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Tuesday December 31, 2013

Books in December

  • Dark Fire by C S Sansom BOM-DarkFire.jpg
    I enjoy these books more than I can really explain or understand why. True that I find the historical content and detail really interesting, but even though they are suspense novels I never expect to find them quite as absorbing as I clearly do. I don't reveal the time I take to read each book - just the month in which I finish reading; however, I think I have read each of these Shardlake novels within just a few days of starting. Not all people find Sansom's writing style quite so compelling but I find I can't put his books down.
    The Dark Fire of the title is a pretty interesting historical mystery in its own right, involving alchemy and mysterious long lost chemical formulae.

  • Caught by Harlen Coben [read by Carrington MacDuffie] BOM-Caught.jpg
    This is the first Harlen Coben book I have read. Apparently, he is well known for his twists of plot, and this book is no exception - very thrilling with at least three twists at the end, only one of which I was expecting - and I suspect my guessing it was the author's intention in any case. I shall definitely seek out more of his work; however, most of his other books are part of a series, which I am prejudiced against as they have a sporting bent. Sports themes do not appeal to me very much. [Horse racing clearly "ok" for me though - sport of Kings and so on...].

  • Thorne at Christmas by Mark BillinghamBOM-ThorneAtChristmas.jpg
    I think this is really good idea. A couple of short stories, delivered in ebook format only, at a budget price, and with a seasonal theme.
    I am sure that if you count the words, the cost is the same as a full novel; however, for some reason, I seem unwilling to pay authors for their work (ridiculous I know!- you can see, most of my books come from libraries or are loaned by friends). Anyway, this was an entertaining idea and made me part with my money for a change.
  • SimonRussellBeale.jpgFrom the BBC I listened to a dramatisation of John Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy with Simon Russell Beale as George Smiley. It was part of The Complete Smiley on Radio 4 Extra, but I could only manage to listen to this one story. Such rich books condensed into a short format need more concentration than I can manage (while knitting). I had just watched the recent film of Tinker Tailor (again) on TV, followed by a reshowing of the BBC series from 1979 with Alec Guiness, so I decided to forgo the Radio version. However, I did not realise how many Smiley books there are - so maybe I will read some of the others in full.

Posted on December 31, 2013 at 4:54 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday December 25, 2013

The Ghost of Christmas Past


I received some delightful gifts, including this wonderful cat doorstop from Alison. Not that he will be stopping any doors - he prefers a higher location from which he can better observe the household goings on - like the one on whom he is modelled.


Our Christmas plans were somewhat disrupted due to the power cuts afflicting many people over Christmas. We were planning to eat turkey with my sister - but she lost power on Christmas Eve so changed her plans and came to us instead. My day was still fairly laid back but not so my sister's who abandoned the turkey (as it would take too long to cook) in favour of a brace of pheasants and fully prepared everything in the morning before packing up and decamping to our place with food, husband, and dogs.
Despite having to cope with so much disruption, she gamely put on the pink santa/elf suit I gave her - on top of her sophisticated little black dress - and carried on with the cooking!


My only contribution was the pudding, for which I used Nigella's delicious pudding recipe using quince.
[Personally, I welcomed the change from turkey to pheasant..... it was delicious.]

Posted on December 25, 2013 at 8:35 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Monday December 16, 2013



Heaven knows why - since it was not true - I thought it would be easy to make a laptop cover for George for Christmas. Many weird and wonderful lateral thoughts later I managed to produce something quite nice.


I bought the lovely tweed for it (50cmx75cm) from tillytreemousetrading2003 on eBay. I cannot get a good picture of the true beauty of the subtle tweed colours in this weave; it is much brighter than the sombre palette reveals to the camera.


This more dramatic Harris tweed was from Braehead Woollen Merchants who were most helpful and whom I would also recommend without reservation. I made 2 bags from 1m.

For the trimming I used what is described as "recycled leather" (which it is) on eBay, - and you do indeed have the comfort of knowing that it is, as stated, with a full description of the processing. However the treatment to make the material does make it look like very high quality PU leather - but - I am so glad I made this choice. It is robust stuff which is very easy to work with - sewing through multiple thicknesses with only a hardy leather needle on my normal sewing machine; plus, it is sold by the metre, meaning there's no need to cut around any flaws. **


I do like bright or unexpected colours and patterns to line my bags, and I purchased these from the Quilt Room in Dorking.

For Helen's bag I added a special (38mm) button from the Textile Garden as a decoration.


** I was sufficiently taken with this "recycled leather" product that I also made some replacement items for "bargain" bag purchases - a clip-on optional shoulder strap for an Esprit bag, and a strange little (missing) flap closure for an AllSaints bag.

Posted on December 16, 2013 at 12:20 PM. Category: Crafts.

Saturday November 30, 2013

Books in November

  • A Question of Belief and Beastly Things [read by David Colacci]
    by Donna LeonBOM-BeastlyThings.jpg BOM-AQuestionOfBelief.jpg
    As usual excellent themes binding the stories together in each book - and as usual there are two layers of the crimes - one layer poignantly sad, sympathetically illustrating all human weakness, and the other demonstrating the despicably evil depths of human nature.
    Annoyingly true to life, in the Question of Belief, the morally guilty party disappears without facing justice, (and it's debatable what laws he actually broke in person).
    In Beastly Things the we are led to believe the murderer will face the law in due course. However, the strong sub plot (if it can even be called that - shall we say the background to the murder story) may influence you never to eat meat again. Alison told me she was forced to skip passages in the reading - I listened to the narrative in the car, and was not able to skip any of it....

  • The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin [read by Peter Forbes] BOM-TheImpossibleDead.jpg
    Initially our hero is leading his Internal Affairs team to follow up on suggestions of wider corruption in another police force after one of their number if convicted. However, Malcolm is drawn into re-investigating a 25 year old cold case, which seems to involve a cover-up at the highest levels within the force. A nicely interwoven tale of the type we can rely on from this author.
    Malcolm Fox is still in "the complaints" but since it's a fixed assignment role, we find him considering his abilities to take up a post in CID once again. Clearly (I hope) this is shaping up for future books with wider potential for the story lines.

  • V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton [Read by Liza Ross] BOM-VisForVengeance.jpg
    This book seems to be a slight departure in the author's writing style - or maybe it's evolving. Much of the story is from the perspective of characters other than our heroine. The author has certainly done this before but maybe not to this extent. I really enjoy the fresh approach in a book series, where the author can maybe avoid getting trapped in a sequential narrative.
    Unusually, some of the organised crime "baddies" seem to achieve an apparent happy ending (you have to assess for yourselves how "bad" they actually are - though pretty bad is my assessment, even though my sympathies were with them) - whereas the author seems to have a truly zero-tolerance attitude to shop-lifting. The latter I suppose is to point out to ones such as I that shop-lifting is not a "soft" victimless crime but simply stealing, and someone has to pay for it.

Posted on November 30, 2013 at 12:58 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday November 29, 2013

Nonsuch Craft Fair


I went to Bourne Hall to see the Nonsuch group's items for sale - and came back with some redcurrant jelly, and a couple more little (cat) items from the clay artist who supplied me with the pixies last October.

Posted on November 29, 2013 at 3:37 PM. Category: Crafts.

Saturday November 16, 2013

A Christmas Garland

... albeit a bit early this year - we had a little party for our final Guild meeting of the year.


In the morning we had a (select) group session making miniature knitted Christmas trees and tree decorations. In the afternoon, we were lucky enough to secure Eliza McClelland for a Christmas entertainment which was very lively and put us into a suitably unseasonal mood - along with the mince pies and stollen supplied by members.

Eliza is known to us at the Guild as a textile artist rather than through her acting and talks. Below is an exert from YouTube illustrating her skills with beautiful bead work.

Posted on November 16, 2013 at 6:39 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday November 7, 2013

ATP tennis


We were lucky enough to see Federer again this year at the O2. We had excellent seats as the photo demonstrates.

While Helen was down south we went shopping in Guildford. In Pandora I bought the yarn to make the Nepal Wrap in the specified Rowan Fine Tweed colours - designer's choices better than my own I thought. However, I am now slightly regretting it as they seem to give a sludgy brown effect overall - not my colours at all. The photo in the magazine makes them look more like muted red, white, blue.


Posted on November 7, 2013 at 11:25 AM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday October 31, 2013

Books in October

  • He Who Fears the Wolf and When The Devil Holds The Candle
    by Karin Fossum BOM-HeWhoFearsTheWolf.jpg BOM-WhenTheDevilHoldsTheCandle.jpg
    The second Inspector Sejer book, delighted me from the first - having not so much a surprise ending as a surprise beginning. And I can't say more without spoiling the surprise (beginning).
    The end was pretty good as well - one of those simple solutions where there was all the evidence given to you but still a "whodunnit" nonetheless.
    I have seen mixed reviews about lack of characterisation, which may be true, but I felt it was a good detective story.
    The third book is (impressively) yet another completely different plot line albeit with what seems to be the usual poignant and sad resolution. Sejer's personal life is looking up but his chosen lady is a bit of a challenge to his rather staid nature.

  • As the Pig Turns by M C Beaton BOM-AsThePigTurns.jpg
    "Someones gone the whole Hog".
    Sorry - I can't do better than the blurb on the book cover. (Well not in terms of puns anyway). Agatha manages to stop the locals chomping into what would have been a spit-roast human - recognising it as such only by means of a tattoo (!). I have heard that roast humans do look like roast pig (so-called "long pigs" in The Coral Island - read by me at an impressionable age).
    All the same....

  • Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyre [read by Sarah Barron] BOM-WhereTheBodiesAreBuried.jpg
    This is apparently a departure for Brookmyre in that he is aiming for less gory satire and more down-to-earth thriller. He seems to have been successful - I did notice it was not as "funny" as his previous novels - in one of which I found a description of a self-decapitation side-splittingly funny - which it has to be said is not "normal"...
    So he has gained something and lost something in equal measure.
    This is a pretty good police procedural thriller. But not so funny.

  • The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham [read by the author] BOM-TheDyingHours.jpg
    Loved it. (Though creepy).
    Having a bit of difficulty with Thorne himself though. He is back in uniform and not enjoying it. I found his reaction to his difficulties a bit hard to understand. I guess I never understood the character that well in the first place - which is my fault not the author's.
    I do like the current developments in his personal life though. I hope he is not destined to be one of those detectives who are permanently unable to settle with one woman - the current woman has a lot going for her.

  • Djibouti by Elmore Leonard [read by Nick Landrum] BOM-Djbouti.jpg
    As usual, the book has interesting characters and was pretty educational - for me - and being about Somali pirates is also pretty apposite as it references in passing the hijacking incident which has inspired the recent Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips.
    Leonard is one of my favourite authors - so I was doubly dismayed at somewhat belatedly realising that he passed away this year.

Posted on October 31, 2013 at 10:24 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday October 26, 2013

Lewes WSD Open Day


It's open season at the Guilds. Fresh from the success of our own open day, Norma organised a little trip to Lewes to see "Made By Hand" - the biennial exhibition of the East Sussex Guild. They are a very active and larger Guild and their exhibitions are always packed with wonderful examples of their work.


We wandered around for most of the day, seeing not only their fabulous work, but also demonstrations (with opportunities for hands-on as above), and items for sale. Several of the members bought sets of weaving sticks, which work a little like peg looms (but more portable). However, spurred on by seeing the demonstrations, I finally bought a peg loom from the P&M Woolcraft stand. I stuck with a 24 inch size as I thought it was more practical for me - however I see he makes them up to 59 inches in width, which could certainly make a decent sized rug. Needless to say I have not tried it yet but I am hoping to use up some of the vast amount of poorer quality fleece that I have in making a couple of rugs or cushions; if I actually get round to doing this then it will have been well worth it...!


Refreshments were available in the venue, and I was really quite taken with the delightful table decorations - beautiful little works of art, all hand made in fibre.


Posted on October 26, 2013 at 10:38 AM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday October 19, 2013

Creative Fibres Open Day


Janice took some photos of me (with my lovely blanket), demonstrating Pin Looms.
And below - just to prove we have men.


But mostly us ladies of a certain age...


Posted on October 19, 2013 at 11:42 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday October 17, 2013

Perfect Nonsense


We went to see this at Richmond theatre attracted by the strong cast in the shape of Stephen Mangan and Matthew MacFadyen. It took me a while (about 10 minutes) to warm to them but they were so charming it was inevitable and made for a more than excellent jolly evening. We were pretty familiar with the plot - mainly from the TV series with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and I have also read the books - involving Madeline Bassett, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Roderick Spode, cow creamers, nuptuals, Black Shorts, and policemen. However, the theatrical device is that Bertie is recounting the story as a stage play with the redoubtable Jeeves extemporising scenery, costumes, and characters as required - aided and abetted by Aunt Dahlia's butler Seppings, played by Mark Hadfield. As described by Charles Spencer in the Telegraph, (more eloquently than I because he is a professional writer....), Stephen Mangan provides just the right mixture of bonhomie, idiocy and panic, and the whole production perfectly evokes the dotty, sunlit innocence of Wodehouse's work

You can see it now in the West End at the Duke of York theatre.

Posted on October 17, 2013 at 11:42 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday October 12, 2013

Tadworth Craft Fair


Once again the local crafters impressed me hugely with the quality of their work for sale. I finally succumbed and bought these little beauties - pictured above masquerading as garden gnomes - and although gnomes seem to be fashionable again I think these are somewhat more interesting (though I am probably missing the point of exactly why gnomes are fashionable at the moment). However even if this sort of thing is not to your taste, you can see the quality of the artist behind them - and if you would like contact details then email me using the side buttons. [She also makes commemorative plates and objects on commission].

In addition I bought what were intended as garden dibbers from the wood turner - far too beautiful for that purpose though I intend to give one to George for Christmas. The second one I am keeping for myself to use as a nostepinne. I explained what the latter are to the vendor and suggested that he advertise his product with potential for both purposes. Even though I doubt he will have a queue a mile long for nostepinne, it does broaden the market by about a millimetre.


Posted on October 12, 2013 at 4:44 PM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday October 3, 2013



George bought a new gadget - though to be fair, it hardly qualifies as the (in my book) derogatory term "gadget", since it is based firmly in the local farming tradition around here.


George drinks a lot of fruit juices - and apple is a favourite - and we do seem to own an apple orchard** - so - obvious really.
** Actually we also own a GIANT apple press as well (in one of the buildings), but I fear it would take more than a couple of puny office workers to get it working again.


We experimented with different mixes of apples from different trees. I always imagined that the famous Normandy cider would be fermented from specific varieties like a vintage wine, but the French say that the best cider comes from a complete mix of varieties, which is why you find all kinds of different trees in the orchards. Our conclusion from tasting the juice is that they are (as you would expect) completely right - some of our juice was overly sweet and the finest was definitely one with a sharp undertone alongside the sweetness. And can we remember which mix that was? ....


We were able to make slightly over 8 pints per pressing. We froze it in re-purposed plastic milk bottles - but you can pasteurise it and then bottle it if you don't have enough room in the freezer.

I suspect there will have been some kind of run on these less industrial "home" versions of apple presses, because Monty Don featured them on Gardeners World recently and exhorted everyone to use up their windfalls by making juice. I hasten to add we are no middle class victims of mass marketing - at least not by the BBC(!) - as we ordered ours long before Monty featured them
- so there -
we are avant-garde.

Posted on October 3, 2013 at 6:57 PM. Category: France.

Monday September 30, 2013

Books in September

  • Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh [read by James Saxon]BOM-ClutchOfConstables.jpg
    I have temporarily abandonned Montalbano as in-car entertainment - and gone back to the delightfully dated Inspector Alleyn.
    This is a locked room mystery with Troy taking the active role on a boating excursion in what we would now call "Constable Country", where she is apparently co-incidentally - at many levels - sharing the craft with an internationally famous criminal ("The Jampot" - need I say more).
    Alleyn takes the role of narrator, using the story as a classroom teaching example to new recruits as part of their training.

  • Even Money by Dick and Felix Francis [read by Tony Britton]BOM-EvenMoney.jpg
    A lot of Felix in this book I suspect - but written before Dick passed away. I enjoyed it a lot - it's about a trackside bookie and I found the background pretty interesting.
    It led me to see if Felix was continuing to write - and he is. I read only the synopsis of reviews of his first novel and they mentioned his lack of first-hand racing experience - which is a blow really. Dick ventured into other fields but I always felt his racing plots were the best - in fact some of the non-racing themed books were distinctly ropy. So I hope Felix progresses with his writing without being too bogged down with negative comparisons to his Father, though from what I can see he has a very loyal fan base.

  • A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon BOM-ASpotOfBother.jpg
    This is a very funny book which had me clutching my sides laughing out loud - but pretty black humour really. The title is a pun - with the spot being both literal, (and I can empathise strongly with the emotional concern that a trivial medical condition is actually life threatening!) as well as idiomatic. It does not shy away from serious issues, though, while highlighting all the surprising and unconventional human characteristics that lead to the all-round "bother" in the title.

Posted on September 30, 2013 at 8:17 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday September 24, 2013

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life


To celebrate Rob's birthday I took the day off and we went to the Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain. There is some good restoration going on there at the moment which led to our choosing to have a quick snack at the nearby Morpeth Arms before starting our tour.

The exhibition illustrates his painting "ordinary people" and a lot of industrial scenes from the period. They also chose to exhibit a few works by other painters to illustrate influences and comparisons of the same era. The one thing I noticed was that his earlier work seemed to show much more detailed depictions of the people in the busy crowded scenes, which morphed into the classic stick men as time went on - and yet weirdly the liveliness of the scenes seemed increased with the diminishing detail of the people. In addition as well as the bustling scenes I associate with Lowry, there were many pictures devoid of people, showing desolate and abandoned landscapes, a little reminiscent of WWI scenes of devastation. Take a virtual tour here.

My favourite was a less industrial beach scene, of which I purchased a reproduction as part of a calendar for 2014.


In the evening we had the birthday meal (conventional steaks) at the Arch Duke - here's Rob smugly showing off his pudding. (Also note my pudding in the foreground!).


Rob is now officially of retirement age so I mocked up this possibly pretentious little artwork of my own, representing pipe and slippers. However it is meant to be ironic - at a number of levels of course - not the least of which is that this really is a tiny 3 inch (working) pipe captured in a box frame.


On our way over Vauxhall Bridge in the morning we noticed a passing "Duck" tour and waited to snap them as they entered the water on the other side of the river. It reminded me of the tour I did in Seattle.
We were lucky to see this as a couple of days after they had an accident during a tour (no real injuries sustained thank goodness) and had to suspend the service for a time.

Posted on September 24, 2013 at 8:18 AM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday September 21, 2013

More More buttons


Much the same as the last class - except this time I got to make buttons too!


Posted on September 21, 2013 at 8:16 AM. Category: Crafts.

Tuesday September 17, 2013

ROH "Live"


Some time ago now, 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.

Hence today we went to see another such screening from the Royal Opera House - which I did not realise beforehand, was actually a live feed from Covent Garden. And it was really great.
I'm not totally ignorant of opera, but the natural pleb in me is revealed by the following: I was pleased that there were only 3 acts of about 40 minutes each - most digestible; I loved the fact that they were able to show us little extras and pre-recorded interviews with the singers (you can see them here) before the start of each act; I much appreciated the versatility of the screening in that they could supply sub titles.
Not to forget to mention - the set was terrific - seeing it in the theatre must have been fantastic.

So - a great evening all round - and maybe there will be an "encore" screenings of these opera house productions as well..

Posted on September 17, 2013 at 11:21 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday September 15, 2013

Culprits Caught on Camera!


Throughout this summer we have had visitations from the local wildlife - not the first time - however unusually this year we seem to have had them making free with the plants in the garden ie helpfully trimming all the tops off the fuchsias in the beds close to the house. I know that some of my neighbours a few miles away have a terrible problem, but the area of the heath where we are is bordered on 3 sides by main roads so they rarely find their way to us.
While Alison and her sister and family visited one afternoon in August, the children spotted the deer family nearby and they seemed to be quite tame. And finally here they are again today, right on our doorstep.


Lovely though they are - I do hope they find their way back to the open heath soon.....

Posted on September 15, 2013 at 6:22 PM. Category: The Garden.

Saturday September 14, 2013

Reasons to grow cucumber: 1, 2, 3


This is an unusual recipe which we tried as we have a lot of home-grown cucumbers - and it involves fish, which is very easy for me to find in our very local fishmonger. The dish was unexpectedly delicious - I do not mean I expected it to be horrid (!), but it was quite exceptional. I expected the cucumber to cook like squash and be soft, but it remains crunchy - which may be why you do not often see it cooked.

Recipe by Nigel Slater featured in the Observer and the photo is by Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer.

Cucumber pie (with salmon and prawns)

Serves 2


  • 1½ oz firm white bread
  • Fresh dill
  • grated zest of unwaxed lemon
  • a small cucumber
  • 5 oz salmon
  • 4 oz shelled prawns
  • 3½ oz cod
  • A few capers*
  • 1 oz butter
  • 2½ fl oz double cream

* I left these out of my version as I had none easily available and we are not so keen on them anyway.


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, or Gas Mark 4.
  2. Crumb the bread in a food processor together with a handful of dill and the grated zest of a lemon.
  3. Lightly peel the cucumber, remove the seeds, and then chop into chunks.
  4. Remove the skin from the salmon and cod (or get the fishmonger to remove them with their much sharper knives!), cut both into large chunks and place the pieces of fish into a shallow baking dish along with the shelled prawns.
  5. Tuck the cucumber pieces in between the fish.
  6. Sprinkle in the capers if you are using them (see * above).
  7. Season with salt and black pepper then add the butter chopped in pieces.
  8. Pour over the double cream and then scatter over the dill crumb topping.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes.
  10. Eat.

Posted on September 14, 2013 at 9:11 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Thursday September 12, 2013

A Curious Incident


Easily as good as everyone said it was despite being several cast changes down the line. They told the story, much as the book, from Christopher's point of view, and he was just as appealing in the flesh as he was on the page. It did occur to me later though that there were some unavoidable emotional differences that a stage play had to deal with. In the book, everything from Christopher's viewpoint is very much detached - as if you are seeing things through an emotional barrier. Even though you "know" what's going on in a way that Christopher does not, you are protected from the emotions to some degree. Seeing the other people in Christopher's world in the flesh, however, means you have to deal with them as characters in their own right, and it I think it must have been hard to make them very sympathetic; at the same time you see how very difficult it must have been for them to deal with Christopher because you can see him through their eyes too. Even the "incident" of the dog is at the very least unpleasant - and you have to come to terms with its truly graphic reality in the opening scene.

There were many fun moments, including an amusing idea where certain seats were designated "prime number seats". Not entirely sure how they counted the seats - certainly not using the seat number in any way - anyhow, I was in one of these and I duly played the game, added up the letters of my name using the code as described and found it was indeed a prime number (199) so got my prize.


Posted on September 12, 2013 at 11:59 PM. Category: Art and Culture.



We left it rather later than planned to catch the Pompeii exhibition at the BM and only just made it before the end date. The whole experience was great, focusing on day to day life and small objects and possessions which tell us about the real human side of the people that lived there. I have visited Pompeii and found it really amazing - but what amazes you at the site is the sheer scale of the town, buildings and streets, all still there and in tact. However, it's easy to overlook all the wonderful but smaller archaeological finds. While bringing some of the larger and impressive objects to exhibit (entire frescoes of a garden room for example), the focus is really on the objects of every day living (such as petrified/carbonised loaves of bread), and a whole active picture of working life, tavernas, gambling, and generally having fun.

I found the description of the demographic of the community quite interesting - there were a higher proportion of middle class citizens such as freed slaves, and you get an impression of a tolerant cosmopolitan and less formal society than say Rome itself (whether a correct assumption or not). I see it as Brighton compared with London, or San Francisco compared with New York. Perhaps because of the more down to earth nature of the inhabitants, (trying desperately not to reveal myself as a pretentious class-ridden snob here!), it has to be said that a lot of the every day objects do seem to be rather ... bawdy. Trinkets, artworks, and souvenirs, on a par I feel with the Manneken Pis, so much beloved of the English-folk abroad, and little working models of which adorned the drawing rooms of my aunts and uncles when I was a child.
We, restrained, nicely-brought-up British folk, at the exhibition kept finding ourselves smiling in amused embarrassment as we found ourselves closely examining household items of lamps, statues, or cake stands that turned out to be intimate portraits of priapi ("Good Heavens" "Well I never...")**.

** I note that the Daily Mail summarises this as "how depraved they were" whereas the Independent states they were "very unembarrassed about sex".

Here's a somewhat safer little portrait of a woman with a spindle - alongside which they had actual remains of spindles - not, thankfully, in any unconventional novelty forms.


They had also brought across some of the fossilised remains of the people of Pompeii, which were displayed in soft lighting with a suitably reverent air. Having made the people come to life as so very human, this seemed doubly poignant. They included the highly memorable Muleteer in his sad little pose found (near a mule) by one of the gates to the City. Goodness knows who or what his profession really was but he is the one you always remember from your trip to Pompeii.
I am never sure whether we regard these stone ghosts with true sympathy or whether it appeals to the Victorian Gothic Horror side to our characters - but whichever it is, these figures are fascinating. There have always been some few hundred (I think) such figures preserved, where the voids left in the ash were filled with plaster, however a recent technique using resin has created a woman with the most fantastic detailing down to the very folds of her clothing. This technique is very expensive which perhaps limits its full potential, but is obviously the future of this form of preservation and research.

Posted on September 12, 2013 at 11:58 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday August 31, 2013

Books in August

  • Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum BOM-DontLookBack.jpg
    My first venture into an Inspector Sejer book, and it delighted me from the first - having not so much a surprise ending as a surprise beginning. And I can't say more without spoiling the surprise (beginning).
    The end was pretty good as well - one of those simple solutions where there was all the evidence given to you but still a "whodunnit" nonetheless.
    I have seen mixed reviews about lack of characterisation, which may be true, but I felt it was a good detective story.

  • Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon BOM-DrawingConclusions.jpg
    I'm a great fan of Donna Leon and I enjoyed this book - but the ending really surprised me. Not in terms of the plot but in terms of abruptness. I thought the last chapter must have been missing. Having said that - it was more "arty" to end as she does but I felt I needed some cosy rounding off - after all that hard work investigating and so on. - which makes me feel rather dull-witted!

  • Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly [read by John Chancer] BOM-FifthWitness.jpg
    What can I say? Another great read.
    Maybe a bit heavy on the courtroom detail - the whole plot turning on courtroom tactics, but .... can't stop myself using banal prose like "really good".
    There is also a wonderful twist at the end - again all the evidence there before you, but not seen until the author chooses.

  • Busy Body by M C Beaton [read by Penelope Keith] BOM-BusyBody.jpg
    Another cheerful book with all our old friends present and correct.
    We start and end with the Carsley Ladies (joint meeting); like the village itself, it's a real caricature - but - as is often the case - utterly recognisable for anyone living in a village or belonging to any kind of club or society.
    Hating to admit it but I do empathise with Agatha's complicated relationships with her male friends, and her constant search for the perfect man. However, unlike Agatha, I am convinced that when you meet an appealing and yet unattached man of mature years that it is no accident that he is unattached. Not implying a sinister reason - but there will be a reason.

  • Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell BOM-BoneBed.jpg
    I'm all Scapetta-ed out.
    Well - not really of course.
    We are back into more conventional mad serial killer territory here and back in my comfort zone. Well "not really" to that one as well - but I prefer the politics, anti-Scarpetta conspiracies, and military involvement to be incidental to the plot and not fundamental to it.
    So this offering much more to my taste.
    I found it most interesting to see an interview with Cornwell on ITV's "Crime Thriller Club". The latter is little more than a publicity blurb for the awards of the same name but lots of fun with Mark Billingham in full support for the "this prestigeous" (!) event.

  • PhilipJackson.jpg From BBC Radio 4 Extra I enjoyed recordings of a dramatisation of Terry Pratchett's Night Watch with Philip Jackson* as Sam Vimes, and an original dramatisation of Laurie King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice with James Fox as a very appropriate Sherlock - still sharp but perhaps a little weary.
    * ...Philip Jackson who will always be Inspector Japp to me - and yet what a really skilled actor he is. I have seen him in many roles outside Poirot, (in which he was brilliant - aided by a delightful script "swipe me!"), and he is always utterly convincing with no distracting shades of Japp peeping through.

Posted on August 31, 2013 at 2:48 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Monday August 26, 2013



This is just impossibly cute isn't it?
It appeared on the bakehouse doorstep just after George stepped inside. It was totally mesmerised and appeared to be unable to move to the degree it seemed to us that it might have fallen out of a nest - however, I think it was in the process of fledging. We stepped back and forth over it, and when we were away from it, it cried pitifully - and we could hear again what seemed to be responses from possibly its parents. But they never appeared.

I can't really identify it but on thinking about the birds we see around, I am wondering if it's a baby spotted flycatcher. It's the beak that gives it away a bit. Having looked at the web I find it looks just like this little chap captured on You tube - and the description of the robust flying sounds very similar.


Finally, it fluttered straight up from the step into the nearby apple tree - quite a tough call. There, we watched it sitting and moving - calling all the time. On this basis I think it has probably made it through OK.

Posted on August 26, 2013 at 5:53 PM. Category: France.

Sunday August 25, 2013

Top Cat


Our second week in France and the weather just as promising as our last visit. Again I spent most of my time in the Bakehouse, painting - and <drum roll and excitement> putting the doors on the kitchen wall cupboards.
However, before all that - we arrived on the overnight ferry, and on our way through one of the local villages at the crack of dawn, we saw a sign advertising a vide grenier - so we went. And I found this wonderful cat - he's a wooden money box, which is not obvious. He looks a bit grubby in the photo but he cleaned up well. I love him.


Here is more of Peter's handiwork - and these shelves and their background is mainly what will occupy me in the Bakehouse this week.


Posted on August 25, 2013 at 10:14 AM. Category: France.

Sunday August 18, 2013



Today I went to see Sara (in her new house), little Florence, Rich, and her parents. Actually, I did not spend too much time socialising as we went out walking "downtown" (and it's a lovely town - Rob and I considered moving there when we left Chichester). We visited the allotments, where her Father has two plots (he gave me tips on growing sweet peas - I have managed a single bloom so far - planted them too late or course. See below.)


Anyway - despite wonderful weather and a lovely setting - I took not a single photo - hence the inclusion of my humble bloom above.
However, I did manage to come away with a simply wonderfully generous gift - so its photo graces the head of this page. Beautiful laceweight Posh Yarn - spent rest of day looking for that special project for it.

[This was my first major outing in my "new" mini - it's lovely - and as a source of entertainment it never ceases. Firstly, as it's a company car, they scared me by informing me that it has a Telematics system installed - to check my driving; turns out that this was not true after all - I am relieved to say. After that, the car scared me by cutting the engine while I was waiting at traffic, and appearing to leave the rear doors unlocked despite central locking. All working as designed it seems - an energy saving concept and a proximity key - I really must read the manual! The latter gave us hours if fun while George kept saying "no - it is locked" and then I kept opening it - not realising it was due to my having the key in my hand at the time.]

Posted on August 18, 2013 at 7:50 PM. Category: Friends.

Saturday August 17, 2013



So...while I was living it up at the button workshop, Jennie had entered my hydrangeas in the local horticultural society flower show on my behalf. And they won! Second prize - which is less than I deserve since the idea and execution were all down to Jennie. [Now I feel like part of the plot of Downton Abbey.].


Anyway - as I have mentioned before - the hydrangeas here are lovely.
Nothing to do with me - all down to them - and now, Jennie.


Posted on August 17, 2013 at 5:08 PM. Category: The Garden.

More buttons


Felicity ran another (different) workshop for the Guild on making buttons - in fact she is so oversubscribed we are having to run another one next month.


One of the types (made using a similar sausage techniques to that which we used last time) produces imitation wooden buttons - which, as we observed, can look more like wood than wood itself. (More wood fakery).


Two new techniques were making buttons using air-drying clay painted with an acrylic varnish, and making resin buttons. Felicity brought Adam along (a trained chemist) to manage the two-part resin. They had to compromise on the resin they used as they needed it to be dry within a couple of hours in order to suit the workshop environment. This had several effects - one of which was that Adam was torn between saying: "don't panic - just pour slowly and carefully into the moulds" and: "hurry up...it's all setting...". Another effect is that there were a lot of bubbles caught in the button, which does not have to be the case with a slower setting material; the latter might be easier to handle if one were doing it at home.

Posted on August 17, 2013 at 4:29 PM. Category: Crafts.

Sunday August 11, 2013

Faking it

We've managed two stays in France this August and I spent most of the time working on the bakehouse, where is was lovely and cool despite the humidity.


Here's the progress upstairs, where I have completed the painting and laid most of the floor - with some help from Peter. The flooring is a laminate (sorry) in "rustic oak" - it met the criteria of being robust and not costing an arm and a leg - I also painted the pine beams in "chêne classique" - a very light varnish/stain which proved surprisingly easy to use, and produced a good result - the beams are now also rustic oak....


Peter has subsequently completed the job, doing the tricky bit under the boiler and making a splendid edging for around the trap door. This last part was a pretty awkward space to work in - no mean feat for a chap of normal size, so I am particularly grateful.


The weather has been a delight this summer so when I was not working I was in the garden soaking up the sun (well - in a hammock in the shade of the trees). This has been a bumper year for currants so we spent a good few hours picking, cleaning, eating, and storing. (Blackcurrant fool made with Greek yoghurt.... mmmmmm)


Posted on August 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM. Category: France.

Wednesday July 31, 2013

Books in July

  • The Patience of the Spider and August Heat by Andrea Camilleri
    [translated by Stephen Sartarelli and read by Daniel Philpott]
    BOM-AugustHeat.jpg BOM-ThePatienceOfTheSpider.jpg Another two Montalbano mysteries as "easy listening" in the car. In fact they are so good that it got to the point that I was almost inventing car journeys just so I could listen to more of them. Both very poignant tales - the mysteries are satisfactorily revealed but owing to the nature of the stories (murders) the outcomes could never be described as satisfactory. In August Heat I truly felt for Salvo - he (like me) is of a certain age and not quite able to come to terms with getting older - hardly believing he could be attractive to a beautiful young woman - and yet at the same time - believing. He is still firmly tied to Livia (though she is "away" and blaming him for all kinds of things outside of his control) so there is just lots of guilt and real bitter sadness when realisation strikes.

  • Port Mortuary and Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell
    BOM-RedMist.jpg BOM-PortMortuary.jpg The plots of these books is strongly linked - almost a continuation of one another. I was not keen on Port Mortuary to start with - too much military and cloak and dagger - but it developed into the usual good story and exciting climax. I liked Red Mist a little better - it was more personal to "Kay" - and the "bad guy" was more your traditional run-of-the-mill lunatic and motivations did not involve some military conspiracy theory plot.

  • The Martin Beck Killings: The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö [Translated by Paul Britten and dramatised for Radio 4 by Katie Hims] BOM-LockedRoom.jpg
    Radio 4 has produced the entire Martin Beck series of 10 detective novels by Swedish husband and wife team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in the Saturday afternoon drama slot - and with an enviable cast of excellent British actors.
    The books about Martin Beck and his colleagues in the National Police Homicide Department in Stockholm were written between 1965-1975, (when Per died), and are police procedural novels.
    Unfortunately, I've only managed to catch one of them so far but I think I would quite like to read the books - as usual, it is a challenge to fit a full novel into a 1 hour play.

Posted on July 31, 2013 at 1:24 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday July 27, 2013

Model Engineers 2013


For commemorative reasons (how sad and clumsy that sounds) we went to the Fareham Model Engineers open day at "Railway Field". This is a picture of some family members, enjoying a ride on a model train - as you do.


As well as the trains, there is an exhibition of engineering scale models and some stalls selling bric a brac. I was delighted with this find - a little Rosebud doll - not the highest quality or value but in lovely condition.


Posted on July 27, 2013 at 3:19 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday July 16, 2013

Kitchen Chairs

I bought four chairs in the 1980s which were very second hand even then. So... I've had them a mere 20 years (and we've been using - at least 3 of - them in their sad dilapidated state all that time) and I decided it was finally time to do the long-planned renovation.


Although they are bentwood chairs, they are modern - originally made with seats of plastic cane sheeting. cut and glued in across a frame. When I bought them, they had some water damage, and the cane had been cut away and replaced with thin ply-wood circles, first covered in a white sateen fabric and then covered again with a floral PVC fabric. About 10 years ago, I started work on one of the chairs - removing the seat, and sanding off varnish and re-staining it - but it was very hard and the result was not satisfactory. I checked out professional paint stripping - only to be assured that it does not work on modern "plastic" based varnishes - which explains why I had so many problems. Thus - a hiatus: I had trouble adjusting to the fact that they would have to be painted.

I realised what was stopping me "just getting on with it" was the unwillingness to abandon the natural wood, or settle on a paint colour, and finally having identified the issue, I overcame it. I spent some happy time rubbing down the wood, routing out a base for the seats (removing all the remnants of cane and glue), making new seat bases in MDF, and putting in dowl pegs to hold them in place. I chose Habitat paint (in Beetroot) and John Lewis fabric to match.


They look great.


I started out on this whole project by sanding and waxing/revarnishing the surface of my Habitat pine kitchen table (1970s) which was also in a pretty poor state - now lovely (and still natural wood). All that is left to think about now is that the chair fabric is not "wipe clean" and may not be up to kitchen wear and tear - I am planning to try out HeatnBond Iron-On Vinyl - if I can make it work!

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 1:22 PM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday July 11, 2013

Paul Weller at Kew


We were lucky enough to get tickets for this evening at Kew the Music.


A very civilised evening with our picnic and camping chairs....


Posted on July 11, 2013 at 11:59 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday June 30, 2013

Books in June

  • The Sacred Stone by the Medieval Murderers [read by James Saxon] BOM-TheSacredStone.jpg
    Another collection of short stories by the Medieval Murderers who are authors (and performers); you can read more about them here.
    I do like the idea of a themed collection of stories - this theme concerns the fate of a fragment of an asteroid ( or some such..) with holy powers attributed to it by its owners through the ages - and I enjoyed this set more than House of Shadows; I did like some of the stories more than others but I'm not prepared to say which ones! They might be used as a guide to the quality of an author's solo works - but I am not sure because short story writing is an art in itself and not necessarily a good indicator of all writing in different forms.

    • Prologue: Greenland, 1067: by Susanna Gregory
      In which the stone is discovered by a band of hunters
    • Act 1: Welsh Border, 1103: by Simon Beaufort
      In which the stone causes a rift between Church and State
    • Act 2: North Devon, 1236: by Bernard Knight
      In which the stone is invoked to heal a manor lord's sick wife
    • Act 3: Norwich, 1241: by Karen Maitland
      In which the stone is acquired by a Jewish merchant
    • Act 4: Oxford, 1272: by Ian Morson
      In which the stone finds its way to King Henry's bedchamber
    • Act 5: London & Jersey, 1606: by Philip Gooden
      In which the stone plays a part in the kidnap of Nick Revill
    • Epilogue: Present Day
      In which the stone resurfaces

  • The Voice of the Violin and Rounding the Mark by Andrea Camilleri
    [translated by Stephen Sartarelli and read by Daniel Philpott]
    BOM-VoiceOfTheViolin.jpg BOM-RoundingTheMark.jpg I've been listening to these in the car - and how wonderful they are. Daniel Philpott is a great reader - and somehow manages to get plausible accents and jokes even spoken in English (with credit also due to the translator of course).
    I have seen the TV adaptations and can't really find that they left much out (from memory). However, when I watched the TV version of the Terracotta Dog I found a lot seemed to be missing - and I found a web review where the reader said a later novel was not a patch on the previous one (Terracotta Dog) - and I am thinking that these later novels are perhaps getting a little slimmer - and thus are more suited - or perfect - for adaptations. Add to that, throughout his career Camilleri has studied and worked as a director and screenwriter, so clearly has an excellent eye for visual and dramatic interpretations.

  • The Teahouse Detective - The de Genneville Peerage by Baroness Orczy [Radio Play] BOM-TheTeahouseDetective.jpg
    A BBC Radio 4 series adapted from a series of short stories written by Baroness Orczy between 1901 and 1925.
    The original book called The Old Man In the Corner is about an unnamed armchair detective who examines and solves crimes while sitting in the corner of a genteel London tea-room in conversation with a female journalist ("Polly").
    8 stories were adapted and broadcast in 1998 and 2000 featuring Bernard Hepton as the eponymous hero - I managed to catch only one of them (recently rebroadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra) thanks to the vagueries of BBC iPlayer.

  • The Serpent's Back by Ian Rankin [Radio Play] BOM-TheSerpentsBack.jpg.jpg
    This appears as a short story in Beggars Banquet but this version is a radio play written by Rankin and broadcast first in 1995. It's a black comedy set in 18th-century Edinburgh.
    "Mr Cullender, a resourceful caddie and manservant, searches for a double murderer in the seething Old Town of Edinburgh."
    Directed in Edinburgh by Patrick Rayner with Alexander Morton, Richard Greenwood, Norman Maclean, Paul Young, Kern Falconer, Wendy Seager, Tom Smith, Liam Brennan, Michael Elder, Simon Scott, Sheila Donald and Steven McNicoll.
    Sadly I missed the second play with the same character: The Third Gentleman.

  • Thorndyke, Forensic Investigator by R Austin Freeman
    [adapted for Radio 4 Extra and read by Jim Norton] ] BOM-Thorndyke.jpg.jpg
    Dr John Evelyn Thorndyke (pretty clearly) bears direct comparison with Sherlock Holmes - given the dates, 1907-1942, and his methods - and though he is focussing on physical evidence, in truth, Holmes is much the same ("give me data"). In addition, Thorndyke is described as tall, athletic, handsome, and clever, yet unmarried, and his friend and foil, Christopher Jervis, acts as narrator.
    The 9 adaptations are 15 minutes each and seemed a little stark or lacking in warmth when compared with Doyle's stories. It is possible that the style of the full novels may lend themselves better to a more rounded and less brusque manner of dealing with a plot.

Posted on June 30, 2013 at 1:23 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday June 29, 2013



When I got home I had a surprise parcel waiting for me with a delightful cotton top Alison has knitted for me. I had to put it on immediately of course - and it looks great I think.
It's the Regatta Tee by Olga Casey.

Posted on June 29, 2013 at 6:34 PM. Category: Knitting.

Shugborough Estate


Despite buying a two-day ticket for Woolfest (they deserve it - it's not an expensive event) I did not feel the need to return today; I was ready to go at 9 and would have had to wait an hour for it to open. So I headed straight off home.
As usual, I looked for a National Trust property to look at on the way back and hit on Shugborough - the (former) family seat of the Earls of Lichfield.

There was one miscalculation in that they were hosting a food festival - so it was very busy getting on to the property - but once in I had a lovely time (though I did not have time to visit the festival).

As well as the rest of the house which has been open to the public ever since it was donated to the NT in 1960, they have recently opened Patrick Lichfield's private apartments, as he died in 2005, and they were interesting - but I did not feel very at ease - for me he is almost a peer (no pun intended), dying at only 66 years of age - the swinging 60s are still quite tangible and it seemed like an invasion of privacy, poking around his bedroom. (Emotions that I do not feel looking at the apartments of long-dead Kings.).
I did enjoy his study though - it was more like I had been invited in and was sufficiently "lived in" and comfortable that it seemed that he might join me at any moment. [In fact maybe that was the issue with the bedrooms and so on - it seemed like he might join me at any moment and ask me what the devil I was doing there - thus wholly inappropriate!]

The gardens were great too - due to the way it was gifted to the NT and then leased to Staffordshire County Council, it has remained a working estate (again I passed on some of the additional attractions of the farm/rare breeds and so on due to time as well as because they were all additional charges beyond my NT membership - but it's clear you could spend a very varied day out here).

Posted on June 29, 2013 at 3:15 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday June 28, 2013

Woolfest 2013


Back at Woolfest again this year for an indulgent time all to myself. The weather was not as appalling as last year, but it did rain once again.... My first two visits must have been a fluke.

My first act was to check out my pennant - and here it is (centre of photo below) - still in place. My second act was to check out Spindlers2 and buy .... just perhaps a couple of things from them .... ahem...


Other than that I did not come away weighted down with purchases in general. A couple of small gifts and a membership of the rare breeds trust in hand - plus a small bag of alpaca from the fleece sale.
I bought some cashmere and silk fibre from Knitwitches - their yarns are wonderful - "seriously gorgeous" in fact. There was a bit of a distraction on their stand while I was there as Eirwen had just discovered that she had lost one of her sample shawls (presumably to a despicable thief - need I say more) - words fail me really...
No specific pattern for it yet except I know I want to make a shawl - actually I wanted to make a navy shoulder shawl as I seem to be short of one such on this trip - however I find the colourway I have purchased, called "Nightshade" (I was thinking "night"), is more purple (they were thinking "plant").

In the evening, I joined Carol and Pete (the Spindlers2) plus friends for a meal at the Bitter End in Cockermouth - a really good end to the day in nice relaxing company.

And after that.... it was back to the dear old Derwent Bank where I managed to get a room again this year. There have been a few changes since I was last here - probably on balance to the good - certainly more commercial. A little cafe has opened which is a nice addition, meaning you can get food throughout the day - plus you can book your evening meal viably before 6 rather than the preceding day - which was tricky for late arrivals. They threatened me with an Internet connection - but it didn't quite work out for me on the day (!) - and then just as I was wondering how to spend my first quiet evening, (yesterday), I did a double take when I noticed that my room had a television - so I was able to watch Wimbledon - perfect.


Posted on June 28, 2013 at 1:12 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday June 15, 2013

DIY Pin Loom


Carried away with the concept of Pin Looms, I decided that the major thing stopping me making one was a general inability to work successfully with wood. While buying a picture frame, I noticed there were square picture frames available that, (I thought), with the mere addition of a few nails, I could make into a pin loom myself.
The result was as above.

I was aware of a number of factors as I tried this out, and the main problem was, as I suspected, I did crack the wood - I plan to address this with a rework, but I wanted to show what happened here - and for the moment the loom does work fine as it is.


A number of the Guild members also tried it today, and they also cracked the frames, and gave up, However, everyone liked the weaving idea and went home with the intention of getting their husbands to make the wooden square out of a harder wood.

I should mention that I am completely aware that all the materials and method were not ideal, but I stuck with it with the following considerations:

  • the materials** were cheap and fairly easily commercially available;
  • the nails are much too heavy duty for the flimsy pin frame - but you need them to be fairly tough to sustain the weaving;
  • upholstery tacks have rather too large heads;
  • the heads of these nails are a little too big but you do need something to stop the yarn slipping off, so panel pins are not really ideal either;
  • you could drill pilot holes to stop the nails cracking the wood - but then you need to be really careful to keep the drill properly upright, which is not easy without a support - and suddenly it's a manufacturing activity not a simple bit of craft.
  • This is little sample of my weavings made into a cover for a microwavable hot pad. Don't be put off - my colour choices are not so good, plus the camera has picked up the inconsistencies - one of which is due to my sewing the square in with the "wrong" side exposed where I have threaded in the ends!


    ** The materials were: a 4 inch square Box Frame from Wilkinsons (currently available at half price), and 64 x 25mm round head nails, which were spaced evenly along the centre line at about a quarter of an inch apart, 17 nails from corner to corner on each side.
    A couple of tips are - it is more essential to keep the nails in a straight line than it is to worry about the spacing being very precise, try blunting the nails before hammering in, which is a technique to avoid cracking the wood, and when finished, mark each alternate nail with a spot of coloured paint or nail varnish - it helps when using the loom.

    Posted on June 15, 2013 at 7:37 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

    Friday May 31, 2013

    Books in May

    • Started Early Took My Dog by Kate AtkinsonBOM-StartedEarlyTookMyDog.jpg
      I've had this book in my possession for a very long time - I had just read the first 3, and at the same time we had the first series of the TV adaptation. Now at last I got round to reading the 4th - and here it is on TV again.
      So before I launch into a lot more text - which is mainly about the TV and not about the book - may I say - it's great - do read it.

      The TV adaptations have now wandered so far from Jackson's life in books that they are finding it hard to get back on track - which they are trying to do, I think - now that they want to make more shows and yet keep using the books as source material. I don't really see why they needed to alter the plots quite so much. My biggest regret for this book is that "Tracy and Courtney" are the real stars with eccentric and yet convincing characters despite the extraordinary circumstances that they both find themselves in, and also create - and they even used Victoria Wood to play Tracy who would have been great if she'd actually been asked to play the character in the book but instead she played a rather serious woman with a past, in a dead beat job. As to book-Courtney - she was a wonderfully stoic kid with a good deal of her own dry wit, coming across loud and clear despite little dialogue - but on TV she was a sullen child showing signs of the abuse she had clearly been experiencing in her short life to date. Added to that they skipped the charming enigma of whose child Courtney actually was.... the mystery was simply removed.
      I do realise they have to change stories to make them fit their 1.5 hour format*, and granted Kate Atkinson's rather black humour and interesting morality might not be considered suitable... (though really: why not? - I mean after all, the stories and characters do actually have a pretty clear moral compass).
      No. I'm afraid the only saving grace to make you want to continue watching the TV adaptations is in the shape of Jackson himself - that one they seen to have got completely right. Jason Isaacs hits completely the right note.

      * ... and that's another thing... why not reap the benefits of the rich plot lines you can get from a full blown novel .... and .... make the drama longer. Hey - here's an idea - have several parts to cover one story - you could, say, call it a "serial".
      I know. I know. People just don't have the attention span these days to watch a whole series that they have to wait for every week ... Oh but wait... I seem to remember some foreign thing... The Killing? And we had to sit through enough episodes of flipping wonderful-but-sure-as-heck-long Broadchurch for goodness sake....

    • Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham [read by Toby Longworth] BOM-RushOfBlood.jpg
      Another stand-alone novel without Thorne - though he does make an appearance towards the end and we learn something about his new circumstances after the debacle surrounding the end of his last case.
      As usual, I was prejudiced against this novel - not the classic police detective murder mystery, new characters to get to know, and a different writing format. Our old friend the serial killer was still there though, and of course, I am sure the change was very refreshing for the author and this comes over in making the novel more interesting and fresh for the reader too.
      That killer though - totally bonkers or what? I do hope Thorne follows through tying up loose ends on that at a later date.

    • Cover Her Face by P D James [Radio Play] BOM-CoverHerFace.jpg
      A BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of P D James first Dalgliesh book - a replay from Radio 4 Extra (or 7 as I like to think of it) seemingly from 2002. This one not exactly starring Hugh Grant - though the blurb featured him heavily. I was never sure what to make of his character - Felix - I thought he was "the good guy" and yet James writes complex characters, and none of them is particularly likeable - with the exception of Dalgliesh of course - and even he's a bit odd.
      The real "star" is Sian Philips (as the matriarch and narrator) with her wonderful and distinctive voice. We are currently enjoying her portrayal of Livia in a rerun of "I Cladius" from the 1970s; marvellous actress in a marvellous role.

    • The Sign in the Sky by Agatha Christie [Read by Martin Jarvis] BOM-MysteriousMrQuin.jpg
      From Radio 4's 15 minute Afternoon Readings, and written in the 1920s, this is the 3rd of 3 recent readings featuring Harley Quin - a character who turns up from time to time and inspires the somewhat introverted bachelor Mr Satterthwaite to come out of his shell and see that justice is done. [In this episode he inspires him to whizz off to Canada...]. There have been at least half a dozen of these stories in this series - perfectly read by Martin Jarvis - taken from the book of short stories The Mysterious Mr Quin.
      There are two other stories featuring these two characters, The Harlequin Tea Set and The Love Detectives from Problem at Pollensa Bay, which I read in 2009.
      Mr Satterthwaite turns up in the novel Three Act Tragedy alongside Poirot - for no apparent reason, other than perhaps Christie was apparently fond of him. His character was omitted in the recent TV adaptation, with David Suchet and Martin Shaw, but he was played delightfully by George Cole in the BBC Radio 4 "full cast dramatisation".

    • Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie [Radio Play] BOM-SadCypress.jpg
      BBC Radio 4 Extra "full cast dramatisation" with John Moffat as Hercule Poirot, and Emma Fielding as Elinor Carlisle, directed by Enyd Williams.
      Helen and I were just discussing the book and agreeing that it is a favourite, even though in my opinion it's pretty dark. This comes across in this radio play and the TV adaptation with David Suchet. The character Mary Gerrard is portrayed as charming, sensible, cheerful, and kind - she regularly visits and reads to an elderly lady. She wants to "make something of herself" using the opportunities she has been given by said elderly lady - perhaps training as a nurse. So her death should really be a poignantly sad event - instead of which she seems just a pawn in the plot, and Elinor Carlisle is heavily portrayed as the sad victim (even though, as Helen observes "she is still actually alive"). Mary's real problem is that she is very beautiful, and, (Helen again) Agatha does not much like beautiful women; they are often portrayed as flighty, naive butterfly creatures - often rich - victims who put their trust in the wrong people, (viz: Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, The Plymouth Express, The Blue Train). Interestingly, Mary does not quite fit the mould - she is not rich, (although money does seem to be the motive for her demise) and sees straight through Elinor's weak - but presumable handsome! - cousin Roddy. However, none of this is enough to save her. Poor Mary.
      Emma Fielding is pretty perfect for the role of Elinor, a thoroughly decent but slightly icy character, who is confused by her emotions of jealously, ill-will, and ultimately guilt. But as Poirot says - thinking about murdering someone is not the same as acting on it, and luckily he is there to save the day.
    • On BBC Radio iPlayer and Listen Again I have also been enjoying Dixon of Dock Green, Alan Garner's Elidor, and Father Brown Stories with Andrew Sachs.

    Posted on May 31, 2013 at 9:18 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

    Monday May 27, 2013

    Pin Loom Weaves


    Not sure when the idea first came to me but I decided to weave some squares to make a backing for my latch-hook cushion (Christmas gift from Alison) using a weaving frame made for me a couple of years ago by Father George. Serendipitously, four squares (about 7 inches each) are exactly the right size, and I am very pleased with the result.


    I guess it may not look so very impressive but it's exactly right for a rustic looking backing for this cushion.
    The yarn was some Gotland handspun by Felicity - with which she was disappointed since the yarn turned out fairly hard and coarse - and without being too discourteous to Felicity, this was partly the fibre and partly the spinning - however, it was a great delight to find something for which it is so well-suited.
    I crocheted the squares together, making a decorative join, having made 4 using the weaving technique demonstrated below (by Hazel) on a modern Hazel Rose Loom.

    With my loom, the spacing of the nails means it's really designed for a very chunky yarn, and even then it's a very loose weave. The yarn I used is not very stretchy so it was not going to spring back to a closer weave of its own accord - I tried a test piece and found I could not further shrink it either. So for this project I decided to re-ply Felicity's 2 ply into 6 ply (by just Navaho plying her yarn) which made for an unbalanced yarn - but this did not matter for the weaving - then I used the yarn double. [It's better to use the yarn double rather than trying for a bulkier ply, as the yarn is not rounded but lies flatter in the weave, so you end up with a closer weave, but not a thicker fabric].
    I am now inspired to try a blanket...! and while you pick yourself up off the floor laughing, I should say, that this process was exceedingly quick - I completed it in an afternoon, including the spinning and the test piece.

    My introduction to this technique was through seeing a (Hazel Rose Loom) demonstration at Unravel one year. So I thought the above diagonal weave was the only way these pin looms are used. Gradually I became aware that in fact there were a lot of vintage pin/hand looms around in America from around the 1940s and a number of people spoke of them with great affection - there are quite a few always available on eBay which fetch pretty good prices - especially if they include the instructions!. There are many different patterns that can be achieved on these looms but the technique used is more like conventional weaving. Here is Hazel again demonstrating the "weave-it" technique on a Hazel Rose Loom.

    Hazel Rose Looms are beautifully made from wonderful woods - but they do seem a bit steep to buy. If you fancy having a go and want to make a DIY loom - here is an idea to make a loom by mutilating an old book. I think maybe a bit less easy to use than a wooden frame but it might convince you whether or not to spend the money on the real thing.

    The slightly sad footnote to this is that I never felt I made my appreciation known to Father George for his efforts in making this loom for me - and I never used it in any project for him to see. In fact I feel I was rather ungrateful at the time and now he's not around any more so I'll just have to come to terms with the vague disquiet I feel about it. I kind of hope that somehow he knows how much I (we all) valued his skills and his gifts.

    Posted on May 27, 2013 at 8:09 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

    Monday May 20, 2013

    The problem with automation...

    ...is that it's simply not a person.
    I finished the little fair-isle waistcoat (Debbie Bliss design) - and found an error. It's one row offset wrongly and wouldn't really happen with hand knitting - or if it did you would notice it immediately you looked at it from a right side row. Instead, I did not notice until I was pressing it. You can compare the top set of navy blocks with the bottom set.


    So now I have painstakingly unpicked it and grafted new stitches in on just that one row. Machine knitting is quicker than hand - but not quick enough to contemplate redoing the whole thing. I have also (by design) cheated here, in that there is a single row of red yarn to go into these little navy blocks, where I decided the strand at the back of the work was too long - seeing as it's for a child, I think he might catch it - so I am swiss embroidering the red dots.
    You can see it in this pop-up of the finished item.

    Posted on May 20, 2013 at 11:08 PM. Category: Knitting.

    Saturday May 18, 2013



    So... "shibori" sounded very exotic until I read wikipedia which told me it was the age old Hippy standby "tie dye" (although I think to be fair that's only a part of it). As a child of the 70s, it seemed very familiar in concept - but so much more interesting in practice. I think at the time I was too young to really have a go myself - just saw the T-shirts!
    Above you see the class "show and tell".


    We had a splendid day with Jennifer teaching us; the only limitation being that one day was not long enough to explore everything.


    Having impulsively invested in a whopping great piece of silk organza (never seen any in pure silk before but could not resist) I was delighted at the result - which was using the fabric folded and then wrapped.


    Felicity went to town with the stitched panel, and made a bee. She also had some beautifully executed circles, and made a "doughnut" scarf. I think my favourite was the "larch" stitch pattern which I plan to experiment with further at home.


    Posted on May 18, 2013 at 4:46 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

    Wednesday May 15, 2013



    This is Alan Bennett's new play about.... what .... I am wondering.
    That may sound like a bad start - but it was a great play, with so much in it that I find it hard to distil it down to a single grand point. Indeed, Robert certainly had an interpretation, centring on politics of the 1980s, and thus obviously pit closures. Myself, I think it's easy to see it as a generic criticism of the National Trust organization - but I can't think it's that, or even that Bennett dislikes it with such a passion that he was driven to write an entire play about it. I think more that it's a about a sense of loss of the past - what was every day life becomes no longer ordinary and thus no longer to be taken for granted. And though it's not so much that you should not try to preserve it, but that you cannot really preserve it, because it is no longer ordinary. As with relativity - you observe it closely, and it changes - becomes a "Pretend England"

    This short film People: A Pretend England is well worth the 8 minutes - and Bennett himself describes his feelings about the play.

    This image below makes the play look rather manic - which it is not - but Rob loved Linda Bassett's slippers, so I am including it for that...


    Posted on May 15, 2013 at 11:24 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

    Sunday May 12, 2013

    MayDaysArtsTrail 2013


    We spent the day on Hayling Island - we had a great lunch at the Olive Leaf pub and restaurant, and made a brief foray out on to the beach - but it was a bit too bracing to stay long - or even "at all"!

    The main reason we were there was to see Lou's open house. She had a lot of her "students" work on show this year - including a memorial room dedicated to Sheila's work - from which you can gather that Sheila is no longer with us. Since I still find it rather hard to believe, let alone accept, I can't really say much more than to let her work speak for itself.





    Posted on May 12, 2013 at 5:53 PM. Category: Quilting.

    Monday May 6, 2013

    May Bank Holiday


    We had a pretty full schedule over the weekend (mine was totally self serving, devoting self to hair-do, pedicure and buying myself bunches of flowers). But we spent the holiday Monday, (which, against all the rules, was a lovely sunny day), at the allotment.
    George was putting up bean supports - but he quickly found he had no hope of competing with the amazing edifice constructed by our neighbour, John. The photos show George doing the hard bit, digging in compost and putting edging boards in place, in the morning when there was some cloud cover. By the afternoon we were sweltering under clear sunny skies.
    [My contribution was supplying thermos flasks of tea, and a bit of weeding in the asparagus bed - from which we cropped and ate 2 twigs today... My abandoned orange-handled fork visible on the bed at the right of the picture as evidence of my activity. Pretty yellow dandelions visible in the strawberry bed in the foreground were dealt with later - this bed is also full of the prettiest blue wild flowers, which I am sad to have to remove...]


    The beans in the afternoon sunshine, waiting to be planted out. [It's still very cold at night here - everything is very late].


    Posted on May 6, 2013 at 7:06 PM. Category: The Garden.

    Tuesday April 30, 2013

    Books in April

    I know! Six books.... [Well, I was on holiday, and they were exciting....]

    • In the Dark by Mark Billingham [read by Adjoa Andoh] BOM-InTheDark.jpg
      As I promised myself, I went back to read the stand-alone novel with Thorne as "a peripheral character". It was excellent, and I engaged with our new heroine "Helen" right away. I think she is an excellent addition to Thorne's friends and I hope we see much more of her. Much better than the colourless Louise - I guess Mark likes her better.
      Prepare to get your hankies out though... it's not all happy endings.

    • Sovereign by C J Sansom BOM-Sovereign.jpg
      I like to read books in the "right" order but unfortunately this is the 3rd novel in the Shardlake series and I have not read the 2nd yet. However, apart from offending my anally retentive nature, this made not a jot of difference to my enjoyment of the book.
      It dwells to an eye-watering degree on medieval methods of torture, and the high possibility and extreme fear of being wrongly accused. Some criticism has been made of Sansom's overly detailed writing style - but I find what he says interesting enough not to notice.

    • The Black House by Peter MayBOM-TheBlackHouse.jpg
      Such a great read that I immediately shelled out for book 2 of what is apparently a trilogy. (Not the norm you will notice - most of my books are gifts or loans). After the high drama of this one, it's hard to see how there could be 2 more plots.
      I did find that at the start the flavour of the book affected me at a rather fundamental level - the hero's general discontent with his marriage struck some kind of chord - I really found it almost too depressing as it seemed weirdly true to life. However, much to my relief, all was explained at the end in a manner with which I most certainly cannot empathise - even weirdly - so I do not have to come to terms with quite such a bleak world view.
      I am optimistic that he will continue with 3 books with "happy" endings....

    • Swing Brother Swing by Ngaio Marsh [read by James Saxon] BOM-SwingBrotherSwing.jpg
      This book, also entitled "A Wreath for Riviera" in the US edition, is from 1949 and the 15th in the series - so we are back to a time when Alleyn and Troy's son Ricky. is a mere baby. It's a delightful period piece and the plot is completely preposterous as befits a traditional murder mystery of this era (effectively a locked-room mystery). Have to confess I was pretty sure who dunnit, though, astonishingly, the police were a lot slower to catch on - they probably didn't realise they were in a novel.

    • There Goes the Bride by M C Beaton [read by Penelope Keith] BOM-Sovereign.jpg
      Time to catch up on Agatha's rural life - though this one sees her on a few foreign trips to kick off the novel. No surprises as to what happens to James Lacey's new fiance. (How does James manage to fall for such appalling women? I think MC has men pretty well summed up in their unfailing weakness for good looks and youth - and when they come in the same package.... irresistable).

    Posted on April 30, 2013 at 9:32 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

    Saturday April 27, 2013

    3D split-ply


    Above my efforts at making a bowl shape - unfinished needless to say! I really do like this form of braiding, but I can't see myself ever being able to make up my own patterns, and instructions are not quite as simple to find as those for, say, knitting....
    I did go as far as purchasing my own gripfyd this time.

    Maybe ... an octopus... sea anemone...

    Posted on April 27, 2013 at 12:00 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

    Sunday April 14, 2013



    This is vicarious travel.
    George went to Dallas (conference).
    He went sight-seeing, and took this photo, texting me as he stood there.


    Posted on April 14, 2013 at 11:54 AM. Category: Days Out.

    Saturday April 6, 2013

    Sheep .... in the garden

    Our final day in France - and a small flock of sheep came trotting down the drive with a shepherdess in hot pursuit. The were quite purposeful - as well as charming - but I was only able to catch a photo when they had panicked and escaped into the adjacent field. I'm not sure how the adventure ended......

    Posted on April 6, 2013 at 1:28 PM. Category: France.

    Wednesday April 3, 2013

    Big Friendly Giants

    THT or BFG?


    Today we went on a little tour in the car. Very 1960s. Very "My Mother".

    The planned invasion of the lignes tres haute tension with pylons stomping along the edge of our property (like the community waste dump before it) is now complete. So to celebrate (obviously) our tour was based around following the lines, which actually - if you had no sat nav - do provide an excellent set of landmarks for finding your way home.


    Above we have the lines stretching forth into the distance - sometimes following the road, and sometime not - while we zig-zag back and forth under them - never quite losing sight. Below we have come to the end of the tour, reaching our own road, and the closest pylon to it.


    The obligatory anarchistic graffiti (someone has to do it) says "LA THT NE PASSERA PAS!" - but I'm afraid it did, (and it's female.....?).
    Our house is across the fields to the right so we have wonderful views of this pylon - framed by the bedroom window - and the one in the distance behind it - framed by the bakehouse French windows at the back (and from the planned conservatory).
    You can see the bedroom view of the pylon in the snow picture - along with a buzzard, out hunting early, who was presumably as mystified by the weather as we were.


    I can quite candidly say that I definitely wish the pylon thing had not happened, and there really are no compensating factors* - except perhaps for the Spanish (recipients) and EDF (profiteers). However, there is some element of these constructions that is quite majestic, and rather jolly - in some cases, the insulator "arms" are set at different angles which give them a sense of movement and a definite jaunty air.
    But.... I am not living here permanently or bringing up small children to be concerned about purported negative effects of "waves" - but even if I were I don't think I would be feeling the need to construct bacofoil hats.

    [* at least with the land fill there is some vague suggestion that it is planned for a finite time and then will be filled back in.... I am fully expecting a wind farm project to be next on the list of environmental tragedies for this property]

    Posted on April 3, 2013 at 9:07 AM. Category: France.

    Monday April 1, 2013

    Beating the Bounds


    By Saturday afternoon the snow had vanished - despite laying moderately thickly, the temperatures were quite high enough to cause an immediate thaw to set in.
    We did a tour of the boundary checking up on the horse chestnut tree, which seems to be showing signs of being a real tree now, growing strong and straight since it was released from its pot. Only 40 years until it flowers - though I have had it since 1997, so - not long to go! [George obligingly providing scale].
    Perhaps when it reaches maturity it will obscure the splendid view of the newly erected electricity pylons - more of this later.


    The rhubarb seems to have survived the winter, though the spring seems to be pretty challenging. Every time the plants give it a go, there is a sudden frost.


    The latest addition to the Bakehouse - shutters to stop the rain pouring in the "French" windows. Here it is in the sunshine - looking like butter wouldn't melt in it's mouth.

    Posted on April 1, 2013 at 4:41 PM. Category: France.

    Sunday March 31, 2013

    Books in March

    • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs BOM-PeculiarChildren.jpg
      Well.... how peculiar is this.
      I guess it's as a fantasy novel, though this was not entirely clear to me at the outset - which I guess is to its credit. The author invents an "other" time-travelling world with its own set of rules and so on which makes me think this may be intended as the start of a series - especially how the book ends with the characters setting out on a "quest".
      We'll see.
      Anyway, the interest, or gimmick, in this book is that the author has a collection of interesting examples of weird and wonderful photos from the late 19th or early 20th century. He has used these with some lent by others, and written a story around them. The photos are interesting in their own right but the story would probably stand on its own too I think.
      Some of the pictures involve "trick" photography with (then) new techniques - like those that produced the infamous fairies at the bottom of the garden that fooled Conan Doyle. I can begin to see from this where this author's interests lie. On looking up his other work, I find that his apparently only other work is The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, which is (maybe) written by a (young) American, for (young) Americans eg was cocaine really legal back then? and why were the British so terrified of Australia? but it's an amusing tome that I had co-incidentally bought as a little gift for Tony last year - who likes all things Sherlock.

    • Last Ditch by Naio Marsh [read by James Saxon] BOM-LastDitch.jpg
      This is the twenty-ninth novel featuring Inspector Alleyn, and was first published in 1977. It's set in the Channel Islands, with Alleyn and Troy's (now adult) son, Ricky, in a central role; I enjoyed this a lot, having read some of the novels before Alleyn met Troy, during their early relationship, and one when Ricky was a small boy. Although Ricky is an impossibly decent fellow - just how you'd like your son to be - and though it's clear he respects his parents, they are very much his parents, and he has his own life private from them. His youth and freshness are well-conveyed along with his adolescent style crush on the sophisticated older woman and so on, while his Father offers an air of experience and solid support.

    • Clean Break by Val McDermid [Radio Play] BOM-CleanBreak.jpg
      A BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of a Kate Brannigan mystery starring Charlotte Coleman as the Manchester-based private eye.
      The plot? Thieves steal a Monet from a stately home where Kate had arranged the security. She sets off on a chase that takes her across Europe bringing her head to head with organised crime.
      Can't say I warmed to Kate very much.....

    • A Series of Murders by Simon Brett [Radio Play] BOM-ASeriesOfMurders.jpg
      Part of the Charles Paris series of novels, many of which seem to have been produced on BBC Radio 4 starring the delightful Bill Nighy as a very convincing Charles - just the right mix of likeable charm and weakness.
      Charles Paris has landed a nice juicy part playing Sergeant Collins in a TV detective series. Needless to say, a cast member is killed, and although it seems like an accident, Charles can't shake the suspicion that she was murdered. On top of all that he tries to stay away from booze and women, in order to get back together with his wife.
      I have often heard the odd episode of these series while driving, (they seem to be on mid-morning), so it was great to hear one all the way through.

    Posted on March 31, 2013 at 3:04 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

    Saturday March 30, 2013

    Snow in Summer

    It's Easter Saturday in France.
    I repeat EASTER Saturday,
    and this is the scene that greeted me on awakening.
    [OK I suppose technically it's Spring].

    Posted on March 30, 2013 at 7:56 AM. Category: France.

    Friday March 15, 2013

    Gotta new motor?


    So ..... some guy wantonly drove into the side of Rob's car - which was a bit of a blow as he was fond of it. The result being that the insurance company decided it was a write-off, which it may have been technically (ie the car was not worth more than the repair) but in reality only needed the passenger door replacing.
    So ..... while they are busy sorting it all out, (I say "busy" but they are taking weeks), Rob has been driving around in this huge tank of a vehicle, which all-told has cost the insurance company as much to hire, as he is being compensated for the loss of his car.
    I guess it's kind of fun.

    Posted on March 15, 2013 at 10:48 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

    Saturday March 9, 2013

    Designing in colour


    Today was our Guild AGM and our speaker for the afternoon was Bobbie Kociejowski who is a fabulous weaver - above is some of her work - but today she talked to us about colour theory. As I understand more about colour, or perhaps more about combinations of colours, the more astonishing I find it - whether it's through a blending and dyeing practical workshop or Rob explaining to me about lighting design. It's because I just tend to take the colours around me for granted without really appreciating how extraordinary the concept is.
    When, for example, Geordi La Forge - a fictional blind character from Startrek - explains how his (futuristic) visor is able to accurately interpret wavelengths of light and enable him to have "some kind of vision", it makes it sound like he has a more complex version of a stick to somehow feel his way around - when in fact he is really only describing how our eyes actually work.


    At the end of the afternoon, we drew the raffle - we had so many contributions this year that I think everyone got a prize - mine being a wonderful wallflower - a wonderful deep red colour - very apt!


    Posted on March 9, 2013 at 9:03 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

    Tuesday March 5, 2013

    Anais Mitchell at Cecil Sharp House

    Rob got tickets for this event where Anaïs Mitchell was appearing with collaborator Jefferson Hamer. They have released a (short) CD* of a few of the ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 19th century, and played the set here, along with some other tracks from Hadestown, and Young Man in America. Anaïs described the venue as the "perfect spiritual home" for the performance.
    The song in the clip above has to be a favourite, though, as they joked, their first 3 numbers featured various "Willie"s - not the same character - which they referred to to as a Willogy. This one has a lovely sense of intimacy plus a happy ending.

    They performed with their guitars amplified, but for their "encore", stepped off the stage "unplugged" with just voice and acoustic. Though I can't say if it would have been disappointing for those farther back in the audience, I thought it was just lovely. Their voices, harmonies and guitar were all perfectly balanced, and I would have been happy to hear all the numbers like that.

    * At the end of the evening, they were selling the not only the CD but, interestingly, they have had some vinyl impressions made of the music..... I have never heard that before - must be a new nerdy interest group.

    Posted on March 5, 2013 at 10:32 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

    Thursday February 28, 2013

    Books in February

    • The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers [Radio Play]BOM-TheNineTailors.jpg
      Another BBC radio play starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, from the novel of 1934, which is apparently the 9th Wimsey novel. I'm having trouble dating the recording date of this radio play, but it was also made as a TV adaptation in 1974 (which I remember seeing) with similar if not the same cast.
      The plot is a bit better than the shenanigans at the Belladonna Club - but I think the criticisms of Wimsey and his world, in that they lack of realism, don't have much relevance when reviewing the stories now.
      The explanation of the title is as follows: there is a tradition of announcing a death with a church bell in some English parishes. Broadcasting the age and sex of the deceased would be enough to identify them in a small village. So the death was announced by "telling" (single blows with the bell down) to indicate the sex, and then striking off the years. Three blows meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half minute intervals. The word teller in some dialects becomes tailor, hence the saying "Nine tailors maketh a man", which is much recited in this play.
      The bell used in this novel for the announcement is the largest (tenor) bell which is dedicated to St Paul. Hence "teller Paul" which is corrupted to "tailor Paul" in dialect. Apparently the author is acknowledging the assistance of Paul Taylor of Taylor's bell foundry in Loughborough, who provided detailed information to her on all aspects of ringing.

    • The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves [read by Charlie Hardwick] BOM-TheGlassRoom.jpg
      I've been looking forward to catching up with the latest Vera Stanhope novel, and I'm pleased to say this was quite as good as the preceding ones. I suppose these are almost police procedural novels, except that Vera does not seem to follow the procedures too well - which makes for the interest of course. Her behaviour does not leave the bounds of realism though; she manipulates situations intelligently and does not openly flout the rules - as you would expect from a policewoman of her rank. We only know of her wayward nature (and maybe passions) through her thoughts rather than her actions. In this novel, she manages to remain in charge of the case, despite being pretty thoroughly connected with the prime suspect, and being inexplicably present at the crime scene before the police were actually called.

      I do find quite a lot to empathise with in Vera, even though I don't imagine we are at all similar in character; Vera's eccentricities are quite definitely due to her childhood with her unpleasant Father, probably both via his genes as well as his bringing her up. She is painted as physically unattractive, which is not in itself sufficient to account for the lack of a man or children in her life, both of which she vaguely mourns from time to time, while those around her would be amazed to think she even noticed the opposite sex at all. A common attitude to the older professional woman, whether unattractive or not, is that they are either ignored or objects of humour. In fact, my sister once observed in the 1970s that women in business were regarded either as bimbos (if you were attractive) or battleaxes (if you were not), and I privately wonder if underlying attitudes have really changed very much since then. In hearing Vera's thoughts, we learn that she has basic desires which are not very different from a lot of other people. She is not perfect, and in her lonelier moments, (maybe every evening!), she does turn to drink, but she seems fairly at one with herself even though she feels there are some things lacking. At the same time, Vera has her eyes wide open to the fact that she would not cope well with being part of a conventional family, and through her Sergeant, Joe, we have a picture of a very robust family life drawn as a contrast.

      In re-reading the above I am also struck by the fact that this description could equally apply to the Jane Tennison character in Prime Suspect (1991), portrayed by Helen Mirren as a highly attractive professional police woman. Externally, she could not appear to be more different from Vera, and yet she is similar in her doubts and insecurities revealed in her private life.

    Posted on February 28, 2013 at 9:38 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

    Saturday February 23, 2013

    Unravel 2013


    He's a splendid chap isn't he? Just standing around in the stairwell at Unravel, where I spent the afternoon (not just in the stairwell - though it was tempting).
    It was an uncharacteristically busy day for me today. I attended the Guild meeting in the morning, and then went on to Farnham Maltings in the afternoon, as I'd agreed to meet my internet friend Sara in the afternoon.
    We spent some time together mooching - visiting the knitting machine Guild's stand and discussing vintage equipment (which all participants in the conversation seemed to have). I bought some vintage crochet hooks (I don't have enough), some sock yarn from Fiberspates (I don't have enough), and some buttons (I don't have enough). The buttons were pretty interesting - Lisa (Stealthbunny) makes them uses "found" items and I bought some beauties made from polished stones containing ammonites.

    After that I spent the evening with Lyn and Terry - we went out to eat at the Roadmaker Inn in Bordon which has a Gurkha restaurant - yum.

    And just to finish off - George is in France currently and reported that there's a lot of mole activity.... Here are our old friends the moles at Unravel.


    Posted on February 23, 2013 at 2:22 PM. Category: Knitting.

    Thursday January 31, 2013

    Books in January

    • At the Villa Rose by A E W Mason BOM-AtTheVillaRose.jpg
      This is the second of the "free" vintage - presumably out of copyright - detective novels I downloaded from the internet.
      I was really keen on this story - both for the period detail, as well as the mystery plot aspect.
      It did seem to me it would make a good screen adaptation as it is written in a very picturesque way, with a charming landscape as a backdrop and with characters that could expand beyond the writing. and indeed I find it has been adapted three times for the screen: first in a 1920 silent version starring Manora Thew, and then in further versions in 1930 starring Austin Trevor, and in 1940 when the title role was played by Kenneth Kent. All of these have eluded me!

    • The Newgate Jig by Ann Featherstone [read by Gareth Armstrong] BOM-NewgateJig.jpg
      Yet again I can't praise Ann Featherstone enough, and from reading the reviews I am not alone in my view on this novel. I'm afraid its another poignantly sad little story and yet I find her way of telling a tale so captivating. It's true that the core of the story is set around acts of deeply unpleasant violence, which I am sure convincingly had its place in Victorian society as much as it does today. However, in the everyday life of our hero, Bob Chapman, one of life's innocents, ("For you should know that I am not an adventurous man. I like a life that is calm and well-ordered."), she describes a world in which for the greater part, people are generally good to one another - and even the slightly less sympathetic peripheral characters are only acting out of interests of preserving their own world, not any underlying ill will. Don't get me wrong - she does not draw a winsome rose-tinted view of jolly Victorian life - the harsh reality of urban life is all too evident. Alongside this stable picture of Bob and his solid friendships, and maybe because of it, she manages to convey a deep sense of sinister unease and real threat to Bob's world from the "Nasty Man" and his network - a threat which essentially stems from only bad luck and a misunderstanding.
      The story ends sadly but not tragically (as does Walking in Pimlico* I would say) - again much in keeping with real life. Although in hindsight, and without giving the game away too much, it is perhaps true that the events really did have a most tragic affect on Bob's life.
      * I did enjoy Ann's sidelong reference to Corney Sage (and Lucy) from the previous novel who make a fleeting appearance in passing as they perform in the run down Constellation music hall - with the comment that he was "too good for this gaff". Apparently - in 2011 at least - she plans a third novel focussing on another of the characters from the Pavilion Theatre that appear in this book. I am looking forward to it already.

    Posted on January 31, 2013 at 9:37 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

    Monday January 28, 2013

    Cakes and ale


    OK the above is your first clue.

    And below is my "big" present. Only 50 years - probably to the day - from when I first dreamed of owning one. She is 50 years old this year, though I have put her in an outfit that dates from a bit later on - the outfit is very "me" - I guess I'm the one that should be wearing it.


    Posted on January 28, 2013 at 12:38 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

    Thursday January 24, 2013

    A Bigger Splash


    The critics seem to have been quite ... critical... of this exhibition, and if I say I found it quite interesting, it sounds like damning with faint praise - but (you'll have to take my word for it) I'm not.

    The thing for me is that it was all about people working at the extremes or boundaries of art during my own lifetime. Even if I had been intellectually capable of it, or interested enough, I don't think it was very easy to judge what they were doing - for artistic merit or anything else for that matter - at the time they were doing it.
    So how interesting for me to look at it again now.
    A lot of the performance art of the 1970s was a bit "rude" so you have trouble either getting away from that and saying "I am grown up enough not to be shocked by this rude stuff and is it art nonetheless?" or alternatively regarding the "rudeness" as part of the point of it; a reaction against convention and shock value as an artistic statement or wittiness in itself. And if it is the latter - then none of it's very shocking any more*.
    I have no answer to this - I still don't know if I am looking at Yves Klein's living brushes (nude models rolling around in paint) with the narrow view of a sheltered middle class 12 year old or with the hindsight of a sophisticated woman in her 50s - but....
    it was all dead interesting.

    * I recently watch "I Cladius" from 1976 which included a scene of naked (presumably slave) women dancing for Augustus, which was like the naked dancing in "Hair" (1968), with everyone pretending that it was all "natural" and we were all in touch with our bodies, but in fact it looked just the opposite. These days incidental nudity on TV is simply that: incidental.

    The exhibition was really about performance art "looking at the relationship between performance and painting" - so the eponymous artwork (1967) was exhibited with a short clip of the almost-but-not-really documentary film about Hockney by Jack Hazen from 1971 - the film seems to have shaped the reality rather than the other way around.
    It included some of Hans Namuth and Paul Falkenburg's film of Jackson Pollock painting - although as I understand it, he did not really like being filmed at work. He found it was limiting in that he was performing for the camera rather than focussing on the art. And it is interesting that the exhibition seems to demonstrate this - the art seems to live either in the performance or in the artwork thus produced - not in both equally.

    I think it's fair to say that - apart from Yayoi Kusama and her dots - I had not heard of any of the other artists before, despite their obvious fame among the cognoscenti. And to be fair she only registered with me as, in her 80s now, she came over for her exhibition at the Tate last year - and again - how interesting to see film of her in the 1960s, at her Body Festivals, painting dots on naked people...

    Other items in the same vein included: Niki de Saint Phalle - filmed and photographed firing (a gun) at balls of paint captured in plaster casts, that explode on the canvas ("shooting pictures"... get it?) - a lovely idea and great performance art if you were there, but the actual artwork thus produced... you can't help feeling could have been achieved better by other methods. I know, I know....;

    Günter Brus with a film of his walking around in Vienna painted white, with a black line down the centre of his body (unusually it seems wearing clothes), and then his inevitable arrest by the local police. (It was Austria, and it was 1965);

    And various artists demonstrating the art of make-up - either stage like make-up creating a look: a series of photos showing gradual ageing (Urs Luthi), and aseries of female sterotypes (Cindy Sherman), or as a performance in the actual application of the make-up (Lynn Hershman). Fascinatingly not to say "weirdly", the latter created the alternative self, named Roberta Breitmore, with a "performance" lasting from 1974 to 1978, which she categorised a "time-based sculptural work" - a description I like.

    YvesKlein.jpg YayoiKusama.jpg GunterBrus.jpg

    The reason we chose to go to the Tate Modern was to fully explore the pleasures of Robert's membership (plus guest!) and as a preliminary outing for my imminent birthday. We continued our tour by dropping in at the British Museum for tea, and then went on to see One Man, Two Guvnors as I felt Rob had missed out; it is still excellent of course, but the cast has changed a few times and you're still left wishing you'd seen the original.

    Posted on January 24, 2013 at 12:35 PM. Category: Days Out.

    Thursday January 10, 2013



    Some years ago I put my name down for an allotment, and to my astonishment, this year we were given one. Here we are choosing our plot (yes! there was a choice) and collecting the key.

    Posted on January 10, 2013 at 12:37 PM. Category: The Garden.