Thursday 30 April 2009

The Night Listener

The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin. I picked this one out of the pile by my bed because the main character, Gabriel, reads his stories on a late night radio programme, and therefore it links quite neatly to my previous read, The Republic of Love, in which Tom also hosted a night-time radio show. I loved this book within the first two pages, in which Gabriel describes himself as a 'fabulist', I just loved this idea, someone who has to make things more fabulous than they really are. Unfortunately you don't get to hear any of his stories as he is suffering from writers block, a condition somewhat related to the recent departure of his partner Jess. His publisher sends him a manuscript written by a young abused boy who is dying of Aids, and he strikes up a friendship with the boy, Pete, conducted entirely over the telephone. Although Gabriel is incredible likeable and honest about himself he is also incredibly needy (when you see him with his father you get some inkling of where that comes from), and quite quickly he seems to come to rely on the closeness and support that Pete provides him with during their phone calls. It is after Jess has also spoken to both Pete and his adoptive mother, Donna, that he makes the almost offhand comment that they sound so alike they could be the same person. The comment sparks denial and then some anxiety from Gabriel, and on questioning Pete's publisher he discovers that all Pete's relationships are conducted entirely by telephone, and that no-one has met him in person. What follows is Gabriel twisting back and forth not knowing what to believe, needing the friendship so much but being afraid now to rely on it. He tracks them to their home which turns out to be a post office box address, and then Donna, in spite of turning out to be blind, catches him stalking her, and proceeds to tell him that Pete died the week before (exactly the scenario that Jess predicted), but then you are left not so sure that this is the truth either. As a reader you are left quite disconcerted, as much as Gabriel is, not knowing what to think about the Pete/Donna character. And then we have the final twist, that Jess persuades Gabriel that he should use the story as a way out of his writers block. So the final part of the story informs you that the elephant has been jewelled (see the second page for an explanation of 'The Jewelled Elephant Syndrome'). Everything that has come before has been changed to suit the author, so you have no way of knowing what is the 'real' story, and what Gabriel might have altered for literary license. It is designed to subvert your engagement with the novel, by reminding you that you are reading a novel. A thoroughly enjoyable read, highly engaging, lovely characters who have real relationships and a very cleverly written story.

Felting with C and M

Today I am home with some visitors and when they tired of watching children's telly I offered them the chance to get a bit messy. So I got out the stash and we had fun messing around with fluff. C chose an abstract 'nature' theme for his design:

Little M (to distinguish her from my M) chose to do a flower picture.

I took a bit of handspun that I made the other day from my rainbow roving and just spiralled it around itself.
I had been trying to do some 'proper' spinning, having discovered that I have been doing it all 'wrong'. I am left handed so I tried to spin by drafting with my left hand, except I just found it kept breaking as I could not balance the spinning speed with drafting the fibre at the right rate. So in the end I abandoned the experiment and went back to using my own method (which is totally pre-drafting the fibre and having it in a fluffy pile next to me as I spin) and used the tatty bit I had made for this project.

This is how they looked when we had finished. C and little M enjoyed getting very soapy and 'shocking' their felts.

I had also been browsing felting stuff the other day and wanted to post this link as I found it so inspiring and quite helpful, in terms of a method for doing larger more ambitious projects. It shows an Iranian felt rug maker doing a traditional design rug: Namad The site is called Peace Industry and it is a couple who are trying to revive the use of traditional felt rug making techniques.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Reading not spinning

I have had a variety of books from the library recently including a lovely India Flint felting book and a very nice one on victorian lace shawls. Don't be fooled into thinking we have some kind of fantastic library here, it is tiny, but now you can access the Gloucestershire catalogue and order things online, so I find things that sound interesting and just look them up. Most things are worth the 50p reservation fee even if you just browse through for a while after work. I had high hopes of 'The woolcraft book : spinning, weaving and dyeing' by Constance Jackson, it turned out to be rather old fashioned with not nearly enough pictures. However if you ever want to buy a spinning wheel it had pages of sound advice on what to look for in a good second hand wheel. It also had a good section on natural dyeing but I hardly have room and time to do all the things I am currently interested in so don't want to start developing new things at the moment.
I also came across a lovely title called 'A Handspindle Treasury - 20 years of spinning wisdom from Spin-Off Magazine' which has been totally fascinating. It is a collection of articles written for Spin-Off Magazine all on the subject of spinning with a hand spindle, but also background and historical stuff and articles about different styles of spinning from around the world. I find it incredible that there are people who make a living and get to travel around the world just to learn about spinning from other cultures. And I wonder what these other women (for they are mainly women) think of these western academics coming into their lives and sitting down and wanting to know all about their craft. For many of them their lives are based on subsistence living and their spinning is simply integral to their survival, and yet at the same time many cultures create the most beautiful of objects, rugs and cloth, with the time and effort taken being far beyond what is necessary for mere warmth. I think it is part of what makes humans what they are that they strive to create beauty, and we do place great value on skills that are both useful and beautiful. Anyway, you might be able to find this, but I bought the only second hand copy listed on Amazon and they don't seem to stock it on the Interweave Press site.

And so on to Carol Sheilds "The Republic of Love". I liked this book because of the characters, all of whom were very real. It follows Tom and Fay and their parallel and somewhat tenuously linked lives. The first half of the book sets the background of their lives, and the complex web of relationships that exist amongst their friends and families. I loved the little vignettes she draws of the different characters, which is what makes them so believable. I got the impression that it is the 'republic' bit of the title that the author was stressing rather than the 'love'. The dictionary says this on the subject of 'republic': a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch. I think she may have been trying to make some very specific observations on the nature of human relationships, but it may have been a little too subtle for me, or maybe I was concentrating too hard on the people themselves to notice. It is not a 'romance' at all. While I enjoyed the first part of the book I was sitting on tenterhooks all the time waiting for the moment, that you could see approaching in
the distance, when they would finally meet. So they meet and then Fay goes away, for some weeks, and they both sit and brood intensely about each other. And what you are left with from this separation is the anticipation of some very grand passion, but it is not like that at all. What they have is what I can only call 'absolute certainty'. They fall into a life together that contains no doubts, that they want the same thing and that they will be happy. So when Fay has a family crisis that intervenes in their marriage plans it was somewhat disconcerting for her to turn round and break up the relationship. It felt a little like a contrivance, something to upset the situation so that you then get your moment of revelation and your happy conclusion. But I was left with a message that I agree with; that people need people, that being 'significant' to another human being is quite vital to happiness. I don't get the whole 'marriage' thing and why people seem to think that it is the only real form of commitment but leaving that issue aside I do think the book said something interesting about human nature.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Wednesday Crochet

Tish learnt to crochet from Julie a while ago, I did too but she took to it much more enthusiastically. In fact I learnt as a child from my maternal grandmother, who crocheted 'professionally', but my skills never went much beyond very long chains. I still have some items that she made, including the dress that my teddy wears.
I picked up this book, 'Cute Crochet for Tiny Tots' by Helen Ardley at the library because Tish has been enjoying making baby stuff and thought it had some nice, simple patterns. It also has some basic stitch instructions, so when the set of new crochet hooks arrived yesterday I thought I really should master the skill properly. And it turned out to be not so complicated, and Tish gave me some good advice on keeping the tension from being too tight. I like the trebles... it grows really fast. Though as with most stuff I find that being left -handed I am doing it all backwards.

The dyed homespun has finally dried out and I am very pleased with the result. The colours are very peachy and warm. The red turned out more pinky than it looked initially but it blended in very nicely with the orange and yellow shades.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Sunday felting

I am feeling a bit crap today, so as not to dwell on this and feel sorry for myself I got up and "did stuff". I dyed the hanks of homespun merino that I have been doing over the last few weeks. There are four of them, probably (I have neglected to weigh them or measure the yardage) about 200g or so. I decided on reds and yellows and managed to recreate the bright blood red that Tish got when we did some a few weeks ago. It is a mixture of the magenta red and yellow, we were anticipating something a bit more orange but apparently not. They are currently wrapped up in the not-so-hot hot cupboard (the heating has not been on much since the weather turned nicer). I will rinse them after work tomorrow and photograph them for you.
I have been thinking for a while about further felting experiments. I wanted to do something more densely coloured so I picked out the pinks, purples and blues from my stash and just kind of swirled them round each other, mostly pulling out two colours together to get a more gently blended effect. The initial layout measures 20" by 18" and the post-felting measurement is approximately 12" by 12"

I have come to the conclusion that I need to be more careful with the thickness of the initial layers and I am guessing that uneven thickness is what causes it to felt so unevenly. I have tugged this around quite a bit while still damp to try and make it a bit more square. I am quite pleased with how it has come out as the pattern has remained quite distinct.

Going blind again

Considering it started with a Bank Holiday it has been a busy week.
Wednesday I ended up in Bishop's Cleeve having offered to spend my day off in Cheltenham office. I feel totally unfazed by doing blind deliveries now, having been dumped on a L's duty in Bourton a few weeks ago without preparation, and then going down to help out after someone had a family emergency and doing a chunk of Duty 2. So I spent the day working my way down from Woodmancote into Bishop's Cleeve via the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway
I did not even know such a thing existed and thought I was just crossing the ordinary rail line when I heard the sound of the steam engine approaching and billows of smoke came up from under the bridge. It was the only interlude in a very routine morning but kind of nice and nostalgic, being a bit of a fan of The Railway Children (but more because I like Jenny Agutter than for any mad passion for steam trains.)
This was followed by a repeat visit to Winchcombe on Friday, where I picked up three pouches and a crudely drawn street plan from the office. It turned out to be similarly straightforward, though I did have to tell one lady I had no idea if she would be getting her post but that it would most likely be pretty late. I did pause at one little front door that was right at the edge of the village, at the end of a block of some newly built social housing. It looked out so perfectly over the lush green fields that stretched away up the hillside, and I thought how lovely it is to look out of window in the morning and appreciated such a view, because we have quite a nice one at our house too.
So having done quite a chunk of overtime this week I can feel justified in buying a bit more roving. I have found this lovely seller on ebay called Forest Fibres (they have their own website too) who do wonderful merino/silk blends. I have been knitting a baby cardigan from my homespun, though worried it would not be enough I have been combining it with some undyed to make a little zig-zag pattern. It is only coming along slowly as I have too many things on the go at the mo:

And here is the hat that I knitted from my previous batch of homespun. Tish also used some to crochet a turtle, which is going to be their mascot for their trip to Borneo:

Sunday 12 April 2009

Enjoying amateurishness

We had the day off on Friday for Good Friday. In our family if we do anything twice it becomes a tradition, so it has become something of a school holiday tradition to have a day out in Oxford to go ice skating. It is supposed to include having panini for lunch, though last year the place was unfortunately closed. Tish, M and I left early, because we have to go to the park-and-ride and then get the bus into the city centre. It is part of the experience because the bus route takes us through Summertown and we have to look out for the road with the Hornbeam trees (this is where Will finds the 'window' into Cittagazze in The Subtle Knife. It's not a real road but it is described in such detail that you come to believe it is and so we always discuss the book as we take this journey.)
I like ice skating for several reasons. Firstly nostalgia; I used to go regularly to Deeside Leisure centre when I was about 12 or 13, we lived across the water in a little place called Neston, and going there to skate remains a very fond memory. Then there is the people watching; families having fun together, people being just that little bit vulnerable, looking silly when they fall over but not minding and the pleasure of watching people who can skate really well. I don't mean twirls and jumps, just watching them glide around the ice, looking relaxed and unconcerned where I am concentrating really hard on not falling over. And that was what I was thinking about while I took one of my 'ankle breaks' (I have to undo my boots every now and then or my legs stop working.) When I watch the skaters, usually the ones who hang about in the middle practicing fancy moves, I am reassured to find that I have no desire to be able to do that. I like to potter round the edge just making my own steady progress, enjoying the cold air and the sensation of sliding, albeit non too gracefully, around the rink. I like being an amateur. I don't want to be better than I am. I don't want to take classes and learn how to go backwards or stand on one leg. I have a lots of skills, things I can do, but things I wish I was better at, things I wish I could learn more about. Skating isn't one of them, and it occurred to me that sometimes it is important that you can just enjoy something at whatever level, without needing to be 'good' at it.
Tish took a bit of a tumble and the nice young man in the 'First Aid' found her some plasters for her elbows, but we managed the morning relatively unscathed. We had our panini in a cafe in the covered market, and they were just as good as we remembered. Then we dodged between the shops while the rain drizzled on us for the afternoon, and we even found the girls some new clothes in the sales. It was one of those good days out. We all had a good time, nobody got upset or angry and we had doughnuts on the bus back to the car.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Mourning Ruby

Mourning Ruby by Helen Dunmore. I am not sure how I feel about this one. I was worried when I started that it was going to be sentimental, and I really wasn't in the mood for that, but it wasn't. In fact I am not sure what it was. It is not about Ruby, and not really about Rebecca, the woman who is mourning her. Firstly it is about Joe, with whom she shares a flat and has an intense friendship. Then it is about Adam, his friend, with whom she falls in love and marries, and has Ruby. And then it is about Mr Damiano, who offers her a job, that is really a place to hide, after Ruby dies and she does not know what else to do. I think we are back to the whole 'loss' theme, and what it does to people and how they cope and how it changes their lives. So long tracts of the book are then taken up with Mr Damiano's story, which though quite interesting in itself, I found it a little disconnected from the rest of the book. Joe is meanwhile living in Russia trying to write a book about Stalin, but is bogged down instead in the story of his second wife, who killed herself. Instead he starts writing a novel, for Rebecca it seems, about a woman who gives up her life to make her child safe, and the book includes long transcripts from the novel which he sends to her to read; again interesting in itself but somewhat apart from the rest of the story. Adam is also hiding, behind his work, and waiting, possibly for Rebecca to return, or perhaps just waiting. Almost abruptly at the end of the book they both reach a point where they can mourn their daughter together without it destroying them, where they can remember her life without the overhanging regret of what she lost. The reviews on the cover gave the book high praise but maybe the subtlety was lost on me as I found it rather cobbled together as if she was not sure exactly what she wanted to say about parenthood or loss and recovery or friendship and love.
My book group is reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I have already read, and loved, followed by The Time Traveller's Wife, which I have already read, and loved (so much so I may have to read it again), so I can carry on whittling away at the pile by my bed.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

yet more spinning

I am turning into a granny rather rapidly these days, though in my defense I did spend the other morning spinning along to The Undertones (on Spotify) so I was reliving my teenage years at the same time.
So we got some yellow and black to add to all the reds and blues and Tish and I did a bit more dyeing. I decided to risk doing some roving, which I had not tried before; there is always a possibility if you are not careful that you end up with a big lump of felt, what with all the soaking and rinsing involved. Anyway, I squeezed it **very** gently and what I ended up with was this:
And the yarn that resulted looks like this:
I am still using the spindle, despite being sorely tempted by a spinning wheel (which went for £90 in the end, and we have nowhere to put it and....), all I need now is to knit something with it, rather than add it to the stash.
Oh yes, here is how the Noro top turned out. I won't bore you with the whole saga, needless to say it was quite a trial and involved quite a bit of frogging and reknitting until I was happy.