Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Work Whinge of the Week - electoral register

We have had a busy time at work recently; the long awaited revision (in the pipeline since I arrived over three and a half years ago) has finally been implemented so some of us are struggling to learn yet more new duties and we are all struggling with the IPS because about half of the roads have been moved to a different walk. Added to that this week they sent out individual letters telling everyone about the new voter registration system, something which always brightens our morning. However what is really irking is the advert. What is it with advertisers who still live in the 1950's and whenever they use images of post arriving through letterboxes it is gathered up by people in their pyjamas. It is this kind of thing that makes people think that their post is late; people see this and think that there are other people  out there who get their post at breakfast time and wonder why they don't. *Nobody* gets their post at breakfast time any more. We don't leave the office til *9.30*. I wish the advertising industry would give us a break.

Not a half-arsed book review

I have three book reviews sitting half done in the draft folder and not much inspiration to finish them (not that they were bad books, I've just been feeling a bit meh), and then we are off to HESFES on Saturday, so this is just a quick hi and bye post. We have spent most of my spare time in the last couple of weeks getting stuff sorted out for Monkey's grand adventure in the real world (Year of the Monkey) in less than two months. She went to a getting-to-know-you party in London at the weekends to meet some of the other Monkeys, and might even have some housemates organised. She now has lots of plain t-shirts, a dish for macaroni cheese, a wok (£3 bargain charity shop find), a cheese grater, wooden spoons, her own nail scissors and tweezers, the very important notebook that we are going to make a felted cover for, and, most excitingly, nude coloured underwear! 
One issue that did remain was the safe transportation of the Monkey Quilt:
 So this morning I have made it a bag:
 and she is all set to leave home.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Bunny Love

Who doesn't love bunnies
 The bunnies have been busy
hopping around the garden, and the living room, and the bedroom,
getting all excited about their trip to HesFes
 Monkey thinks they are getting a bit out of hand, 
but I think the more the merrier:
(Knitted roughly to the March Hare Pin Brooch pattern)
(Linking back to Fibre Arts Friday, please visit the other fibre creations)


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Beautiful Ruins

'Beautiful Ruins' by Jess Walter.
Some time ago I started reading 'The Financial lives of Poets' and really didn't like it so took it back to the library. It was only when I finished 'Beautiful Ruins' and read the interview in the back that I realised it was by the same author, and, strangely, that Jess was a man not a woman. There had been a couple of occasions while reading when I had thought 'a woman just would not write that sentence' (usually when he expressed something profoundly misogynistic and clich├ęd) but I had dismissed it as just a stylistic quirk. Having said that I loved this book. It was clever and witty and engagingly complex and all beautifully tied together. It will make a great film.

The book hops around in time and space to tell the story of Dee and Pasquale. She floats into and then out of his remote italian fishing village leaving in her wake a ripple that flows through the story. And so he turns up fifty years later at the office of a slightly sleazy movie producer in the hope of finding out what happened to her. Everyone in the tale has dreams, and reality intrudes very forcefully into all of them, but they cling on regardless. Pasquale dreams of tourists discovering his tiny hamlet and coming to play tennis overlooking the bay; Michael Deane dreams of money; Claire Silver dreams of helping to produce real films; Pat dreams of success, and drugs and alcohol; Avis Bender dreams of finishing his novel; Shane Wheeler just wants to make a movie. In 1962 they are filming 'Cleopatra' and Michael Deane has been sent to turn it from a money pit into a film that might not break the company. He decides to use the tempestuous relationship between Taylor and Burton to fuel the publicity, but has to deal with the tricky problem of Dee Moray and so has hidden her in Pasquale's remote little hotel. Richard Burton makes a wonderful cameo appearance placing this part of the story firmly within the chaotic world of the film industry. Pasquale's disgust with the manipulative treatment of Dee forces him to reassess his own choices and behaviour. The other half of the story takes place in present day America; Michael Deane is looking for a way out of his financial entanglements with the studio but finds himself caught up in Pasquale's quest to find Dee and the private detective comes up with some unexpected results. 

I loved these two little moments between Pasquale and Dee, because it is exquisitely romantic; everything that exists between them is unspoken, unacknowledged, and yet it still endures:

" 'At first it seemed like the saddest thing to me,' she said, 'that no one would ever see these paintings. But then I got to thinking: What if you tried to take this wall and out it in a gallery somewhere? It would simply be five faded paintings in a gallery. And that's when I realised: perhaps they're only so remarkable because they're here.'
'Yes,' he said again. 'I think so.'
They sat quietly, as the day deepened, sunlight from the turrets slowly edging up the wall of paintings. Pasquale's eyes felt heavy and he thought it might be the most intimate thing possible, to fall asleep next to someone in the afternoon." (p.273)

"Pasquale climbed into the fish-gut-stained boat and sat in the bow, his knees together like a schoolboy at a desk. He was unable to stop his eyes from sweeping the front of the hotel, where Dee Moray had just stepped onto the porch and was standing next to Avis Bender. She shielded the sun from her eyes and looked down at him curiously.
Again, Pasquale felt the separate pulls of his mind and body - and right then, he honestly didn't know which way it would go. Would he stay in the boat? Or would he run up the path to the hotel and take her in his arms? And what would she do if he did? There was nothing explicit between them, nothing more than that slightly opened door. And yet ... what could be more alluring?
In that moment, Pasquale Tursi finally wrenched in two. His life was two lives now: the life he would have and the life he would forever wonder about.
'Please,' Pasquale rasped to Tommaso. 'Go.' " (p.308)

There is a fabulous cast worthy of an epic film, I particularly loved Tommaso the Communist and Aunt Valeria and all the residents of Porto Vergogna. So the story jumps back and forth between the two times, with merely a glimpse of the years in between. The crossroads that brought them together was left far behind and lives were just lived as if it had not happened, but the ripples were still there, lapping at the shore and sometimes you just have to know. It is really about the chaotic nature of life and how people's choices and decisions impact on each other, and that maybe after all the chaos things will quieten down and you might finally find what you need. A  truly satisfying read, it took him 15 years to complete apparently and was certainly worth the wait.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Astonishing Splashes of Colour

Having had such different reactions to 'The Man who Disappeared' and 'Natural Flights of the Human Mind' I reserved 'Astonishing Splashes of Colour', Clare Morrall's Booker Prize shortlisted novel. It came in large print from the library, but I still wore my glasses to read it, is that a bad sign? My reaction to this one was somewhere in between. 
Kitty lost her baby, and lives next door to her husband. And that's not even the weirdest thing going on in her life. A missing sister, a dead mother and a strange concoction of brothers add to the mix. The sturdy reliable grandparents who could have been some real support to her have been abandoned in favour of a flakey painter father who resents her going off to make a life of her own. She loiters outside school gates pretending to be collecting a child and is driven crazy by the idea (of her own making) that her sister-in-law has had an abortion. Things take a turn for the worse when she takes her nieces on a surprise trip to the theatre and you can kind of see the 'car crash' of events unfolding in slow motion. It's not surprising really considering she discovers that everything she thought was real about her life was a lie, no wonder she is such an emotional wreck. I almost felt it was too much to heap onto one poor defenceless character.

"But it won't be all right in the morning. I'll be as silent then as I am now. I have no past. No mother, no significance in my brother's lives, and no baby memories, because they have all been destroyed by my father. No future. No children to depend on me, to take a little bit of me, to remember me.
I go out when the sun begins to rise. I don't want anyone to come and find me, because I'm afraid they might not see me. I'm afraid that I don't really exist at all.
I walk a long way, right into the centre of the city and out again on the other side into an area where I've never been before. There are a few people around, even at this hour, but I look at the ground and pretend not to see them. I have too much silence in me to smile or say 'Good morning'. They are people going to work. Postmen, milkmen, shift workers waiting for the bus to take them to Longbridge, Cadbury's, all-night Sainsburys. They seem to purposeful. They know they exist, they know where they are going.
I walk fast. I want to look as if I know where I'm going, as if I have a purpose like everyone else." (Chapter 5)

Don't really have a lot to say, I have had other things preoccupying me and I kind of drifted through the book. In fact I have been drifting generally since I got back. What was so well written is her sense of dislocation from reality; despite her often bizarre behaviour you do get the twisted logic for each choice she makes. A story really about family, love, lies and memories, and how important they are for your sense of identity. 

I have been writing a review of Virgin Suicides but we are going to turn Tuesday Knitting Club into a bit of a Book Club so I will put off posting it until everyone has read the book and we have had our discussion. I have a few days off and have mostly been knitting Hesfes Bunnies.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Oceans and all that

'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' by Neil Gaiman does what all the best fantasy writing does; it takes the real world and makes you feel that there are things about it that are unknowable, that fantastic things can happen right here not just in far away imaginary worlds. Not that you would want this kind of thing to happen, it was pretty scary, but I am a wimp and very easily scared so don't let that put you off. 

Life has been quite normal for our unnamed protagonist but things take a real world turn for the worst with the suicide of their lodger. To remove him from a situation that children are not supposed to see he ends up at the farmhouse at the end of the lane being watched over by a trio of strange women. The Hempstock's farm appears to exist in the real world, they have porridge for breakfast and everything, but things are not what they seem, and when Lettie befriends their young neighbour he unwittingly becomes the way in for a creature from another place. The creature then takes human form and begins to inveigle its way into his family. I like the fact that Neil Gaiman doesn't try and give any kind of reasonable or logical explanation for its behaviour, you just have to go with the flow. In spite of the increasing menace the boy draws on courage he didn't know he had faces up to responsibilities far beyond his years. The magic of the place protects him from the horror that he experiences, delivering him back to his family with only the vaguest notion of events, and it is only when he comes back in later life to sit by the 'ocean' that he can recall and thus agonise over whether he is responsible for what happened. 

Not really a book for children, but a book about childhood, and how it is a separate kind of existence from adulthood. I think that Neil Gaiman has a deep affinity for the child's point of view. The boy in the story really has no understanding of, or even interest in, the things that happen in the adult world, even while being aware of how any change might be a threat. 

When he is forced to give it up due to family economics the boy explains why his room is so important:
"the room was above the kitchen, and immediately up the stairs from the television room, so at night I could hear the comforting buzz of adult conversation up the stairs, through the half-open door, and I did not feel alone. Also, in my bedroom, nobody minded if I kept the hall door half open, allowing in enough light that I was not scared of the dark, and, just as important, allowing me to read secretly, after my bedtime, in the dim hallway light, if I needed to. I always needed to." (p.17-8)

And that porridge I mentioned earlier:
" She gave me a china bowl filled with warm porridge from the stove top, with a lump of home-made blackberry jam, my favourite, in the middle of the porridge, then she poured cream on it. I swished it around with my spoon before I ate it, swirling it into a purple mess, and was as happy as i have ever been about anything. It tasted perfect." (p.27)

Lovely enigmatic exchange between the boy and Lettie; I just like the way children accept what they are told and make their own sense of it:
" 'How do you know?'
She shrugged. 'Once you've been around for a bit, you get to know stuff.'
I kicked a stone. 'By "a bit", do you mean "a really long time"?'
She nodded.
'How old are you really?' I asked.
'Eleven.'
I thought for a while. Then I asked, 'How long have you been eleven for?'
She smiled at me." (p.40)

This final one seems to sum up childhood so perfectly. Children trust people because they have to, because they have so little control in their lives, and, to a certain extent, the happiness of a childhood is founded on that trust being well placed:
"I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock." (p.199)

Neil Gaiman doesn't try and create whole worlds like some 'fantasy' writers, he just makes little corners that capture your imagination and haunt you after you have finished reading. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Monkey Quilt - the final chapter

It has been a quiet week work-wise but a hectic one on the hexipuff front. I spent the entire of Sunday and then Wednesday sewing together the beekeeper quilt. It was quite a trial, that involved a certain unmentionable amount of picking apart as well as sewing together. We were still two half hexipuffs short but since Monkey had missed Knitting Club on Tuesday when we went to the Tea Hive to celebrate World Wide Knit in Public Day she insisted that she wanted to participate in a KIP and so we went to the park yesterday afternoon to knit them. 
Then we came home and I sewed them into place. 
And now the quilt is finally finished.
The project has taken two years and 29 days. We knitted 414 hexipuffs, but used only 410 of them (it is 21 by 20 puffs), and 20 half hexipuffs, Monkey decided to name them 'trapezipuffs'. Credit also going here to contributions from my sister Claire who was visiting when we started and knitted some, and Tish who has intermittently joined the madness. It measures 5' 4" square. We reckon about 300 hours of work have gone into it. I have no idea how much yarn has been used nor any notion of how much it has cost, but it is worth every penny.
We both had a little cuddle to appreciate its exquisite squishiness:
Then I made her pose in the garden where the light was much better;
I am thinking maybe I should hire it out for interior design photo shoots to help pay for her fees:
We are also considering making a 'beekeeper blanket bag' to protect it and transport it safely (she was a bit iffy about letting me put it on the grass, but I pointed out the carpet in the living room was probably dirtier).
Final details that I neglected to mention are the pockets. There are four: two empty hexipuffs open at one end, one double empty hexipuff for keeping her phone in and this lovely creation with a button fastening for keeping the sweetie stash in
It is comforting to know that whatever adventures may befall her when she leaves home for the big bad world in September ... she will have a constant reminder of how important she is to me and she will definitely not be cold at night:
Linking back to Fibre Arts Friday for craftily sharing.

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