Saturday 28 January 2012

Hoodies and all that

I have taken five months to finish Tish's hoodie, not that it was particularly difficult, the lacy pattern was quite simple once I got the hang of it, I just got waylaid by other projects. The hood came out a little baggy but she looks great in it. Here she is with her young man, Lee.
The other much smaller hoodie that has taken a mere two days is for Thomas Arthur Glyn, the newly arrived baby of one of my many cousins. I decided to make something a bit bigger rather than a tiny newborn jumper and this was the only yarn I could find in my stash that was machine washable (nobody wants to have to hand wash baby clothes). It is a modified version of this toddler hoodie pattern that I sized down a bit and knit in the round to save the sewing up.
I had a crisis of confidence that the hood opening was too tight so I went back and undid the cast off and used this instruction to do an extra stretchy bind-off around the hood, and then around the sleeve ends too. There is nothing worse than struggling a small baby into clothes too tight.

I have mum and dad here for the weekend and we went up to the Manchester Art Gallery today and saw the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition, which was most interesting, and packed out with people who were prepared to pay real money just to look at paintings. The one that struck me most visually, though it was only about 8 by 7 inches or so, tiny compared to some of the paintings (and had been used on the poster by the museum) is this lovely image of a girl; the reds of her shawl, her hair and the background make it most vivid. Well worth the trip but unfortunately finishes tomorrow.

Monday 23 January 2012

Another scary movie

So Creature and I popped up to Blaydon over the weekend to visit Lewis and Rachel, and Jacob and Jenny, mainly hanging out and eating Chinese food and watching Game of Thrones (not sure I have time to read the books, but Creature has loved them). Lewis arrived home from work with a new addition to the menagerie, a six foot Guyana Red Tailed Boa that had been bought in to be re-homed.
We were awoken at about 7.30am on Sunday to a loud crash and when I checked the reptile room (adjacent to the living room where we were innocently asleep) I discovered that it had somehow escaped from the viv and was busy exploring it's new environment. It was somewhat reminiscent of our 'Snakes in a Galaxy' experience when we transported Trixie and Nix to Tish's new home in Rusholme. Not that snakes are particularly intelligent animals mind you, it had managed to pull the heat mat wires that ran through a plastic vent in the back of the viv, exposing a hole large enough to pass through, but it was accidental. I think that was enough in the way of eventfulness for one year now thanks.

Knitting is much less worrying. I have been doing this lovely multicoloured pair of socks for Dunk over the last week and finally finished this evening, his size 12 feet have been quite a challenge:

Thursday 19 January 2012

Blogiversary Post

Time for a traditional roundup of the last year of blogging.
Firstly, it's nice to find how visitor numbers have snowballed ... this time last year I claimed just over 7,000 total visits, the number now shows over 27,000, probably averaging 60 visits a day.
Blog stats:
Posts - 128
Comments - 198
Followers - 69
For some unfathomable reason, without any apparent specific searches, my dad's guest post about Little Bee (from October) has been getting visitors every day and has jumped, incredibly, to being my third most visited post, the top two remain the Lizard Cake and Margaret Atwood poetry.
Three new blogs started: one for 'small stones' started last January, one for creative writing started in September and then another started in May following the concerns of ageing.

Novels written - 1 (unfinished)

It's been a busy year for knitting
6 pairs of socks (and one on the needles now)
1 pair baby leggings

Probably well over 900 (that's nine HUNDRED) miles ridden on my trusty bike.

One new job for Dunk but no new houses, pets or babies, in fact not much in the way of momentous events happened all year. Here's hoping for another uneventful one in 2012.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

The personal history of Rachel DuPree

I have been listening to an audiobook of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber over the last few days. It was picked out at the library to accompany my knitting, and to go with my Orange January challenge because it was on the Orange Prize long list of 2009.

It tells the story of Rachel, a young black woman who moves from urban Chicago to become a homesteader in South Dakota at the turn of the 20th century. This is the kind of book where detailed research was the key since the author is describing a life utterly different from her own, and that is most impressive since I found the voice of Rachel very authentic. The description of their harsh and difficult life was vivid and the sweetnesses that she wishes for for her children are few and far between. The story itself covers a period of a few weeks, the ending of a drought, the coming of the rain and the imminent arrival of a new baby. In between the current events Rachel tells the story of her previous life and how she came to be married to Isaac DuPree. There is a lot of stuff going on around the story; the issue of racism and race riots that are far away but impact on her family, her sense of being an 'outsider' in the homestead community, but then the way her husband despises the 'Indians', for being drunks and dependent on the white people. It is essentially a story about disappointment and I was left feeling a little hopeless and heartbroken. Isaac thinks that by owning land and working hard he will be accepted as an equal, but that never happens. Rachel marries and enters a contract with Isaac to claim the farmland and thinks that by working hard and doing everything he asks of her he will accept her as a real partner, but that never happens either. It is told by Rachel so we only have her hopes and dreams, her ideas of what life might open up for her and you grow to feel a strong bond with her. She has all these wonderful positive qualities, love, strength, loyalty, endurance, trust, but I felt they were wasted on Isaac. He still blames her for things that go wrong, and never gives her any reason to feel that he values her. She calls it pulling together, but it amounts to her giving way in any disagreement. He never acknowledges her contribution, she has no rights to the land or wealth in her own right, he never includes her in making decisions about the farm or land purchases. He insists on buying a wedding band for her, that she finds sentimental and slightly romantic, a symbol of their being married, but in reality to him it is simply a sign that she is his chattel, as she finally learns at the very end. He appears to make choices on what is right for him and his plans, hardly taking the needs of the family into consideration at all. What the story speaks about most is the position of women in that period, it predates any kind of suffrage movement and the attitudes and conventions are all very restrictive and controlling. When she works as a cook at the boarding house she sees her only way out is to find a man of ambition to marry her, there are no routes for a woman without education to better herself, and few routes for women to be educated. When married she submits to Isaac's decisions even when they have bad outcomes. The only hopeful symbol (in a novel ripe with symbolism) is when Mrs Fills the Pipe comes to her aid when she is alone and in labour, saving her life when the baby is stuck. It is a moment of women bonding together through need, in spite of the male-created antipathy that had divided them, and coming to a new understanding of each other's lives. Despite being left a bit despondent at the end this book was beautifully written, so atmospheric, a wonderful tale of an old life.

Friday 6 January 2012

Notes on a Scandal

I find that I can include 'Notes on a Scandal' by Zoe Heller in the Orange January challenge because it was long listed in 2004. This was pure coincidence as I had picked out the audiobook before Christmas, and have been listening to it with Dunk over the last few days (or rather listening to it in the living room and obliging Dunk to partake, I like to think he got into the story towards the end but you can never tell with him.)

This book was not quite what I expected. I thought it was a story about the scandal, or even about the relationship between Sheba and Barbara, but in reality it isn't. It's a very creepy and enthralling portrait of Barbara, told in her own words. The book takes the form of partly a diary of the events that follow the scandal breaking, and alongside that Barbara's notes about the events in questions, what she claims to be an objective version of them, but which reveals far more about her than it does about Sheba.

So the story is that Sheba is a pottery teacher who forms a relationship with a fifteen year old pupil. Barbara is the school stalwart who has worked very hard to build a close trusting relationship with Sheba, whom she sees as a kindred spirit. In the aftermath of the exposure of the relationship she is the one who continues to support Sheba, seeing it as an 'us two against the world' kind of situation. But from little hints that she drops along the way you get the impression that Sheba is only the latest in a line of 'kindred spirits' that Barbara has forged friendships with, only to be inevitably let down and disappointed. She talks about Sheba, describes and analyses her behaviour, and that of other teachers at the school, but it is Barbara herself who we really come to know. She says very little about herself but what is excellent about the book is that she is revealed/betrayed by her own thoughts. There is at one point a very affecting description of the nature of loneliness, quite heartrending, and you feel deep sympathy for Barbara, but as the situation for Sheba worsens you see that she is getting what she has always desired, a person who needs her more than she needs them. She relishes Sheba's dependency and isolation, her need for Barbara. It made me laugh out loud several times at her cutting but astute observations of the people around her. The story also has some interesting and perceptive things to say about the angst of being middle aged, and the self-involved nature of teenagers, there is not a hint of surprise at the notion that the young man abruptly and inexplicably loses interest in the whole affair. Unusually for me I didn't like anyone in the story, Sheba is weak and shallow and selfish, the men are all obnoxious, but you just can't tear yourself away. A most sad and twisted individual, small-minded, petty, spiteful, angry, but yet also deeply loyal and devoted, Barbara is an utterly compelling character who carries the book with her to the very end.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Find a penny

"We are all of us lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Oscar Wilde
but for those of us who spend far too much time tromping the streets and watching the ground in front of them instead of daydreaming there are small perks. It started with a plan to collect £1 and do a lottery experiment, to test if 'lucky pennies' found on the street were more fortunate than earned money, but it snowballed from there and this pile, which amounts to £40.50, is the result of a year of picking up change from the pavements of south Manchester (though one of the fivers was found in the Arndale). This does not include the €10 note that is now winging it's way to Tenerife with Tish or the £2 that I gave to Creature for her bus fare, or the small collection of foreign coins that are no use to anyone. Some are so rusty as to be almost unrecognisable, I didn't think money was supposed to rust, who knows. It feels like (and is in fact) free money, that I am now going to fritter away on something frittery.