Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 books, #126-130

Blood ties, by Lori G Armstrong. Kindle edition.

Julie Collins is a sheriff's secretary with a huge chip on her shoulder and the unsolved murder of her half-Native American half-brother hanging around her neck.  Then a girl's body is found in a river, and an investigation is launched.  Shortly afterwards, Julie's best high-school friend Kevin, a private investigator Julie helps out on occasion, tells her that the dead girl's family had hired him to find her.  The plot twists and turns nicely and stays pretty gripping from start to finish.  Julie is a bit irritating, and her choice in men is absolutely terrible, but her relationship with Kevin is interesting and makes the book more likeable than it would otherwise be.  One criticism - did it have to be set in a county called Bear Butte when no other humour is derived from this??

A cold day for murder, by Dana Stabenow. Kindle edition.

Former detective Kate Shugak is a hermit of sorts, after the end of an investigation left her with a ruined voice and a huge scar on her throat - she has retired from Anchorage to her homestead a long way outside Niniltna, Alaska.  However, a game warden has gone missing, and the investigator sent out from Anchorage has vanished too; the investigator was a friend and former colleague of Kate's and she reluctantly agrees to pursue the case.  The cast of characters here is interesting, and the Alaskan scenery is fascinating (and very, very, very cold...)  I'm hoping there are more of these.

A land of ash, by David Dalglish et al.  Kindle edition.

Five authors imagine a catastrophic volcanic eruption in the Yellowstone National Park, with an eastward drift of an enormous ash cloud.  A dozen or so short stories tell stories of the event, the deaths, the immediate aftermath and the struggle for survival as the ash hardens and begins to destroy buildings.  There are one or two stories which make very little sense, but most of them are fascinating in the John Wyndham tradition, and show the best and worst of humanity in the face of an apocalyptic event.

The water room, by Christopher Fowler [audiobook]. Read by Tim Goodman.  Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, 2004.

A Bryant and May mystery, and oddly the one I listened to after Rivers of London - there are many of the same elements here, with a supernatural component to the underground historical rivers of London, and a number of deaths in inexplicable circumstances.  The Peculiar Crimes Squad with octogenarian detectives John May and Arthur Bryant investigate.  The plot is maybe a little over-complicated in places but the relationships between Bryant and May and the other characters are beautifully written.

Flash and bones, by Kathy Reichs. London: Heinemann, 2011.

Tempe Brennan investigates a body found embedded in asphalt in a metal drum in a landfill site near a NASCAR race-track.  This leads in turn to the cold missing-persons case of a young couple who were seen leaving a nearby site almost 20 years before.  One of the investigators of that case is working as head of security for NASCAR, having been discredited as a policeman.  It's a good Tempe case, spoiled only by some really unconvincing scenes between Tempe, her ex-husband Pete and Pete's airhead fiancée Summer, and the lack of Andrew Ryan; but if you like the plot bits of Reichs's story but get fed up with the female members of her family, this is a good one.

2011 books, #121-125

Snowdrops, by A D Miller. Kindle edition.

A Kniterati book club book.  A confessional novel written by a Briton called Nick to his fiancée shortly before their wedding, with an account of his time in Russia in the middle years of the last decade.  It's a hallucinatory story, full of oil, booze, drugs and beautiful sisters, who may or may not actually be cousins.  There's a feeling of impending doom throughout the novel, and a sense of a general moral slide...  Pretty compelling stuff, and really draws you in.

Tilting at windmills: how I learned to stop worrying and enjoy sport, by Andy Miller.  London: Viking, 2002.

(Not the same A Miller as the first book, as far as I know!)  Andy Miller hates sport.  All of it.  Well, very nearly all of it - he has a love of minigolf, known to most of us as crazy golf.  Using minigolf as a starting point, he explores the reasons people enjoy sport, from supporting QPR to the Boat Race, tennis at Wimbledon and the British Open golf.  He talks to PE teachers, leading members of the sporting authorities and proponents of sport-as-entertainment such as publicists from the World Wrestling Federation.  Meanwhile, he plays in minigolf tournaments including the European finals in Riga, where the Baltic Times dubs him "the Eddie the Eagle of miniature golf".  It's a slightly puzzling book, in that there is one sport Miller wants to excel in, but it's also fascinating for those of us who were just a bit useless at sport in school, but keen on following sport from our armchairs - there's an interesting window into the psychology of real competitors such as Steve Redgrave.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovich [audiobook]. Read by  Kobna Holbrook-Smith. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

Peter Grant is a trainee detective in the Metropolitan Police who tries to take a witness statement from someone who is dead; this brings him to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Becoming a DC and trainee wizard simultaneously means that Peter's world becomes somewhat more complicated.  There is something very horrible going on in London, and Grant and Nightingale need to follow this to the end, or die in the attempt.  Thanks to Jackie for the recommendation for this - told with considerable wit and inventiveness and a huge amount of humour.  I also loved the reader, who can do everything from Nigerian grandmothers to upper-class twit with facility...

Locked in, by Kerry Wilkinson. Kindle edition.

This was an interesting story - middle-aged people are being found strangled in their own, locked, homes, with no sign of who may have been able to get in and kill them.  There's no obvious collection, and new DS Jessica Daniel is also being hounded by a news reporter who seems to be acquiring information before the police.  The plot is really tight - the main problem seems to be Daniel herself who is just incredibly grumpy for seemingly very little reason, and also prone to jump in without thinking.  It's a little difficult to admire a novel entirely when you think the main character is a little bit of a pillock.

Suicide run: three Harry Bosch stories, by Michael Connolly.  Kindle edition.

Effectively a publicity trailer for the new Harry Bosch book The drop (on order from the library), these three short stories are excellent and from different periods of Bosch's history.  If you have a Kindle, definitely an interesting addition to the Bosch canon, and well worth the 99p cover price.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

When geekeries collide

I should probably be saying something about Christmas and how lovely it was. It was.

But this has it all. Neil Gaiman, "Firefly" and academic freedom. 7 minutes of glorious liberal self-righteousness. (With added Nathan Fillion and plastic dinosaurs.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Unilateral declaration of Christmas

I'm still not feeling particularly Christmassy - but it's the last chance I have to put up decorations even though the house isn't tidy and the presents aren't wrapped!

This year, the tree has graduated to the dining table - it's not that the Bug was destructive, but she was inclined just to lean on things persistently enough to push them off the table, and some of these ornaments are fragile, and all have a story attached to them...  As this is a Flickr link, Blogger having changed (yet again) the way it posts photos) you ought to be able to click to embiggen...

Anyway, Tiny Clanger's in her heaven, and I'm off to a friend's house for dinner tonight...  Merry Christmas, all!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 books, #116-120

A full dark house, by Christopher Fowler [audiobook]. Read by Tim Goodman. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2003.

I enjoyed this immensely while it was happening, but found the plot pretty confusing and the motive unclear.  This may well have been due to no fault of the author though - three of the CDs, including the last one, were really badly damaged.  The final disc looked as if it had been deliberately scratched...  This has a dual setting in the early 2000s and in 1940, when Arthur Bryant and his partner in detection John May first meet at the fledgeling Peculiar Crimes Unit.  It has a great deal of humour and period detail; I'll definitely read another, preferring to believe that it's the jumps in the recording rather than the author's skill which was at fault with this one!

The best American mystery stories 2010, edited by Lee Child. Kindle edition.

Well; if these were the best American mystery stories of last year, it wasn't a great year.  There are a couple of gems - Doug Allyn's An early Christmas, Kurt Vonnegut's Ed Luby's key club and Philip Margolin's The house on Pine Terrace are excellent, but the rest were a combination of the confusing, the somewhat unpleasant, the overly gory and the just plain badly written.  

Fell purpose, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles [audiobook]. Read by Terry Wale. Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear: Soundings, 2009.

A young girl's body is found on parkland near Wormwood Scrubs prison.  Fleetingly, Slider's team believe she may have been a prostitute, but it soon turns out that Zellah Wilding was a nice girl from a strict Christian family.  Trying to discover what was happening is steadily more confusing for Slider, as the more he finds out about Zellah, the less he knows.  Excellent vintage Bill Slider, with all the humour and humanity you'd expect.

Open season, by C J Box. Kindle edition.

The first of the Joe Pickett novels - not available on Kindle when I started reading the series.  Joe's daughter tells a tale about a monster who came into their garden the night before - when Joe goes out to reassure her, he finds the bloody body of an outfitter (professional hunter who acts as a guide to amateurs), clutching the handle of an empty cool-box with animal scratch-marks on the inside.  As Joe tries to investigate the murder, all the authorities seem to be against him; he is suspended from his job, and his life and that of his family is threatened.  Box always takes the theme of a good man pushed one step too far; but it's always far more interesting than that.

Betrayal, by Karin Alvtegen [audiobook]. Read by Sophie Ward.  [S.l.]: BBC Audio, 2008.

When Eva discovers her husband is having an affair, she plans her revenge. Before she's able to put her plans into action, she has a one-night stand with a young man who has been keeping vigil beside his much older girlfriend, who has been in a coma for two years.  There's the betrayal of the title in the story, but there's also desperation, and a growing sense of impending disaster.  It's very much in the tradition of the Barbara Vine stories - damaged people coming to a seemingly inevitable collision in the dark.  Not the most cheerful of reading...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

N is for... New ventures

Not mine; but I'm enjoying the reality, and the prospect, of other people's!

Made my first visit to The Sheep Shop this morning - it opened on Wednesday.  And, as ever, I have what a-blogger-whose-name-I-can't-remember dubbed "camnesia" - so no photos.  Picture a traditional Victorian corner shop, with windows on both sides of the corner - but painted white and full of yarn and notions, and  fleece and pattern books.  Lovely choice of yarns, nicely labelled; and masses of natural light to examine it in.  While the shop is still a WIP (I have a lovely handwritten receipt because the till, although present, still needs programming), it has some excellent yarns, a sofa, a table, a coffee machine and a friendly proprietor (thanks for welcoming me, Sarah!).  There was the soft hum of a KnitPicks podcast in the background which was just perfect - not silence, not music, knitting-relevant.

For the public transport user, the location does mean it's a little bit of a trip from the city centre (although it's only 10 minutes on a 10-minutely bus route followed by a short walk) - but if you're in a car and planning to go to the big DIY/business park just opposite, or the Tesco just down the road, it's extremely convenient.  And worth the trip as a completely different alternative to anything else available in Cambridge - this is a true, modern, LYS run by someone who's net-savvy, and we really haven't had that here until now.

I'd love to reveal what I bought - but it's all destined for gift yarn for people who read this, or gifts for people who might read this!  I also got some wooden 4mm KnitPro tips and some small locking stitch-markers for myself.

When I left, clutching my nice paper carrier bag, my stomach reminded me that I was 5 minutes up the road from The Wrestlers - it's been best part of a decade (and possibly more) since a red chicken curry and a pint was part of the routine on a cold Saturday lunchtime. When my ex and I were doing lots of DIY, it was part of the outing; and in fact I've been going there for more than 20 years.  I love the food there; and for the amount of time I'd been away, the prices hadn't gone up as much as I'd have expected.  It was lovely sitting there - with the Kindle rather than the Saturday paper;  time moves on - and noting that the clientele is still half-Thai, half-geek.  (I imagine there's an overlap, but it's not very obvious...)  Anyone visiting the Sheep Shop, take note...

The second new venture is CJ's, a café opening on the Green , next to the SPAR which is opposite my house.  It's the first caff to open in the village as far as I know (well, certainly in the 18 years I've been living here!), and they're doing breakfast and sandwiches and toasties and so on.  I hope it does really well, although its opening hours mean it doesn't coincide well with when I'm around.  The prospect of wandering over the road for a toastie on a lazy Saturday morning is very enticing, though...  And I'm tickled pink by the idea of a local caff being named after a West Wing character.  All power to Cheryl and Elaine who are distributing flyers and cards all over the village.  They're offering Free Stuff on Saturday 10th December, prior to their opening on Monday 12th.

I'm slightly in awe of people trying to start up small businesses in the current climate.  If you're in the general area of either of these and have the slightest interest in their stock, please pop in and spend money.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011 books, #111-115

Carved in bone, by Jefferson Bass. London: Quercus, 2008.

The first of the Body Farm novels; I was a bit worried that I'd spoiled myself by reading later books first, but there's much more to this than a case which comes up later. A corpse is found in a cave in a backwoods county of Tennessee, preserved in adipose state, and with a dog-tag around her neck. Bill Brockton is brought in to find out how she died and when, but after threats are made he becomes intrigued as to who the woman is and what her story might be. This does absolutely nothing to challenge some of the 'southern redneck' stereotypes, but many of Bass's characters tend not to lend themselves to typecasting.

No second chance, by Harlen Coben [audiobook]. Read by George Wilson. [S. l.]: Recorded Books, 2004.

This reminded me (in a good way) of Coben's other book Tell No-One. Marc Seidman wakes up in hospital to be told his wife is dead and his 6-month-old daughter Tara has been kidnapped. A ransom drop for the child fails after her grandfather involves the police, and it seems that Marc's sister Stacey was also involved. 18 months later, another ransom note is sent, and Marc and former girlfriend and FBI agent Rachel set out to try to find Tara. There are so many twists and turns in this book, particularly towards the end, that it's slightly dizzying; and I'm not completely sure how convinced I am of the eventual outcome, but it's definitely worth hopping on for the ride.

Dead man's grip, by Peter James. London: Macmillan, 2011.

The latest Roy Grace novel, and a good one. A student is hit by a white van while riding down the wrong side of the road to university, and falls under the wheels of an articulated lorry. Meanwhile, a solicitor on her way to work takes evasive action, ends up hitting a café wall and subsequently tests positive on a morning-after breathalyser. So far, so tragic - but the student is from a New York mafia family, and their rules are somewhat different. Meanwhile Grace is dealing both with Cleo having problems in pregnancy, and trying to have his long-lost wife Sandy declared dead. This all wraps up pretty satisfactorily in terms of the plots for this book, but the characters' ongoing personal circumstances are going to continue to make for good reading in future books.

Free-range knitter, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Kansas City, Miss.: Andrews McMeel, 2008.

Christmas and birthday books always seem not to be read straight away - I think it's the 'having a new hardback and keeping it for best' syndrome... I started this book and for some reason put it back down in the pile, which is a shame, because it's vintage Yarn Harlot - witty, insightful and occasionally very moving. It's a bunch of short essays which talk about knitting's place in a knitter's life, bite-size pieces but there's always something which makes you want to stop and think.

Dead run, by P J Tracy. London: Penguin, 2005.

Four Corners is a pretty dead town in northern Wisconsin even before it is literally a dead town when a milk tanker full of poison gas overturns, killing all life; and Grace MacBride, Annie Belinski and Sharon Muller are heading straight into the area, on their way to help the Green Bay police. Another cracking plot, and the development of the relationships between the characters is part buddy-movie, part Stephanie Plum, and extremely touching and funny.

Friday, November 18, 2011

M is for... Merci

Thanks to everyone who sent commiserations and best wishes after my last post - and to those who e-mailed, texted and remembered the Bug at knitting night. Much appreciated.

I think it'll be a while before I have another cat (and sorry, yes, dog people, it will be a cat - I know some lovely dogs now, but I've just never even imagined myself owning a dog...). The Bug and I had got used to each other for 6 years before I started the new job with the insane hours, which mean feeding happens at Unacceptable Times; introducing a new cat to an owner who's out of the house for 12-15 hours a day during the week would just be unfair (to both of us if the cat resorts to the usual retaliation of shredding-stuff or peeing-on-stuff...). If someone were moving continent and needing to rehome a cat, that might work, but it'd have to come with the equivalent of a current MOT and a full service history, after the insurance travails this year and the realisation of what even a basic set of tests costs... Dealing with vets is a salutary introduction into the world of private medicine. I will comment no further.

Meanwhile; I've discovered my nephew is keen on monkeys these days (up to now his favourite animal has been "spiders" which is somewhat difficult in toy-shops... yes, I have a pattern...). He has the very nice chimp and gorilla I had as a child. My mam was after* a toy orang-utan and I found just the thing on Thursday. Having checked cuteness and price-points are correct, I need to go back and pick him up tomorrow and post him North.

I won't tell you where he is. I need him still to be there tomorrow morning!

*I used this construction, then changed it, then reinstated it. To be "after" something in the North East of England means you're looking fairly seriously for something.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bye bye, Bug

Amelia (Jarrahkatt Aimee)

Sadly, after a long hard year of vet's visits and a major operation in the spring, the vet's opinion last night was that it would be kindest to let the Bug go - her kidneys had nearly stopped functioning, she was anaemic and she'd lost yet more weight. It was a horrible decision to have to make but they were brilliant at the surgery. So there's another patch of turned earth in the garden, this time in the border she slept in for most of this summer, and a big empty space around the house.

It's going to be very strange living in a house without cats.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaBloPoMo - oops...

Well, that didn't work, did it. Last year I didn't post until the 4th - this year I posted until the 4th and then Massive Fail intervened... Oh well.

I'd say it was a long week at work, but I only did 4 days of it; today has been spent taking the Bug to the vet's and waiting for test results. I'm still waiting for a pancreatitis test, and to find out whether they're going to do an ultrasound... sounds likely that they'll keep her in at least overnight, though.

Think I'll go and do some knitting now...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Knitty Saturday

Good day today - got up late, and meandered into town, snagging the odd Christmas present, disposing of an old camera by giving it to someone who might make use of it, returning a couple of books to the library, picking up materials to make things, and odd bits and bobs from my shopping list. Had lunch, and went knitting.

We were slightly less comfortable than usual - there was a meeting of Serious Gaming Geeks (old-style - cards and dice) somewhat hogging the same space. But there were only a few of us, and it was nice.

I finished up on a test-knit with Katie [Ravelry link], and collected some yarn from Sparkleduck to make a sample of one of Woolly's hats; she'd also brought some yarns she'd dyed in response to my request for a particular colour for a swap.

Really wanted to take a picture to adorn this post, but although the yarn is the purplest purple ever, it's come out as royal blue in all the photos I've been able to take! Trust me, Sparkleduck knows how to enlist my co-operation...

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday feeling...

... of complete and utter exhaustion. It was a long week at work, and an irritating one, saved by two wonderful guys and their competence with SQL - next week will be better!

It was one of those weeks with a task which was both boring and complex, leading to some interesting dreams when my imagination was set free at night - the dream where Neil Gaiman was driving a bus and then borrowed one of my parents' radiators before he went to a cat shelter was possibly the strangest.

Anyway, a video; read about this in the Standard this evening and it was quite heartwarming.

Apparently after this was all set up, the girlfriend decided she was going to drive in after all that day; at which point the boyfriend went out while she was in the shower, and disconnected the battery on the car...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

2011 books, #106-110

A very private murder, by Stuart Pawson. London: Allison and Busby, 2011.

A Charlie Priest novel; and another excellent one. The girlfriend of a royal prince and the local mayor open a shopping precinct and business park, only to open the curtains on a carefully-crafted swear-word in foot-high lettering. When said mayor is then found dead, the hunt really is on. There are some lovely characters in here, alongside some good detective stuff; and the sort of graveyard humour one hopes for in a Pawson novel.

Silence of the grave, by Arnaldur Idridason [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics. : Clipper/WF Howes, 2006.

A new author to me - picked it up because of Saul Reichlin's reading, and the recent tales from Iceland told by Franklin. Pretty dark, this one - Detective Erlendur investigates a dysfunctional family from the 1940s after bones turn up during excavations for a new development, while waiting to hear whether his own estranged, junkie daughter will emerge from a coma having lost her baby. There's also domestic violence galore; I think Reichlin's reading of this is the only thing which kept me going with it. I'll try another because Erlendur is an engaging character...

Act of treason, by Vince Flynn. London: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Another Mitch Rapp thriller, this time dealing with corruption at the highest level of government. When the Republican presidential candidate's wife is killed in an attack on the campaign motorcade, Rapp is called in to track the assassin, but this only really starts a deeper level of intrigue. These books are a somewhat guilty pleasure, given that they can sometimes provide a justification for such modern US "security" measures such as rendition and what constitutes torture. It's a very different mindset.

Hope and glory: the days that made Britain, by Stewart Maconie [audiobook]. Read by the author. Bath: AudioGO, 2011.

Maconie is a bit of a genius - here, he takes ten days, one from each decade of the twentieth century, and uses the themes raised to explore what it is to be British through them. Whether it's the death of Queen Victoria or the Live Aid concert, the Somme or the arrival of the Empire Windrush, he takes the wider ideas of empire and celebrity, war and multiculturalism, and riffs on them as only a former music journalist can. If you've ever heard Maconie on the radio (currently 6 music from 1-4pm, irritatingly), it's impossible to read his books without hearing him reading them, so this audiobook is a special treat.

Solar, by Ian McEwan. Kindle edition.

This was a book club choice (mine) and one that none of us liked very much. Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist; he's also now fat, balding, middle-aged and his fifth wife is shagging his builder. Beard is a very unattractive man in all senses, and his constant womanising, and constant eating of rather disgustingly described food of all sorts, don't help us like him. Sections of the book are curiously old-fashioned, reminding me of Malcolm Bradbury's Eating people is wrong, a Kingsley Amis or an early David Lodge, with its implication that the academic conference circuit is rife with sex and drugs. There are a few funny moments, mainly to do with Beard's chronic lack of self-awareness, but there's a lot of eating without pleasure, having sex through a sense of obligation, earnest banging on about climate change.... As one of my fellow book club participants said, it was difficult to tell what sort of novel this wanted to be, and I'm not sure McEwan ever decides.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

L is for... Lovely socks

Yes, I know, cop-out on the alphabetical front. Hope you agree with me on the socks, though...

So at the beginning of the year, I signed up for another KAL - this time for Cookie A.'s - so popular it's sold out and is being reprinted at the moment... There are 19 pairs of these socks, and we're knitting them over 20 months. The Ravelry group attached to this KALis an extremely nice place to be - it's a group of generally pretty knowledgeable and skilled knitters sharing information, techniques, and bits and bobs about their lives; it's friendly, it doesn't seem to go round in the endless circles a lot of groups do when people don't read the rest of the thread; and the moderators are excellent. And I now have nine-going-on-10 pairs of extremely nice socks. I'll share the first 5 here, and the second 5 this time next week - I have a reason for this!

All these are knitted top down, and the book is divided into Columns, Tesselations andDiagonals, which express pretty accurately what each category of pattern is doing.

First up, Hedera. This is one I'd sort of been avoiding because a friend had submitted a pattern for the very issue of Knitty this first appeared in, using one repeat of the pattern up the back, and a very interesting construction; it didn't appear in Knitty, but did achieve paid publication in a calendar; but I'd never had the heart to knit these. When I did, though, they're lovely - very stretchy and comfortable, in yarn in a colour called Legolas which Jan had dyed me for Christmas.

The second pair, somewhat more variegated. Again, a pattern republished from a Knitty issue, but this time resized for several widths of foot. What made these fun to knit (as I'd already made one pair when the pattern came out) was the yarn; Lorna's Laces Shepherd's Sock in Franklin's Panopticon colourway, and a gift from the man himself a couple of years ago.

I loved the way these striped so much that I really didn't want to go for the flap-and-gusset heel - so this was my first attempt at an afterthought heel. I'd certainly do that again if I had such very nicely striping yarn - it doesn't break up the colour the way a gusset would, because you don't change the number of stitches on the basic sock.

March/April's pair - wow. While this wasn't a complicated knit in the end, it was a complicated start, with 10 markers on each sock and lots of travelling stitches. This was the first of the Diagonals section, and you can tell... These were a birthday present for my friend Sue. The yarn was some from the Socktopus sock club - Enchanted Knoll Farm in Emerald Lake.

Next up - beautiful colourway, autumnal colours in Cairn from The Yarn Yard. These were a once-only colour so it was difficult to give them away, but they went to Jackie for her birthday. The pattern is Mona, and it was really delightful to knit...

And then finally for this post, May/June's pair, Rhombus. This is definitely the most difficult pair of socks I have ever knitted. And they look so innocuous! I don't know whether it was the two types of make-one-stitch involved, or the fact I never quite managed to memorise the pattern repeat, but I've never been so stymied by a pair of conventionally-constructed socks.

However, eventually they were done, and went to my mam for her birthday in August. She likes purple...

I'm enjoying the KAL immensely but I hadn't realised quite how much of a month is taken up by knitting a complicated pair of socks each month! I've taken nearly a month off this time, because we're slackening up slightly for Christmas, and have got lots of Christmas and test-knitting done in the time I'd normally be making fancy socks...

Speaking of which, there's a hat calling me. Talk to you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

K is for... KAL (which is for KnitALong )

I always say I'm not a joiner. I never was. I don't do competitive sports (although I love to watch cricket and, these days, cycling.) Somehow, though, if I do something as rash as going to a church or joining a knitting group I always end up on the committee, or as one of the people who you ask about stuff... And every now and then I rebel and wriggle out of my commitments for a while, only to create ties again. I'm one of those people who puts her hand up even at the moment of thinking "oh, no, here we go again"...

And I can't resist a good KAL. Which is why I'm in 3 at the moment, as of this morning. One is very long-term, and I'll talk about that tomorrow. These are the two one-project KALs.

The newest, first instalment November 1, is WoollyWormhead's annual Mystery Hat [Ravelry link]. Or indeed, hats. I'm going to be doing Hat A this year, in some lovely russet possum yarn. But it's not cast on yet as the first bit of the pattern just came out this morning, and I bought my needles for it at book group this evening. Nothing to see here. This might be for my cousin's partner or it might be for me... It's an alternate cable cast-on which I absolutely love as a method (and stop sniggering, Wibbo, that was a variation 2x2rib alternate cast on [with a double dismount], worked while in company). Tomorrow I will stick my earphones in and listen to Calming Music for 10 mins or so while casting on.

The one which is sort-of-in-progress-but-a-bit-late is Ann Kingstone's Tess slippers. Not tardy from Ann's point of view - she's posting the instalments just fine...; it took me a while to get going. Toe-up is not my favourite way to go with socks, and I was doing a couple of test-knits at the time (and I have no idea how many times I needed to watch the YouTube video to make it make sense...) But I have a toe of one, and a cast-on on the other, and while I'm not convinced my colour choice is doing the best justice to the pattern, it looks rather fabulous to me...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Possibly foolish...

... but I've signed up for NaBloPoMo again, posting daily in November. I think it'll cheer me up on the long dark nights, and might finally get me posting some of the things I've knitted this year!! I'll hope to do some more of the alphabetical posts, and dig out some of the photos I've taken and not blogged anywhere... wish me luck.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

2011 books, #101-105

Good omens: the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter, witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman [audiobook]. Read by Stephen Briggs. Oxford: Isis, [n.d.].

I had forgotten quite how good this was - both the Pratchett/Gaiman team and Briggs's reading. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse meet William and the Outlaws (or Adam and The Them, in this case), with the attendant presence of angels and demons; and it's hilarious. There are some elements I'd imagine are pure Gaiman - such as the notion that every tape left in a vehicle for long enough eventually morphs into Queen's Greatest Hits - and others which are pure Pratchett - but they blend perfectly. I hadn't read any Gaiman last time I listened to this, and it's much more fun having done so.

The Oyster House siege, by Jay Rayner. London: Atlantic, 2007.

Brilliant. A pair of gunmen fleeing from a failed raid on a jewellery shop end up in the kitchen of a Jermyn Street restaurant on Election Night, 1983, and a hostage situation is on. Some of the events are genuinely terrifying, and some extremely funny. The importance of food is never undervalued, and forms an extremely important part of the plot. This is genuinely unputdownable and I'll be looking for anything else Rayner's written because he really can tell a story, and he captures the attitudes and politics of the early 80s in a very perceptive way.

Want to play? by PJ Tracy. London: Penguin, 2004.

Someone is killing people in Minneapolis and the surrounding areas, but the second murder is so bizarre that Grace McBride and her Monkeewrench game-designing team realise that someone playing their test system must be recreating a version of their serial-killer-detection game. They go to the police (and the team of Gino and Magozzi), and another game begins - are they helping the police, or are they suspects?

I started reading this a couple of years ago, I see - and I had a bookmark at page 150 or so and couldn't remember anything about the book. I started again from the beginning, having read Snow Blind (review from the last couple of book posts), and found it completely riveting; I started the next one in the series immediately. The relationships between characters are brilliant, and there are some genuinely moving moments - not something you generally expect from a serial-killer thriller...

The reversal, by Michael Connolly [audiobook]. Read by John Chancer. Bath: AudioGO, 2011.

Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch get together, which is always a good thing. While Chancer isn't quite as good a reader as Jeff Harding, he's still pretty impressive, and this is a tremendous courtroom drama with a lot of compassion and some very interesting twists and turns.

Live bait, by PJ Tracy. London: Penguin, 2005.

Someone in Minneapolis is killing old people; and as facts emerge, the nature of the murders becomes more confusing and more tied up with the past. Gino and Magozzi again investigate; and the relationships they've developed with the Monkeewrench crew from the first book are carried on in this book. For the mother-and-daughter team behind PJ Tracy, relationships are important, and it's very seldom you end up in tears repeatedly during what's essentially a serial-killer novel. I'm really hoping I can get hold of the next in this series soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2011 books, #96-100

Missing, by Karin Alvtegen. Kindle edition.

Again, I'm going with blurb from the author website here...
Sibylla Forsenström doesn’t exist. For fifteen years, she has been excluded from society. As one of the homeless in Stockholm, she takes each day as it comes and has all her possessions in her rucksack. To find food for the day and somewhere to sleep for the night demands all her time and effort. But it does not help her in keeping the thoughts away from the past – from the questions about why her life has turned out the way it did. Then a catastrophe happens. One night, she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. A man is brutally murdered and too many circumstances lead to Sibylla as being the murderer. For fifteen years nobody has asked for her, but suddenly she is the most wanted person in Sweden. She knows how to survive, but now she has to flee…

I really enjoyed this, although there was a tiny bit of anti-climax at the end. Sibylla and Patrik are both very sympathetic, compelling characters, and there are some heartbreaking incidents here. It's a novel about survival, and about whether you compromise with the world to ensure your own safety; and to a large extent, the thriller plot is just about secondary although it's also well worked out. (And without wanting to introduce spoilers, although this book was written in 1999, it was translated at about the same time as many other authors were jumping on the same plot bandwagon, so it would have been much more difficult to guess what was going on if you were reading it in the original Swedish when first published!)

The fifth witness, by Michael Connolly. London: Orion, 2011.

A Mickey Haller novel - a woman whose house foreclosure Haller's firm was dealing with is accused of murdering the chief executive of her bank. The client, Lisa Trammel, is her own worst enemy, but the evidence seems to be circumstantial and the police appear to have cut corners with their investigation. There's more time than usual spent in the courtroom and the cross-examinations are fascinating; well up to the usual standard.

Flesh and bone, by Jefferson Bass. London: Quercus, 2008.

Another very good Body Farm thriller. (Not to be confused with the recent TV crime drama - I thought I'd have a look on iPlayer as it'd normally be the sort of thing I'd like - I lasted about 5 minutes!) A bizarrely dressed body is hung up in a tree in the experimental site to determine cause of death, and shortly afterwards it is joined by the body of the visiting medical examiner, one of protagonist Bill Brockton's closest friends. Brockton is suspected of the murder and the evidence seems compelling. Well-plotted and with an excellent ending.

The spire, by William Golding. London: Faber, 2005. Originally published in 1964.

A book club book, and one which inspired the best discussion we've had for a long time. Dean Jocelin is told by a vision to build a spire on his great cathedral; the builders insist that the foundations won't take the strain, and the congregation is forced to move out as building works continue. How much of Jocelin's vision is due to madness or physical illness is always in doubt, and there are some fascinating contrasts between faith and science in the medieval era, with a large dollop of sexual jealousy dropped into the mixture.

Relentless, by Simon Kernick. London: Corgi, 2007.

The title's pretty apt - a fast-paced thriller set over 24 hours. Tom Meron is enjoying a Satuday afternoon at home with his kids when the phone rings - it's a friend he hasn't heard from for 4 years, who is obviously terrified and being attacked, and the only information he hears is the first two lines of his own address. Tom packs the children into the car and takes them to grandma's and goes to search for his wife at the university, and his life begins unravelling from there. This story really doesn't let up, and one twist after another means that Tom gradually realises nothing in his life so far has been as it seemed. This would make an absolutely terrific film.

Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 books, #91-95

The vows of silence, by Susan Hill [audiobook]. Read by Steven Pacey. [S.l.]: Chivers, 2009.

This was a hard book to read originally, and a harder one to listen to on audiobook; I got it out of the library thinking this was the next in the series and it turned out to be the last one I'd read. Very good reading, though.

Dead I may well be, by Adrian McKinty. Kindle edition.

This was one I nearly gave up on several times. A 19-year-old from Belfast leaves the city and travels to New York to work for gangster relatives. It's quite shockingly violent at times; the only thing which keeps you reading is the central character who is quite compelling. There's a mesmerising section in the middle about captivity in a Mexican prison; but I won't be reading the other two books in the series.

The interrogative mood, by Padgett Powell. Kindle edition.

Another book group book, and not one I particularly enjoyed although reading it was interesting. This is a book written entirely in questions, and while it starts off as an intellectual exercise, as the questions continue they circle around some quite dark obsessions and the book becomes darker and darker. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments and a few questions which make you put down the book and think. Mainly though, the only way I can describe it is as rather like the video for Bruce Springsteen's Brilliant disguise, where the whole thing is taken in a single shot which narrows very, very slowly down from a kitchen scene to Bruce's face, in a slightly menacing way.

Banish clutter forever, by Sheila Chandra. Kindle edition.

Really enjoyable and useful book on de-cluttering, on the "toothbrush principle" that all of us have some daily systems which sort of work for us. And contains the radical idea that if you're going to clear things off surfaces, possibly clearing the cupboards for those things to go into first is a good idea. Wibbo recommended this one and she was absolutely right. If Sheila Chandra's name sounds familiar, she's also a singer, musician and teacher who's brought out many solo albums and also performed with the Imagined Village project. I've started on the house using these principles and am happy with the small amount of progress made so far!

Fear not, by Anne Holt. Kindle edition.

A child escapes from a wedding reception in one of Oslo's top hotels and is almost run over by a tram; an immigrant worker is discovered drowned; a woman bishop is murdered; a rich businessman contemplates his annual charitable donations, and it's the week before Christmas. Anne Holt delivers another wonderful, complicated thriller here, with a cast of characters we've sort of met before but haven't been the focal point of her books so far. There's a small cameo appearance by the wonderful Hanne Wilhemsen; and a continuation of Anne Holt's campaigning liberalism.

2011 books, #86-90

Shadow, by Karin Alvtegen. Kindle edition.

I'm going to use the author's website blurb for this book because I can't do much better:
How much is glory and fame really worth, when counted in the suffering of the people closest to you? The death of the housekeeper of the fictive world-famous Nobel Prize laureate Axel Ragnerfeldt becomes the starting point of an investigation into the claustrophobic family ties, mysterious disappearances and dark secrets surrounding a man shrouded in myth. With her fifth novel Shadow, Karin Alvtegen has achieved her darkest and most complex thriller to date, in which the disturbing truth of a sick family is gradually and mercilessly laid bare.
The atmosphere of this book is what I remember best - everything is somehow in sepia, with an aura of menace. There's a sort of impending dread here, which also reminded me of Accolade, the play with Graham Seed (formerly Nigel in The Archers) which a group of us Archers fans went to in February. Very striking.

Unlikely killer, by Ricki Thomas. Kindle edition.

I enjoyed this although it had some quite serious proofreading (or maybe Kindle-conversion) issues! A serial killer is re-creating historical murders, and we see the book via both the killer and the journalist tracking the killer down. I did, however, find the final twist one jump of credibility to far... I'm not sure even Jeffery Deaver could have pulled off a switch like that though!

The unquiet heart, by Gordon Ferris. Kindle edition.

The second Danny McRae novel, after Truth dare kill, again set in immediately-post-war London and Berlin. It's not the most sparkling of plots, but the settings are excellent, and it canters along very nicely. I'm very encouraged to see that Truth dare kill has now appeared in paperback after being a best-selling e-book - it's good when the different publishing formats can feed off each other in this way.

Playing the game, by Simon Gould. Kindle edition.

Detective Michael Patton of the LAPD has been targeted by a serial killer who has already killed two girls; he has 24 hours to save a third. The plot rackets along quite nicely, but the ending is disappointing, and there are just too many typographical and grammatical errors for a stickler like me to enjoy!

The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. Kindle edition.

Well, this one has just about everything - a love story, some swashbuckling, lots of information about the various trading companies with Japan in the 18th century... This was a book group book, not one I'd ever have picked up otherwise, and I enjoyed it immensely.

2011 books, #81-85

Is it cowardly to pray for rain? the online Ashes chronicle of a nation's office-bound nervousness, by Mike Adamson, James Dart, Sean Ingle and Rob Smyth. London: Abacus; Guardian Books, 2005.

Reading the Guardian's over-by-over chronicle of a 6-year-old Test series really shouldn't be huge fun, but actually it was. Partly it's the Ashes, but mainly it's the comments coming in from people who are quietly hitting Refresh on their browsers every couple of seconds to get the score and ball-by-ball commentary, because of course that wasn't at all how several of us in our office spend at a few days of our summers (and in fact part of the winter too, while the World Cup was on...) A couple of people I know are in the comments; one of them even has her name spelled correctly - good old Grauniad. The fun is enhanced by knowing that the commentator isn't even at the game, but relying on the TV commentary which will sometimes, quite literally, go off to the races. A little bit akin to listening on Long Wave and going off to the shipping forecast at the wrong moment.

Savage run; Trophy hunt; Out of range; Three weeks to say goodbye, by C J Box. Kindle editions.

I don't normally review four books under one heading, but I'm catching up on the books read on the Kindle over the last few months (it's a lot easier to keep track of print books!); and the main thing about C J Box's writing is that he puts basically good, family men into extraordinary circumstances, and shows that the veneer of civilisation is sometimes just that. The first three of these are Joe Pickett novels, and the fourth a standalone, but the analysis of character and this basic theme is the same in all of the books. That's not to say they're interchangeable, and they're all very enjoyable.

2011 books, #76-80

WG Grace ate my pedalo: a curious cricket compendium, by Tyers and Beach. London: Wisden, 2010.

Wisden describes this as "a spoof 1896 periodical from The Wisden Cricketer archives that looks at cricketing events of 2010 through a Victorian lens" which is just about right. Some of it is outright hilarious, some just make you smile. There are regular features such as the etiquette column by Miss Cecily Beasting, and small ads such as "WANTED for import to England: South Africans who can and will play cricket. Apply at Lord's." The writers have a somewhat interesting relationship with KP Pietersen, too... If you've been following international cricket over the last few years, there are definitely enough in-jokes to keep you going. Not to mention an ongoing (non-sparkly) vampires-at-Lord's serial thrown into the mix.

Consent to kill, by Vince Flynn [audiobook]. Read by George Guidall. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2006.

Well, without trying to spoiler anyone else who might be working their way through this series of books, this one contains the only thing the author could actually do to make further books in the series at all credible. Mitch Rapp continues his rampage through the ranks of both Al-Qaeda and the senior staff of other government agencies.

The business of dying, by Simon Kernick. London: Bantam, 2002.

According to the blurb on the back, this is Kernick's debut novel - another one from the second-hand book sale at work. Dennis Milne is a deeply corrupt DS who also hires himself out as a contract killer; this time, though, instead of three drug-dealers he finds he's murdered two customs agents and an accountant outside a pub. In the day job, an eighteen-year-old prostitute is murdered by Regent's Canal and leads Milne into the teenage vice trade in London and its relations with the social care system. The plot is very tightly written, and Milne is a character you like, hate and are repulsed by at different points of the novel.

Game over, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2008.

A Bill Slider novel, and one I'd somehow missed until picking up the following one in the series and realising the characters' lives had moved on substantially while I hadn't been paying attention! This has all the humour and wit of the other Slider novels, but with more of an edge of danger; an old enemy of Slider is on the loose and is trying to kill him. Meanwhile he's trying to solve the murder of a BBC correspondent, Ed Stonax, and Atherton is drawn into a relationship with Stonax's daughter Emily. On top of that, Slider needs to find a moment to marry Joanna before their baby is born. It's vintage Slider and it doesn't get much better than that. Since reading this I've found I actually missed two Slider books. Harrod-Eagles is so amazingly prolific...

Now you see me, by S J Bolton [audiobook]. Read by Lisa Coleman. Bath: AudioGO, 2011.

Another excellent book by S J Bolton, with many twists and turns. DC Lacey Flint returns to her car one evening to find a woman dying - she has been stabbed and horrifically mutilated. Lacey begins to realise that her own lifelong fixation with the Jack the Ripper murders has been replicated, and that she is the person the new Ripper has decided to taunt. Bolton is a master of suspense, and there are some genuinely creepy moments. Nice reading, too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

J is for... Janome

I don't think I've talked a lot about sewing and embroidery here, mainly because I was coming out of my embroidery phase somewhat when I started this blog. But embroidery used to be a huge part of my life, in particular while I was doing my City and Guilds certificate and diploma, and also from around 2003-2005 while I was teaching embroidery classes for the county adult education service.

I was reminded of this while on holiday this week, because I remembered how much I love my sewing machine. Here it is.

While I have the compulsion to name things with wheels (Tallulah the trolley, for instance, and Louis the Louët spinning wheel; my bike's called Helga), for some reason my Janome XC 33 has neither a name nor a gender. I went into the shop with a couple of requirements - not too much complication in the computerised line (I didn't need one which scanned in pictures, but I did want one with 30 or 40 stitch patterns to play with), and a strong and sturdy motor. A friend had this one and really loved it, having had a hate-hate relationship with her previous machine, so I was already somewhat biased in its favour. When I found out that it was a model sold to schools because of its relative indestructibility, I was even more sold.

Here's the usual view from the sewing machine - the hanging in the background to the right was also largely embroidered with this machine.

I think I've had this machine for 9 or so years; it took me through Part II of the City and Guilds, and through three years of membership of the Fibrefusion experimental textiles group (and I'm glad I found that link - they have a new book out!), and then beyond. It's not elegant, and it doesn't have the beautiful lines of an old-fashioned machine; it just does everything well and without complaining about it, and that includes up to 6 hours of free machine embroidery in the course of a session, where the motor is being absolutely hammered. (Maybe this is the reason I've never had occasion to name it; it has absolutely no quirks, unlike anything I've owned with wheels.)

One of the things I love about all needlecrafts is the prettiness of the stash - this is part of one side of my double-sided thread box shown in the top picture. I think this box now has all my threads in it - at one stage I had an overflow box but free machining takes up quite an astonishing amount of thread!

This little device for holding bobbins is wonderful - it's rubberised so the bobbins hold in there, but you can remove them easily with one hand, and they don't unwind, and if you drop it, they all just stay there. I chuck it in the same drawer in the chest as my ball-winder.

So anyway; what massively exciting thing was I embroidering?

Nothing at all so far (that comes later in the week/month) - I cut out and made 4 pairs of trousers this week because the machine also works really well for dressmaking. The top one is for daytime-type casual trousers, the bottom three pyjama trousers...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I is for... IKEA

I realise going to IKEA is many people's idea of hell. It's never been mine. Partly because it really hasn't happened that often, and also partly because my idea of heaven is looking at some furniture and imagining assembling the flat-packs... (I'm on holiday this week, and with any luck there'll be some more flat-pack heaven later in the week. Stay tuned.) Mostly though, I just really like enough of IKEA's stuff to walk around there and have an excellent time and get some ideas, but not so much of it that it confuses me; and if you pick up an impulse buy it really doesn't break the bank.

However, as a non-driver, I don't have many opportunities to get to IKEA, and although I've explored the public transport options before, I've never really taken them. Until today, when a need for clothes-storage boxes (possibly temporary and therefore foldable) and glass tumblers (cheap) tipped me over the edge.

I did take a companion of sorts. This is Tallulah.

Tallulah was acquired on the principle that if you're going to have an old-lady shopping trolley, it may as well be as garish as possible. And she's done me well. She hauls bags of logs over the Green from the shop, she and I go around Tesco and try not to run anyone over (she hooks to the front of the trolley...) and today we were having a Big Day Out.

Has to be said, it started off rather foggy, which boded well for fine weather later. The 8:11 out of the village...

The glories of Tottenham Hale Tube, rail and bus interchange, waiting for the 192 to Enfield.

And the Arrival, well into "browsing time" but just before official opening time of 10am.

So, wandering and roaming... While I wasn't intending to buy anything other than storage and tumblers, some things (like a lint roller and some cupcake cases) may have fallen into my big yellow bag, as well as a couple of Christmas presents; and a couple of lightbulbs for the lamp in the dining room which might actually light the room. When I realised the tumblers I liked best were going to cost me less than £1 (this is for a box of six, you understand), I was glad I'd picked up the other things as I went round.

I really liked this ensemble (particularly the baskets with the holes in the centre, and the "knitted" one third drawer down on the left)

This is the sort of thing I'd like in my living room, but with some of the spaces filled with stereo/speakers/photo albums etc. And the sort of thing you need to go there for, and look at, rather than choose out of the catalogue. (I may actually need to get something like this built, or build it myself, because the bit of the living room it needs to go in also contains quite a lot of pipes, the consumer unit, etc., but it's always good to get ideas.)

Late breakfast was had halfway round, and by 11:30 Tallulah and I were all packed up and ready to go. The main point of the exercise, some folding (purple!) clothes storage boxes (called, with classic Ikea naming-flair, Skubb) is well in evidence here... She's a bit overloaded, but she only complained once, when the driver belatedly let down the floor of the bus for her to get in, and jammed the foam bit of her wheels under the vehicle...

The journey back was made under considerably better weather conditions, and much knitting was done (for Christmas, unfortunately, or I'd show you...)

It was positively summer-like by the time we were back at the station - this is T saying goodbye to the train. (We were meant to be going to King's Lynn yesterday but this happened. Maybe tomorrow.)
Arriving home just before 2pm, there was a surprise - one of the (many) nice things about living in a village is that this time of year, people have surplus produce and bring it to you... Sometimes in co-ordinating bags!

Wet walnuts.

And of course I bought tea-lights. Isn't it compulsory?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 books, #71-75

Snow blind, by P J Tracy. London: Penguin, 2008.

The bodies of two off-duty police are found inside snowmen at a children's competition, and then another snow-covered corpse is found by a country lake by rookie elected sheriff Iris Rikker, a former English teacher. Soon Detectives Gino and Magozzi are heading north in the midst of the worst blizzard seen in Minneapolis for years to join the two investigations. But some things should remain buried. And as the cases unravel, it seems the snowmen weren't alone in hiding dark secrets. The old barn next to Sheriff Rikker's isolated farmhouse also appears to have some strange connection to the killings... Extremely well-constructed thriller with some interesting characters, not least Rikker.

Faithful Place, by Tana French [audiobook]. Read by Gerry O'Brien. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

The course of Frank Mackey's life is set by one defining moment when he was 19. The moment his girlfriend, Rosie Daly, failed to turn up for their rendezvous in Faithful Place, failed to run away with him to London as they had planned. Frank never heard from, or of, her again. Twenty years on, Frank is still in Dublin, working as an undercover cop. He's cut all ties with his dysfunctional family. Until his sister calls to say that Rosie's suitcase has been found...

Lovely reading.

Innocent, by Scott Turow [audiobook]. Read by Edward Herrmann (and ??). Oxford: Isis, 2011.

A return to a cast of characters last seen in Turow's Presumed innocent in 1987. Once again, Rusty Sabich is prosecuted by Tommy Molto for murder, this time of his wife; and this time Sabich has even more to lose having been elected to the state Supreme Court, and with the desire to cover up an affair with a former colleague. His son Nat, a child at the time of the previous novel, is now a junior lawyer and also keen to investigate the case. Another extremely good tense courtroom drama by a master of the art. The reading is very good - Herrmann sounds just enough like Harrison Ford for the image of Sabich in the film version to stand, and the (completely uncredited) female reader is also extremely competent.

Last rituals, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2008.

This was one I picked up at a book sale at work, with a slightly back-handed recommendation from one of the library directors who had donated it. It's certainly atmospheric - Icelandic landscapes and a plot involving both folklore and witchcraft - and occasionally unpleasant. Definitely worth reading although the final dénouement isn't as surprising as you might wish.

The rapture, by Liz Jensen. London: Bloomsbury, 2009

This is a very strange, and extremely good, apocalyptic near-future story which combines detective, speculative and science fiction. A very disturbed and violent teenager in a mental health facility tells her art therapist about visions she has about an environmental catastrophe. As the art therapist investigates whether any of the facts Bethany gives are scientifically possible, she draws a physicist friend into the intrigue, and puts her career and his in danger. If John Wyndham were writing now, he might aspire to this.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

H is for... Hove; and Human kindness

I still need to tell you about the other bits of Knit Nation and Fibre-East, and the Knitted Maze at Saffron Walden; but while this is still fresh in my mind and I'm making the pics available for Hove Daily Photo; What I Did on My Holidays.

Wibbo and I had an absolutely lovely day at the cricket at the Sussex County Cricket Ground at Hove on September 1 - watching Durham bowl out the home team and then have a bit of a bat themselves. We were at the second day of a 4-day match (which Durham won. Yay. Yes, I'm partisan; Durham's Riverside/Emirates ground is about 5 minutes' walk from my old primary school and less than 15 mins from my parents' house... But ahem. Hove.)

Not knowing what we were doing, we walked right round the ground (the entrance is near the block of flats to the left) and sat ourselves at ground level. (Sadly, there isn't a corresponding JETS stand at the other side of the stadium but that's because the local T20 team is the Sharks.) This was actually lovely - very peaceful, and a couple of sections' seating was in blue-and-white deckchairs - and we absorbed much additional cricket knowledge via the chaps (and they were mostly chaps) in front and behind us.

At lunchtime, the spectators occupied the outfield, and whacked tennis-balls about. Hugely encouraging number of boys and girls, mums and dads with bats and balls. I understand this is pretty standard practice, and it must be a huge encouragement to want to play on the ground...

And proof it's never too soon to start.

In the afternoon, we moved to the SHARKS stand; which turned out to be only marginally less atmospheric but a much, much better way to watch play. And to observe favourites as they fielded on the boundary.

Paul Collingwood!

Monty Panesar!

Callum Thorp signing autographs! This was a feature of all the boundary fielders - the Durham ones were slightly mobbed but then of course they would be; presumably the keen kids have all the Sussex ones already...

There were seagulls...

There was knitting...
And there was a somewhat inevitable seagull-on-knitting incident. Suffice to say this project is registered on Ravelry as the Seagull Poo Socks.

It was a lovely day and I hope we'll do it again.

In fact, it's only posting this which reminds me it took five hours to get home afterwards due to some mindless wazzock wandering about on the lines at Thornton Heath. Scenes at Victoria, after I staggered off the train nearly 2 hours late, were insane; one woman screaming "this is just unacceptable!" in a cut-glass accent, over and over and over again, as I tried to get through the throngs of people hurling themselves against the barriers... OK, she was obviously a bit of a Special Snowflake; but I hope Mr Anonymous Trespasser was happy with his evening's work.

Otherwise, though, my faith in human nature is currently at a bit of a high. I managed to lose a very lovely knitting bag on a train the Friday I started my week's holiday, complete with Jan's half-finished birthday present (I should say this was a second attempt, the first having come out too small despite blocking), several Addi needles and my little toolkit box; and reclaimed it the following Friday after understated heroics from the lost property chap at Cambridge station.

And then on the train between Brighton and Hove on the intervening Wednesday, I texted Jan and then promptly left my phone on the seat - it was retrieved by the conductor and we collected it at Brighton station that evening before knitting due to Brighton station being really sensible and texting Jan with the information on where it could be collected... Finally (I thought), I bought a fantastic bargain pair of purple suede Hotter boots while in Norwich with Rosie and due to a moment of extreme excitement in a second-hand bookshop, left them there. An hour later, I got those back, too.

I thought that was the end of it. However, sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the Bug went missing, and turned up finally lateish on Friday night just before I started printing flyers; and on Thursday afternoon I had a meeting with a colleague, after which she left her knitting bag in a public area, and retrieved it on her way home...

I know there's some horrible stuff out there. I've travelled through areas hit by the riots and there are some mindless thugs around; I listen to the news. But sometimes you just need a reminder that most people are honest and kind, and I've had that over the last couple of weeks.

Monday, August 29, 2011

G is for... Gothenburg; or Knit Nation Part the First

So... it's been a while since I posted anything but book reviews. Which is not to say knitting, travelling, spinning, working, etc. etc. hasn't happened; but somehow there just hasn't been time to note anything down.

However; after the recent trouble and violence in London, I thought I'd bring you some of the wonderful London weekend which was Knit Nation 2011. For me, the weekend started on the Thursday evening, with a trip to the National Portrait Gallery, a meal at Rossopomodoro and most importantly a chance to introduce two friends, who previously knew each other online but hadn't met. Franklin and Gavin are both knitters and leading lights of the Archers group on Ravelry. (That's a packet of Duchy Originals shortbread with them; you had to be listening to the Archers in January or February, otherwise it's a long and pointless story)...

After an even earlier start than usual on the Friday morning, I got to the reception desk with SarahAbroad and signed up for all my classes. All very smooth and efficient - thanks, Jaq!

The first full-day class was the Gothenburg connection - Bohus Stickning, with Susanna Hansson who was a superb teacher. Bohuslan, the area where the knitting was done, is north of Gothenburg. What I liked was that the focus was very much on the social justice element of the Bohus project, and also the emphasis that this is not folk knitting, but a completely new style of couture knitting which was intended to compete with the likes of Ralph Lauren and Nina Ricci in the post-war period. Garments commanded very high prices, and knitters were paid enough that in some families, the balance of financial power was shifted from the man to the woman of the household which caused some contention.

Meanwhile, while listening and looking at slides, we started knitting wristlets in the Blue Shimmer pattern. The yarn is lovely to work with - you could really feel the angora content and it was incredibly warm.

In the second half of the day, Susannah spread out the wonderful collection of Bohus garments she'd brought with her, and we all looked, touched (with gloves, of course!) and photographed. What I love is both the colour combinations, and the way these interact with the texture in Bohus (which includes purl stitches on the front of the work, unusual for colourwork), and the gently felting angora content, to produce a wonderful blur of colour...

Susannah explained the construction (no steeks, seamed, cardigans worked back and forth in 20th century style, not the traditional cut-and-edge style in Fair Isle knitting, small couture-type buttons).

We had a show and tell at the end - lots of wristlets. Mine are destined to become the cuffs for a pair of gloves, probably fingerless. One was completed later that day, the other is underway again after a bit of a break for other projects!

One of the best things about the charity Bingo night on the Saturday is that one of my classmates won a fabulous Bohus kit, which was a fabulous coincidence given the numbers of people playing on the evening - congratulations, Elaine!!

More from Knit Nation, Fibre-East and another event soon - I'm on holiday this week so may have more time to sort out photos...