Sunday, March 25, 2012

Like clockwork

It's that day - the day the clocks go forward.  Couldn't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned...

I don't hate the cold of winter; as long as my feet are warm and dry, I'm OK.  What I do hate is the lack of light... for the last nearly-six-months, I've left home in the dark and I've got back here in the dark; and more often than not, I haven't been able to leave the building at lunchtime either because there's been a meeting, or something to do over lunch, or whatever... I am so very, very glad for the prospect of light evenings.

I do like clocks though.  This one is about 4" in diameter and made by Impossible Fossils in resin, with clock parts and burned paper dial.  I bought it to put up in the bedroom, but the light from the lamp in the dining-room makes it look so nice it's never made its way up there.


I also have this, made by an Extreme Scroll-Saw Man in California - it took me a year to find a clock I wanted for my 40th birthday (parents gave up and sent me a cheque after several months of dithering) and this was it, found on Etsy and assembled with instructions once it got here (sadly, I can't remember the maker's name...   There are 8 angels on this clock, six of them visible in this photo...


To give you an idea of what the light levels are like in the Fens in "spring", this was what the Green looked like at 10:45am today, just as the fog was clearing:


Yes, we haz European Market!  Not a great one (when I say that the cheese stall was provided by the Brits, and consisted mainly of cheddar and Wensleydale adulterated with various fruits and herbs...) but I got olives, feta, duck sausage and a chocolate confection for a present...

When I came out of the house, the guys on the bread-and-olives stall at far right had obviously pegged me as a soft touch, wondering where they could get hot water for a cup of tea...  but the guy who asked looked so very like an Algerian friend from France years ago...  So I went home and put on the kettle (I did get a good discount on olives and feta cheese a bit later.).  I also had take-away tartiflette for lunch.  And warmed-up same for dinner.  I do hope they come back.  Preferably with a better vendor of cheesy comestibles.

And because posts with song-titles need context: here's the Boomtown Rats in 1978, on ToTP.  Probably one of the worst attempts at the obligatory lip-synch in that period of the history of ToTP, although David Coverdale's rendition of "Here I Go Again", where he can clearly be seen saying "oh, f**k this", is also good.

2012 books, #21-25

Homicide: a year on the killing streets, by David Simon. Kindle edition.

This year-long biography of a homicide squad in Baltimore first formed the basis of a 1990s detective series called Homicide, and then led the writer to go on and write The Wire. Simon was allowed to take a year's sabbatical from his job at the Baltimore Herald and spent 1988 in a squad-room, documenting the cases and lives of the men (and at the time they were overwhelmingly men) trying to hold back the mayhem on the streets which led to 250 deaths in the year.  None of the police depicted are stereotypes, although a few are certainly eccentrics.  It's a fascinating look into a world without much in the way of modern forensics, without mobile phones, without much in the way of CCTV footage, and how detection was done.  If you enjoyed Life on Mars, you'd certainly like this.  There's a lot of gallows humour and rounding-up-the-usual-suspects, but there's also a lot of dedication and determination for justice to be done, and an awful lot of slightly scary details on how politics affects policing.

One day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the Israeli revenge operation "Wrath of God", by Simon Reeve. Kindle edition.

This seems to have been written in around 2002, with various updates, and is the book-of-the-documentary, but stands well on its own.  The first third or so of the book is the factual account of what happened when 9 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in the Olympic village.  There follows an account of how this changed Israeli policy on pursuing terrorist suspects, and the hunting down and killing of various members of the PLO over subsequent years, including two of the three surviving hostage-takers.  I think what shocked me most was the disclosure of a cover-up by the German authorities of major incompetence by their police and armed forces; almost three decades after the massacre, the families were finally allowed to view the files they'd been told repeatedly didn't exist.  Extremely good and very moving book, anyway.

The good soldier, by Ford Madox Ford. London: Penguin, 2002.

I really loved this when I first read it, almost exactly 20 years ago; this time round, I wondered why on earth I'd kept it fondly in mind.  Stylistically, it's still very beautiful, but this time I found the characters shallow, the setting vacuous, and the ignorance of the narrator of the principal events of the novel unconvincing.  My irritation with it wasn't helped by the preponderance of notes in this edition - I started up looking the annotations up in the back, but they seem to have been prepared for people unfamiliar with both the UK and the US, and indeed the finer points of the English language.  It was a disappointment that a novel I'd held in my mind didn't stand a second reading - but it also showed me that I'm a different person to the one who originally read this book, and that's probably not a bad thing; it would be odder if we never moved on in our analysis of things!

Bad luck and trouble, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear: Soundings, 2007.

No time for psychological exploration with this one - Child doesn't do that sort of thing.  Jack Reacher's band of Special Investigators from the forces needs to get together, but five of the eight seem to be missing, and one has turned up dead.  Reacher is summoned to the California desert to find out why someone is torturing his buddies and dropping them from helicopters into the wilderness.  It's the usual all-action high-voltage stuff we expect from Reacher, and extremely good listening.

Sworn to silence, by Linda Castillo.  London: Pan, 2009.

A new-to-me author - but I already have the next one on hold.  Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in Painters Mill, in Amish country.  She's unusual not only for being a relatively young woman in the post, but for being born into an Amish family but having left the faith at the age of eighteen.  A series of brutal murders brings back horrific memories for Kate and the community; someone is using slaughterhouse techniques on young women and carving numbers into them, repeating a series of killings 16 years before.  Kate has more difficulty believing this than other members of the community, though - she knows she killed the perpetrator when she was 14.  This is an excellent book; atmospheric, with characters you care about, and some really tight plotting.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

2012 books, #16-20

Gosh, I'm a long way behind with these.  To the extent that the next book up is last month's book club book, and the next discussion happened last night...

The help, by Kathryn Stockett.  New York: Berkley, 2009.

This was quite astonishingly good.  The comparison with To Kill a Mockingbird on the cover raised my hackles (any comparison to my favourite novel, in the world, ever, tends to do that); but really, putting that aside, you could see why the analogy was made.  I know I'm very late to the party with this one, and everyone in the world has probably read it; but for anyone who hasn't....  The main voices belong to Aibileen and Minny, two black maids, and Miss Skeeter, a white woman just out of college in 1962, with the urge to become a journalist and no real idea of what she wants to write about.  After one of her contemporaries starts a crusade to segregate bathrooms in people's private houses so they no longer have to use the same loo as their maids, Skeeter decides that real-life accounts of the lives of maids would be an interesting subject for literature.  In this, she entirely fails to understand the danger involved in the enterprise; for her, any suggestion that she sympathises with the civil rights movement leads to social ostracism; for the maids, the danger is much more real and present - Aibileen lives two streets away from Medgar Evers and his family, and Evers' murder features in the story.

I started off with this one with a small measure of dread - Aibileen's account is written in a dialect, which often spells death to my urge to read a book; but it's written well enough that you get caught in very early on and it's just a signal of who's speaking.  Aibileen is the real voice of the novel - compassionate, fierce and courageous.  None of the characters are caricatures, not even the really rather dreadful Hilly who dominates the Women's League, or Mother, who when she believes she is dying keeps a notebook of Fashion Faux Pas to pass on to Skeeter for Future Reference.  There has been some controversy over a white woman writing in a black woman's voice; and maybe my point of view on this shows my ignorance; but what happens if nobody can speak in a voice other than their own?  What would a world without Othello, or Fahrenheit 451, or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, be like?  A much longer review than usual, but I laughed out loud and cried tears over this book, sometimes simultaneously; and it'll teach me that just because something's incredibly popular, that doesn't mean I won't enjoy it!

Theodore Boone, kid lawyer by John Grisham.  London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2010.

The fact that one copy of this book in the library was in the thriller section and the other in Young Adults is probably just about right.  Theodore Boone is thirteen, and spends more time in the local courthouse than most lawyers.  His parents are lawyers (and liberals; one of Theo's evenings each week is spent at the local soup kitchen).  Most of their friends are lawyers.  (Even the family dog is called Judge.)  Theo wants to be a lawyer one day, and is already dispensing free legal advice to his classmates.  The case of the moment is a spectacular murder, very unusual for the Boones' small town, and Theo finds himself with vital information he doesn't know how to handle, but which proves the accused's guilt much better than the prosecution case can.  This is a lovely, engaging book; I think it's Grisham's first foray into YA fiction but I hope not the last.  I read it in an afternoon while knitting the stocking-stitch body of a sweater and it's a delightful read.

The American future: a history, by Simon Schama [audiobook]. Read by Peter Marinker.  Whitley Bay: Chivers, 2008.

I gather this is a book-of-the-series sort of thing - but as I never saw the series, it stands up very well as an audiobook.  Marinker's reading is excellent, as he switches between US and British English pretty seamlessly. The framing device is the 2008 Presidential election campaign, and particularly the Democratic caucuses where there is a genuine choice between a female candidate and a black candidate for the first time.  As ever in American history, the future is found to have its roots in colonialism and civil war; and some of the individual stories are fascinating.  I think the one I found most interesting was that of the Meigs family, who were around in the colonial era and at the founding of West Point, and who fought in the Civil War, both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.  There's an interview with the current Montgomery C. Meigs (IV? I'd lost track), who's a professor of military history; for a relatively new country, that's a heck of a dynasty.  I found this moving, funny and profoundly interesting.  I imagine all I'll retain is some flypaper details, as ever, but I'm sure some facts have gone in somewhere!

The retribution, by Val McDermid [audiobook].  Read by Saul Reichlin.  Rearsby, Leics: WF Howes, 2011.

This was a characteristically creepy Tony Hill/Carol Jordan book; Jacko Vance, a serial killer Hill and Jordan managed to arrest in their first case together, has escaped from prison and is determined to exact revenge.  Vance is an ex-Olympic athlete who turned radio presenter after he lost an arm; and it's a testament to McDermid's skill that you don't just stop reading after that description...  Vance is seriously scary and will stop at nothing; and given that we know McDermid doesn't let the fact that a character is well-liked and fairly vital to the plot stop her offing said character if the plot demands it, one or two of the features of this particular book shouldn't surprise or shock; but they do.  Reichlin's another narrator I watch out for - his reading of Steig Larsson's Millennium trilogy added a lot to my enjoyment of them, and he does another excellent job here.

Free fire, by C J Box. Kindle edition.

Joe Pickett again!  This time, he's called in to a very strange series of events at Yellowstone National Park, after a letter was sent to the state governor alleging unspecified crimes were taking place.  In the same area, a lawyer has been acquitted of three murders on the technicality that a local jury couldn't be empanelled due to there being no local residents in the park.  Joe is far from home (although the home he currently has is far from satisfactory) and his family, and the eerie goings on don't help much, either.  For some reason, I didn't enjoy this as much as I did previous books; maybe it's the far-from-home thing...

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Scarily correct

A colleague, fellow team member and knitting friend spent part of her birthday at the David Shrigley exhibition at the Hayward yesterday, and brought this back for me.  It's a badge I can attach to my work lanyard.  It has amused the friends and colleagues I've shown it to so far; and it's so entirely accurate.

Thankyou, Anya.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

2012 books, #11-15

Catching up with some more of these.  For some reason, it's really difficult to remember to review books read on the Kindle!

Angle of investigation: three Harry Bosch stories, by Michael Connelly. Kindle edition. 2011.

Another set of promotional stories for The Drop put out for 99p by Connelly, and definitely worth the money!  Stories from different points in Bosch's career.  The first story features repeat robberies in a pawnshop; Bosch and Jerry Edgar find the robber dead, apparently electrocuted, in mysterious circumstances. In the second story, a father is distraught at the death of his disabled son, left in an overheated car in his work parking lot - Bosch's partner Ignacio is convinced there's more to it than the man says. The final, title, story takes place over a long period - Bosch, working open-unsolved cases, comes across the case of the first dead body he saw on the job, that of a woman drowned in a bath with her dog.  Coming back to it with both the experience and modern forensics, he uncovers the almost unthinkable.

In plain sight, by C. J. Box. Kindle edition.

Another Joe Pickett story.  Ranch owner Opal Scarlett disappears - the only people who miss her are her sons Arlen, Hank and Wyatt, who settle their problems by trying to beat each other to death with shovels. Joe's daughter Sheridan is friends with Julie, Opal's grand-daughter, and becomes involved accidentally in the feud.  Meanwhile, a relative of Joe's former foster daughter April is out to track Joe down.  Joe's family, job and life are threatened, and his relationship with Randy Pope, the head of the Wyoming Fish and Game service, seems to be going downhill still further.  Another excellently plotted story which also maintains a lot of the existing relationships and characters.

The hard way, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2006.

While there's often some humour in the Jack Reacher books, Lee Child excels himself here by transforming the latter half of the action in this book to the UK, and specifically to rural Norfolk.  There's a lot of knowingness here from ex-pat British author Child; scenes where six-and-a-half foot Reacher tries to blend into the landscape in a country pub, or has to drive a Mini Cooper around Hyde Park Corner, are extremely funny while the pressure on the plot is fully maintained.  Excellent novel, and very well read by Jeff Harding, himself an ex-pat American living in the UK for the last couple of decades.

Gamble: a Dick Francis novel, by Felix Francis. London: Michael Joseph, 2011.

The existence of this book is pleasing enough - the previous 4 collaborations between Felix and Dick Francis were right back to the standard of the early Francis novels, and this one is also extremely fine.  It covers well-trodden paths, although this time round the protagonist is an ex-jockey who has gone into a firm of independent financial advisors; but honestly, just saying it's a really good Dick Francis novel is probably enough for aficionados.

Lazybones, by Mark Billingham [audiobook]. Read by Steve Perrin. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2004.

Someone is killing convicted rapists on their release from prison; and one of the difficulties for the police is actually caring about the victims.  Tom Thorne struggles with this as much as his officers do, until he finds a genuine victim in the case.  This really does go for the hairpin bends at the end of the book and the ending is definitely pretty surprising!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Looming back into view

Hello!  This, unbelievably, is the first non-book-review post of the year.

Mostly, this has been due to the usual time-of-year-kicking-me-in-the-head thing; I've also ended up doing some work at home and some earlier mornings/longer days at work; and transport has been a bit terrible too.
I think the low point this year came on the week beginning February 6, when I spent 25 hours just getting to work and back  (normally my week is extreme by some people's reckoning at around 17.5 hours just travelling) and then, as the kicker on the Saturday, failing completely to get to Kew Gardens for a wander about and Cake Crawl with some lovely knitters.  Standing on a station for 45 mins in -13C (Ely; frozen points) has given me a greater appreciation of Arctic/Antarctic explorers; in terms of confirming my belief in their total insanity.

So, anyway; I've been maundering away feeling knackered thinking "nobody's going to be interested in my boring life; I've done nothing..."   And that might be true; but this evening I, and the rest of the carriage, spent 45 minutes being treated to a woman directing her husband around Iceland.  Enthusiastically; and extraordinarily loudly.  Which would have been really interesting if she were talking about the country, rather than the frozen food shop.  Unfortunately, it turns out Mum couldn't get to Iceland so she was going to send Dad round on a string. "Well, yes, chili chicken bits, but ARE THEY BREADED, TONY?  ARE THEY BREADED?"

This set me a somewhat lower bar.

So; I got a loom for Christmas! A 24" Ashford rigid heddle loom, to be specific. It's a lovely beast. I loved it first because it involved the application of wax, a lot of self-assembly, and a wonderfully-constructed set of parts packed by someone from a company which feels confident enough in its workers and training that it gives each packer a business card with "Proudly packed by" on it. I've assembled an Ashford wheel, done bits for an Ashford carder, and now the loom - everything works wonderfully.

While I was waiting for the wax to dry on December 28, I opened my Christmas presents from friends (hadn't had time before I set off to my parents') and had two lovely skeins of sari silk from my friend Chai in Toronto; looking at the colours and the sheen, I wondered about weaving it...

So, this is what I got for my first project;

Picture 012

Warp was a purple bamboo yarn I'd bought to make a hat without realising that actually bamboo + hat probably means cold head. The weft was partly the sari silk and partly remnants of some lovely charcoal grey Jaeger Extra Fine Merino in charcoal. Here's the thing on the table. It's shorter than I was hoping, but taught me a valuable lesson about how much yarn you waste in the weaving process. And it still looks nice on the table...


With Chai (and her February birthday) still in mind, I decided to make a houndstooth check scarf from slightly thicker yarn in two different textures, and that worked out pretty well, too - this is the detail view on the loom


and this is what it looked like after washing


Warping with a yarn with so much angora was probably silly; it took ages; but I did love the final fabric...

And to come full circle; I warped up again the day I couldn't get to Kew. I'm sure Tina is responsible for the amount of red in this project, but it also reflects the amount of red/orange sock leftovers I had kicking about.


I'm still weaving this one, and enjoying it, although finding it more difficult to get the edges straight with the finer yarn...