88: 0/10, would not recommend

Well, that was a week of unparalleled misery, quite frankly – topped off by Thing 3 testing positive for Covid on Thursday. Thing 2 was off with the dreaded corona the week before last, I was knocked for six by labyrinthitis (which is not, sadly, a surfeit of David Bowie’s startling trousers) and now Thing 3. Enough already!

Labyrinthitis is a definite -1,000,000/10, do not recommend. It was so horrible I didn’t pick up a crochet hook for a week, or even a book for several days. That bad. NHS 111 recommended taking something called Buccastem, which is supposed to relieve nausea and vomiting related to migraine, and other people recommended Stugeron which made things infinitely worse. A tweet from a lovely museum person crediting my blog from a few weeks ago with making her feel reassured about her upcoming colposcopy made me cry, but so did the lovely Norwegian postal system’s Christmas advert celebrating 50 years since Norway decriminalised same-sex relationships.

Furry nurses are the best

It was Wednesday before I started feeling semi-human again, and Friday before I felt safe to go out of the house. My Beloved did a most excellent job with laundry and keeping the Horde alive, and the furry fiends did an excellent job of keeping me warm. Friends were amazing at relaying Thing 3 home from school, which at least we don’t need to worry about this week as he’ll be off with me isolating.

Lack of new output does, however, mean I can share a piece I finished a while ago but which only got handed over this week – despite the fact that I have seen Heather several times. We were supposed to have a ‘Grumpy People’s Supporters Club’ night out on Friday (well, they did, I stayed on the sofa watching Cowboy Bebop): the last time we saw each other all together was on the hen night back in June! The pattern can be found here and the seller was kind enough to offer to chart the names for me to personalise it as well. I’m told the bride liked it – she loves Art Deco and had a 1920s car to take her to the service, so it should be a good reminder of the day.

When I did manage to pick up a book again, it was with the intention of working through some of the digital shelf of shame on the Kindle – in the mood for something easy, I chose Colin Watson’s Flaxborough novels which were published between 1958 and 1982. Police procedurals which would probably be tagged with the awful ‘cosy mystery’ label these days, these are witty and terribly British, featuring the Viking-like Inspector Purbright and the eastern town of Flaxborough. I had three on my Kindle already and luckily the rest were cheap as I quickly got addicted.

Lying in bed unable to do anything meant I had a lot of time to do mental crafting, which is at least cheaper than the normal kind. I have a head full of ideas and no way to get to them, as my crafting space (OK, the dining room) is still full of stuff we haven’t put back after the heating was put in. My beloved has taken the opportunity to do small jobs upstairs while the place is already in chaos. I’m not saying I’m getting itchy fingers here but I have things that need making! Things 2 and 3 want new pants and there’s Christmas making to be done. This Hobbit Hole piece needs finishing, too: the pattern is by Vetlanka on Etsy. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on such a high count fabric, but the effect is so delicate.

I’ve taken the opportunity to set up a Facebook page for this blog as well, where I can sell the various bits and bobs I make that aren’t destined for gifts, at least from me. You’ll be able to find it here and I really need to take some photos to get things online! Watch this space.

Anyway, I must head off – there’s PCR tests to do and a book to get back to.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Speaking in Bones – Kathy Reich

Coffin, Scarcely Used / Bump in the Night / Hopjoy Was Here / Lonelyheart 4122 / Charity Ends at Home / The Flaxborough Crab / Broomsticks over Flaxborough / The Naked Nuns / One Man’s Meat Colin Watson (Flaxborough series)

70: I promise you, you’ll love it

Sometimes you get handed a book, or a recommendation for a book, that a friend or family member has loved and you read it….and it’s okay. It’s not life changing, and you probably wouldn’t say it’s great, but it’s readable. There have been many books like that- and that’s fine, because there’s a lot of different authors and tastes in the world and as Terry Pratchett says many times it would be a funny old world if we were all alike.

Sometimes the book is so terrible you question why you’re so fond of that person.

Sometimes you recommend a book that you have absolutely loved to people you like and they think it’s….okay. Not life changing, not great but…okay. I find it’s best not to take these things personally as clearly those people are wrong, or just need to read it again properly, or aren’t in their right minds.

Sometimes a book has rave reviews, and/or a massive marketing budget, and shoots up the bestseller lists, and films are made of them starring people who you may or may not have heard of, and that’s fine too. Sometimes these are good books and terrible films, sometimes these are terrible books and okay films. Sometimes they are terrible books and you can’t bring yourself to watch the film.

Sometimes – just sometimes – you get given a book and it’s wonderful: it keeps you awake long after your bedtime and stays with you so you can’t wait to pick it back up in the morning. This can be for many reasons: the adventure, the need to know what happens next, the lyricalness of the writing, My recent read ‘Once upon a River’ by Diane Setterfield was one of these books. Others include:

  • Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon
  • Hearts in Atlantis and The Body – Stephen King
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  • The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Stardust – Neil Gaiman
  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
  • Ring the Hill – Tom Cox
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Nieffenegger

This week I have added another one to the list – a birthday gift from my colleagues but I detect the hand of my wild swimming colleague in this one. Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper, which is a journal kept over five years of wild swimming in West Country waters. It’s a poignant read: Roper took up wild swimming after a double mastectomy and built a community of swimmers around her, as well as becoming a key member of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Sadly she died five years later of a brain tumour, but she filled those five years with adventure and wrote about them in exquisite, immersive prose. I’ll be recommending this one to friends, but I might not lend them my copy….

There may be many more of these magical books on my shelves of shame, or lurking on my Kindle, and I really ought to get round to reading them. I always swear I won’t buy any more books until I have finished the ones I have (I know, I laugh too) and then the BookBub daily email comes in, or I find something wonderful in a charity shop, or someone recommends a book they have loved and suddenly there’s a new addition. Perhaps I need to make a reading resolution that every other book I read is one from the shelf…. that sounds more realistic, at least!

In the meantime, if I promise not to buy them, will you tell me which are your favourite books to recommend to people?

Trial and error, error, error

You would think that if you have sewed a neckband onto something the wrong way up that it would be a straightforward job to unpick it and put it on the correct way. This was not the case with the blouse hack of the McCalls 8104 dress, which I had to unpick three times before I worked out which way was the right way, and which bits I’d sewed together wrong in the first place. I also managed to sew the bodice and lower bodice pieces together upside down when I started it on Monday, so I am amazed I got it finished at all.

The lovely turquoise cotton fabric is from Higgs and Higgs, and I bought it with my birthday Amazon vouchers – I love the statement sleeves and the slightly fitted waist on it, and the fact that there isn’t a standing collar. I’m not sure what it is with sewing patterns, but every collar I have made is just too seventies – indie or big four, it’s a bit of an issue. I shall just have to learn how to redraft them.

In the name of sorting out my shed I have gone through the hundreds of sewing patterns (mainly free magazine gifts) with a view to handing them over to a friend who has just qualified as a DT teacher – if she doesn’t want them herself she can donate them to school! My August resolution is to have a good tidy up in the shed and donate anything I really won’t use to people who will make good use of them. Things 1 and 2 have just had their ears pierced, so Thing 2 has been making earrings and jewellery with one of her friends which is making a dent in the stash already!

I haven’t done a lot else, really – my sourdough starter has been in heavy use this week as Thing 3 has decided he really likes the bread, and with the discard I have made pizza (always a hit) and cinnamon rolls which were soft and delicious. I’ll definitely be making those again!

So that’s my week! I’ll be off now to do a bit of reading over lunch and then start constructing the jeans I cut out last week….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Wild Woman Swimming – Lynne Roper

Raising Steam/The Truth – Terry Pratchett

How to Sew Sustainably – Wendy Ward

The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook – Susan Briscoe

Visible Mending – Arounna Khounnoraj

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Audible)

65: how to ruin a good book

This week’s ramblings have been brought to you because I have been listening to the audiobook of Cider with Rosie, read by Laurie Lee himself: lush, sunshine-drenched prose, set in countryside not so very far from where I grew up in Monmouthshire. There are some books which, if you mention them to people of a certain age, elicit an instant response of eye-rolling and and ‘urgh, I hate that book, we had to read it in school, it’s so boring.’ It’s true, a terrible English teacher can ruin a wonderful book (equally, a good one can bring it to life: I’m looking at you, Mr Bradley, you and your passion for Jane Austen).

Prime candidates for this, at least for people of my generation, seem to be:

  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  • Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

All of which are classics, of course, and I love them all, but ‘studying literature’ as opposed to just reading a book can really ruin it for people. Second-guessing what the author meant, analysing their intent in using this word or that, deconstructing poetry often means that you can’t see the story for the words, to paraphrase that famous saying about forests and trees.

My own GCSE texts included a story or two from Leslie Norris’s Sliding, which I still love, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and probably some other ones but, amazingly, none of those listed above featured – probably because of the move from O-level to GCSE the previous year.

A badly-chosen text can have the same negative impact: for me this was Graham Swift’s Waterland, set in the Fens and with content so far out of my sphere of experience as an A-level student that I couldn’t engage. Mr Mills tried his best, bless him, but it was hard going. Ten years later, I found myself spending a lot of time in the Fens around March and Ely, so I went back and read the book as an adult: it’s brilliant, frankly, but it took an understanding of the area and the concerns of an adult to understand it. My youngest sister had The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro as one of her A-level texts: my mum and I loved it, she didn’t – presumably for the same reasons I couldn’t get to grips with Waterland. It doesn’t matter how much you love books and reading, if you can’t engage with the content then you’re unlikely to enjoy it.

I suppose the point of teaching literature is to inspire a love of reading in children, but I do wonder occasionally who chooses the texts. Thing 1 is in her first year of GCSEs and is doing Macbeth and A Christmas Carol and doesn’t like either of them: she loves analysing text but hasn’t engaged with either of those. She’s just said that she likes book she can relate to: she read William Goldings Lord of the Flies before being given it at school and loved it.

I love reading, I don’t understand why they can’t just let us read it, they keep stopping us every five seconds to make us analyse why Lady Macbeth is a symbol of patriarchal society. What if he just liked Lady Macbeth? If they just gave me ‘The Outsiders’ or ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ I could analyse them in about five minutes cos I can relate to them.’

Thing 1

The school Things One and Two attend practise DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) so they are expected to have a book of their choice to hand at all times, and the teachers have door signs saying what their current book is as well. I love this idea, and it’ll probably go further to instilling a love of literature in children who aren’t growing up surrounded by books than if their first encounter with great books is stripping them into their component parts without ever getting to enjoy the stories first.

The year of the handmade gift

Back to a bit of crochet for the latest gifts: I made the ladybird a leaf sleeping bag, and also made this Totoro baby comforter. Both will be going off to a colleague whose wife is expecting. The ladybird is for his older daughter, as big sisters need a present too! It’s back to the cross stitch now, while I carry on listening to Cider with Rosie even though the sun has gone away again.

Another gift is with its new owner today – I have just this minute had a text message to say thank you, so happy birthday Gina! We have always had a resident fox at the Museum, with cubs most years, so this seemed like an apt present. The pattern is from MaxStitch.

I am off now to get on with things….see you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Glamourist/The Conjurer – Luanne G. Smith

Moonshine – Jasmine Gower

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

53: I like big books and I cannot lie

And small books, and middle sized books. Audio books, graphic novels, comic books. Fiction and non-fiction, picture books and wordy books. I just like books. The house is full of them: the two things I have far too many of, according to my beloved and the kids, are books and shoes.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Some shelves are more organised than others, of course: Terry Pratchett (although he has started to roam), Charles de Lint, Phil Rickman, poetry, the shelf(ves) of shame waiting to be read, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, my childhood favourites, crime novels by author, Penguin classics. Leave me alone in your living room and I’ll hit the bookshelves first and then your music collection. Leave me alone for longer than the time it takes you to make a cup of coffee (instant is fine, thanks) and I’ll start reading. A question I have heard more times than I can count is, ‘what a lot of books! Have you read them all?’ and the answer is always ‘no, and that means there’s something new to discover’. I keep books I love, and if I know I’m not likely to read them again I pass them on to friends or send them to the charity shops so someone else can discover them.

Image: openculture.com

I grew up surrounded by books and was rarely told what I could or couldn’t read, which means my taste is eclectic, to say the least. I love discovering new authors: I have devoured Tom Cox’s books – even the ones about golf – this year, having picked up one of his cat books in Oxfam. Being able to order new books in advance on Kindle and have them appear as if by magic on publication day is like having many Christmases and birthdays every year. The only problem is that often you get two or even three books appearing on the same day, and then you have to decide which to read first. That happened last week, with Ben Aaronovitch’s new Rivers of London novella What Abigail Did That Summer and Tom Cox’s Notebook arriving at once. Both were very different but equally delicious. Kindle is also wonderful in that if you really love a book and know that one of your friends will like it too you can buy them a copy as well. I subscribe to BookBub, who send me an email every day with daily 99p books that you can filter to the genres you want.

I am not precious about my books. I bend the corners down on paperbacks, and use the slipcovers as bookmarks on hardbacks. Books are meant to be read, not idolised: sometimes they are both. I have some books that have been read so many times they are quite literally falling apart. I possess a lot of bookmarks but can never find them. I love finding fellow fans of series: there are a lot of Discworld fans in museums, I have found, and then you know you have a new reading enabler who you can swap new finds with.

I disappear into books. Once I’m in the story, the kids know that if they want me to hear anything they need to get my attention first, or they have no chance. A good book, for me, is one that makes you want to go and find everything else that author has ever written and read that too, even if its about golf. Some books blaze across your imagination, burning in images that stay with you long after you’ve put the book down. Some authors excel at short stories, others at full length novels. Some do both: Stephen King is one, and Joanne Harris is another.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

When I was a Key Stage 1 teacher I loved the moment when a child suddenly clicked with reading, and started to work their way through books for pleasure and not for phonics. Some children needed more help than others: one little boy wasn’t interested in the Oxford Reading Tree so I lent him my own book of children’s Arthurian legends because he was obsessed with King Arthur. He started reading them with his mum, and by the final story he was unstoppable and reading independently. I loved story time at the end of the day, and when I had the same class again in year 3 we read a chapter a day before home time. I read to the children nightly, in the same way that I was read to by my parents, and read many of the same books to them as I had as a child. I can’t bear to part with these childhood treasures, even now.

You can learn to do pretty much anything from books, too: over the years I have taught myself to crochet, to (sort of) knit, to sew, to quilt. When I was growing up my Dad’s household manual was the Reader’s Digest Repair Manual (I believe he still has it) and when anything broke he would refer to this bible. I was overjoyed to find a copy of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing the other week, and then I tracked down the Guide to Needlework on Amazon. I may never need all these techniques – I can’t see myself doing bobbin lace or tatting, for example, but I’ll know exactly where to look if I decide I want to give them a try. A colleague asked me (as I carried my treasure off in triumph) how many sewing books I had. I don’t know, but I did organise them by craft a few weeks ago so at least I can find them when I need to!

I like to crochet or cross stitch and listen to audio books at the same time: that’s multitasking at its best. My book is the last thing I put down at night: sometimes I wake myself up when the book falls out of my hand. My commute is pure pleasure as long as I have a seat: a Central Line delay? No problem, there’s time for an extra chapter. If I have a rough morning at work, you can find me and my Kindle in KFC – the ultimate lunchtime cure-all.

So if you need me, I’ll be reading….

…and/or making stuff

This week I have handed over a handmade gift to a friend who’s just moved house, combining her family with her mother-in-law and taking on a renovation project. 3 adults, 2 kids and 3 hounds! I designed this one, using an alphabet from Lord Libidan and DMC Coloris thread. I’m working on two other gifts as well, which should be finished and sent off soon!

The Tunisian sock is coming on nicely, and is starting to look a bit more socky, which is reassuring! I like this stitch as it’s really easy to count the rows! The fabric has a more knitted look than normal crochet, so these will be stretchier, I hope.

This week’s cover photo is the museum fox sunning herself outside my office window – when we lifted the containers this week we discovered five cubs, which we think she’s found a new earth for. She’s so confident: the grounds are her territory, and since the building is closed she must feel very safe.

So that’s it from me for the week! Looking forward to the lake reopening tomorrow and getting back in the water and to seeing more than one friend at once as restrictions start to lift.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Cold Case/Flashpoint (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes

London Particular (BBC Radio Drama) – Nick Perry (Audible)

What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch (Audible)