Friday, 30 December 2011
Steve put up extra shelves this year to accommodate the collection. His own reading has added quite a bit to the bulk. We have both appreciated books as gifts, have bought quite a few second-hand and also from the rather wonderful "Last Bookshop" where everything costs £2. I have also bought full price books from bricks and mortar bookshops, notably Foyles, Blackwells and Waterstones.
I really don't want bookshops to vanish from the High Street and I won't be abandoning proper paper books, but I have also succumbed to the charm and convenience of the Kindle. It was my Christmas gift from Steve and I have read one e-book so far. I'm looking forward to the possibility of travelling with ten books in my bag, but just one rather snazzy piece of kit, resplendent in its own personalised Classic Penguin cover (designed and given to me by daughter no. 2) Here's this year's list with special favourites highlighted:
Sebastian Faulks, A Week in December
Penelope Fitzgerald, The Beginning of Spring
Helen Fielding, Cause Celeb
Penelope Fitzgerald, The Book Shop
Jonathan Coe, What a Carve Up
Karin Fossum, The Water's Edge
Henning Mankell, Italian Shoes
Helen Warner, RSVP
Penelope Fitzgerald, At Freddie's
Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
Sophie Hannah, A Room Swept White
Bella Pollen, The Summer of the Bear
Mary Kay Zuravleff, The Bowl is Already Broken
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Salley Vickers, Where Three Roads Meet
Steven Benatar, Wish Her Safe at Home
Andrew Motion, In the Blood
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Graham Swift, Out of this World
Victoria Hislop, The Island
Chitra Divakaruni, Sister of my Heart
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Linda Grant, Remind me who I am again.
John Banville, The Sea
Tracy Chevalier, The Lady and the Unicorn
Maggi Dawn, Accidental Pilgrim
Nigel Slater, Toast
Kate Atkinson, Started early, took my dog
David Nicholls, One Day
Colette Rossant, Return to Paris
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
Peter Carey, Parrott and Olivier in America
Paul Auster, Sunset Park
Helen Dunmore, The Betrayal
Anna Ralph, The Floating Island
P D James, Time to Be in Earnest
Jason Goodwin, The Bellini Card
Nicola Upson, Two for Joy
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
We have six grand-children now and they’re all just as miraculous and marvellously made. But this little girl would not be with us without the intervention of modern science, because she was conceived through IVF treatment – something that only became available at around the time her mother was born 33 years ago.
We are all profoundly grateful. But we’re also remembering friends who have had a series of miscarriages and a stillbirth and who remain, through the amazing strength of the human spirit, generous, optimistic lovely people. And we are receiving regular updates on the condition of twins born at 26 weeks gestation, who are being cared for in separate hospitals. Thanks again to medical science there is every chance that there will be a happy outcome for them – I am certainly praying for it.
None of it seems quite fair to human sensibilities, but it all fits in with the extraordinary beauty and messiness of the world, which in turn chimes a chord with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s message last week: “The story of the first Christmas is the story of a series of completely unplanned, messy events – a surprise pregnancy, an unexpected journey that's got to be made, a complete muddle over the hotel accommodation when you get there...Not exactly a perfect holiday.”
Friday, 16 December 2011
So, last Friday Steve and I went over there equipped with a good supply of plastic carrier bags and spent an hour gathering as much as we could reach. What we brought home filled three big mixing bowls and we still left plenty for the birds and insects to eat.
Making a jelly (as opposed to jam) is new to me, so I spent a bit of time comparing internet recipes and looking at instructions for creating jelly straining bags. I plumped for the recipe on the BBC Food website.
I was quite pleased with the straining device I set up using two chairs, a broom handle and a length of doubled muslin. All the recipes are very adamant that the bag should be left to strain without squeezing in order to avoid clouding of the final jelly. I did experiment a little in my treatment of the fruit in that I mashed one batch to pulp after cooking but before straining it and left the other batch just in its softened, simmered condition. I think the mashed fruit rendered up a bit more juice and I couldn’t see a substantial difference in the end result.
Setting point was achieved relatively quickly. I used an ancient food thermometer that used to belong to my parents and also did the “wrinkle test” with spoonfuls of jelly on very cold saucers. In fact the set was so efficient that when I started potting the preserve a skin had started to form and I managed to get great pre-set blobs in with the still runny jelly, which rather made a mockery of all my attempts to keep the juice completely clear! I ended up with 10 jars of various sizes.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
The experience has increased my admiration for journalists who come up with a regular comment column. Frankly I just don’t have enough opinions to keep up at this rate for any longer.
I will carry on though, just not at the same frequency and I hope to get back to more of the knit, stitch and dye of my original intentions.
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Thus an autobiography of sorts emerges in an interesting non-linear way but she retains control of those elements she prefers not to write about or elaborate upon. In many ways this working method is similar to blogging (in the hands of a consummate writer).
I’ve enjoyed her detective fiction and knew something about her life before I started reading. I was aware, for example, of her difficult personal life after her doctor husband returned from the second world war so psychologically damaged that he spent the rest of his life in and out of hospital until his death at the age of 44. I knew that she took on the mantle of provider for the whole family and worked as a senior Civil Servant. What I did not realise was that, as most girls of her class and generation did, she left school at sixteen. So the enormous range of her intellect has been fed by her own experience of life and relentless reading, rather than by conventional education.
I am struck, as I read, by what a very active public life she was leading at the age of 77; a packed diary of book signings, publicity tours, talks, conferences and dinners as well as personal visits and social life. She has continued to write and publish in the years since this memoir and I am particularly looking forward to reading Death Comes to Pemberley where she bring detective fiction to Jane Austen’s world! Last year (at the age of 90) she was one of the guest editors on Radio 4’s Today programme. She interviewed the BBC Director-General Mark Thompson and gave him a rather hard time. Regular presenter Evan Davies is reported to have commented that she should be permanently presenting the programme.
Sunday, 27 November 2011
M+J are friends from our Oxfordshire days and they moved to Devon not long after we moved to Bristol. They were hoping for a gentler pace of life and to pursue their creative aspirations. I’m not sure that the pace of life is any less frenetic (in fact I know it isn’t), but they have certainly cracked on with the creative stuff. Since moving to their village home they have converted existing outbuildings to create an office and high-tech picture-framing workshop for Jeremy and a painting/printmaking studio for Maggie.
They have made loads of contacts in the Devon art world and Maggie collaborates regularly with other artists and shows her work several times a year at local galleries. At Christmas she opens her studio and fills it with her own work as well as lots of stuff from other artists and craftworkers.
We had a lovely time looking and buying. When we left the studio was full of eager customers looking for original Christmas presents.
Saturday, 26 November 2011
Back in the day when we were growing up in Lichfield, Birmingham was our closest big city for shopping and there were only two department stores, Lewis’s and Rackhams. Despite being only about 15 miles away we only visited Birmingham once or twice a year and one of those visits was the annual trip to visit Father Christmas and Mr Holly in the grotto at Lewis’s . We also remembered Rackhams, which was the posher store, having a particularly magical toy department, which would have a model railway with full landscape and running trains as a centre-piece and other mechanical toys performing their tricks. There were wonderful soft toys and walkie-talkie dolls and rank upon rank of matchbox cars and lifelike farm animals. I can report that House of Fraser, which has taken over Rackhams, no longer has a toy department of that calibre.
Obviously those childhood memories are overlaid by memories of visiting Birmingham as I got older. I was probably about fifteen before I was allowed to go on the train for a shopping trip with friends. Visits to the pantomime at “The Alex” and later other theatre at Birmingham Rep were highlights. I remember Spaghetti Junction being constructed to great media excitement. Like many major cities, the central shopping area of Birmingham has altered almost beyond recognition since those days and it got me thinking about the speed of change.
Coincidentally the book I started reading on the train yesterday is a memoir by P D James; Time to Be in Earnest. Writing in 1997 about her early life in the 1920s she remarks that “a Victorian child of the same class – the Pooters’ daughter perhaps - received into our family would have felt immediately at home; a modern child, transported to a house without electricity, central heating, television, telephone or the use of a car, would feel himself banished to a dark age.” In many ways I feel that my own childhood in the 1950s was still more similar to hers than to a childhood at the beginning of the 21st Century. Obviously we did have electricity in my first family home, but no central heating, telephone or car. It was still a world of coal fires, liberty bodices and chilblains. Change began to accelerate in the sixties and has continued to run faster and faster ever since.
I’m not quite sure what point I’m trying to make here apart from offering it as an observation. I’m certainly not decrying progress – after all how would I be communicating these thoughts on my fancy interwebular device if we were still living in the fifties?
Photo: Steve's and my teddies from the fifties. I don't think Antiques Roadshow would be interested.
Friday, 25 November 2011
In addition to the veg boxes, someone from Mark’s Bread always pedals up from North Street on the bread delivery tricyle on Thursday afternoon to sell lovely artisan bread.
Thursday, 24 November 2011
The herb garden wasn’t too bad, though none of the stuff that I started from seed this year came to anything. We had a few micro salads from our wall-mounted gutters, but they got very badly slug and snail infested and were very difficult to keep going.
We tried potatoes in bags again and the yield was even less worth the effort than in previous years. In fact I had to empty two bags (eight potato plants) to get enough for one meal!
We had about ten beans in all from the dwarf bean plants (the pots were better than the ones in the ground) and none of the peas made it past germination. The broad beans were pretty, but not prolific.
Most of the tomato plants drowned when we had torrential rain just after I’d put them out. I was then given three plants and this is what they produced!
We knew that the fruit probably wouldn’t really get going this year, but all the putative apples dried out and dropped off at a pretty early stage, there wasn’t enough rhubarb to pick and neither did the gooseberry or blackcurrants produce fruit.
Really the only modest success was the garlic which kept us going for a week or two.
I’ve even managed to make a disaster of the wormery compost which was just vile and I’ve had to start again, but am not convinced that it’s working any better. I thought wormeries were supposed to be easy to run!
This year’s winners were the nasturtiums which self-seeded from last year and simply took over the whole darn lot. I kept yanking them out, but finally gave up when everything else failed and let them run riot.
Finally two weeks ago Steve declared war on them and pulled them all out. The garden now looks bleak and unattractive, but I need to start thinking about next year and what might actually work.
This is a bit of a misery memoir, but I have a little bit of distance now from the really deep disappointment of getting so little reward for the effort (and money) I put in. I’ve got a lot of hopes pinned on the fruit to get going next year and I think I might move some of the herbs into the raised bed. I definitely won’t be growing from seed next year – it’s too heart-breaking when it all goes wrong.
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Went to the hairdressers this morning for a restyle (longish hair getting to be a messy nuisance when combined with winter coat collar) and was planning to have some coloured lowlights run through it. After we’d spent a while looking through colours and talking about what would work, the stylist finally turned to me and said: “actually I think you’d be mad to do it; your hair is a lovely colour and although it’s grey it’s actually got quite a few different shades streaked through it.” Wow, an honest opinion! I took her advice; sometimes that’s all it takes to make you see sense. (I did go ahead with the geometric bob, though)
Then this afternoon’s bit of head straightening was a hearing assessment. After going through all the usual questions (did you ever work in a very noisy enviroonment?) and sitting with headphones on listening to various frequencies and volumes of beep I was told that my hearing hadn’t really changed very much in the past two years. My hearing aids have been slightly re-programmed. It was all enough, though, for me to walk home in a bit of a daze with my ears ringing and somehow I can’t hear anything Steve says to me! I’m hoping that I’ll get used to it soon.
Monday, 21 November 2011
Sunday, 20 November 2011
The first budgie was Bert, soon to be joined by Bessie and they have their very own Facebook page. This has now evolved into a full-scale project to create a flock of budgies which, it is hoped, will be installed in a local museum. The idea is to raise money for charity, but also to create a community of people working on a fun (some might say daft) project. Andrew has got all sorts of people working on it from the regular knit and natterers to older people in residential care.
Each maker is encouraged to name his/her budgie and photograph it. Most people also go on to create some sort of budgie persona. One or two of the budgies are very adventurous and have been hang-gliding or climbing Mont Blanc.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
I suppose, partly it’s the good old “because it’s there” motivation. I discovered that the challenge existed and decided to give it a go. It’s also because my blogging has always been pretty sporadic, but had recently almost dried up. It wasn’t quite a choice between abandoning it altogether or going for it 100%, but increasing my posting rate – even if slightly artificially – seemed a good thing to do.
Which of course raises the question, why blog in the first place? To quote my own words back in January 2008 when I started :
“ I don't think I'm a natural blogger. I have resisted this for a long time. Have kept diaries in the past and always been keenly depressed by re-reading them.However, I have recently been inspired by the vast numbers of creative blogs out there - notably knitting, but other things too and thought it might be a good way of reviewing my work and encouraging myself that I have actually done something.”
That’s pretty much how I still feel about it. If I were doing it just to be read by other people I think it would be quite a different blog, but the fact is that I am using a public medium, so there’s obviously some desire for it to be seen and read by other people. It also means making sure that I only publish things that I don’t mind anyone else seeing (and that I don’t infringe anyone else’s privacy).
Although my blog is still largely for my own benefit, as time goes on one becomes aware that blogging creates a community. Some of the blogs I visit on a regular basis have masses of comments and I gradually noticed names appearing in more than one place and a kind of blog-circle emerges. There’s a kind of reciprocal courtesy in the blogiverse that means that if someone comments on your blog, you visit theirs and make a comment and gradually relationships are formed. Up to now I’ve been quite a shy blogger; visiting blogs, reading them and slipping quietly away, with perhaps an occasional comment. Recently I’ve felt more inclined to take part and have a voice in the conversation.
Sharing the blog on Facebook also makes a difference to how it is seen and read. Facebook oddly feels more public than the more anonymous cyber village that is blogland. One is more conscious of the people one knows reading and forming opinions. These are the moments to be grateful that there is no “dislike” button! It has also lead to some welcome conversations in the real world with people who have read what I’m saying and said that they enjoy it. (Thank you).
Friday, 18 November 2011
It's a relief printing press,
Thursday, 17 November 2011
We meet at Paper Village our local craft and yarn store, owned by the redoubtable Vicky - all round artist, crafter, trainer and social entrepreneur.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Hannah had a hospital appointment in town early in the day and a work commitment in town mid afternoon and decided it wasn’t worth going back home to her computer in the interim, so we met up for a leisurely coffee in Park Street. We thought about going to see a film, but the only thing available at a convenient time was a horror movie, so we wandered in and out of shops looking at this and that, discussing Christmas present ideas for each other and rest of the family.
By the time we got to the Harbourside it was time for a leisurely lunch. Then we carried on our drift through town and shops until we arrived at the Drawn in Bristol pop up shop for Hannah to do her duty stint.
We talked and talked, very little was actually bought and it was lovely. Despite living in the same city and catching up with each other reasonably frequently an extended time like this is fairly rare. Anyone with three children knows how special it is to spend time with just one of them alone and this pleasure continues into adulthood.
With a baby due in six weeks it may be some time before we can have another day like this, so it was time to savour.
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
On the face of it there’s nothing at all unlikely about a group of military wives forming a choir – it’s just that no-one’s thought of it before. Judging by the enthusiasm of the recruits he has signed up at Chivenor and in Plymouth it’s something they’ve been waiting for. Watching a programme about the military would not be on my regular wish-list, but whatever my views on Afghanistan or Iraq, there is no doubt that the women and their families left at home while their partners are deployed in dangerous places have a very difficult life indeed.
Gareth Malone is very talented at what he does. He creates enthusiasm, boosts flagging confidence, challenges people to do things they thought they couldn’t do. His choice of repertoire is very clever, starting with pop songs that people already know and gradually introducing more classical work so that the singers can experience a range of music and develop their musicality.
One or two of the women involved are veterans of the waiting game and are very strong characters who have learned how to live that kind of life and still be individuals in their own right. Others, one feels, are crushed by the sense of only existing as the satellite to someone else’s dangerous career. So it is inspiring to see these women coming together as encouragement for one another, overcoming nerves and natural anxiety about performance to (literally) find their own voice.
It’s cracking good television and my only gripe is that we don’t see quite enough of the rehearsals and the singing.
Monday, 14 November 2011
This child is obsessed by scissors. Given the chance she will spend the entire day snipping little pieces of paper from bigger pieces of paper. She hasn't got a great deal of control yet (especially given that she consistently uses her left hand and the scissors are all right-handed), but making a series of diagonal cuts and then trimming them off seems to hit the spot at the moment. Papercut artwork is everywhere at the moment so perhaps she's picking up the cultural trend?
Luckily for my sanity she still has a lovely long nap in the afternoon, so I busied myself making mincemeat. It's probably obvious that I love all the heavily-fruited, spicy mixtures that feature in so many of the traditional Christmas foods, but I haven't previously felt it was worth the effort to make mincemeat. This is a non-traditional recipe, however, with no suet and heavy on cranberries and apple as well as the vine fruits. Looking forward to some mince pies now!Now we have that very rare thing, a good telly evening - University Challenge, Only Connect and The Choir - and probably a bit of knitting.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
On the whole my creative stash lives in my workroom in the basement, but knitting and crochet are sociable crafts that can be practised sitting on a comfortable chair while watching the telly. This has meant that my yarn craft project bags were beginning to silt up at one end of the sofa. It was getting difficult to find what I wanted and generally stressful. So a large part of today has been devoted to sorting out this horrible space.
In the process I discovered that my main current project was in a bag far too small for it, so extra balls of yarn were lolling around here there and everywhere. That has now been sorted into one large bag.
There's a large bag full of the knitted squares for blanket-making that I blogged about last week. These need to stay at hand or I will forget to do anything with them.
I also found at least three bags of random/leftover/spare yarn; a scarf project started and (probably) abandoned; and a bag with two colours of recycled sari yarn which I have yet to find the right project for.
Then there was the bag that holds my in-between-other-projects/use-up-leftovers project - a crochet sampler blanket that will eventually be sewn together in strips.
This is definitely not abandoned, but needs to be on the back burner at the moment because of other things on the go. That and the random bags have been relegated to the basement depths.
As has this little project bag with the yarn and pattern for Fugue tam and mittens by Kate Davies. I have actually knitted one of the mittens, but it came out too small so I need to start again. I can't risk relegating this one for too long or I will miss the hat and mittens season.
Also begging to be sorted was my needle bag and another tube of needles. When it's organised this bag is incredibly useful as it also contains a ring binder for patterns. While Steve was at the cinema this afternoon I sat on the floor with all the needles and a needle gauge sorting out pairs and batches of double-ended needles. All my printed-from-the-internet patterns are now in plastic sleeves in the ring binder.
Hiding under all sorts of other stuff was a jar of buttons that I didn't know was there and would definitely have been looking for sometime soon.
Saturday, 12 November 2011
It was a lovely compensation for being up and out so early to deliver Steve to his stall at the Bristol Harbourside Craft Market where he’s selling Ruth’s and Hannah’s and his own work.