Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Year In Books December 2015

I spent most of November reading "A Place Called Winter" by Patrick Gale.     I've read a couple of  Patrick Gale's novels and I do quite like them, although I can't really say he is one of my favourite authors.    "A Place Called Winter" got lots of critical acclaim and  although it was very good, for me at least, it didn't live up to the hype.

With my Christmas holiday approaching I am planning lots of afternoons curled up on the sofa, my favourite tipple at hand (Cherry Brandy), either reading or knitting.    My list of December books includes " The Private Diaries of Alison Uttley" by Ronald Blythe and "Company of Liars" by Karen Maitland.    

As a child I loved Alison Uttley's Sam Pig stories, being  introduced to them by my dad who still has a copy of the Sam Pig story book given to him when he was a small boy.    I am looking forward to reading the diaries and finding out more about Alison Uttley.      "Company of Liars" is set during the time of the Black Death in the late 14th Century and is full of "magic, superstition, potions and spells".   Sounds just the thing for cold, windy, winter afternoons.

This post is joining in with The Year In Books - see here  for more.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Joining in with Yarn Along

Last time I posted here was way back at the end of the summer.  Since then the autumn has passed by in a sleepy haze: I've been busy working, then recovering from Shingles and then from a very painful wisdom tooth extraction.  At last I am starting to feel more like myself - enough to take up my knitting again, to recover my sewing machine from a friend who borrowed it several months ago, and to dust off my baking tins. 

Yesterday I cast on for a new knitting project: Fishtail Wrist Warmers, which I'm knitting in a 4ply Rowan yarn.  I may have stopped knitting over the last couple of months but I didn't stop reading.  The book that I am enjoying very much at the moment is "Crescent" by Diane Abu-Jabbar.   As the blurb on the cover says "romance, risk and recipes", what's not to like?
Other Yarn Along posts can be found here Yarn Along

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Year In Books - August 2015

One of my ideas of heaven is to lie on the sofa (or sit outside under my sunshade), a cup of Earl Grey at my side and a good book in my hands.  So why, during my six week summer holiday didn't I indulge myself more often?  Over the summer I spent very little time reading and lots of time sleeping, although taking a nap is apparently one of the healthy things we can do for ourselves so I shouldn't feel too guilty.

I finished three books: "The Yellow Jersey Club" by Edward Picking, "Brooklyn Heights" by Miral al-Tahawy and "Completion" by Tim Walker.    

All three books were very good but the one I liked most was "Completion".   It was a very amusing book and demanded no real intellectual effort, which suited my mood over the holiday.

My booklist for September includes "A Far Cry From Kensington" by Muriel Spark and "The Pumpkin Eaters" by Penelope Mortimer.   Muriel Spark is one of my favourite authors so I'm sure I will enjoy "A Far Cry From Kensington".   I've never read any of Penelope Mortimer's books before but I heard an episode of the serialisation of "The Pumpkin Eaters" on Radio 4 over the summer and I'm looking forward to reading the whole book.

Joining in with The Year In Books curated by Circle of Pine Trees

Monday, 17 August 2015

What I did at the weekend

I spend Sunday morning and early afternoon at the "Love is Enough" exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.    The exhibition, curated by Jeremy Deller compares the art and work practices of the artists William Morris and Andy Warhol.

I was part of a guided tour round the exhibition and our guide was wonderful; so knowledgeable and interesting to listen to.   I love the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Edward Burne-Jones but I have never really had much appreciation of Andy Warhol.   However, I came away knowing a lot more about him and liking his work a lot more than I had done previously.   The highlight of the exhibition, for me at least, were the four William Morris "Holy Grail" tapestries that are on show.   They are fabulous and one of my favourite pieces of art.   

Section from one of the tapestries - the angel barring the door of the Holy Grail chapel to Sir Gawaine

The visit was rounded off, as all good gallery visits should be, with tea and cake in the Edwardian Tea rooms.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Late Summer Harvest

Late summer is one of my favourite times of the year, a time to be savoured and experienced.   On Tuesday I went for a long walk in the local countryside which was looking beautiful and bountiful. 
During my walk I collected windfall apples, blackberries and green hazelnuts.    I also found a pear tree laden with pears and some sloes, neither of which were ripe yet although I'll be going back in a couple of weeks to check their progress.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Cakes and Knitting

I finally finished the Wendy Slip Over that I have been knitting for the Knit-A-Square charity.

 I don't know why it's taken me such a long time to complete this one - I  finished most of the knitting weeks ago but for some reason couldn't find the motivation to finish off the last few rows and sew it up.  Anyway, it's finally done and I've got away to a flying start on the next one, which I am knitting in moss stich as a change from stocking stitch.  At the start of the year I set the goal of knitting 15 items for charity during 2015.    I'm afraid I'm running a bit behind and will need to speed up a bit if I'm going to meet my goal.

I went traditional with my baking this week and made Queen cakes using a recipe from Great British Bakes by Mary-Anne Boermans.    

My mum and my grandma were both "cooks", my grandma as her job and my mum, like most 1960s housewives, cooking almost everything from scratch for her family.   To buy a cake, pie or pudding was unheard of, and from a very early age I used to sit on the table, alongside where my mum was working,  helping to weigh out ingredients, grease tins, count out cake cases,  and give the bowl a stir.  I'm sure the foundations of my mathematical skills were laid down in the kitchen.     I can clearly remember the first batch of cakes that I ever made on my own - Fairy cakes made from a recipe cut out of Women's Weekly magazine.  I couldn't wait for dad to get home from work to taste them. 

I still make Fairy cakes, each no more than a couple of bites,  perfect with an afternoon cuppa, and which I prefer to the oversized muffins and buttercream-piled cup cakes that have come  here from the USA.   And, if I do fancy a bit of buttercream, nothing beats an old-fashioned butterfly cake, especially with a small blob of homemade lemon or orange curd added before the wings are stuck back on.  Delicious.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Year In Books - May 2015

During April I finished reading two books - both of them autobiographical.

The first of the two was "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. 

Joan Didion has the reputation of being one of the doyens of American Literature.  I had not previously read any of her work so when I read the rave reviews of this book in the press I had high expectations.  Sadly, these weren't met.  I was expecting a personal, even philosophical, account of the grief that Joan Didion experienced when her husband of forty years died suddenly.  I thought she would articulate the emotions that many people experience when they are grieving but find difficult to put into words.  

I didn't find any of that in the book and instead  found her very distant and academic.  There is nothing wrong with being academic - I was in academia myself for a long time - but I was hoping for something with more feeling.  I understand that we all experience grief in different ways and, since Joan Didion has spent her life as a reporter, that she is used to looking at things with a trained, objective, eye.   I  understand that some individuals might seek to explain a shocking, unexpected event, by turning to medical journals.  I  also appreciate that some people are private and like to keep their feelings to themselves, but these people wouldn't write a book.   "The Year of Magical Thinking" was too impersonal and didn't give me any real insight into the grief and other emotions that Joan Didion felt on the death of her husband.

The second book that I read during April was "Elizabeth and her German Garden" by Elizabeth von Arnim.  This is a diary that Elizabeth von Arnim kept during 1896 and 1897 and describes how she made her garden in the grounds of her home in Northern Germany.  Interspersed with her writings about her garden are diary entries about her husband, her children and the visitors to her home.   Elizabeth von Arnim writes very well and there are some lovely passages about the garden, which she loved.   She did not love her visitors so much and she can be quite rude about them (but then if we can't be candid in a diary, where can we be?).  She has an acute eye and is very witty.   I liked this book a lot more than "The Year of Magical Thinking."

For May I am going to finish reading "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" by John le Carre, which I started reading a couple of days ago and also on my list for May is "The Diary of a Country Prosecutor" by Tawfik al-Hakim.

This post was written to join in with "The Year In Books" which is curated by Circle of Pine Trees