Sunday, 30 October 2016

October Makes - Part 2

This has been a good month for getting projects done that I've had in my mind for a while.

I spent a long weekend up in Lincoln visiting family. For ages I have been meaning to make a small pencil case for trips away and the night before I was due to go I finally got round to it! By the time I made this I had finished listening to the third Hitch Hikers book and moved on to So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish - which, FYI, is my favourite of the five book trilogy.

This is the neat side of course. On the other the blocks did not line up quite so neatly.

Some cheeky pink and white polka dot lining with strawberries . . .

As part of making a mobile for my friend's baby, I have been trying a number of crochet flower tutorials and FAILING MISERABLY at each one! The fifth one I tried I finally struck gold - or, more importantly, a pattern I could follow and that looked like a flower at the end of it! Big thanks to simplydaisy for her simple crochet rose tutorial.

Another New Hexagon piece, this one is called Sonja in the book. Getting to the point in the book where I'm now skipping here and there in the book rather than doing them chronologically as some of the blocks I'm coming to now have really fiddly little pieces that I'm not entirely looking forward to doing. Mock the Week re-runs provided the entertainment while I worked on this.

I've discovered a new EPP quilt pattern, the Quatro Colour by Sue Daley. Live a Colourful Life has posted some lovely blocks. Thus far, I am resisting having a go at this new block as I currently have four EPP quilts on the go at the moment.

I've been meaning to make a mug rug for my spare room for months now and finally got round to it yesterday. Weeks ago I was playing around with some new Paddington print fabric and made a couple of patchwork pieces with it that I then had no idea what to do with, and decided they would be perfect for a mug rug project. The front is pretty neat and I'm pleased with it. The back . . . not so much, hence no photo! Made with Penelope Keith reading A Spoonful of Poison in the background.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Book-dowsing: Restoree by Anne McCaffrey


The blurb:
There was a sudden stench of a dead sea creature. There was the sudden horror of a huge black shape closing over her. There was nothing...
 Then there were pieces of memory, isolated fragments that were so horrible her mind refused to accept them. Intense heat and shivering cold; excruciating pain; dismembered pieces of the human body. Sawn bones and searing screams.
And when she awoke she found she was in a world that was not Earth, and with a face and body that were not her own. She had become a Restoree...

Published in 1967, this is one of Anne McCaffrey’s earlier books. It’s a science fiction and a one-off, not connected to the other worlds she wrote several books in.

The narrator of this story is Sara, a woman from Earth who finds herself transported to another planet in a gruesome manner. She pieces together memories of pain and terror trying to find an answer to how she is where she is – and how her body is no longer the one she remembers. Her skin is now a fine honeyed shade and she is beautiful with a perfect nose. Don’t think I’m being flippant with the nose comment – she refers to her new nose a lot! She finds herself on a world that is paradoxically more advanced than Earth in some respects (advanced ability for space travel being one) but also backwards in others (they use slates rather than paper). When she surfaces from her shock and is able to function fully, she realises she is in an asylum of some sort assigned to care for a man who exists in the same stupoured state as the other inmates. She quickly determines that Harlan is being drugged and in order to escape the situation she is in she takes him off the medication. When he recovers a sense of himself, the two of them are bound together for the duration of the book. They escape the asylum and navigate their way to those who will be willing to help Harlan whose high flying political career was brought to an end by his apparent insanity. Sara learns that the state is being undermined by the power hungry Gleto who is intent on controlling everything that he can, even if that means assassinating the man he is sworn to protect. Hanging over this is the threat of the Mil, an alien race who harvest and butcher people en masse.

Sara’s storyline is dual. On a personal level, she wants to find out how she has came to be in this new world and what it means for her future. In the wider scheme of this new world, she also wants to help Harlan and his allies. The man behind the asylum and her own recreation is a dangerous figure and though she tries to escape his notice he is soon eager to have her back at his facility for further study. No Restoree has ever made a recovery like she has – this in a world where the practice of restoration is vilified and those who have gone through the process are likely to be put to death. Then there's the Mil...

Sara is very pointy-toed in this cover interpretation

I first read this book when I was 13. My memory insists I read it more than once but having picked it up again after a break of over two decades so much of it is unfamiliar to me that I think my memory is flawed. Reading this book as an adult with knowledge of the women’s rights movement means I have a different perspective on it than my child self did. There are elements of this book that have not aged well. The world might be different but the societal structure in which Sara finds herself is very much influenced by the world as it was in the 1960s. The council on this new world are all men. The military leaders – men. Those who can inherit power – men. Aside from a servant and a quick view of Harlan’s ex, there aren’t really any female characters beyond Sara. In the asylum, those who work there (all men again) regularly grope and fondle the female nurses like Sara. When Harlan begins to suspect that she is a Restoree, he strips her and gives her a thorough examination and she is mute through it all, not once telling him to sod off as I would expect a more modern heroine to do. Later on when Sara has been ‘claimed’ by Harlan, it is the role of the men about to make manly jokes and innuendo – it is Sara’s job to blush becomingly. There’s also the fact that Sara is given a full physical makeover and has suddenly become desirable with her lovely skin, beautiful face and small nose. That was one of the bits I remembered very clearly from my first reading of that book, when I think the idea of magically waking up in a new perfect body was something that I could empathise with at that age.  

These comments aside, I did enjoy this book. Sara is a resourcful character and able to act on her own initiative. She iss also keen on being regularly fed, something which I do myself and which fictional characters rarely do so I approved of that piece of characterisation. I like the idea of the world Anne McCaffrey created here and it’s interaction with neighbouring worlds and races. Harlan could easily be played by your typical square jawed action hero type in a film version and though he does have some dimension his main role is to be the manly hero. I’d forgotten the tense battle at the end of the story and found that a page turner. 

It was good to pick up this book again and be reminded of that younger self who voraciously ate her way through whatever sci-fi she could lay her hands on. Would I recommend it to others? If they like their sci-fi old-style then yes but there are other books by Anne McCaffrey that are better than this one.

6 out of 10 Restorees

Friday, 28 October 2016

Audiobook review: The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

The Convenient Marriage (Abridged)

Georgette Heyer (Narrated by Richard Armitage)

This is one of Heyer’s Regency romances, a third-person narrative with the well-researched detailed of dress, manner and setting that you expect from this author.

The basic plot of the story is that the Earl of Rule has proposed marriage to a young woman he has never met who is of good family. She already has an understanding with someone else and her younger sister Horatia pays a visit to Rule and proposes herself as a replacement bride. Rule, amused, accepts her offer and the two marry. The story then picks up when they return from honeymoon, taking in Rule’s mistress, The Massey; his enemy, Lord Lethbridge; his grasping relative, Drelincourt, and Horatia’s impulsive brother Pelham. No sub-plots here as there often are in Heyer books (Cotilion being the most recent example I can site) – the romance in question is that which develops between husband and wife.

Horatia Winwood is a delightful Heyer heroine. She isn’t perfect, which is always pleasant, has a weakness for gambling, a stubborn temperament and a fierce sense of loyalty.

The Earl of Rule is an impressive male lead but I have to say I don't think he is as three-dimensional as some of Heyer's other heroes. He is practically infallible, is routinely two steps ahead of everyone else and is always appears to be in charge of the situation. This makes him a reliable alpha hero but also a bit forgettable after the story is done in a way that Horatio is not. Counter-acting this is Lord Lethbridge, one of Heyer’s more devious rakes, a man bent on revenge and not caring who he ruins in the process. Horatia’s brother Pelham is an impetuous and brash young man, a committed gambler capable of hot-headed reaction which often comes in to conflict with Rule’s cool and clear-headed approach.

Listening to this audiobook with modern ears, there is a scene where Lethbridge contrives to put Horatia in a compromising situation and makes it clear she’s ruined anyway so she might as well enjoy the process. Horatia is able to escape from him before any physical damage is done but there is no acknowledgement given to how horrid a situation that was to be put in. Like I say, I recognise this is a modern reaction but feel I need to mention it nonetheless as it could be a possible trigger for someone. This scene aside, the book is an entertaining piece of lovingly detailed fluff. My favourite part of the book is when Pelham determines the only way to retrieve a certain incriminating piece of evidence is to turn highwayman and steal it back. Things do not go to plan . . .

Richard Armitage is an excellent choice for narrator. His characterisations, especially of Pelham, Rule, Lethbridge and the foppish Drelincourt, are spot on. He has a lovely voice.

My rating: 8 out of 10 bonnets

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Book-dowsing: Animal by Sara Pascoe

The Blurb:
Take a funny and illuminating tour of the female body with award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe.
Women have so much going on, what with boobs and jealousy and menstruating and broodiness and sex and infidelity and pubes and wombs and jobs and memories and emotions and the past and the future and themselves and each other.
Here's a book that deals with all of it.
Sara Pascoe has joked about feminity and sexuality on stage and screen but now she has a book to talk about it all for a bit longer. Animal combines autobiography and evolutionary history to create a funny, fascinating insight into the forces that mould and affect modern women.
Animal is entertaining and informative, personal and universal - silly about lots of things and serious about some. It's a laugh-out-loud investigation to help us understand and forgive our animal urges and insecurities.

For the past couple of months, each time I've seen Sara Pascoe on TV I've thought 'I must get hold of her book'. As Suffolk Libraries seem stubbornly opposed to purchasing a copy, I have done that rare thing and actually bought my own. 

From adolescence onwards I was raised in a single parent household, that parent being a midwife by trade who was terrified that one of her three fatherless daughters would become a teenage pregnancy statistic. The prevention plan she implemented involved getting us to watch live birth videos with a helpful commentary along the lines of ‘this is what sex leads to’ and ‘did you see, that woman pooed in the birthing pool. That’s what happens when you have a baby’. The other supplementary aids she used as part of her no-pregnancy-under-my-roof programme was showing us plaster cast models of the female hips and using a plastic baby to graphically illustrate how narrow a space there is for a baby’s head to get through.

As a result of this and the fact that mum would answer any questions about female and male bodies that came her way I have always had a good grasp of the female reproductive system - there were no teen pregnancies in the house, in case you were interested. I tend to take it for granted that other women have the same level of knowledge and am often stunned by how inaccurate an assumption that actually is. I recall being greatly shocked when a girl at university stated that a woman peed out of her vagina. For all you girls and women out there who have questions about your lady garden area and what it does, Animals is an excellent place to start. It is one of those books I keep loudly recommending to female friends. I learned lots of useful things and enjoyed the way Sara delivered the lessons. Sara also grew up in a single parent household with two sisters so it was easy to envisage a house riven by oestrogen.  I’m a comparable age to Pascoe so got all her references – a teen or twentysomething might not. On a random note, she championed Virginia Woolf on Radio 4's Great Lives which is another reason why I’m disposed to listen to her.

This book isn’t some dull, scientific treatise on the female body. It is a user’s manual. It doesn’t just deal with your body for its reproductive purposes, which is how I remember anything at school to do with the female body was framed. Sara discusses not just the physical realities but also the perceptions of that body in the media and in society. Abortion, female genital mutilation, rape and the issue of consensual sex feature – how could they not when this book is an overview of female experience?

There was lots to laugh about in this book, interspersed with some sober and thought-provoking moments. The last few pages of the book have links and details to charities that Sara refers. There are historical snippets of information, and while the book has a western world bias as that is Sara’s primary experience there is material about women in the wider world too.

If you’re a woman, I’d recommend it as an entertaining read. If you’re a man who wants to know more about the female body than you picked up at school then I’d recommend it to you too. I want to say something here about transgender individuals – how if you are transitioning to a woman then this book would be of interest to you perhaps not so much for the internal physical aspect but the external implications of what living in a female body can be like. Is that flippant? I don’t know, I certainly don’t intend any offence. I’m just thinking who else would gain useful information and ideas from reading this book.

This feels like the kind of book review to end with a picture of cross stitch vulvas.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Adventures in photography

A macro marvel - raindrops on a hollyhock flower.

A friend of mine received a birthday present this year which gave her and a couple of friends access to a tame photographer for a day. I was one of the lucky friends she invited to join her and the tame photographer was Kevin Sawford. I didn't know quite what to expect from the day but I hoped that by the end of it I would have a better idea of how to use my camera. Reading written instructions and descriptions of photography I tend to find hard to follow as they are so dry. I learn things much better by trial and error and actually doing them in the physical world. 

From Kevin I learned how to use a number of options on my camera - shutter speed, iso, aperture, how to better use the macro function - lots of things. He also gave all 3 of us tips on how better to frame our photos. Before that day, I would see something and know I wanted to capture it. After the hours spent with Kevin, I now think far more about setting and how I can make the object more alive. We discussed points of view, taking pictures from different levels to get different perspectives, and since that Sunday I have had a couple of photography outings and put what I learned in to practice.

One of the most useful things I learned about my camera in relation to taking action shots was being able to take 3 pictures with just one press of the button. 

I have also reviewed previous photos with a more critical eye. I got in to photography in late spring last year, primarily as a mindfulness exercise. I was in search of ways to connect myself to the world around me and photography gave me that opportunity, enabling me to take far more notice of nature than I have done for years. I am more interested in the macro side of photography than great landscape and sky shots. It's the small details, the raindrops, the insects, the way that petals form and fold, the intricacies of plants and fungi - these are what inspire awe and fascination in me. I hadn't realised just how much detail my camera was capable of capturing prior to my lesson with Kevin.

Not one of my best shots but it's what I achieved here that I'm most pleased with. Using the 3 shots with one button option and changing shutter speed and aperture I was able to get a picture that in the past would have been a blurry mess. I was aware of the reflections of the cormorants and anticipated when I would be able to capture the birds in movement. Alas, the zoom capacity of the camera is not that great so the final picture is grainy if enlarged but this has helped me work out what I want in my next camera.

I'm also interesting in capturing moments of movement, such as birds in flight, animals in motion. Thanks to Kevin I have a much better idea of how to go about it. I'm also a fan of colour and though I don't like the idea of posing photos I did get the chance to discuss how to use the arrangement of leaves etc to create a collage of shades. I've never been able to take decent pictures of yellow and white flowers - and now I know how to!

These are photos I have taken since my day with Kevin. I can see a real improvement and am really pleased.

I think of this as my Lord of the Rings shot :)


If you live in the Suffolk/Norfolk area, enjoy photography but don't know that much about your camera then I would recommend booking a day with Kevin. He is so knowledgeable and he obviously loves what he does which is always a great thing to find in any teacher.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Audiobook review - Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Cotillion (Abridged)

Georgette Heyer (Narrated by Clare Wille)

I'll be honest, I got an unabridged version of Cotillion from the library earlier this year and could not finish it. There was guilt involved here as it's a favourite book of a friend and it feels disloyal to not love a book as much as a good friend does but there it is. My main reason for disliking it was the fact that there is a character in it I can't stand, and I didn't want him to end up getting the girl. He was arrogant, unscrupulous and just not the right man for the heroine but that doesn't always mean that such a character won't ultimately waltz off into the sunset with the girl.

This is one of Heyer's Regency novels. The central story of Cotillion rests upon a man's fortune being entailed upon whichever of his grand-nephews marries his ward, Kitty. Kitty has her heart set on Jack Westruther, the rake mentioned above, and so she devises a scheme with another of the grand-nephews, Freddy Standen, that will simultaneously get her out of the dull backwater in which she resides and enable her to make of a play for Jack. Have I mentioned how odious the character of Jake is? Well, Freddy is as delightful a character as Jack is odious. He is the stand-out character of this book for me and when I finally decided to get closure on the Cotillion story via the abridged route he was the reason.

“You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’
‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’
‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.”

There are other stories interwoven with this main plot - a long-lost relative who turns out to have a shadier heritage than he has made out; the beautiful daughter of a mercenary mother bent on selling her off to highest bidder either in or out of wedlock; wresting one of the other grand-nephews from the control of a waspish and nasty mother and into the capable arms of another. 

Whose fair heart won the fair lady in the end? Suffice to say that once I knew who ended up where at the end of the book I was disposed to like it more than I thought I would. A recommended listen, though if arrogant male characters don't make your blood boil then perhaps the unabridged would suit you better.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

October Makes - Part 1

October crafting is going well. I very rarely craft in silence, there's always a film or an audiobook or something from radio iPlayer on in the background. Years after I've made something, I can often still remember what I was listening to at the time. For posterity - and potential amusement - I'm going to start making a note of what I was listening to when I post about my makes.

I've been asked by a friend to crochet pieces for a nature themed mobile so have had the opportunity of trying a number of new patterns. The ones that ended disastrously are obviously not listed here . . .

These butterflies were made using this Bella Coco tutorial. After I'd got the hang of the pattern, I put on Hardcore Henry. It's a blood, guts and gore film and I doubt the director ever meant for someone to watch it and crochet butterflies at the same time.

The lighter green leaves were made using this tutorial by Yolanda Soto Lopez. Again, once I had the pattern straight in my head, it was on with an audiobook. The darker, bigger leaves were from me adapting Yolanda's tutorial. I had a large ginger cat on my lap at the time and was listening to Anne of Green Gables, courtesy of OneClick Digital, and falling sweetly in love with Anne Shirley.

I continue to add to my New Hexagon completed blocks, and my Patchwork of the Crosses project.

The NH block was made while watching Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, a film I did not expect to be that great and which I ended up thoroughly enjoyed. The scene where D'Arcy first proposes and Eliza refuses him made me laugh out loud.

A Patchwork of the Crosses piece, worked on while listening to Cotillion.

These are a couple of items I made on the spur of the moment just for the pleasure of making and have now popped on Etsy

I'm especially pleased with the cute little sheep fabric needlebook. Both this and the small tote were made to the accompaniment of Nigel Planer reading Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. This Discworld book features one of my favourite scenes, that of the senior wizards sneaking out of the university without permission.

Friday, 7 October 2016

That Post-Book Feeling

From Artodyssey

Speak to any devout reader and they will be able to identify with the idea of a Post-Book Feeling. Non-readers might find it a harder concept to get their heads around, especially as there are several options for PBF depending on the book, your experience of it and what brought it into your hands in the first place.

The best PBF is the one you get after you have just finished a book that you found AMAZING. It transported you, elevated you, swept you away, took you out of yourself and maybe even blew your mind. It is not a common feeling, and I think as you get older and read more the chances of getting it are decreased. When it happens it is a precious thing. I often need to have a walk afterwards, feeling the book lingering around me, not wanting to get back in to my normal life for a little while. Alternatively, if the conclusion has been particularly exhausting, lying down on the bed or on the sofa is required as the aftershocks of the story play through you.

Image from Pinterest

The second best PBF is when you re-read a book that gave you the experience above and you find it just as satisfying as the first time, maybe even more so as you didn't have the urgent rush to read, read, read and could savour the journey more as you know what the destination is.

There are other types of PBF, and not all of them are great.

There's the PBF you get after re-reading a book you loved only to find that the years have not been kind and the story no longer connects with you as it once did. It's disappointment and sadness and the nostalgia of that first time all mingled together, leaving you feeling flat and dulled.

Picture taken from Manor Books

Finishing a book that was a duty read carries it's own specific PBF. Maybe it was a set text from school or work, or a gift from a relative or friend who keeps prompting you on what you thought of it, or a text from a book group that you are finding particularly tedious - whatever, you didn't actively choose it and the book is not your cup of tea and it takes you away from other precious time you could be spending on reading something else. When the book is finished you can mentally tick a box and turn to your to-read pile with relish.

The cosy PBF is one of my favourites. You get this from re-reading a beloved book, often one from childhood (my top childhood choice is Matilda by Roald Dahl) where you have read the story so many times you know what's coming but you still read it anyway. 

You can also get that cosy PBF from reading a new book by an author you enjoy who always writes in the same predictable way and can be guaranteed to give you a similar kind of ride as the last 4 books he or she wrote. I confess I don't tend to have this one much as there are so many authors out there to be tried in the years I have left to sample them.

Each Reading is like a Little Ark - From Teaching Literacy

A rare PBF is the shared PBF. You and a friend were reading the same book at the same time and loved it equally and so can spend a rapturous hour over food/chocolate/coffee/cocktails (delete as applicable to you) reliving the book and sharing your favourite bits of the story. Book groups facilitate this to a degree though its very rare to get a number of people together who all adored the same book. Yes, you can get people together who liked and enjoyed the same book but I can't think of a single reading group I've been to where everyone felt the same level of delight over one book.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Book-dowsing: Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance by Martin Gurdon

Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance 
Martin Gurdon

I picked this book up during a spot of charity shop book-dowsing in Felixstowe.

Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance is a collection of anecdotes revolving around Martin Gurdon's (mis)adventures of owning chickens. It caught my eye mainly because the title made me smile. This book is funnier if you have experience of owning chickens. If you don't own them it helps if you understand that, like the majority of animals, they are capable of extreme arseholery. If chickens in your world are fluffy, friendly, cuddly creatures this book will come as a bit of a shock.

The phrase 'pecking order' comes from observed chicken behaviour - the dominant chicken in the hierachy is the one with the meanest beak. Martin Gurdon seems to have particular problems moulding his brood of chickens into a social group that can remain in the same run together and so this book contains many examples of mean chicken attitude and the enforced loneliness of those picked (or more appropriately pecked) on. Chickens can actually run a real risk of starvation and dehydration if there is a particularly mean bird in residence and Mrs Brown is one of Gurdon's more impressive bullies. Only the advent of the flamboyant rooster, Zorro, seems able to curb her in any way. His predecessor, the quavering Gerald, stood no chance.

Mrs Brown isn't the only mean chicken on the block as this example (which made me laugh out loud) proves:
One morning I noticed that the smallest bird, BB, seemed to have a slightly injured wing. As I watched her scratching about on the ground, Elvis came out of the raise hen-house and stood on the old kitchen stool the birds used as a perch., She took careful aim and then jumped onto the tiny bird, keeping her wings folded for maximum squashing effect.

I have a book or two on keeping chickens but they are relatively dry in tone so it's nice to add this volume to my very small chicken library as it combines entertaining stories with useful tips on chicken keeping. Gurdon covers the history of the chicken, the development of the egg and other factual topics in an engaging manner. Interspersed with these mini lessons are tales form his own coop. The most interesting for me was his story of how he rehabilitated a chicken that seemed to have lost reliable use of its legs by making a baby-bounceresque piece of equipment to encourage mobility. If you hadn't already guessed it from the fact that the chickens in this stories have names, Gurdon is NOT a farmer and keeps these birds for their entertainment value as much as their egg laying capacity.

Considering how much chicken-owning time can be spent with the back end of a bird, this picture is rather apt.

I myself provide lodgings for 3 pekin bantams – Alexis (black), Barbarella (grey) and Sue Ellen (blonde). Once upon a time there was also a particularly rotund lady named Priscilla but she was never the healthiest of chooks and died at about 18 months of age. I found her before the others realised she had popped her clogs and therefore she wasn’t partially cannibalised, which would have added to my sadness at her passing. The head chicken is Alexis, named for Alexis Colby from Dynasty. The name has turned out to be prophetic. 

Alexis is always first to perch on a leg. Just as cats think of a person as their rightful furniture, so do chickens regard human limbs as useful perches from which to view their subordinates.

Every chicken owner will have their own quirky tales about their birds. The birds themselves will often have been given entertaining names. My bantams were a gift from a friend who had a multitude of rescued chickens with names like Henzilla and Elvis - The Vegas Years. I caught sight of one on Facebook the other day called Chick Norris, a name I intend to shamelessly steal for a future bird.

Anyway, going back to the book at hand, I really enjoyed this and would recommend it to those who have chickens, have had chickens in the past, or are thinking of getting chickens in the future.