Saturday, June 18, 2011

2011 books, #51-55

The jury must die, by Carol O'Connell [audiobook]. Read by Cristine McMurdo-Wallis. Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, 2005.

I got about half a disk into this and realised I'd had it out of the library before, remembered all the characters - but then had no idea what happened in the end! I'm hoping it was one I couldn't renew and had to return unfinished! I gather this one is also known as Dead famous in the US. There are some fascinating characters in this, including Johanna Apollo, a psychiatrist and hunchback, in witness protection since she was part of a jury which found a radio shock-jock not guilty for a crime he almost certainly committed, and since the jury members began being systematically murdered.

South: the story of Shackleton's 1914-1917 expedition by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton. Kindle edition.

This is a completely fascinating and frequently quite gruesome account of Shackleton's ultimately failed journey to the Antarctic, frostbite and all. Although not one you're likely to want to read while you're eating - too much mention of eating partially-cooked seal blubber for that... Shackleton first covers the part of the expedition he was on, including the loss of the Endurance to the ice, and then takes his men's accounts of the other aspects of the expedition (there was the exploring party, and another party at the other side of Antarctica charged with providing supplies for the exploring party when they got to their goal). The first part of the book is absolutely riveting, as the climate ultimately becomes the winner and the goal becomes survival. However, Shackleton is unstinting in criticism of the landing party at the other side, who waited much longer to be rescued and lost three men - you do get the impression that he's unwilling to give the credit for good management to anyone else. There's a great deal of pathos, too, in the fact that when the explorers finally reach land in South Georgia in late 1916, they want to know who has won the war, and have no clue that it's still going on; and also in the fact that they all signed up, and lost as many men in the last year and a half of the war as they did in three years of endurance on the ice.

I went for the free Kindle edition, but there are many of these at different prices - I'm assuming the more expensive ones have maps.

The darkness of bones, by Sam Millar. Kindle edition.

Sometimes you get a book which is just awful on many levels. I kept on with this with a sense of horrified fascination. It purports to be set in Northern Ireland (and is based on a child sex scandal there) but apart from mentions of Dublin, Belfast and so on, it may as well be set in Joe Pickett's Wyoming or Charlie Parker's Maine woods. The spelling veers wildly between British and US usage - "the colour of the center", for instance - and there are some quite weird malapropisms - "voyageur" for "voyeur" - and many uses of homophones (the usuals, reign/rein, breaks/brakes, tire/tyre but also some bizarre ones like begin/begging). The plot is also pretty distasteful with a lot of badly-written graphic violence which seems to be included for effect, and no sympathetic characters. Not recommended. I would say 'you get what you pay for, and it was only 70p' but actually, you usually get an awful lot more than you pay for!

Silver, by Steven Savile. [S.l.]: Bad Press, 2011. Kindle edition.

This, on the other hand, was 70p extremely well spent!

Thirteen people burn themselves to death simultaneously in public squares across the world, while announcing forty days and nights of plague and terror on the world. Shortly afterwards in Berlin, there's a sarin attack on the underground. The shadowy Ogmios unit, an ultra-secret Special Ops team, go in pursuit of the Disciples of Judas, who have declared war on the West. The action concentrates on Berlin and Rome, with a very nicely- (and geographically-accurately)-written short episode in Newcastle. Highly recommended to anyone who would have liked The Da Vinci code to have been written with skill and imagination. The heresy at the heart of this one is original and fascinating, unlike the tired old "sensation" Dan Brown doled out, and the writing is taut and well-crafted with some interesting and likeable characters. Oh, and the word "symbology" isn't mentioned once...

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín. London: Penguin 2009.

A Kniterati book - not one I'd have picked up otherwise, but this time that's not necessarily a good thing. Eilis, an innocent in her early 20s, leaves her home in Ireland for a job in New York organised by a friendly priest. It's a fascinating look into New York in the 1950s, and a window into a different world of constraint, and standards of behaviour, and so on - ultimately I didn't enjoy it because the great "choice" Eilis has to make is largely determined for her - she's almost a cypher, and a bystander in her own life.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

E is for... many things; and F is for Feast

Well, bizarrely enough, the theme for this year's Feast was "E is for..." So I'm combining two letters here... If I'd kept up with the programme, Saturday would have been J and I'd have gone for "Jolly", which would also have worked.

So, it all started: the view from outside my front door on Friday night at about 8pm... The Bug was unimpressed. [Quick Amelia update: vet was very pleased on Saturday morning, and she can now go out, which she's loving. I loved it slightly less yesterday afternoon when she came in, leapt up onto the table and plonked her wet self down on my inkjet-printed, rather complicated, knitting pattern...]

I am a veteran. I know this is the Thomas the Tank Engine Train, as ever; while I'd rather the commercial stalls were elsewhere on the Green because of the canned music, my nephew is a Thomas fanatic so these days, I think of him while they're unpacking it...

The next morning at 9:30am when I started over to find the stall I was volunteering on, the Es were in evidence. The English Country Gardenists were next to the school's Ecowarriors

We were unthemed, sadly; but as our main organiser was told to rest up about 10 days beforehand, getting a stand together was OK in and of itself...

Now. Nothing says "Feast" like "construction of temporary bridge". At least, it doesn't in our village. We have enough 39 Engineer Regiment at home, after Iraq and Afghanistan, to do this sort of thing. Here they are delivering the equipment.

And here's the guy who drew the short straw and had to guard it all over the afternoon...

He wasn't armed or anything, and I'd have loved to have seen the people who dared to steal several tons of military equipment in front of a thousand or so people including large numbers of Army personnel, but there was probably some sort of Elf and Safety ruling which meant that if someone tried to make off with the odd huge chunk of steel and dropped it on his/her foot... (I'm actually a big fan of people not being killed at work, having been a H&S rep in my previous job and a fire marshal in this one, but the risk assessment form does seem to have gone over the top this year!)

I don't have pictures of the bridge construction, or the children running up and down and all around it afterwards; I was helping to pack our stuff away at the time. But I've seen it all done once before, and I saw bits of it this time; and my God, they're good. I realised they're trained for it, and they're meant to be some of the best in the world; but about a dozen of them take all that stuff and make a working bridge which will carry a tank in almost exactly 10 minutes flat. It's astonishing.

This year, there were also Interesting Animals. (Not saying that the Dog Obedience in previous years was dull... well, yes, I am.) The library stand was right next to a little cage of meerkats. A couple of times, stroking of meerkats happened.

Snakes were also present. I couldn't quite believe the colour (and size) of this one. (Yes, it is real.)

Dragging us back into the Usual, Waterbeach Brass played, and I knitted... it was lovely. Lots of people commented on the knitting. I should have had a little placard for WWKIPD, but I didn't.

Then there was the parade... This year, instead of the Arco Iris Samba Band, we had a Cadets band - pipe and drum band. The uniforms were certainly impressive. There was a short embarrassing pause as this lot, followed by most of the children in the village, confronted the number 9 bus to March at the corner. (The number 9 bus lost.)

There were Rangers, being an Everest expedition. (I hope that if they ever do make the trip, someone points out that shorts might not be quite the thing, but some of them had an impressive number of badges.)

There were Explorers.
The big ones had plastic pith helmets. The little ones had fabulous wild animal costumes. They did their best not to skid on the huge slough of detergent "snow" left by the Everesters while they were standing in one place during the Great Bus Confrontation of 2011.

There were also Egyptians.

I love the way some people go for complete historical accuracy, and some go for 'I'm sure I have a bridesmaid's dress somewhere'... that's the spirit!

And here comes the school contingent and its Ecowarriors.

And, just because NO village procession around Cambridge is complete without a samba band - the Arco Iris conductor had evidently been working with the school...

... and it had developed its own.

There were also Elephants, but the pictures weren't great; but there was also Easter, and Eggs.

So sweet.

The weather, as you can see from these, was fine. Not as warm as it might have been, but the forecast had been astonishingly horrible; and in the end, the rain didn't fall until Sunday, which was dreadful; but as we're officially in drought, I probably shouldn't mind getting a little bit soaked going to a friend's for dinner last night...

I love the Feast. Cottenham/Rampton are having a Big Family Festival next month, with fanciness including Bob Flowerdew; but we're not so shabby; and I'm moved to tears by the parade every year because so many people put so much effort into it...

Monday, June 06, 2011

D is for... DPNs

As you can see - the 30 day blogging challenge has become somewhat theoretical. I am going to carry on with the A-Z thing though, because it's fun, and why not. With interspersed book reviews... and I'm going to try to make it semi-regular...

So - DPNs.

There are almost as many ways of knitting socks as there are people, I think. I'm in a knit-along (KAL) for Cookie A.'s book knit. and there are people knitting on 4 DPNs, 5DPNs, one circular, two circulars, two at a time on two circulars, two at a time on one circular. Some are adapting the patterns to knit toe-up, and there are as many methods of knitting toe-up socks as there are top-downs...

I also remember being at the (sadly now closed) Stash Yarns in London when there were 7 knitters there, using 7 different methods of knitting socks, and a lady came into the shop and said "what's the best way to knit socks?" How we laughed. (And then explained why we were laughing and invited her to watch us all knitting and work out which might be best. Obviously.)

Me, I'm a fan of double-pointed needles in a set of 4 for socks. I like the triangle formation, and how stable it is.

I like wooden needles, because I'm a looser knitter and I like the grabbiness of wood. My favourite DPNs are a set of 3 (formerly 5) Colonial Rosewoods from Wibbo several years ago - I broke one, and left one on a table at work while knitting at lunch... I supplement these with KnitPro Harmony wooden needles, which aren't quite the same (and are half an inch longer) but do the job.

The only book I could find which made sense to me while I was trying to learn how to knit with DPNs was called America's Knitting Book by Gertrude Taylor (found in Oxfam in Ely, but I gather it's back in print at . I warmed to this book on the bus home, when it said "If you are left-handed, you should not knit from left to right. Left-handed people write in the same direction as right-handed people do, so too, you should knit in the same direction as other knitters do, so that others will be able to help you." My grandma tried to teach me by getting me to sit opposite her and knit in the opposite direction, and it just didn't work - in the end I taught myself from a (right-handed) Ladybird book. I would love to find a copy of that book again. I have met a couple of truly left-handed knitters over the last couple of years and they do brilliant work; but I'm not sure I'd have carried on in the 1970s climate if I'd knitted entirely left-handed.

One of the legacies of Gertrude Taylor, though, is that she does say breezily "If you are going to knit socks without seams you will be using the four-needle method", and additionally shows all of her diagrams for both circular and DPNs with the knitter working from the back of the triangle, looking at the right side but with the wrong side facing, thus:

(This was a test knit for Erssie Major last summer; a lovely Christmas stocking in colourwork).

One of the good things about knitting "inside out" in colourwork is that the "floats" (lengths of yarn between one use of a colour and the next) are on the outside, so you're less likely to get all tightened-up...

The other thing I like about using DPNs for any circular stuff is their compactness.

Knitting is totally a matter of preference - and this is mine.

C is for... Cricket

Not very impressive, getting two days into a month's blogging every day and then stalling, but I'd originally picked C for Colour, and got overwhelmed choosing photos. So I thought I'd go for something more manageable, and topical, on this 4th day of a murky Test at Lords after the umpires have just pulled the teams off for bad light yet again.

One of my first memories of family holidays is listening to Test Match Special (quietly, so as not to disturb the neighbours) on the beach. As most of the beaches we went to tended to be in Northumberland, there weren't many neighbours. I suppose the earliest one might have been the 1975 Ashes series; but I remember Botham, Gower et al against Richards, Holding and the fabulous West Indies side which is being commemorated in the new film Fire in Babylon (link to trailer).

I'm not that technically knowledgeable about cricket - I know where the fielding positions are, and the difference between the types of delivery. I'm a big fan of Test cricket as the purest form of the art; but the World Cup was pretty exciting this time round, and as someone who grew up about half a mile from the current Durham ground, following County cricket is pretty rewarding too. But mostly, I love the fact that a sometimes slow-paced game can give such excitement, that games which ought to go one way suddenly go another and that articulate people can be so utterly passionate about it. You could probably say most of these things about any sport, but mine's cricket.

To an extent, this is actually rather like knitting, or any form of craft. You graft on, sometimes without an end or any discernible result in sight, and then have the excitement of a finish; sometimes something you start very tentatively turns out to be exactly the right thing; and then sometimes you think you've picked the perfect yarn and needles for a project and it all goes horribly wrong. And knitters and cricketers all do seem to enjoy a good tea, with cake.

I really, really wish there was the knitting equivalent of Test Match Special. Even if there's no play, sometimes especially if there's no play, the commentators are wonderful. It's almost the original of blogging or podcasting - people sitting and talking about what they're passionate about. Oh, and then you get someone like Heston Blumenthal filling in the gap this morning with his recipe for roast potatoes. Or Imelda Staunton hoving into view at teatime with a home-made lemon drizzle cake. Or Scouting for Girls coming in to do a version of She's so lovely for Mrs Aggers because she has it has her ringtone...

Go England. At the moment, it looks as if we might be heading for an honourable draw and that'd be just fine...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

B is for... Books

(Before I go on about the actual theme, B is also for Bug - aka Amelia [Mealy-Bug], mentioned in the last post. She came home last night, about 24 hours before I expected her to, and seems pretty cheerful for a cat with a 5" incision in her belly. She's also, so far and touch wood, been very good about not attacking the stitches. We get the results of the biopsies sometime next week. She's sulking in the back bedroom, mainly because a) she can't go out and b) I attack her twice a day with painkillers and antibiotics, which are obviously The Enemy and I am Horrid Person. She has just come down and devoured half a very nice line-caught posh haddock fillet I'd originally put in the freezer for myself, though. [I'm sure she'd have had the other half if I'd let her.] I've been working from home today, will go in for the usual shorter Friday tomorrow, and am off on Monday - next appointment is Saturday for a quick once-over...

Thanks for everyone's good wishes.)

OK. Books.

As anyone who's read this blog over the last year and a half or so (since I started listing the books I've read) will know, I'm a bit of a reader. I cannot imagine a life without a heap of books to read. Sometimes this is slightly oppressive - even if I wished to play my severely out-of-tune piano, I can't because it has my "unread books" stacks all over it - but it offers a world of possibilities. So I thought I might give you my top 5 non-knitting books, and my top knitting book.


5. The silver pigs, by Lindsey Davis. 1989.
The first of the Marcus Didius Falco novels, and arguably the best - this sets up the series but is a wonderful historical/romantic/detective novel on its own. There are 20 in the series now and I wish continued health and inspiration to Ms Davis for many more.

4. TS Eliot: the complete poems and plays, by TS Eliot. 1969.
There's just something about Eliot. It might be his Catholicism and the use of biblical language to address modern subjects; it may just be his use of language, but I find myself dipping into this collection

3. Gaudy night, by Dorothy L Sayers. 1935.
For me, the best romantic novel ever written, and the detection isn't bad, too. Sayers cracks the ice on the Wimsey/Vane relationship quite wonderfully.

2. Gods in Alabama, by Joshilyn Jackson. 2004.
Jackson is just amazing. Every book she brings out is a tour de force of Southern fiction. I think probably the best thing I can do to describe this book is to give you the first paragraph. "There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches."

1. To kill a mockingbird, by Harper Lee. 1960.
I can't explain why my top two books are set in the American South, but there you are. I re-read this book every couple of years or so. The combination of innocence and knowingness, and a society which is so different and so much the same, always enthrals me. I don't know whether I read the book or saw the film first, but I love both equally, for entirely different ways.


This was a difficult one. So many books have excellent techniques, and beautiful photos. But the top one, just for the eye-opener and a personal connection, has to be

Unexpected knitting, by Debbie New. [Can't find original date, in print again though]

Not the cheapest of books - but it will get you thinking about knitting as the creation of a fabric, if you don't already. This book was written by a woman with 8 children who regards knitting a log-cabin quilt using a photo of her mother, which ends up the size of a barn, as an entirely reasonable activity. There are some recipes for knitting here, and the odd pattern, but really, it's the inspiration which is the key. I've never had such an eye-opener.

The strange thing was that I first saw it the day I met Rosie/caughtknitting, on a chance meeting at the Mill Pond when we were both waiting to go somewhere else and I was knitting. She came over and introduced herself and showed me the book; and I was pretty standoffish because I was waiting for friends to turn up, and thank goodness, she gave me her e-mail address and the rest is history. Joining the Cambridge knitting group was a bit of a lifesaver at the time, and has been lovely ever since. April 24, 2004. Not difficult to remember as it was also my birthday! Nowadays, of course, I'd know what to do if approached by a fellow knitter in a public place, but it was the first time it had happened to me...

I am sure that even without that, it would be my top knitting book...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A is for... Animals

I'm doing something a bit different this month, pinching an idea pitched on Ravelry by Tinks - she's going to be taking up a challenge of blogging all the letters of the alphabet this month on her blog. Some of the letters are going to be easier than others!

This one, however, has come to mind because of a couple of events this week. First, the little Circus Tyanna has come to live on the Green this week. For a spinner, the most exciting ones are obviously the llamas - wouldn't these two make a great sweater?

There's also this extremely cute white goat which is tethered just opposite my house
and a slightly less cute goat - there are quite a few ponies but this miniature one is probably the sweetest-looking...

I'm sort of glad to have animal distractions out there at the moment, as the Bug is in the veterinary hospital until at least Thursday - she had an enormous pancreatic cyst removed yesterday and they've sent off various bits of her for biopsies. I imagine she is not amused at the moment.

No knitting to sit on, for one thing.