Thursday 31 May 2012

Moonrise Kingdom, doughnuts and camel yarn

So Creature and I have had a busy couple of days since she finished her exams. On Dunk's recommendation we went to see Moonrise Kingdom at The Cornerhouse. It is a wonderful quirky story, set in an isolated island community, where a young boy escapes from scout camp and a young girl disappears from her home, and they set off along an ancient native american trail with a suitcase full of books, a record player and a cat. Bruce Willis is the local policeman who leads the hunt for the missing children and Tilda Swinton is very creepy as 'Social Services'. Suitably uplifting and life affirming, the power of young love and all that.
Came home from work today and Creature had made lemon cake, and having spent over an hour yesterday morning cleaning out the deep fat fryer (the least popular job ever) I made a batch of 'doughnut holes'. These came about from a previous occasion when I made doughnuts and then fried the bits that I had chopped out to make the rings ... and it was generally agreed that the holes were more yummy than the doughnuts, so now we just have holes instead.
Hexipuff knitting has been continuing apace and this evening I made another four, including this lovely hairy prickly one from camel yarn
I stayed up rather late last night, deeply involved in 'Before I go to Sleep' by S.J. Watson, about a woman with amnesia, gripping stuff and apparently due to be made into a film. Review to follow tomorrow as I sat and finished it when I came home from work this afternoon.

Friday 25 May 2012

Girls of Slender Means

I had 'The Girls of Slender Means' by Muriel Spark from the library as part of Muriel Spark Reading Week and having been disappointed by Finishing School I decided to give this one a try. I like Muriel Spark because her books are nice and short, in a good way; she sticks to the story, there is no waffle or padding. I like them too because, although they are often about women, the male characters are equally interesting and sympathetic. 

Girls of Slender Means covers (roughly) the brief period between VE day and VJ day in 1945 and the lives of a group of girls who live in the May of Tech Club, a women's hostel in Kensington. It captures so beautifully the atmosphere of the time. The girls are most concerned about the rationing, sharing clothing, soap and tea, and the attentions of their suitors, and a tight knit bond of friendship has been built up between the residents. Jane works for a publisher and is respected as the brainy one; Joanna spouts poetry and give elocution lessons; Pauline Fox seems to have an imaginary suitor who takes her out for dinner; Selina is beautiful and glamourous and has several lovers, and a few potential husbands in waiting; Formality and decorum are maintained by the warden and three mature lady residents (Greggie, Jarvie and Collie), the girls may invite visitors to dine but only the suitably accompanied doctor would ever venture to the upper floors. 

"Boy-friends were allowed to dine as guests at a cost of two-and-sixpence. It was also permitted to entertain in the recreation room, on the terrace which led out from it and in the drawing room whose mud-brown walls appeared so penitential in tone at that time - for the members were not to know that within a few years many of them would be lining the walls of their own homes with paper of a similar colour, it then having become smart." (p.27)

I like this quote, it sums up the kind of attitude that surrounded women's lives at the time:
"But on the floor above that, there seem to have congregated, by instinctive consent, the old maids of settled character and various ages, those who had decided on a spinster's life, and those who would one day do so but had not yet discerned this fact for themselves." (p.29)

The story follows the arrival of Nicholas Farringdon and his obsession with the girls, in particular the intoxicating Selina.  It is just about their shifting relationships and everyday life, focussing mainly on Jane and her employer George. There is a sense in which the war is over and the girls are living in expectation of the future, until an unexpected event disrupts their settled existence. Just a lovely readable period piece, taking you in to the immediate post war world. This quote gives an insight into the general feeling at the time:

"At the time Nicholas still worked for one of those left-hand departments of the Foreign Office, the doings of which the right-hand did not know. It came under Intelligence. After the Normandy landings he had been sent on several missions to France. Now there was very little left for his department to do except wind-up. Winding-up was arduous, it involved the shuffling of papers and people from office to office; particularly it involved considerable shuffling between the British and American Intelligence pockets in London. He had a bleak furnished room at Fulham. He was bored." (p.60)

Hexipuff madness

Since finishing the crochet blanket last week I have made a start on another project; it is called the Beekeeper's Quilt and is made up of hundreds of little hexipuffs (hexagons lightly stuffed with little bit of fleece), and everyone is being pressed into service. It is made partly from leftovers and partly with some new yarn and is going to be quite a long term project. The idea is that it will be for Creature to take away with her when she leaves home (I keep threatening to make her go to university but then she keeps threatening to stay living with me forever.)
So a lazy Thursday afternoon was spent by my sister Claire and I knitting in the garden (that's Creature having returned unscathed from her dreaded poetry exam). The garden is so green and lush it looks idyllic, you can't even see the houses at the back, but the tree did not provide quite enough shade and I have slightly burned shoulders.
While browsing other projects on Ravelry I came across the idea of making the hexipuffs into a cushion, so Claire and I spent the afternoon making seven slightly larger puffs to create this fab cushion to make her desk chair more comfy.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Functional felting

The last time I visited my sister she was thinking about buying some new table mats and I jumped in enthusiastically and offered to felt some for her. This was a few months ago now and I started them with good intentions but then ran out of steam. She is arriving this evening to stay for a few days so I promised to get them finished, and this is the project I have been working on today. I used undyed merino roving for the background with a variety of designs created in reds and purples. There are six for place settings and a larger one (in the middle) for a serving dish. One of them did come out a slightly different shape ... but that's the joy of the unpredictable nature of shrinking wool fibres. 
We might just do some coasters to match while she is here, if we can drag ourselves in from sitting in the garden in the sunshine.


I am still in love with Noro ever since my first encounter with it three years ago, there is even some in the blanket. It is very expensive, so I hope to find it occasionally in the sale, as I did at Black Sheep Wools the other week. These lovely socks for my dad's birthday today were done in Kureyon sock yarn. All Noro yarns have this wonderful colour variation, but amazingly these socks match almost exactly, When I started the second sock I found I was at the same point in the colour cycle as the first one, if the first one had been knitted half an inch longer the colours would not have matched up, how's that for serendipity. Fortunately I had also just finished sewing in the ends when I sat on and snapped yet another of my bamboo DPNs, I do like them to knit with but they are rather delicate. 

Friday 18 May 2012

Patchwork crochet

So it took the whole of Thursday to attach the squares together and then do a couple of rounds as a border, then about three hours this afternoon, accompanied by an excellent crappy movie, after I got home from work, to sew in all the loose ends ... and the blanket is finished. I decided to use a row of single crochet to join the squares, it makes a ridge between them but I kind of like it. Plenty of room for two people to hide behind it ... or maybe cuddle up under it.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Back when we were grownups

Well it's been a while, and nothing to do with being all blogged out over April ... I have been assisting Creature with her revision (interfering ... nagging ... whatever you like to call it); she has made it through the first two of eight exams, though I think the poetry is the really dreaded one, to come next week.

The crochet blanket that was started a month or so ago has become 16 pretty-much-the-same-size squares which will hopefully soon be attached together by some method yet to be determined. Having taken a trip with Caroline and Julie to Black Sheep Wools, where some of us who shall remain nameless spent far too much money, I now have yarn to keep me occupied for quite some time. Am doing a pair of socks for my dear dad for his birthday (he'll never know, he hardly ever visits here) in some Noro Kureyon Sock yarn. The other major project is some painting in the bedroom, but I will wait for a bit more progress before posting any photos.

To accompany the painting I have been listening to 'Back when we were grownups' by Anne Tyler. I have read quite a few of her books and enjoyed the quiet ordinary stories that she tells. This one was no disappointment. It is the story of Rebecca, who lurched abruptly away from her apparent chosen path when she was a college student and fell in love with and married an older man with three daughters. As an older widow she looks back on the life she ended up with, feeling as if it somehow wasn't the real one she was supposed to have lived. So you get this lovely picture of her wonderful extended family, the various lives of her daughters and her relationship with the elderly uncle who lives with her. Having been widowed only a few years after marriage she spends her life, and supports the family, hosting 'events' in their large picturesque house, and the book is peopled with the tradesmen and employees who take up her time. She attempts to recreate the life that she left behind, but of course finds that it no longer fits. It is one of those search for a sense of identity stories, of somehow having to learn in a roundabout way to value the important things in your life and not worry about 'what if'. I like her writing because the people are always so real, and the lives are so messy. The stories are not clever or contrived, just people struggling to make sense of life.

Monday 7 May 2012

A to Z challenge reflection post

So I joined in with ... and completed ... the A to Z challenge and the team have suggested a 'reflection' post to round up how it went. I decided to go with flash fiction as my theme and wrote 100 words for each one. I had days when I felt totally uninspired and must have read the entire dictionary seeking 'good' words. I came across a whole load of new and interesting ones but some days nothing seemed right. I think the process was good for me to branch out and put something different on this blog and gave a bit of discipline for my creativity (all the books say self-discipline is very important). I have not particularly had a large number of new visitors coming specifically from the challenge site but I have had a few new followers (that always perks me up) and some lovely comments. My favourite of my posts were 'Oubliette',  'Juvenile' and 'Zealot'

Over the month I must have visited over a thousand of the initial nearly two thousand participants. Even though the organisers did remove several hundred blogs from the list I did come across many people who either failed to join in at all or gave up after a couple of days, that was disappointing. I confess I avoided the ones with religious content, if their name hinted then I did not even call. I did however find lots of lovely interesting blogs, some that I am sticking with.
First up has to be I refuse to go quietly who wrote a continuous story in 100 word segments, and it was just excellent, with old images that really added to the 'film noir' atmosphere. Anita Lim had an eclectic selection of ideas but I loved her because she took me to some lovely music and some fascinating Ted talks. Moody Writing and Rebecca Kiel were blogs with interesting writing advice. On the more creative side Cobwebs and Cubbyholes did a great A to Z of knitting stitches, quite encyclopaedic, that I will definitely by going back to. Muppets for Justice just had one of the best blog titles and was very entertaining. I found The Girdle of Melian who had a wonderful selection of reading suggestions. There were so many others who I just popped in on and mostly said hello if I found them interesting, I wish I had kept a more comprehensive list of the good ones. There were rather too many people who just picked a word and defined it  ... come on folks, mix it up a little, but also many who really put a lot of thought into their posts. So anyway, thanks to everyone who participated, I will definitely be joining in again next year.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Nothing to do but stay

I actually purchased 'Nothing to do but stay' by Carrie Young after reading something gushing and enthusiastic about it. This was probably the middle of last year some time. I can't remember what or where it was. I confess I am a little underwhelmed. 

The book is the story mainly of her mother, though by extension her whole family, and the life they led as homesteaders in North Dakota. The book is humbling in it's description of the harshness of their life and the hard work required to exist in such an environment, and the sacrifices that her parents made to create a life for themselves and their children. But at the same time it seems to skate over the work and the deprivations, brushing them off in favour of detailing the cosy abundance of their Thanksgiving celebration. Or maybe it is just a feature of such an upbringing that you are so accepting that life is hard and don't make a big thing about it. Instead of being chronological she divides the book into aspects of life; the education of the children, the food, the farm, their extended family and whole chapters on communal celebrations. I found the book very matter of fact, unadorned by much in the way of poetic description of the landscape. It really tells the bare bones of their story. If you are more interested in atmosphere and characters then The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, though fictitious, is a better book. The best way to tell you much about the life, and her mother, is a nice long quote:

"It had always been incredible to me how fast my parents built up their farm, by their own sweat and paying for everything in cash from crops that were good one year and bad the next. By the time I, their sixth child, came along nine years later, they had established a farmstead that included a one-and-a-half storied house, a barn, a 375-foot drilled well with a windmill, a two-storied granary, a chicken house, a hog pen, a blacksmith shop, a garage, two windbreak groves of cottonwood trees, and miles of barbed-wire fence. Their farm equipment included three teams of draft horses, a plough, drill, harrow, mower, rake, binder, two hay wagons, a lumber wagon, a box sled, a cream separator, and a Model T touring car. They milked a dozen cows and fed a dozen steers and hogs, and kept two hundred chickens.
Much of those nine years my mother was pregnant. When I was born she was forty-four years old and by all odds - having borne five other children while building her share of the farmstead - she should have been worn out. Hardly. When I was six weeks old she bought me to church to be baptised in a long white gown, the lace of which she had found time to crochet herself; her other children were starched to the teeth, and after church she brought the minister and half the congregation home for Sunday dinner." (p.55-56)

You are left a little in awe of these women, their boundless energy, their creativity and their resilience. People nowadays express admiration that you can knit yourself a jumper, as if it is a feat of amazing skill, but really it's nothing compared to the multitude of skills that were needed for life on the windswept prairies of North Dakota.