented. Despite being (in some cases well known) fairy stories, they are all weirdly disturbing, and appropriately classified by the library as "science fiction". It fits well with my recent reading of Puck of Pooks Hill.

  • A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine [read by William Gaminara] BOM-AFatalInversion.jpg
    This is Ruth Rendell of course, writing under her psychological thriller pseudonym. I'm afraid I am one of her readers that likes her "bread and butter" police novels with dear old Inspector Wexford, so I tend not to read Barbara Vine. However, the Guardian list of "1000 novels: crime" recommended it, which gave me the incentive. And of course it really is excellent, as you would expect, and despite the "crime" being fairly clear from the start, it did completely surprise me with its ending. At one point, one of the characters says "we've got away with it" which is (no doubt intended to be) deeply ironic, since, as the plot unfolds, it is pretty evident that none of them truly got away with "it" at all.

Posted on May 31, 2012 at 9:20 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday May 27, 2012

Foreigner

George called me out into the garden in a state of some amazement, while searching to grab his camera...

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He could not be sure if he really was seeing a terrapin sitting on the roof of the old duck house in our pond - but he was indeed. I was slightly less surprised than he, as some years ago the fish mongers told me something about people "freeing" terrapins into the pond - I think they are regarded as vermin, presumably detrimental to the natives. However, I was not sure I really believed it at the time. Anyway, there he was - basking - all beautiful and stripey.

Posted on May 27, 2012 at 5:13 PM. Category: The Garden.

Splendid Summer

It was a beautifully sunny weekend and we spent it all in the garden.

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George has the veg patch and pots well under control, but I have a bit more work to do! Encouraged by Jenny, our new gardener, I set about cleaning up the porch area and washing the garden chairs.

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I am fully repainting the porch chairs, and got as far as refurbishing the wooden feet with wood hardener and undercoat, plus applying Hammerite ("paint on to rust") to the metal parts. They are nice old chairs, but it always amuses me that I spend more on paint and equipment than the chairs actually cost - one being free - in desperation the auctioneer included it in another lot I had bought, whether I needed it or not!

Posted on May 27, 2012 at 2:01 PM. Category: The Garden.

Saturday May 19, 2012

Sock Blanks with the Guild

After all the work on the knitting machines, everyone finally got to dye their blanks. They all looked wonderful.

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This is Jennifer's blank which did not make it into the photo above. (The little sprinkles are not flaws but fixer - ready for steaming.

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Posted on May 19, 2012 at 10:40 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Monday April 30, 2012

Books in April

  • House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz BOM-HouseOfSilk.jpg

    I can't praise this book enough written in the true spirit of the Conan Doyle originals. Added to that we have delightful historical detail that Horowitz is so good at researching, and a few political points slipped in as Watson's minor digressions in the course of telling the tale. Almost as a bonus, the storyline is excellent, although is a little wistful and sad at the end, as Watson is writing this in old age and in somewhat poor health with Holmes already long departed.

  • Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill [read by Brian Glover] BOM-ChildsPlay.jpg

    This is another book with a sad little ending.
    Of course, I suppose classic detective stories featuring murders are never going to be a bundle of laughs, but this was one of the sub plots which you hoped would be resolved positively. I don't really want to hint at the resolution of any parts of the plot, but in my defence, this is an old novel, which I even saw on TV, so hopefully it's not really a spoiler.

  • Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison by M C Beaton BOM-SpoonfulPoison.jpg
    Finally tracked down this book, which made a pleasurable afternoon's read while knitting a plain sock from the "sock blank" experimental dyeing project.
    So ... it's LSD in the jam at the local village fete. What larks! .. or it would have been if one of he elderly residents had not thought they could fly off the church tower, with predictable results.
    "Harmless" prank? or cunning murder plan (albeit a rather scatter-gun approach..).
    No sad endings here - all the jolly fun a murder mystery should be ....

Posted on April 30, 2012 at 6:17 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Thursday April 26, 2012

Helen and her cardi

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I finally handed over Helen's belated birthday present when we managed to meet at a trendy cafe in Surbiton....

[...and I also received my birthday presents which were a stunning bracelet and the book of knitted egg cosies - the latter is a bit if a risk as we can now all guess what everyone will be getting next year!]

Posted on April 26, 2012 at 6:13 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday April 22, 2012

Dyeing the sock blanks

Fresh from the disappointment of my needlefelt sculpting, I decided not to try and complete my efforts of yesterday but to press on with trying out the dyes for the sock blank project.

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I was not too concerned about the bleeding of the colours on this first one as they all toned with what I was aiming at. For the second one, where my pattern was more exact, I could not get the brown colour I wanted by colour mixing; it's fine but not what I was aiming at. The colour bleeding separated the mix (chromotography!) as it soaked in, plus I did not make the brown section as wide as I should have for the pattern I intended,

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Overall it went pretty well. The main (only) unexpected problem was when I made up the last dye solution which was the yellow, and I had a lot of difficulty in making it dissolve. In warm water it made viscous clumps, and in cold water (2nd attempt) it remained quite crystalline. I managed to dissolve it moderately well in the end after much vigorous shaking. I had no such issues with the other colours.

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I also learnt that in order to mix up bright greens, oranges, browns - you do need a lot of yellow, as it is the weakest colour in the mix, and is easily overwhelmed by the darker colours. I think I will be buying some additional pre-mixed orange, and brown for our group session next month.

Posted on April 22, 2012 at 6:16 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday April 21, 2012

Needle Felting

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I am embarassed to say that I do not have a natural talent for sculpting in wool, so I am not featuring my efforts in particular. However, as a group, we managed to produce some reasonable items - notably the youngest student whose work was definitely the best.
Here is the show and tell:

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Everyone certainly had lots of fun.

Posted on April 21, 2012 at 6:15 PM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday April 19, 2012

Trees

Sad to say, we have been steadily removing trees from the front of our house - I hate it, but it was necessary. This is the ash tree coming down. Although huge, ash trees grow very quickly and his progeny is all over the rest of our garden (!). I pull up an average of 80 of his seedlings from the flower beds every time I weed - no exaggeration.

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It seems terrible to remove any lovely old trees - but compare the picture of our garden above (view towards the pond) with this picture of our house below, taken around 100 years ago, when it was first built. This is exactly the same view but in the opposite direction across the pond - and - not a tree in sight. The common really was a common and not a wood.

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Posted on April 19, 2012 at 7:01 PM. Category: The Garden.

Sunday April 15, 2012

Where the spirits ran free...

....Tony's Party.

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Jim and Mary provided wonderful cocktails invented just for the occasion:

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And the our token gifts were inventive variations on the same theme...

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The cake that was almost too good to cut. Almost.

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I've got to be where my spirit can run free
     [from Corner of the Sky in the musical Pippin by Stephen Schwartz].

Posted on April 15, 2012 at 2:44 AM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Friday April 13, 2012

One song to the tune of another.

I bought some reading glasses which came with a useful but unremarkable case. Fresh from my experiences adapting a test sampler (fair isle cushion cover) into a tablet cover - ie dead easy - I decided to convert my unappealing Giant Woolley E into a glasses case.
Voilà.

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I dismembered the arms of the E, grafted them together, and felted the resulting tube. I then stitched and cut. I found a perfect scrap of cotton for the lining, - but you cannot appreciate it (at all) in the finished item.

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Posted on April 13, 2012 at 11:29 AM. Category: Knitting.

Friday April 6, 2012

Vide Grenier à Saint Laurent de Cuves

A bit late setting off but we managed to get to a "boot sale" - it was very local and we had a bit of trouble locating it despite the fact that the village is tiny and the sale took over the whole of it, since they had closed all roads in.

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Anyway we came away with wonderful treasures! (Each at only 50 centimes). This jug (you can see how lovely it is) will join my interesting cat collection, and below we found a pin badge (St Pois is next to Cuves) to join a secret collection of George's - I particularly like its reference to the Tour de France which passed the area last year and granite, as George is so fond of the Granite Museum.

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Sadly I did not take a picture of the loveliest treasure which was an apple fork - a farming implement for picking up apples - a bit like a pitchfork. A real bargain, though probably just for show as we use the amazing Apple Wizard - no orchard should be without one.

Posted on April 6, 2012 at 4:56 PM. Category: France.

Thursday April 5, 2012

... et la bête

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When we got back, the weather was delightful again, so George was straight out on the mower.... for about half an hour. Then I had to go out and help him investigate why the engine cut out every time he lowered the cutting blades. We spent ages looking at the automatic cut out switches and finally jacked it up to look at the blades, finding that one was totally seized up - and the cause was trivial: a sizeable chunk of wood was firmly wedged in it.

Posted on April 5, 2012 at 3:34 PM. Category: France.

Le Beau...

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We dropped in on Ava and Peter to see the grandchildren who are there "en masse" for the Easter holiday (that is Jacob and Isobel). I had finished the little sailor outfit so took it with me and within minutes Jacob was wearing it. The beret - as George (who knows a thing or two) had predicted - was too small - so I was forced to perform open-hat surgery on the kitchen table using only wooden barbecue skewers. [I really find it hard to believe that there is someone who has no knitting needles whatever... made mental note to never leave home without knitting bag ever again].
Here Jacob is obligingly posing for his public with Gemma.

Posted on April 5, 2012 at 2:00 PM. Category: France.

Tuesday April 3, 2012

La Tondeuse arrive sur la remorque

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George nursed the old lawnmower through most of last season - it had lost some vital parts on its way round the field. We waited until the new season to purchase a replacement. This is not a brand new machine but pretty solid with some nice features, and also picks the grass up - this is both an advantage and a disadvantage - most of our land is field rather than lawn so we need to leave the cut grass where it falls; we have a widget on order which will give us that option. As things stand currently, George has created a grass mountain in a single (late) afternoon's mowing.

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Posted on April 3, 2012 at 5:36 PM. Category: France.

Saturday March 31, 2012

Books in March

  • Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves [read by Charlie Hardwick] BOM-SilentVoices.jpg
    Vera appeared in the opening chapter of this novel, and so I was hooked from the start. She is the most interesting character and, in the earlier books, I was always willing her to appear as soon as possible. Ann Cleves does not simply churn these novels out at a great rate, and so there is not a huge canon for the TV series to take up. Thus I am sure that the next series will have new plots written for TV. This is always dangerous; in my estimation they absolutely ruined the Dalziel and Pascoe novels by doing this - they deviated dramatically from the characters own stories and reduced it from a work of near genius to a run of the mill cops and robbers drama. However, lets look on the bright side: often, a great novel is too big an enterprise to reduce to a couple of hours (eg the Rebus novels - which have never been successfully dramatised, even after they chose a suitable leading actor - purely due to their short duration*) - and Morse seemed to survive well even with the "written for TV" episodes.
    * I had just read Ian Rankin's "Fleshmarket Close" when I watched the TV drama. Although it retained the title, as far as I remember the "action" referring to the place was presumably considered extraneous to the main plot and therefore cut out - consequently I remember no reference during the episode to its title.

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  • Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves [read by Anne Dover]
    So smitten with Vera that I went straight on to another novel. This one was the first to be shown in the TV dramatisation, and the 3rd chronologically. It involved a very memorable "MO" (not horrific I hasten to add - just sad - as any murder would be), so I remembered the story but not so much who "dunnit" - luckily.
    I'm looking forward to the 5th (latest) Vera book which came out in February this year.

  • The Vault by Ruth Rendell [Read by Nigel Anthony] BOM-TheVault.jpg
    This is a library download, which I chose as part of my reawakened interest in Ruth Rendell, only to discover that it is the latest Wexford mystery set after the Inspector's retirement. I had heard more than one reference to this book - mildly scathing comments about the premise of allowing the hero to continue working with police business after retirement. However, I found this entirely forgiveable - certainly as reasonable as, for example, allowing Dixon of Dock Green to never rise through the ranks and to continue to be played by an actor in his 80s, and certainly more appealing than having him die rather than retire. After all - how realistic is crime fiction and murder myteries at all? I think Oxford had more murders in one episode of Morse than they ever had in reality in the course of an entire year.
    As to the plot - it's as well that I find myself such a source of amusement. While reading, I began to find the story a little familiar - similar to what is possibly the only non-Wexford Ruth Rendell thriller that I have read - no idea of the title - researched on web to find that it is "A Sight for Sore Eyes" (I title I have no memory of at all) and that in some places The Vault is actually described as a sequel. Anyway - I enjoy writers revisiting old plots or characters from a different perspective (eg Ian Rankin's "Blood Sport" - and most of Michael Connelly's novels), and this one did not disappoint.

Posted on March 31, 2012 at 10:59 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday March 23, 2012

Henry VIII and Hampton Court

Some colleagues came over from the US and at the end of the week, we went out to be tourists for the day at Hampton Court (always popular with Americans). Here is Lee, obligingly pretending to be a tourist for me in the Great Hall.

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We began our tour with the kitchens which were very interesting given the audio guide narration by the experimental food archaeologists. These ovens - a variation on a modern barbecue - are considered by them to be a more versatile and superior method of cooking than those used today.

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You can see Lee listening with rapt attention while warming himself by the spit roasting fireplace (it was chilly out of the sunshine).

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From here we progressed to an exhibition of Henry's early days on the throne, and then on to his apartments. This is a view of the frieze in the Great Hall, showing the motifs of the Tudor Rose, the French Fleur-de-Lis, and Henry's Coat of Arms, which incorporated the English lions with the fleurs-de-lis - emphasising the English claim to the French throne. This claim illustrated in the arms from the 1300s was only finally relinquished, and thus dropped from the Coat of Arms, in 1801 during the reign of George III, (some good few centuries after we seriously held any territories in France I think!).

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We were actually lucky enough to run into His Majesty, Henry, in the courtyard, where we found him exhorting his (younger) subjects not to forget their weekly archery practice on the village green. There were a lot of period actors around - amusing and educational for the school parties (and us!) - plus opportunities to dress up if you chose to do so.

The weather has been wonderful, and I was so pleased it continued thus - last time my friend Lee was here, I subjected him to a challenging tour of the Thames Embankment in a really bitter wind, and by the time we got to the Millennium Bridge he was begging to find a cafe to get warm.
Despite the glorious sunshine, and an amusing excursion through the maze, ("Christina, what is the point of a maze...?"), I failed to take any photos outside, but was a bit obsessed with the ceilings.
Here is the amazing hammer-beam roof in the Great Hall....

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...and here a couple of views of the beautiful gold-leafed ceiling in the Great Watching Chamber (or Guard Room, where people would wait for an audience with the King. The ceiling incorporates the badges and coats of arms of Henry and Jane Seymour (third and favourite wife who died 2 weeks after giving birth to the longed-for male heir).

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The intricate ribs and pendants are of oak. In the centres of the compartments are oaken wreaths bound by ribbons, enclosing arms and Tudor badges, including the white Yorkish rose within the Lancastrian red rose, Henry VIII's hawthorn bush, Jane Seymour's phoenix rising from the flames, and her castle with rose bush and phoenix, fleur-de-lis, the arms of France and England quarterly, all in their proper colours and gilt. These ornaments are carried out in a form of gesso, apparently a kind of papier mache, pressed into moulds.

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The only thing I felt we missed seeing was the Real Tennis Court, which was closed for the day.

Posted on March 23, 2012 at 6:15 PM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday March 17, 2012

Máximo Laura and Woven Colour

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Pete and Della Storr came to talk to us about Woven Colour, which promotes the work of Peruvian artist Máximo Laura. It was a fascinating afternoon and we were all utterly smitten by the fantastic colourwork and skill of the artist.

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Some of us even went home with a tapestry.

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Posted on March 17, 2012 at 4:04 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Sunday March 11, 2012

Ride a Cock Horse

As we prepared to leave the area, we fell to talking about the nursery rhyme. I resolved to check it out. As expected there's a lot of information and misinformation on the web. As I read one explanation after another, I preferred each one to the last, and finally I came upon this summary of the various suggestions, which I think provides a balanced view, and is well worth reading.
One thing that does seem clear is that "Banbury Cross" probably refers to the road intersection rather than a physical cross; the proven dates associated with the rhyme, compared with the various identities mooted for the "lady", demonstrate that, however tempting, some of the explanations really cannot be true. The link with pagan Irish rituals seems tenuous and yet at the same time highly plausible.

 

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes

So I'm off home now - and never did get to eat a Banbury Cake. Maybe next time...

Posted on March 11, 2012 at 2:11 PM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday March 10, 2012

WTHS Oxford and Banbury

A day out in Oxford.

The evening meal was the usual curry at the Sheesh Mahal in Banbury - followed by some further refreshments at a local hostelry... (back to the Reindeer of course!). Sad to say there were even more absences this year; Nicolette is not well, and Robert was planning to be there but his Father was taken ill. Our usual toast, with warmest wishes, to absent friends...

Posted on March 10, 2012 at 11:08 PM. Category: Friends.

Friday March 9, 2012

The Reindeer Inn

Time again for the WTHS reunion. This year it was "Oxford" but hotels there were way off our budgets so we are staying in Banbury. Those who arrived today dined at the Reindeer Inn which offered excellent pub food served in fascinating surroundings.

The pub is steeped in history. The Globe Room in which we ate was where Cromwell is said to have planned the Battle of Edgehill, and which was also used as a courtroom to try the Royalists. It still has all the original oak panelling - though it has been on a bit of a journey between now and then.
On top of all that, I cannot emphasise enough how truly wonderful the staff there were. I can thoroughly recommend it - and all at excellent prices.

The pubs seem to have been key in housing both sides in the Civil War and the following quote particularly pleased me with the reference to pub names: The Roundheads (the Parliamentarians) and Cavaliers (the Royalists) - used to billet their troops in alehouses, taverns and inns. As the progress of the war swung in favour of one side and then the other, an alehouse would change its name from say, the King's Head to the Nag's Head and back again.

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 11:16 PM. Category: Friends.

Wednesday February 29, 2012

Books in February

  • Recalled to Life by Reginald Hill [read by Brian Glover] BOM-RecalledtoLife.jpg
    Returning to Dalziel and Pascoe to read the 13th in the series. Dalziel has the opportunity to visit New York, while Pascoe stays at home worrying about the state of his marriage (and Dalziel).
    I like the way Dalziel is portrayed as a tough, intelligent, and serious-minded policeman, (though to some extent, a figure of fun as far as his colleagues are concerned). He may be "the Fat Controller" but he is also fit, making him a physical as well as a mental force to be reckoned with.
    Brian Glover made an excellent reader, both with and without his Yorkshire accent.

  • The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell BOM-DogsofRiga.jpg
    Working through the Kurt Wallander series with this, the second, book. First published in 1992, the theme is around political change in the Eastern Block countries and what it means when "the authoritites" are corrupt and cannot be trusted.
    It is due to be one of the English (Kenneth Brannagh) adaptations of the Wallander novels - series 3, not yet aired.

  • Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James BOM-DeathComestoPemberley.jpg
    More P D James than Jane Austen pastiche, which is what you might expect. The author has used the characters, and, in my opinion, kept them pretty well all in character.
    I found the introduction, revisiting previous scenes, quotes, and general scene-setting, rather dull - I feel I am already overly familiar with the material "to date", although I appreciate that the book needs to stand alone, and it might be useful for those who are not familiar with Pride and Prejudice. The author does advance theories about the relationships between the characters, somewhat outside the original novel, which I found quite interesting (never having studied English Literature academically), though I am not sure I agreed with all of them.

  • Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves [read by Julia Franklin] BOM-TellingTales.jpg
    I wanted to read these books as I saw the excellent TV series with Brenda Blethyn playing DI Vera Stanhope. Having listened to this one (the second in the series) I think they did a pretty good and faithful job of dramatising them - and Brenda was wonderful of course, making a fair stab at disguising her many positive physical attributes in order become the frumpy Vera.
    The book had a slow start for me, only becoming interesting once Vera appeared on the scene - but the I obviously warmed to it and I became just as interested in everyone else as I got towards the end of the book.

Posted on February 29, 2012 at 9:53 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday February 26, 2012

Unravel 2012

A few photos from Unravel in Farnham. This year my sister came along, even though this isn't really her sort of event, she enjoyed the artistry of works on display.
I was smitten with this cushion.

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Noah's Ark did not win "Best in Show" but it got our vote.

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In addition there was a complete farmyard on display in one of the stairwells.

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The woolley Art was not limited to the confines of the building. I thought these knitted moles erupting from the grass were very cute, (more so than the real thing I have to say).

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And as usual, Well Manor Farm provided the warm-blooded woolley items. I was sorry not to see the Gotlands this year but this one with her little black lamb.... aaaah...

UnravelLamb.jpg

Posted on February 26, 2012 at 12:46 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Friday February 24, 2012

Design and production

We managed to get in to see The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum with only a couple of days to spare. I had read about it, and it really was a thoughtful and interesting collection. I am very glad we made it.

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The manner of our gaining entry when all tickets for the day were sold, was to join the museum as a member. I think this is very good value for money - you only have to go to about 2 exhibitions a year to make it worthwhile - and it allows you instant access to the exhibits. [It also gave us a 10% discount on our Cream Tea in the restaurant!].

The main reason for our afternoon in London was to take a look at A Snapshot Behind the Scenes of Sarah Greenwood's Sherlock Holmes which is at the University of the Arts in London until March 9th. A fascinating recreation of her design studio (or in fact a very small "set" version of it) for anyone to look at, but especially interesting for Rob's students.

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Sarah Greenwood in her own words.

Other notable events of the day were my pursuing some poor would-be air traveller all over London Bridge Station trying to let him know he had dropped his boarding card - finally catching up with him as he was on the train with all doors firmly closed. We then had the mutual delight of finding that I was able to slide the documents through the rubber trim of the doors! What larks, eh?

On the same theme, the day ended with my making a mad dash half way down the A3 to deliver George's passport to him, which absence he discovered when trying to board the ferry for a weekend of peace and freedom in France. Although he did make it back to Porstmouth in time (I hate to think how) his weekend in France is turning out less of a peaceful rural retreat than he had hoped; the car has developed a serious problem, and is currently still at the port in France awaiting repair!

Posted on February 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday February 18, 2012

Braiding with wire

The Guild workshop involved just the braiding techniques we have tried before - but with fine wire instead of fibre, which can make various items of jewellery. The process for warping threads was just the same, and we tried different wire weights, as well well as braiding techniques.

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We started with finger loop braiding (English) and then moved on to kumihimo.

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Before attempting the Japanese finger loop braiding, we practised with wool.

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It was the usual full day, and we took the findings home to complete our bracelets at our leisure...

Posted on February 18, 2012 at 11:18 AM. Category: Crafts.

Wednesday February 8, 2012

Sign of Leo

...all things are liquid...

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[photo by Tony Makepeace]

We braved the extreme cold weather (predicted tonight) and went to a private viewing of the work of Jim Stitch at the Hampton Hill Playhouse. It was an informal gathering in friendly and comfortable surroundings.

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Rob was smitten and bought the work "Union"; I preferred "Town and Country" of the paintings, but my favourites were the pair: "Cast Iron Red" and "Granite Blue" - these are 3-D sculpture pictures. I think the overall favourite was the sculpture "All things are liquid 1 - Chain", which can be seen as a series of photos here

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 11:37 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday February 5, 2012

Just snow

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I have to admit that the "winter wonderland" scene in my garden is becoming a bit of a habit. But even if it happens every year - it is really wondrous when you wake up and find a virgin blanket of snow. Later on in the day, you find out how much wildlife activity there really is in your garden!

Posted on February 5, 2012 at 8:36 PM. Category: The Garden.

Tuesday January 31, 2012

Books in January

  • Who Guards a Prince? Reginald Hill [read by Ian Redford] BOM-WhoGuardsaPrince.jpg
    I am a great admirer of Reginald Hill but only more recently started to read books outside the Dalziel and Pascoe series. I think he is a marvelously inventive writer as well as being able to tell a thrilling tale, (this one perhaps less plausible than some but I am more than willing if there is a need for any suspension of disbelief).
    So you can imagine my dismay when, on my own birthday, George stated with casual bluntness "he died recently didn't he?". I'm afraid I did not register the fact before and I am very sad - for him and for us. My only consolation is - I still have many of his books still to read.

  • The Speaker of Mandarin by Ruth Rendell [Read by Michael Bryant] BOM-SpeakerofMandarin.jpg
    In the 1980s and 90s I read all "the latest" Wexford mysteries as they came out. While I don't pretend Ms Rendell's popularity has ever faded, her books became less essentially fashionable than they seemed to be in the 1980s, and I realise that since then I have not read any - until Rob gave me The Monster in the Box, which made me realise she was still writing new "Wexfords", despite declining to be involved with any more TV adaptations. This book is from 1983 and I really enjoyed it - the murder mystery was not so mysterious, but the storyline was great and very interesting. Makes me look forward to more, and, encouraged by the Guardian's list of "Crime Novels everyone must Read", I plan to read some of the "other" novels as well as those written as "Barbara Vine".

  • The Geneva Mystery by Francis Durbridge [Read by Toby Stephens] BOM-GenevaMystery.jpg
    A Paul Temple Mystery. Interesting to listen to as a "retro experience" and well-read. Paul made his first appearance in 1938 - but he and his wife "Steve" seem still in their prime in this story written in 1971, apparently set in the 1960s. Best known as a radio series from 1938-1968, with a few remakes in the 2000s, many of the early episodes now being lost. I fondly remember the TV series starring Francis Matthews from 1969-1971.

  • House of Shadows by the Medieval Murderers [Read by Paul Matthews] BOM-HouseofShadows.jpg
    When I started listening to this book (on a long car journey) I thought it was deathly dull, and I did not understand the authorship. It got a little better - and I think the concept of the book - which is a collection of short stories by different authors around a common theme - is pretty interesting. The Medieval Murderers seem to be authors and performers - anyway you can read about them yourself here. I was interested to see C J Sansom is one of their number, though he did not contribute to this book.

Posted on January 31, 2012 at 9:16 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday January 29, 2012

Eat Me

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Karen has taken up cake decoration and made this wonderful gem for me - not only looks fantastic but tastes good too....!

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Can't see myself eating him somehow.

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Posted on January 29, 2012 at 2:13 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Saturday January 28, 2012

Why the big paws?

A bear walks into a bar and the bartender says: "What will you have?"
And the bear says nothing for a while - and then finally , "....I'd like a beer"
So the bartender fetches the beer and says briskly: "Anything else I can get for you?"
The bear considers a while and then says: "............ and some of those peanuts."
The bartender says: "Sure, ...but why the big pause?"

paws.jpg

[photo by steven kazlowski]

Posted on January 28, 2012 at 12:29 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.