Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pink (or not)

I've always thought of myself as a non-pink girl; but tonight, as I unpacked my pink Stanley flask and my bright pink phone, and my pink work notebook which I'd incomprehensibly brought home, I realised something weird has happened ; but maybe pink technology might not count.

However, I'm reserving judgement on whether my new acquisition in tools is pink or purple.

In the centre, said new acquisition - KnitPro interchangeable set with acrylic tips. They might be pink, they might be purple - even the manufacturer doesn't seem to be able to decide.... On the top, my smaller DPNs and some other thingummies, in a box which is described as purple on the sticker on the base. On the bottom, the fixed circs in a Happy Bag which is definitely purple in regal fashion. I wish I could link to this manufacturer - I've never managed to find them, or reference to them, online; this was a gift from a friend in Texas several years ago and while similar things exist online, the combined strength and practicality of this one is unbeatable; very heavy-duty nylon, big enough pockets for several needles the same size, really nice tabs for size info....

I should explain about this particular splurge - it's one of my annual treats when I renew my season ticket. This year, because of the terrible weather, I had a number of compensation vouchers for delays, which I cashed in when I bought the annual ticket - and the main ticket price is a loan from my employer, which I pay off monthly. Last year I bought gardening tools. This year I replaced my food processor and bought these needles and a remote shutter-activator-thingy for my camera; I really like the idea of buying something intensely useful with the money saved by the vouchers, which would reflect hours of enforced uselessness (if, of course, I hadn't had my knitting with me). And the weekend before last, I had the additional joy of going to Ely Wool Shop and picking up a set... I'm used to the glory which is I Knit but the idea of being able to take a trip up the road on a Saturday morning and pick up something like this locally, on a whim, used to be a distant dream....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

2010 books, #16-20

The time-traveler's wife, by Audrey Niffenegger [audiobook]. Read by William Hope and Laurel Lefkow. Bath: Chivers/BBC, 2004.

OK; the first sentence of the blurb on the back sort of summarises this: This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student and Henry, a librarian*, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty.

[*I shall assume that Henry being a librarian is enough to guarantee his own beauty].

This was March's Kniterati book. I'd previously borrowed it from my boss but hadn't finished it by the time she went on her maternity leave; and at the time I wasn't convinced I would finish it. But, book club and all that. I went for the audiobook version which was a very good choice; you can tell instantly who's speaking and you can't get too hung up on the timescale. Helped by finding out that one of the Incredibly Significant dates in Henry and Clare's lives is also one in yours and for the same reason, but that gives a good grip.

As someone who is in general a bit of a snob about not reading books which have been massively popular or won big awards, I'm really glad the Kniterati chose this one because it's one which will really stick in my mind, and the discussion was very interesting. I loved this book in the main; but there were bits of it I also hated.

(Skip to the next review if you'd like to avoid spoilers).

The title tells you a lot about Clare's life; she's always going to be waiting for Henry, in the way that the wives of fishermen are always in limbo on the shore. It's incredibly poignant, and very manipulative, at the same time. It plays very nicely with the sort of human issues with time travel which are touched on in Doctor Who - the impermanence of relationships and the unfairness to the time-bound partner; the uncertainty of where you're going to end up next and who you'll be when you arrive there - but explores them in one particular relationship with serious consequences. It's pretty light on the science and the conventions of "what happens if you meet yourself while travelling", but that's not really what the book's about (and to my mind, it's not all about Clare, far from it). Definitely recommended; and if you're in my local library area and have a cassette player, 17hrs and 51mins of book for £2.20...

Tokyo year zero, by David Peace. London: Faber, 2007.

It took a long time for me to convince myself to continue reading this book (and Ros, I carried on with it!). Peace wrote the books which turned into The Red Riding Trilogy and The Damned United. His trademark repetitive style of hallucinatory despair prevails here too, but it's almost too much - this is Tokyo in 1946 where no-one has enough to eat, seemingly everyone has lice and the bodies of young women are appearing all over the city. This is an entirely visceral book; you're ingested out of a horrified fascination and then spewed out at the other end no wiser than you started, possibly less so. I think it'll leave an impact on me in terms of the sheer horror of scratching out a living in the defeated, Army-of-Occupation-ridden husk of Tokyo of that period; like The Killing Fields or Empire of the Sun, it's a book you feel you ought to read, even if it's a disgusting and occasionally degrading experience. I'm not sure I have the stomach for the second part of what is due to become another trilogy, though.

Killer tune, by Dreda Say Mitchell [audiobook]. Read by Ben Onwukwe. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2010.

I would normally steer clear of books whose blurb says A fifteen-year-old boy firebombs a building as he listens to Vivaldi's Winter Concerto splicing behind a red hot R 'n' B track and a veteran is found dead in an alley. Rap sensation Lord Tribulation discovers his new found stardom threatened when he finds himself in the middle of both incidents... But it was an audiobook returned to the village library last time I was working there by someone whose judgment I respect, so I borrowed it. (Weirdly, after I'd got through 4 disks and was really enjoying it, Dreda Say Mitchell was an impressive and entertaining guest on Saturday Live talking about community involvement and educational projects... Strange coincidences)

I have a bit of a prejudice against thrillers written about music and musicians; somehow it never feels quite right even when the writer is good; and I have a bit of a prejudice against people who change their names to silly things when they become musicians; and this has all of that. Lord Tribulation, or LT, the son of King Stir-it-up; it ought to have been an instant fail. But this works; because the plot is compelling; because it's talking about history I know (1970s to the present); because you genuinely like LT from quite early on...

And also because the reader is wonderful. He can hold a conversation between four people with different accents and ethnic origins; he can do a voice which says "this is the character you heard just now but now he's trying to be down wid da kidz"; and the main narrative voice
is wonderfully easty to listen to.

Liars all, by Jo Bannister. London: Allison and Busby, 2009.

A Brodie Farrell/Daniel Hood/Jack Deacon story, set in the seaside town of Dimmock, somewhere in East Sussex. This is a series which needs reading from the beginning, but the latest instalment is, as ever, utterly unputdownable. I read it all in a day, and as with a very good meal eaten too fast, am regretting this because it'll be another year or so before another comes long. The characters are compelling (although the relationships are slightly strange and twisted, and I find myself understanding Brodie less and less); the plot rattles along well enough but is frankly secondary; and you're left wondering what's next...

Fatal last words, by Quintin Jardine. London: Headline, 2009.

Another Bob Skinner mystery, and the best one for a while. Combines recent history, Scottish politics, police politics and the deaths of two thriller writers at literary festivals. Skinner comes over more sympathetically than he has in the past few books, when frankly he's been a bit of a hard old bastard.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


And of course the week IKnit link to this blog on their newsletter, it's been "move away, nothing to see here...". The reason they linked was that the Cambridge Ktog was featured as the Gallery group in The Knitter magazine for March; Delle, the group's Ravelry moderator, did a lot of the work and I did the final bit of blurb and so on. I submitted a freeform wrap devised for a class at White House Arts and it came out pretty well in the magazine (and made it to the table of contents!).

While I'd love to scan the whole article in - some of the other projects were stunning - I think the good people at The Knitter wouldn't be very happy if I did. If you're in a local knitting group and they approach you, or you feel like approaching them, they're really good to work with; there's a lot of communication, they seem to have styled all of our projects quite nicely and they were returned promptly (in my case, before a workshop I was teaching on a similar theme). They don't offer payment but you do get a copy of the magazine at the same time as subscribers receive it...

The reason I haven't posted for so long is that work stuff is moving at supersonic speed; we're about to move the thesauri I manage into another software package (one which was actually designed for the purpose) and so I've been frantically making changes before we have to send the import version over to the suppliers; because after that I'll be maintaining the same vocabularies in two separate and parallel packages for up to 18 months... there's been a bit of extra hours and a lot of brain-being-elsewhere.

However, it turns out the work I did on software testing and so on at the end of last year was enough to earn me a bonus; and if I didn't spend it, I'd just blow it on a frippery like the gas bill... so one of these will be on its way to me as soon as ParcelFarce gets its act together... I have a lot of fleece in this house. I believe there are 6, including the one in the shed; and carding is my least favourite activity in the whole spinning process (I tend to spike myself. A lot.) so I'm hoping to play with the machine next weekend and hope it motivates me to wash a lot of the raw stuff lurking in bags around the house.

I also like the style of a shop-owner who signs off as Your dealer in addictive substances - I like the way she thinks.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A tale of two appliances...

So; once upon a time there was a basic food-processor, and it lived happily in a cupboard in the kitchen until called upon to make coleslaw or pastry, or puree some soup; until the little plastic nubby thing which locks into the base and allows the motor to go on broke off for a second time and couldn't be glued on again, despite its Owner's friend Gill's heroic efforts in relocating said little plastic nubby thing.

Nearly a year went by, during which the broken food-processor sulked in its cupboard and its Owner vacillated over ordering a new bowl versus replacing it, and fretted occasionally on the lack of coleslaw. Eventually she decided on the replacement option, and proudly brought home her new food processor. "Oh, dear", the Owner said. "Now I have TWO sets of useless plastic thingies for juicing lemons, beating egg-whites and all sorts of things which I'd much rather do with low-tech tools. I will sort out the drawer of plastic appliance thingies forthwith". So she did, and threw away many peculiarly-shaped items for which she had no use.

Two and a half weeks later, the Owner decided to use her new (Christmas gift) ice-cream maker for only the second time, the weather not having been conducive to the consumption of ice-cream. She made the mixture; she got the bowl out of the freezer; she found the motor. She looked for the paddle. She looked, and looked and looked; and then located the manual and stared in horror at the drawing of the item she was looking for. It was a peculiarly shaped white plastic item; one she distinctly remembered throwing away...

I'm sure you were way ahead of me on that last bit. It does turn out that a) the refrigerated bowl will freeze lemon and passion-fruit sorbet successfully even without the paddle, if you stir the mix every few minutes for an hour or so; b) the machine is on sale again and was not a hugely expensive purchase to start with; c) having two bowls would work better for my somewhat erratic ice-cream-making pattern anyway. So I'll be on the lookout for another. I'm still kicking myself regularly in the meantime though! The ONE TIME I decide that hoarding just-in-case is unnecessary!

And I know of at least two readers of this blog who also know my aunt (who does not have a computer, and who gave me said machine for Christmas). Do not, I beg you, tell her, or I'll never hear the last of it...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Comments on comments

Navel-gazing, I know...

Wibbo said

I rather enjoy entertainingly bad as read by Jeff Harding ;o)
Honestly, I rather enjoy anything as read by Jeff Harding...

Lixie said (and you need to follow this link to her blog - the woman has just learned to make her own leopard-patterned knickers...)

Have you tried the jill paton walsh/sayers collaborations? 'Thrones, dominations' isn't too bad - and ian carmichael reads it in the download from audible.co.uk. The second one, set during WW2, isn't as true to the original sayers feel but it's still worth a look. Can't rmeember the title right now though.

I couldn't remember the name of the thing, either; but I've just gone upstairs and found it's called A Presumption of Death. I think they're both very well done, and as well done as they possibly could be (and I love JPW's other detective novels with Imogen Quy, and she lives in the next village and all that); and I have both in hardback. But they can't ever quite be right just because it's not entirely Sayers....

Rosie wrote:

I fail to believe that you have to wait 'til half way through to discover that The Lost Throne is about a Lost Throne.

I gather it's been a bit of a best-seller. It had its own stand in the Trafalgar Square branch of aa Certain Bookshop Chain just after Christmas, anyway, which was why I looked for it on audiobook in the first place...

A couple of people wrote about Michael Wood. Agreed. Weirdly, I know Michael Wood's sister-in-law, and meet her regularly at Textiles in Focus; she's really nice. (And I sort of hope she doesn't read this.)

Thanks also (while I'm on) about the comments on the Ravelympics FOs, and also "well dones" on weight loss. I have been entirely crap about the latter over the last year but did very well to begin with; and am determined to have another boost on it before Knit Camp this year - there will be knitting-themed T-shirts on offer...

Monday, March 01, 2010

2010 books, #11-15

A crop of three audiobooks and two actual books this time - combination of winter-bluesiness, class preparation and Ravelympics means the only actual book-reading has been on the Tube...

Busman's honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers [audiobook]. Read by Ian Carmichael. Bath: Chivers Audio/BBC Audiobooks, [n.d.]

I love this book, and either read it, or get the audiobooks out of the library, every couple of years. The final of the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane books, and probably my favourite even above Gaudy Night. Sayers described it as 'a love story with detective interludes', and the central mystery isn't particularly convincing; but the characterisation is such that I never really care... Additional poignancy was lent to this one by the death of Ian Carmichael last weekend; I heard the news just a couple of minutes after reaching the mid-point of the book... I preferred the gravitas Edward Petherbridge brought to Peter Wimsey in the TV adaptations, but Carmichael will always be the voice I associate with the books...

The stone monkey, by Jeffery Deaver [audiobook]. Read by Adam Sims. Rearsby, Leics.: W.F.Howes, 2003.

Another re-read; part of my readthrough of the Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs series. Even knowing the twists and turns in the plot, this is gripping stuff - Deaver is brilliant at pulling the rug out from under you, repeatedly, without making you feel as if you're being played... Adam Sims is a very good reader, and I'll be looking to see what else he's narrated.

Over the edge, by Jonathan Kellerman. London: Headline, 2008 [originally published 1987].

An Alex Delaware book - and one I didn't really warm up to. The plot was somewhat one-track; none of the characters (including Delaware himself) were really all that sympathetic; and the dénouement is predictable a little too early for comfort. I've given Delaware four chances to impress me (and the only reason I've done that is because Wibbo prefers them to Faye Kellerman's Peter Dekker/Rina Lazarus books and we're usually in synch with likes and dislikes...); I suspect that might be it for a bit...

The lost throne, by Chris Kuzneski [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: Chivers Audio/BBC Audiobooks, [n.d.]

Gosh, this was eye-bogglingly, astonishingly bad. Entertainingly bad, in fact, because Jeff Harding was reading it with the same sort of edge he gives to Dan Brown books, as if he's trying to convince himself, as well as you, that this is not a total waste of our mutual time ... But, as I've said before, Mr Harding could read the Yellow Pages to me and I'd listen, which is why 13 hours and 30 minutes of knitting/cleaning/tidying/ironing/etc. time has been spent listening to this tosh...

You do know what you're in for with a book when the first sentence of Chapter 1 reads "The monk felt the wind on his face as he plummeted to his death, a journey which started with a scream and ended with a thud." Yes folks, it's the whole creepy religious/conspiracy theory/bad writing trifecta. And of course there are experts in a particular field, supposedly talking to equally learned colleagues, who feel the need to say "As you probably know...." and then bang on at great length without the aforementioned colleague either interrupting, or hitting them over the head with something heavy...

I think the thing I particularly loved about it was that you get to the halfway point in a book called The lost throne to discover that A) it's all about... a lost thing; and B) the lost thing is.... wait for it..... a throne. Now, who'd 'a thunk it... Or OMGWTFBBQ, as the kids would have it.

In my defence, another reason I kept listening was that it has more than a tangential connection with Heinrich Schliemann and Troy, which always conjures up memories of Michael Wood's not-unattractive rear view wandering up hills in 1984 or so, which was the thing which reminded me that in my primary school days I'd got interested in Roman archaeology (due to a mad, inspirational teacher called Pat Cassidy who spent the school's entire excursions budget on taking us off to various sites on Hadrian's Wall, making us write songs about the latrines at Housesteads, the Mithraeum at Carrawburgh and so on, to the tune of The Blaydon Races) and made me sign up for a Gallo-Roman archaelogical dig in my gap year; which in turn made me realise I was good at classifying things and taxonomy; which eventually got me the job I have now. So thankyou, Mr Wood, for your fascinating facts and your nicely-fitting jeans.

I shan't, however, be going back to Chris Kuzneski's works again, unless Jeff Harding continues to do the audiobooks and I'm doing another major decorating job over a holiday weekend!

Moonshine, monster catfish and other Southern comforts : travels in the American South, by Burkhard Bilger. London: Arrow, 2002.

It would have been so easy to make this some sort of comic "let's-make-fun-of-the-rednecks" book. There are chapters on advanced marble-throwing, cockfighting, frog-rearing, coonhunting, catfish-noodling, moonshining, the eating of squirrel brains and other more haute cuisine offal...

But Bilger is genuinely interested in the people involved in the activities and their passions; he brings the same degree of friendly curiosity to his subjects as Stuart Maconie does to his investigations of Middle England (although without quite as much of Maconie's humour); he isn't intending to denigrate or belittle, even when the activity seems pretty appalling to an outsider. These are great documentary essays written with a journalistic flair - you can hear the people speaking.