Saturday 26 March 2016

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs

Ok, I had forgotten all about this one, Monkey and I read it a couple of months ago, but I am reviewing it here for the Weirdathon, because, I mean, what kind of a title is 'The Boy Who Kicked Pigs'! And it's by Tom Baker, and who doesn't love Tom Baker, he always was my favourite Dr Who

This books pretty much does what it says on the tin; it is about a really unpleasant boy called Robert Caligari, who begins with hatred of his sister's piggy bank, and an insatiable desire to kick it, a habit that leads to all sorts of insane consequences. 
Here he is, looking quite diabolic:
 Here is the flying bacon butty, the cause of the abrupt ending of his pig kicking days: "Robert flew over the church wall hot in the same trajectory as the mugged butty. He fell headlong into what felt like a scalding pond of stinging nettles. A neglected grave carrying the name Cheesemans and suggesting, rather improbably, that the aforesaid Cheesemans were merely sleeping, nestled in the nettles where the kidnapped and abused butty had landed." (p.35)
After reading about the shark lynching incident Robert finds other ways to let out his increasing hatred of the human race: "With quite amazing cheerfulness he called out sweetly but clearly to old Mr Grice, 'All clear, Mr Grice.' The old man smiled for the last time as he thanked Robert for his kindness, and slipped him a pound for his trouble. And so Mr Grice stepped under the roaring TIR forty-tonner. The brakes shrieked as the driver did his best and hit the 'dead man's handle.' People screamed and rushed forward. Robert got there first." (p.47)
Then what starts out as an attempt to upset a poor unsuspecting horse rider with a bow and arrow turns into a major catastrophe: "The woman clung on and did her best to calm the shocked creature. The cyclists, heads down and legs whirling, went past the woman on the horse and they noticed nothing. The poor woman must have been very scared to be up there on a rearing horse and on the motorway bridge too. And she had reason to be scared. The horse leapt up and sideways and trying to get away from the arrow in its arse, it jumped off the motorway bridge and fell down on to the south-bound carriageway below." (p.69)
You will be pleased to hear that he gets his just deserts, but I won't spoil the end because it is far more gruesome than you could imagine, making this story most unsuitable for younger children. 


So much of what I read is written by western authors so when I came across a book in the charity shop by a writer from Kyrgyzstan I was interested, so I bought 'Jamilia' by Chingiz Aitmatov. It was first published in 1958 and was only translated into english in 2007. Interestingly you can read the entire story, which is less than 100 pages, online here, and also some interesting analysis of the political significance of his writing here.

Although named for the unconventional young woman the story it is really about her young brother-in-law Seit. Set during the Second World War the village is populated with women, the elderly and children, all the men are away serving in the army, so the teenage Seit finds himself working with Jamilia transporting grain to the train station for feeding the troops. They are joined by an injured former soldier Daniyar, a withdrawn and reticent man, but over the days of working together a bond formed between the three of them. It is really a coming of age story for Seit, who is at first protective and jealous of his sister-in-law, but gradually as he watches as Jamilia and Daniyar fall in love, and even though they are going against all the conventions of their community, he finds himself understanding their passion and sympathising with them. 

Here they are travelling back to the village at night, wagons in convoy, listening to Daniyar singing:

"When you thought the last note had died away, out burst fresh haunting song that seemed to rouse and press the sleeping steppe with tunes it held dear and, in return, gratefully invigorated the singer. The ripened dove-grey wheat awaiting harvest rippled like a lake surface and the first shadows of dawn flitted across the field. At the mill a mighty throng of old willows rustled their leaves; on the other side of the rive the campfires of field-workers were fading, and a shadowy rider galloped noiselessly towards the village along the top of the bank, dipping and bobbing among the orchards. The wind was heady with the fragrance of apples, the aroma of honeyed, flowering corn and the warm smell of drying dung bricks." (p.58-9)

Much of the descriptions are quiet and lyrical, but the interactions between the characters are purely practical, no one says what they feel, much is implied by lingering looks and unspoken gestures. There is a stark contrast between the reactions of the villagers, who cannot comprehend anyone giving up respectability and security for mere 'love', and the way Seit has come to view their relationship.

"I was probably the only one who did not condemn Jamilia, my one time jenei. Maybe Daniyar did have an old greatcoat and tattered boots, but I for one knew his soul was richer than all of ours. I did not believe Jamilia would be unhappy with him, though I did feel sorry for my mother. It seemed that when Jamilia left, my mother's former strength left her. She became stooped and haggard. Now I realise she could not accept someone breaking with tradition. If a storm uproots a mighty tree, the tree will never grow again. Earlier, my mother would never ask anyone to thread a needle for her, her pride would not allow it. One day after school I came home and saw her weeping: her hands were trembling so badly that she could not thread the needle." (p.90-1)

It was a very interesting little story, an intimate picture of a small rural community, who's way of life and traditions were being disrupted by the collectivisation enforced by the Soviet Union and the impact of the war. I like the way that you can learn a little about the way of life in a completely different part of the world, but at the same time find that their concerns are never so far from your own.

Friday 25 March 2016

Crows and all that

I have a couple of brief contributions to the Weirdathon. Up first is 'Grief is the thing with feathers' by Max Porter that I bought at Waterstones the other day. The cover felt familiar, as if I had read about it somewhere when it came out last year. Like the others I have picked it has an unusual format, with three voices speaking in short bursts, some pieces very like poems; the father, the boys and the crow. The crow has arrived with the death of the mother; they seem to admit he is imaginary, but his presence and impact is very real. He tells them stories, and they tell each other stories; sometimes they are like fairy tales, sometimes a recounting of real events. Mostly they talk about losing her. Here Dad sums up the difference between what the child and the adult experience:

"There was very little division between their imaginary and real worlds, and people talked of coping mechanisms and normal childhood and time. Many people said 'You need time', when what we needed was washing powder, nit shampoo, football stickers, batteries, bows, arrows, bows, arrows.

There was very little division between my imaginary and real worlds, and people talked of sensible workloads and recovery periods and healthy obsessions. Many people said 'You need time', when what I needed was Shakespeare, Ibn, Arabi Shostakovich, Howling' Wolf." (p.38)

The whole book is about how it feels to miss someone, in the many and various ways that they can be missed. It is a very intense little book, it is almost the ordinariness of all their words and experiences that make it so real and visceral:

We all used to get a lot of trouble from Mum for flecking the mirror with toothpaste.

For a few years we flecked and spat and over-brushed and our mirror was a white-speckled mess and we all took guilty pleasure in it.

One day Dad cleaned the mirror and we all agreed it was excellent.

Various other things slipped. We pissed on the seat. We never shut drawers. We did these things to miss her, to keep wanting her.'" (p.49)

so I went home to talk to Crow about parting company.

I couldn't find him. I did find that the boys had flung wet balls of toilet paper onto the bathroom ceiling, which pissed me off because I'd told them that it stained the paint, and by the time I'd cleaned it up and cooked their dinner and put them to bed I realised, of course, that Crow had gone." (p.108)

Sorry, kind of hard to describe what this was, whatever it was it provoked some very strong emotional reactions, tiny words or images bringing memories up from nowhere. Just lovely.

No puzzle, no problem

To fuel what appears to have become a mild addiction we borrowed the Impossible Puzzle from the Ridley Birks. It is designed by a guy called Alex Beard who has created puzzles from his own artworks that have pieces based on the shapes in the design rather than traditional interlocking pieces. To be honest it was not difficult at all. Although there is repetition and similarity within the image all the pieces were quite distinctive and it was not possible to put the wrong piece in place.
The only other puzzle in the house was this tiny challenge bought back by Jamie from Barcelona (teaspoon for scale).
I ordered another art puzzle from Barney's Newsbox, so now we have to wait for the postman to come, maybe tomorrow...

Sunday 20 March 2016

A puzzling week

It's been an unusual week. As I mentioned the other day Dunk bought me a puzzle for my birthday. It comes from Pomegranate Artpiece Puzzles (bought via Speedyhen). Apparently a puzzle of Jackson Pollock's Convergence was first produced back in 1964, marketed as 'the world's most difficult puzzle', and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It definitely was a very difficult puzzle. We started with the traditional edge method, and then managed to put together a few groups based on distinctive lines in the picture, however after that it felt like a herculean task; each piece could vaguely be described as beige with some black and some yellow or red, even the pieces which seemed mostly one colour often did not belong where you expected. We laboured through about a week where putting in a couple of pieces an hour seemed like a massive achievement. I changed the method to studying the picture, searching for individual pieces and then placing them within the frame roughly where they belonged, occasionally managing to attach them to something else that was already there.
Then we decided to sort all the pieces, not by colour but by the number of 'ins' and 'outs'. Fortunately Tish had given me more chocolates for my birthday so we had two extra trays to use for storing the different categories.
Thursday morning, my day off, I planned to sit and read. I came downstairs to make a cuppa and found Tish on the sofa with toothache, so I stayed to keep her company and started on the puzzle again. This is how it looked at 7.30am (at this point it had been worked on for a week):
I worked for fourteen hours, getting Monkey up around 9 or so to help; Tish mainly felt sorry for herself but occasionally managed to join in. We did have Gilmour Girls on in the background for company. It has a very meditative effect to study the details of such a random image and I felt surprisingly relaxed when I finally gave in and went to bed. And this is how it looked by the end of the day:
At work the following day I found myself fascinated by random paint splashes on the road. And here is the puzzle completed on Friday evening:
We decided it would be brilliant to go and see the original painting, a huge canvas nearly four metres wide, but then discovered it is at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo New York, so that's another trip for the wishlist.

Sunday 13 March 2016

That was then and this is now

Much as I admire Ali Smith sometimes I feel that some writers regularly dominate the shortlists for book prizes and they squeeze out other potential new writing talent; it would be nice if the judges could spread the attention around a little more. Having said that she is a writer who is doing interesting writing, and, from this article in the Guardian, sounds like a really interesting person. I picked this book, 'How to be both', for the Weirdathon challenge because of the way she has played with the narrative structure: the book is in two parts, and in half of the books the story of George is first, and in half the story of Francesco. Depending on your copy your reading of the story will be different, and thus your perception of the narrative. I borrowed the book from the library and that copy had Francesco's story first. I could not figure out what was going on, I thought it was going to be all avant-garde and impenetrable, and took it back to the library. This copy came to me via Simon Savage in a freebie package from Penguin Books, and it has George's story first, and it completely gripped me, I read it in about two days. This is not going to be a long waffly review, because when I really love a book I often don't stop to write down any quotes, it's as if the writing just floats though your head and transfers the story to your brain by osmosis. You end up with an intuitive sense of what she is writing rather than a series of hard and fast events and images. 

George's mother has died and in struggling to make sense of it she begins to revisit memories of their trip to Italy to see the frescos of Francesco del Cossa. She becomes something of an observer: of the painting by Francesco in the National Gallery, of her mother's former 'friend', of a young girl in a pornographic video, and of the slowly mouldering ceiling of her bedroom. It's as if she wants to take a step back from the world, not be part of it. Her bond with her younger brother, and a new friendship with H become the only things keeping her sane. Mirrored by the gender ambiguity of George's name is the spirit presence of Francesco, a real 15th century Italian artist who Ali Smith recasts as a woman, able to overcome the prejudices of her era and fulfil her artistic potential with the collusion of her father. She watches over George's shoulder, thereby also becoming an observer, of an existence that should be almost incomprehensible to her, and yet in which she manages to find parallels with her own life. So George's story floats back and forth between the motherless present and the mothered recent past, while Francesco's floats between her ghost watching George and the tale of her growing up and becoming an artist and the adventures that led her to work on the frescos that George and her mother travel to Italy to see. 

What I loved about this book is how everything is tied together, how the themes of art, creativity, friendship and loss are reflected across both halves of the book. There is a detailed description of the photo on the front cover of the book and Francisco analyses the image, as if it were created by a master painter. George goes repeatedly to see the painting by Francesco, sitting examining it in minute detail, and surveying the behaviour of other gallery visitors, counting how many stop and look, and timing how long their attention is held there. It made me want to visit the art gallery and spend more time just looking. Dunk bought me a 1000 piece puzzle of Jackson Pollock's Convergence for my birthday; the process of putting it together is forcing us to examine the picture in detail, to consider the way the paint has been applied, to examine the layers and the interaction of the colours, to think about the process of creation. When it is finished we will probably either love it or hate it, but it has made me think more about how you appreciate a piece of art.

Here is George imagining the decline of her bedroom ceiling:

"Anyway, George's room, given time, enough bad weather and the right inattention, will open to the sky, to all this rain, the amount of which people on TV keep calling biblical. The TV news has been about all the flooded places up and down the country every night now since way before Christmas (though there has been no flooding here, her father says, because of the medieval drainage system is still as good as it always was in this city). Her room will be stained with the grey grease and dregs of the dirt the rain has absorbed and carries, the dirt the air absorbs every day just from the fact of life on earth. Everything in this room will rot.
She will have the pleasure of watching it happen. The floorboards will curl up at their ends, bend, split open at the nailed places and pull loose from their glue.
She will lie in bed with all the covers thrown off and the stars will be directly above her, nothing between her and their long-ago burnt-out eyes." (p.12-13)

And here the child Francesco, after the death of her mother:

"I put my head through the slit in the sleeve as if it were the neck opening: I dragged the dress through the house, me in it.
I wore nothing but her clothes from then on: I dragged them in the housedust for weeks, my father too weary to say no, until the day he picked me up in his arms (I was wearing the white one, big, filthy now, ripped a bit where I'd tripped on the stones one day and when it'd caught on the doorframe another, today I was all sweat and heat in it, my face a colour I could feel) so that the trail of the heavy material left the floor and hung behind us both over his forearm like a great empty fishtail as he carried me through to her room.
I thought he would beat me, but no: he sat me down still in her overgown on the shut trunk of clothes: he himself sat down on the floor in front of me.
I'm going to ask you kindly to stop wearing these clothes, he said.
No, I said.
(I said it from behind the stiff shield of the front of the dress.)
I can't bear it, he said. It is like your mother has become a dwarf and as if her dwarf self is always twinkling away in all the corners of the house and the yard, always in the corner of my eye.
I shrugged.
(But cause the shoulders were so high over my own deep in the dress, no one but me knew I'd shrugged.)" (p.214-15)

A wonderful book, a worthy winner of everything it has won. 

Tolle et lege

'The Name of the Rose' by Umberto Eco was acquired only a few months ago, and Monkey and I started reading it aloud ... but it was far too wordy so it was abandoned in favour of Game of Thrones. When I heard a few weeks ago that Umberto Eco had died I decided it was a fitting time to pick it back up. This is not a book for the faint hearted, a simple murder mystery it certainly is not. I watched the film many many years ago but only retained an image of Sean Connery in a monk's habit, and a very young Christian Slater being seduced. I now know far more about medieval theology than is necessary for modern life, though it became strangely fascinating. For those of you who might be interested there is a very helpful website that translates the latin passages in the book, since no footnotes are provided.

We meet William and Adso as they arrive at the abbey, the purpose of their visit being a meeting with an envoy from the Pope, an attempt, it seems, to mend the breach with the Emperor. I confess I skim read the theology stuff to begin with because it did not seem relevant, but it soon became obvious that what was going on was linked to the machinations within the Catholic church; at the time pretty much everyone was accused by everyone else of being heretical, even the Pope himself. The dispute centres around the idea of Christ's poverty, whether he owned anything, whether monks should follow this example, and the Franciscan order who's approach to this issue becomes a direct confrontation with the wealth of the church. The Inquisition was very active and William himself had previously been an inquisitor. Life for the monks is a routine of offices from matins at 2.30am through to compline at 6pm, and the book's chapters chime the bells to mark the passage of time. The atmosphere of the story is very secretive, as is life at the abbey, as is the Catholic church. Even the vast library is not held to enable study and learning, it's contents are strictly controlled, all part of the feeling that knowledge is considered dangerous, even heretical itself. Here the abbot talking about the library in his first meeting with them:

"Only the librarian has, in addition to the knowledge, the right to move through the labyrinth of the books, he alone knows where to find them and where to replace them, he alone is responsible for their safekeeping. The other monks work in the scriptorium and may know the list of the volumes that the library houses. But a list of titles often tells very little; only the librarian knows, from the collocation of the volume, from its degree of inaccessibility, what secrets, what truths of falsehoods, the volume contains. Only he decides how, when, and whether to give it to the monk who requests it; sometimes he first consults me. Because not all truths are for all ears, not all falsehoods can be recognised as such by a pious soul; and the monks, finally, are in the scriptorium to carry out a precise task, which requires them to read certain volumes and not others, and not to pursue every foolish curiosity that seizes them, whether through weakness of intellect or through pride or through diabolic prompting." (p.37 Terce, The First Day)

Poor Brother Adelmo has already fallen to his death from the library before their arrival and the abbot asks William to investigate what is going on. Soon the monks are dropping like flies and everyone is watching and suspecting everyone else. William and Adso only make it to church a few times, and when they do it is more to observe the other brothers than to partake of the prayers, as the demands of their investigation forces them to discover how to invade the inner sanctum of the library itself. The books are revered, but at the same time I felt that they become a kind of symbol for the corruption of the church:

"It's pages crumble, its ink and gold turn dull, if too many hands touch it. I saw Pacific's of Tivoli, leafing through an ancient volume whose pages had become stuck together because of humidity. He moistened his thumb and forefinger with his tongue to leaf though his book, and at every touch of his saliva those pages lost vigour; opening them meant folding them, exposing them to the harsh action of the air and dust, which would erode the subtle wrinkles of the parchment and would produce mildew where the saliva had softened but also weakened the corner of the page. As an excess of sweetness makes the warrior flaccid and inept, this excess of possessive and curious love would make the book vulnerable to the disease destined to kill it." (p.185 Terce, The Third Day)

The atmosphere of the period is summed up I felt in this lovely list, containing all the flotsam and jetsam of society, this is what happened to you if you failed to fit in and conform, I didn't find it reassuring that there were so many options available:

"false monks, charlatans, swindlers, cheats, tramps and tatterdemalions, lepers and cripples, jugglers, invalid mercenaries, wandering Jews escaped from the infidels with their spirit broken, lunatics, fugitives under banishment, malefactors with an ear cut off, sodomites, and along with them ambulant artisans, weavers, tinkers, chair-menders, knife-grinders, basket-weavers, masons, and also rogues of every stripe, forgers, scoundrels, cardsharps, rascals, bullies, reprobates, recreants, frauds, hooligans, simoniacal and embezzling canons and priests, people who lived on the credulity of others, counterfeiters of bulls and papal seals, peddlers of indulgences, false paralytics who lay at church doors, vagrants fleeing from convents, relic-sellers, pardoners, soothsayers and fortunetellers, necromancers, healers, bogus alms-seekers, fornicators of every sort, corruptors of nuns and maidens by deception and violence, simulators of dropsy, epilepsy, haemorrhoids, gout, and sores, as well as melancholy madness." (p.189 Sext, The Third Day)

And then there is this lovely conversation:

" 'Oh as far as that goes,' Remigio said, 'a normal family down there has as much as fifty tablets of land.'
'How much is a tablet?'
'Four square trabucchi, of course.'
'Square trabucchi? How much are they?'
'Thirty-six square feet is a square trabucco. Or, if you prefer, eight hundred linear trabucchi make a Piedmont mile. And calculate that a family - in the lands of the north - can cultivate olives for at least half a sack of oil.'
'Half a sack?'
'Yes, one sack makes five emine, and one emina makes eight cups.'
'I see,' my master said, disheartened. 'Every locality has its own measures. Do you  measure wine, for example, by the tankard?'
'Or by the rubbio. Six rubbie makes one brenta, and eight brente, a keg. If you like, one rubbio is six pints from two tankards.'
'I believe my ideas are clear now,' William said, resigned." (p.269 Prime, The Fourth Day)

The delegation from the Pope arrives before they are able to get to the bottom of the mystery and following another murder where the perpetrator is apparently caught in the act several people are taken into custody and interrogated. William and Adso have to watch powerless as words and meanings are twisted to suit the purposes of the inquisitor. Here Bernard explains precisely the catch 22 situation, there is no way out, and no way to defend yourself or others from the persecutors:

"Heresy's supporters can be distinguished by five indications. First, there are those who visit heretics secretly when they are in prison; second, those who lament their capture and have been their intimate friends (it is, in fact, unlikely that one who has spend much time with a heretci remains ignorant of his activity); third, those who declare the heretics have been unjustly condemned, even when their guilt has been proved; fourth, those who look askance and criticise those who persecute heretics and preach against them successfully, and this can be discovered from the eyes, nose, the expression they try to conceal, showing hatred towards those for who they feel bitterness and love towards those whose misfortune so grieves them; the fifth sign, finally, is the fact that they collect the charred bones of burned heretics and make them an object of veneration ... But I attach great value to a sixth sign, and I consider open friends of heretics the authors of those books where (even if they do not openly offend orthodoxy) the heretics have found the premise with which to syllogise in their perverse way." (p.389-90 Nones, The Fifth Day)

Now we have another list, this one details the relics that are housed in the abbey's vaults. Is it just me or is there just a hint of mockery going on? :

"Then Nicholas showed us other things, and I could not describe them all, in their number and their rarity. There was, in a case of aquamarine, a nail of the cross. In an ampoule, lying on a cushion of little withered roses, there was a portion of the crown of thorns; and in another box, again on a blanket of dried flowers, a yellowed shred of the tablecloth from the last supper. And then there was the purse of Saint Matthew, of silver links; and in a cylinder, bound by a violet ribbon eaten by time and sealed with gold, a bone from Saint Anne's arm. I saw, wonder of wonders, under a glass bell, on a red cushion embroidered with pearly, a piece of the manger of Bethlehem, and a hand's length of the purple tunic of Saint John the Evangelist, two links of the chains that bound the ankles of the apostle Peter of Rome, the skull of Saint Adalbert, the sword of Saint Stephen, the tibia of Saint Margaret, a finger of Saint Vitalis, a rib of Saint Sophia, the chin of Saint Eobanus, the upper part of Saint Chrysostom's shoulder blade, the engagement ring of Saint Joseph, a tooth of the Baptist, Moses's rod, a tattered scrap of the very fine lace from the Virgin Mary's wedding dress." (p.423 Prime, The Sixth Day)

The infighting and jostling for positions of power within the abbey heats up as the events progress and by the time we neared the end I was even suspecting the abbot himself. Theological motivations become entangled with more personal vendettas, but the library is key, and William and Adso have to discover what is hidden in the inaccessible room at the centre of the labyrinth. The final showdown does not disappoint. I will leave you with this exchange between William and Adso, which only in retrospect becomes more prophetic:

"Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside the books. Now I realised that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.
'But then,' I said, 'what is the use of hiding books, if from the books not hidden you can arrive at the concealed ones?'
'Over the centuries it is no use at all. In the space of years or days it has some use. You see, in fact, how bewildered we are.'
'And is a library, then, an instrument not for distributing the truth but for delaying its appearance?' I asked, dumbfounded.
'Not always and not necessarily. In this case it is.' " (p.286 Terce, The Fourth Day)

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Belated and Weird

I get a lot of blog feeds by email these days, but I guess I visit the blogs less because instead of excited it makes me strangely anxious to add more books to the reading list. My parents turn 80 this year, which finally feels old, I have trouble thinking of them as old, and even more trouble thinking of myself as getting old. However I recently added up and found that at a rate of about 50 books a year, if I live to my early 80s I am only going to get through another 1500 books before I pop my clogs ... that's not very many and maybe I should be more careful which ones I choose. Ok, maybe once I retire I will have more time and will get through more books, but we are still not talking a huge number. 

Anyway, this morning, via Estella's Revenge, where Estella was talking about an ongoing challenge to 'Read My Own Damn Books', I found my way to Julianne at 'Outlandish Lit' who is running a 'Month-long Weirdathon' (and who doesn't love made up words), and I found myself quite agreeing with her definition of weird, so decided to join in. I have two books waiting in the wings that fit the bill: Tristano by Nanni Balestrini and How to be Both by Ali Smith (failed before but have my own copy now so will give it another go). 

I have just finished 'Stone Mattress' by Margaret Atwood, who would probably come quite high on many people's weird list. The first three stories connect Constance, Gavin and Jorrie, a fantasy realm and the peculiarities of old people, then we move on to something more like a fairy tale, then back to the real world with an unusual discovery in an auctioned storage lot. A couple more stories deal with the character's long standing issues that have very different outcomes: The Dead Hand Loves You is a story of the bond between four housemates and a very successful horror novel, and Stone Mattress has a woman encounter a man from her past in an unexpected place. I think my favourite was probably 'Torching the Dusties', where a new-age protest movement has taken against the elderly, and how an unlikely couple escape a nasty fate. Here Wilma and Tobias first notice the protestors:
" 'What is it?' Wilma asks now. 'Is it an ambulance?'
There haven't been sirens: she's sure of that, she still hears quite well. It's at times like this that her disability is most discouraging to her. She'd rather see for herself; she doesn't trust Tobias to interpret; she suspects him of holding things back. Protecting her, he'd call it. But she doesn't want to be protected in that way.
Perhaps in response to her frustration, a phalanx of little men forms up on the windowsill. No women this time, it's more like a march-past. The society of the tiny folk is socially conservative: they don't let women into their marches. Their clothing is still green, but a darker green, not so festive. Those in the front rows have practical metal helmets. In the ranks behind them the costumes are more ceremonial, with gold-hemmed capes and green fur hats. Will there be miniature horses later on in the parade? It's been known to happen.
Tobias doesn't answer at once. Then he says, 'Not an ambulance. Some sort of picketing. It looks organised.' " (p.271)

I have given up Facebook in the last few weeks; I mean I disabled my account rather than trying to stop visiting, which is pointless as they keep sending nagging emails if you try and cut down. As a result quite a lot of reading and knitting has happened. Monkey and I have also got through two seasons of Gilmour Girls, because I can't knit and read at the same time. This is my Bressay Dress from the book Fair Isle Style that Julie and I bought together some time ago. It is knitted in Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal with the fair isle design in Noro Taiyo. I love it so much I already have yarn to knit a second one. 
and there are leg warmers to match since I only used three of the five balls of yarn.
Oh yes, 'belated'. It was my seventh blogiversary a few weeks ago and I missed it for the second year running. 111 posts in the last year, which is way down, and the follower numbers went up and then down again, but I am quite philosophical since why would people visit when I have been such an irregular blogger in recent months. I can't promise to try harder, though I am reading 'The Name of the Rose' and hope to write a goodie on that.