Sunday, June 22, 2008

Knitting and Books Update (as promised)

So here is the promised update on book and knitting activity.

I went to check on the list to the right of this post to see what I'd been reading last time I posted and of the five books listed I am not actively reading any of them. They all reside in various states of incompleteness down the side of the bed (except Atonement, which is I fear hope lost forever, eaten perhaps by the dust buffalo that roam under the bed.) I feel therefore that a new start is perhaps required so next time I post I will erase the offending list and start again with books I am actually reading. Perhaps I need a new list at the bottom of books that I started but never finished. I should say that some of this is not the fault of the books themselves, or at least not the fault of the writing - I was really enjoying The Book Thief, but I have it in hardback and it's such a large heavy book that I find it impossible to read in bed and it's way too heavy to carry around. Consequently I am forever starting other books in its place. Atonement has no such excuse.

So, if I'm not reading those, what have I been reading. Well, I started An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson, which is set in 1930s London theatreland and features Josephine Tey. Alas, I have abandoned this also. I'm not quite sure why, and it's possible that I may yet go back to it. It was quite enjoyable in a cosy sort of way, but it just wasn't gripping me. I think that while it was well-written, and as far as I could tell fairly well-plotted (though I hadn't got to the denoument of course) it just wasn't my sort of book. I'm feeling bad now for not finishing it. Perhaps I'll give it another go.

I did finish The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This was a classic that had eluded me. I have to confess that I'd never heard of Kate Chopin, but I picked up a couple of OU English Lit textbooks at a carboot sale the other week and when I flicked through them, this was one of the books that was studied. It's available in a lovely Dover Thrift Edition so I splashed out and bought myself a copy - a new one - not even secondhand! It was interesting, but I guess I just don't read enough of that sort of literature to be able to critique it properly. I can see that it could have caused quite a sensation when it was first published - a woman leaving her husband and setting up in her own house - how shocking!

Back on familiar ground I tackled The Watchman by Robert Crais. It's one of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels, which I much prefer to any of the stand-alone thriller's he's written. This one is mostly about Joe Pike, and a woman he is trying to keep safe so she can give evidence. Great stuff.

Then from 21st Century California I hitched a ride on the Tardis to 12th Century Cambridge for The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. This is a first novel about a woman doctor (rare in itself in the 12th C.) who specialises in "reading" the dead. She is sent to Cambridge to solve a series of brutal child murders, with her companions - a Jew and a Saracen. These three travelling together cause a stir even before they start to uncover evil deeds in the heart of Cambridge. I really, really liked this. The main character, Amelia, is wonderful as she finds herself in an unfamilar situation and with unfamiliar feelings arising. Watching her grow throughout the book and discover herself is just great. It's a fascinating setting with good characters and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series, which is called The Death Maze.

Somewhere in the middle of all that I also read the new Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden. I liked her first novel, The House at Riverton (quite the best of last year's Richard and Judy books) and I liked this one almost as much. A light read, but a good tale, well told and with an intriguing narrator.

While I'm on the subject of R&J, their summer booklist is usually light on crime but this year has two, one of which I have read - No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay. I think this may have slipped through the blogging net somehow as I don't recall writing about it at the time, but it was OK. Quite an interesting proposition - a girl wakes up one moring to discover that all of her family have disappeared in the night. There is no trace of them and she is left not knowing whether they were abducted and killed, or if they just up and left her. In either case she still wonders why she was left behind. Now she's grown-up and married with a daughter and the past is starting to catch up with her. As I recall it was quite well-written and the plot didn't go the way I expected it to. This is normally a good thing, but I seem to remember thinking that it would have been better if he (she?) had written it the way I wanted it to go! Anyway it's worth a read if you like American thrillers.

I'm now reading Blood Lines by Grace Monroe. This is the second in a series, the first of which I reviewed for Eurocrime last year sometime. I've just started it, so it's a bit early to tell, but I think it may be a very irritating book. More later in the week.

I think that's it for book news. Now knitting. There is hardly any knitting news. If you have been patiently wading through all the book twaddle in hope of a knitting disaster I apologise. Icarus progresses along slowly. I am almost at the end of the plain bit, I'm on the second skein of yarn and have threaded all the beads (and quite a few extras) onto the yarn ready to knit them into place. This has slowed progress considerably as I have to keep shuffling them down the yarn at the end of each row. I have finished the Power of Three socks, but I haven't sewn in the ends yet, so I haven't photographed them. They're not very exciting anyway - just another pair of Plain Jane socks.

I do have big spinning news - the surprise payment of a little bonus at work has enabled me to buy this -

Isn't it lovely. It's a Lendrum wheel and comes with no less than 4 different flyers. (That means I can spin all kinds of yarns from big chunky ones to very fine laceweight stuff - in case any non-spinners were wondering). I bought it from a member of my spinning group and I love it. Here's a little close up of all the beautiful maple leaves running around the wheel -

I spun my first yarn on her over the weekend and here it is still on the bobbin -

Finally, I feel I must convey my sincere apologies to the people of Spain. You see I have tipped them to beat Italy in the quarter-final of Euro 2008 tonight. My record so far in the tournament is not good. Way back in the qualifying rounds I was supporting England and Scotland, neither of whom even qualified. Once the tournament started I plumped for Romania, who went out at the first stage. Croatia were my next victim, and they went out in their quarter final. Last night I was knitting my orange jumper in support of the mighty Holland, to no avail. I'm afraid that I am the kiss of death to any team. If Spain lose tonight I'm expecting the German manager to be on the phone begging me not to support them.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Busy Week

It's been a busy week here at Austin Towers.

There have been birthdays to celebrate and things going on which haven't left a lot of time for reading or knitting.

The Evilpixie turned 18 last week, and is now officially an adult. I am left wondering just where exactly all those years have gone.

Pete's birthday is tomorrow but we already had his present which was a day out to the BBC Good Food Show Summer at the NEC on Thursday. We went on the train so we could fully partake of all the free samples of wine, cider, sloe gin. We ate quite a lot too. A good day.

On Saturday we toddled off to the Three Counties Show at Malvern where we saw a great array of chickens, goats, sheep, ducks and some wonderful Gloucester Old Spot piglets, plus merchandise of all kinds. We watched the White Helmets Motorcycle Display Team do complicated and dangerous things on motorbikes, we watched the wool handling competitions and the sheep shearing competitions and a gundog scurry. It was a very hot day (not forecast to be that hot!) and we both got a little bit sunburned. I was very bad at taking photos but here are some Badger-Faced Welsh Mountain sheep being judged....

This little chap was being shown for the first time and he wasn't at all keen.

We had a great time at the show and would recommend it to anyone. Unfortunately there were no alpaca at the show this year - something to do with the dreaded blue tongue, I think, but the breeders were there and I bought a little fibre to spin in a lovely pale caramel shade.

Today I have been indulging in my latest obsession which is quilting. I suddenly got it into my head that I wanted to make a quilt. (I am blaming Jane and Lene for this.) I was first drawn to it by the flashy Kaffe Fassett colours on Jane's blog, but when I did a bit of reading and acquired a few books and magazines I decided that what I really wanted was a proper old-fashioned traditional quilt. (Which is not to say that I won't make a bright modern one at some point in the future - I still love those Fassett prints.) A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a little remainder book shop in Beeston which had a lovely selection of quilting books including this one. It takes you through all the skills you need to make a sampler quilt, block by block, and at the end you have a quilt. This seemed to me to be the ideal project for a beginner so I spent a few weeks collecting together some suitable fabrics and today I finally made a start.

Here is the result - block one of seventy-two!

It's by no means perfect but I think it's not too bad for a first attempt. I haven't done any patchwork since the 1970s when it involved a lot of cutting of templates and bits of card. This seemed much simpler and took me just an afternoon. I hand-stitched it - despite planning to use the sewing machine, when it came to actually sewing I felt the need to stitch it by hand. This may or may not continue. Further blocks will follow as and when I have time. This will be a long term project!

Books and knitting update later in the week. I've been a little distracted by Euro 2008. So much football, so little time!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Meme about Me

I've seen this meme on other blogs and thought it was quite interesting. I don't often reveal stuff about myself on the blog, so here's a little insight...

What was I doing 10 years ago?

Living in Bicester in Oxfordshire, working in customer service for a scientific publisher. Working full-time, with a thirty mile commute and an seven year old daughter. It's a wonder I ever found time to catch my breath. I was not knitting at this stage in my life.

5 Things on my to-do list for today?

Plant up the tomato plants into their hanging baskets, then sow more lettuce seeds.

Descale the coffee machine. We have a wonderful Gaggia Baby, bought for £50 on eBay, and far better than the mucho-expensive super-dooper bean-to-cup machine it replaced, which always had something going wrong with it.

Research about keeping chickens in the garden. This is our new project, though we probably won't actually get the chooks until next spring. Just checking out the best places to get all the kit from, not to mention what kind of birds to get. Can't wait!

Go to my spinning class. Nearly finished my year of evening classes now and I've learned a lot, but mostly I think it's just given me the confidence that what I was doing was along the right lines and I've grown and added to the skills I already had. Tonight I will go and play with the drum carder. I have some superwash merino to blend, ready to spin and knit into, you've guessed it...socks.

Snacks I enjoy..

I love Ready Salted crisps, and Green and Blacks chocolate (though not at the same time).

Things I would do if I was a billionaire..

Live by the sea, most likely in Florida

Have a big ramshackle house full of dogs and wool

Run my own business - a book shop, or a wool shop or a coffee shop (or some combination of all three)

Places I have lived..

We moved around a bit when I was a child - Brechin, Saltcoats, Perth, Newburgh. Then I went to college in Aberdeen. Work has taken me around a bit too - Liverpool, Nottingham, Amsterdam, Oxford. And now I'm here in the Independent Republic of the Black Country.

Jobs I have had..

Bank teller, computer operator, office manager for a laundry, customer services for a publisher, second-hand bookdealer, bookseller

I'm not tagging anyone with this meme but leaving it up to you if you want to use it.