Monday, 31 May 2010

Bank holiday felting (traditional post title)

This time last year I had been doing some felting, and plans had been going round my head for a while, so I decided to make it a tradition. So yesterday, as well as doing my little commission, I took all these little blended batts of left over roving (I sat in front of the telly and did them some weeks ago):
and I made all these little pieces of pre-felt (this is partial felting, just rolling for a couple of minutes and then rinsing, so they are just holding together but not firm and you can cut them into pieces and use them for decoration). Some of them are a bit flimsy and could probably have been rolled a bit more but it was my first attempt and not vitally important:
Here they are again all in a pile (just because I was enjoying looking at all the colours heaped up together):
I had rather grander plans but since it was a first attempt at using the pre-felt I thought I should start small so I made this purple bag decorated with simple cut out shapes. It all worked beautifully and I think the pre-felts look great. It gives a much sharper edge when adding a pattern compared to using roving. I guess it depends on the effect you want to achieve. The handle is made as a long dreadlock with just some little scraps in the same colours added on.
Then I had promised my sister a pair of slippers (you can see my first attempt, with 'work in progress' photos here) as she tried to pinch mine when she visited. They are made with lovely soft merino and decorated with some pieces of pre-felt. I hope they fit, they are nicely snug on me so they should be okay, but the sun has gone in so they may take a couple of days to dry.

My first commission:-)

When mum and dad were here last week my dad asked me if I would make them a trivet for the teapot. Their kitchen is done in blue and yellow, and the only suitable roving I had was a lovely bit of variegated blue/turquoise Falkland from Babylonglegs that I bought at Rav Day last year, and a tiny bit of yellow. Here it is laid out, I added some bits of silk fibre in blue under the top layer that does show through subtly.
It started off about 30cm and has shrunk down (with a bit of trimming to neaten) to about 19cm. Here is is drying in the garden in yesterday's sunshine.
And it fits!

Sunday, 30 May 2010


Marilynne Robinson's book 'Home' is in my Orange Prize Challenge list, but we have been reading this one, 'Housekeeping' for my book group this month. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (I have unintentionally read two Pulitzer winners so far this year The Bridge of San Luis Rey and American Pastoral, and I recently came across this blog, a reading challenge to read all the winners) and as you can see from the front cover image it is also considered by The Observer to be "one of the 100 Greatest Novels of all time". I like to read these kind of lists but tend to take them with a pinch of salt. They always contain the same classics and then a selection of more 'modern' novels depending on the bent of the publication involved.

Now I was quite surprised to find that I have read this book before. Surprised because I can't believe it didn't leave more of in impact ... well it did obviously, but the title is so nondescript that maybe that was why I didn't remember straight away. As soon as I got to the description of the grandfather's train going off the bridge I remembered everything. What I will start by saying is that it really did bear a second reading, and I enjoyed it very much, relishing the fact that I remembered the course of the story and being able to focus more on the writing, which is so so wonderful (there might be loads of quotes in this review, be warned).

'Housekeeping' is the story of Ruth and Lucille, told by Ruth, of how they are abandoned by their mother on their grandmother's porch and then cared for first by their grandmother and then two elderly maiden aunts, Lily and Nona, until they send for their aunt Sylvie who takes up a kind of residence in their lop-sided family home, and 'keeps house' in her own very unique way. There is very little story as such. The girls grow up, but the place they live, Fingerbone, is one of those isolated, untouched communities that seems to be in a time warp. Described thus after the flood:

"Fingerbone was never an impressive town. It was chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere. That flood flattened scores of headstones. More disturbing, the graves sank when the water receded, so that they looked a little like hollow sides or empty bellies. And then the library was flooded to a depth of three shelves, creating vast gaps in the Dewey decimal system. The losses in hooked and braided rugs and needlepoint footstools will never be reckoned." (p.62)

The book is so full of images and allegories: the unfathomable lake that swallowed up their grandfather; the cold and the wet and the mud; the bridge and the trains that rumble back and forth across it; the dogs in their road who know that they don't really belong; school being the place where normality is acquired. The story meanders around giving smatterings of childhood memories mixed up with Ruth's childlike unquestioning acceptance of everything that happens to them, never really expecting to understand the world. Then the girls, already viewed as outsiders, start to absent themselves from community expectations:

"My cold, visceral dread of school I had learned to ignore. It was a discomfort that was not to be relieved, like an itch in an amputated limb. I had won the attendance prize for my grade in the last year of my grandmother's life, and it might never have occurred to me not to go to school if it had not occurred to Lucille." (p.77)

So with the quiet acquiescence of Sylvie the girls spend much of their time around the lake, mostly just wandering, and so begins the spiral that eventually draws the attention of the local do-gooders. Sylvie is strangely vacant, always seeming to be elsewhere or expecting to leave at any moment. She had been living a somewhat transient lifestyle since leaving home and marrying very young, and the girls are constantly fearing that she will up and leave them, so they spend a lot of time just watching her, concerned, all the while she is totally unconcerned about anything. As time passes Lucille growing up becomes more interested in 'fitting in' and gradually becomes more aware of how their life and situation is viewed by the locals, until eventually she leaves rather abruptly and goes to live with a teacher.

Ruth is then left alone with Sylvie and the pair are drawn closer, with Ruth coming to imagine that she is a replacement for her lost mother. Then there is this wonderful chapter where they go off on an 'adventure' together. Sylvie takes her in a stolen boat across the lake to a little hidden valley populated by ghost children (which seems to fascinate rather than frighten).

"I walked after Sylvie down the shore, all at peace, and at ease, and I thought, We are the same. She could as well be my mother. I crouched and slept in her very shape like an unborn child." (p.145)

Describing the valley:
"The mountains that walled the valley were too close, the one upon the other. The rampages of glaciers in their eons of slow violence had left the landscape in a great disorder." (p.150)

On finding herself alone Ruth digs in the ruins of a collapsed cellar:
"So I worked till my hair was damp and my hands galled and tender, with what must have seemed wild hope, or desperation. I began to imagine myself a rescuer. Children had been sleeping in this fallen house. Soon I would uncover the rain-stiffened hems of their nightshirts, and their small bone feet, the toes all fallen like petals." (p. 158)

Ruth's thoughts as they are in the boat returning across the lake in the dark:
"I hate waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation. I expected - an arrival, an explanation, an apology. There had never been one, in fact I could have accepted, were it not true that, just when I had got used to the limits and dimensions of one moment, I was expelled into the next and made to wonder again if any shapes hid in its shadows. That most moments were substantially the same did not detract at all from the possibility that the next moment might be utterly different. And so the ordinary demanded unblinking attention. Any tedious hour might be the last of its kind." (p.166)

Then looking out at the lake as they hitch a ride on a train back home across the bridge:
"Looking out at the lake one could believe that the Flood had never ended. If one is lost on the water, any hill is Ararat. And below is always the accumulated past, which vanishes but does not vanish, which perishes and remains." (p.172)

Swiftly after this their existence is threatened by the appearance of authority figures, concerned about Ruth. They make a last ditch attempt to appear normal, cleaning the house and burning years of accumulated newspapers and rubbish. When it becomes clear their efforts will not help, their unspoken pact is secured and they leave across the bridge together:
"I did not dare to turn my head at see if the house was burning. I was afraid that if I turned at all I would lose my bearings and misstep. It was so dark there might have been no Sylvie ahead of me, and the bridge might have been created itself under my foot as I walked, and vanished again behind me." (p.212)

Yet another book that it feels impossible to do justice to. I can merely offer you these hints at all it contains. This abiding sense of loss and abandonment, and loneliness. And an atmosphere of cold, not just the weather, because sometimes it is summer, but you feel like they never get warm. There is very little about the community that they live within, they remain apart from it, not rejecting, just not understanding or sharing anything with them. I felt very sad for the characters, their lack of belonging, even to each other, except the two girls, who inevitably grow apart, but for each of them their fear of losing again just creates a spiral of isolation. A very sad book, intriguing and thought provoking, but sad.


Seem to have lost my posting mojo recently. Dunk very kindly allowed me to do the 'Clematis Post' this year, and sent this photo for your pleasure. We have this most lovely clematis that smothers the very ancient shed at the bottom of the garden. I am convinced it is the only thing holding the shed upright. We have a couple of weeks of wonderful flowers and then just a plain ordinary shed the rest of the year, so I like to enjoy it while it is there.
And these are from last week. This is my older son Lewis (22 yesterday) when we were walking in the woods, collecting a huge log for his new vivarium. It was nostalgia moment for me because as a child we could never walk anywhere without him bringing home some very large branch; he's got bigger so the branches have too.
And this is the finished vivarium all fitted out. I paid for the plexiglass for his birthday present ... it might drive you mad that he talks about nothing else but I love the fact he is passionate about the reptiles and it keeps him off the streets and uses up all his spare money. He has never been a fan of writing so he holds the whole design in his head, and works in inches (a hang-back to his teenage days playing Warhammer) and I am proud of what he can do when he puts his mind to it.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Tegu walking

We had a hectic week off culminating in a weekend visit to my lovely sons Lewis and Jacob, and Lewis' girlfriend Rachel (photo here from their visit last year), in Newcastle (Blaydon to be precise). This tends to involve me running errands for Lewis; so here we are at Tropical Teams (their favourite reptile shop), I am walking Flik, the Tegu.
And after running errands I get to help him start building a new vivarium for Ozzy (Chinese Water Dragon).
and then rearranging the reptile room (what most people call a dining room) so he can fit it in. I am quite impressed that he managed to not injure himself with the power tools nor throw more than a very mild tantrum.
This is my very cool photo of Tish also walking Flik, in her (or rather Rachel's) most unsuitable shoes:
And in looking for the cool piccy of Rachel sat inside the huge vivarium I found this fantastic shot (taken by Jacob) of Midge the Bosc Monitor, still pretty small here, looking quite tame and sweet. I keep wondering why my kids didn't chose to get into fish instead, though remaining grateful that they left the ferret fancying to their dad.
We did have a good time as well, eating piles of Sushi while watching Sherlock Holmes and then spending Sunday morning browsing IKEA (us girls were keeping out of Lewis' way while he chopped wood.)

Thursday, 20 May 2010

New to the sidebar

Just spent a little while adding a whole load of favourite links down my sidebar. I have tried not to be overwhelming and just put the ones in that I go to regularly and think other people might find interesting. I confess I am a very disloyal follower and un-follow people if they don't post for a month or so, or if I find that after all they only really read trashy vampire novels and the one post I liked was not their usual style. I know that I frequently like looking at other people's links and find whole lists of new places to spend my Sunday mornings so I hope visitors might pop over to a few new places too. (Some of the crafty ones are in foreign but it's still nice to look at the pictures:-)

After you'd gone

After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell
This book reminded me of 'If I Stay' from last August, it has the same storyline though slightly more adult themes. In 'If I Stay' a young girl is lying in a coma after a car accident, weighing up her life, it's pros and cons, to decide whether she has the desire to continue living. In 'After You'd Gone' there is similarly a young woman, Alice, lying in a coma, though her situation is more ambiguous, she may have attempted suicide, and as her family gather to watch over her you get flashbacks to her parents early years together, her childhood, her adolescence, her university years and through to her developing tumultuous relationship with John. Some of the time it is written in first person as Alice, occasionally describing her vague perception of her trapped situation, listening to her family and reflecting on things that have happened.

So there are layers of stories within her tale, primarily that of Alice's mother Ann. She is abandoned as a young child by her parents when they go to be missionaries and she is rescued from her loneliness and self-imposed isolation at university by Ben who she then proceeds to marry. But her husband is her saviour, but not the love of her life, this is another man, with whom she has a very long term affair and who, it turns out, is Alice's father (that's not a spoiler, it's obvious and you learn it pretty early on in the book). Alice's fiery temperament puts her at odds with her mother and she has a much more solid relationship with her grandmother (who is not really her grandmother of course.) Ann spends her entire married life living in her mother-in-law's house, feeling always slightly an outsider (not just there but in the local community, as an Englishwoman in Scotland), and you feel this colours everything about her.

(This is a spoiler warning) Alice meets and falls in love with John Friedmann, who's Jewishness turns out to be an issue, not for either of them, but for his father who has become abruptly orthodox since the death of his wife and does not want him to marry a gentile. This all felt a little bit contrived for my liking, causing unnecessary tension and upset, trying to create an atmosphere where you don't know if it will work out, but I was not concerned at any point. It is basically a love story with family complications. But I really liked the snippets of details from her life, it gave you a sense of her history and her nature, and I liked her very much, I felt like I understood her motivations and her behaviour, she reacted in real genuine ways to what happens. Time passes for them, they are happy, they get married and then he is killed in a terrorist bombing (a touch melodramatic but not incredible in the scenario). And her life falls apart. The last part of the book is about her grief and how she tries to cope with her loss, and how hard it is from even close family and friends to help. I had become very engaged with her as a character and thus very involved in their relationship. It is what makes it such a well written book, I was very moved by her reactions, I felt like I was looking in on someone who was truly grieving. Although only small parts were written from her personal perspective it was enough to let you experience it quite closely.

All the little bit parts were also nicely written; the sisters and the best friend, Alice's father (who knew all along that he wasn't), and strangely the doctor at the hospital, who I expected to become more important after we get a little background moment with his children, but then he only makes another brief appearance right at the end. So very much another character driven book, about families and secrets and loss. It left me feeling somewhat melancholy, not necessarily a bad thing.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Work Perk of the week : days off

I moan about my days off, and seem to work them far too much recently, but I kind of enjoy the fact that I get a random day off during the week when so many people have a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday routine. So often days off are frittered away doing domestic chores or just recovering from work tiredness so it has been good to spend time more productively recently.
Visiting babies is always a lovely break from our very teenage family life. Last year on Julie and Al's 20th anniversary we had their kids to stay while they went to Cyprus for the week (we are not as lovely friends as it sounds, go here for the truth :-) This year we visited and baby sat (fortunately she is nice and squishy and quite comfortable to sit on) while they went out for dinner. Who could resist this face?
Then this weekend my sister Claire and my niece came to visit so we popped over to the West Midlands Safari Park where we like to crawl round very slowly and see how many animals we can get to actually touch.
Not this White Wallaby, which if you look closely has a joey poking out of it's pouch.
Not this baby camel, which was staying very close to it's mum.
But this huge Giraffe was loitering by the exit saying goodbye to anyone with an open window, so he came down and slobbered on everyone (am pleased with this shot, really gives an impression of how he towers over you.)
We also got very friendly with the bats in the walk-through Twilight house. After finding what appeared to be an injured bat the girls insisted on going back before we left. They then picked up a piece of the fruit that the bats were feeding from and held it out and the bats just fluttered round and landed on their hands to feed (this was not strictly allowed but the house was not staffed and there was nobody else around at nearly 5pm) So they came away absolutely thrilled.

Friday, 14 May 2010

In my prime?

I suggested 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' by Muriel Spark to my book group. Last meeting I was the only person who had managed to get through 'American Pastoral' so we needed something a bit briefer and less demanding. Having said that there are a lot of thing going on in a small package here; ideas, politics, sexual mores and social history.

The film, seen many years ago probably as a teenager, left a very strong impression on me. I loved Miss Brodie and very much admired the character of Sandy, and I was pleased to find that it had captured the atmosphere of the book beautifully. Miss Jean Brodie is a somewhat unconventional teacher in a quite conventional girl's school in 1930's Edinburgh. She is one of the generation of women who were left without husbands because of the devastation of the First World War. She 'adopts' a group of girls from her class who become 'The Brodie Set', with whom she develops an ongoing friendship throughout their school careers and over whom she has an inordinate influence. At least she sees herself as moulding them, but you are not sure. The book is written from an outside point of view, so you do not get inside anyone's head, but the main focus of the story is Sandy and her relationship with Miss Brodie and it's consequences. The story starts when they are eleven, very impressionable, and follows the girls through their adolescence. Muriel Spark uses similar technique to the other two books of hers I have read. She refers back and forth within the story, telling you what is going to happen to people in the future, in particular referring to each of the girls by way of Miss Brodie's definition of their evolving character.

Miss Jean Brodie is such a wonderful character, she dominates the book entirely, very strong and determined, but at the same time you wonder at her hidden insecurities. Towards the end, in conversations with Sandy after the war, she becomes obsessed with who might have 'betrayed' her, resulting in her eventual removal from her teaching post. I like this quote, it sums up many aspects of her character quite neatly; pedantic, eccentric and romantic:

" 'Whoever has opened the window has opened it too wide,' said Miss Brodie. 'Six inches is perfectly adequate. More is vulgar. One should have an innate sense of these things. We ought to be doing history at the moment according to the timetable. Get out your history books and prop them up in your hands. I shall tell you a little more about Italy. I met a young poet by a fountain.' " (p.46)

She is admired by both the only two male members of staff, Mr Lowther and Mr Lloyd. You get the impression that they both admire her precisely because all the women are very suspicious of her. It is Mr Lloyd she loves, and who is obsessed with her, but she gives him up because he is married, and instead devotes a considerable amount of energy to Mr Lowther, who wants to marry her, but she refuses him. There is something about her personality that inspires devotion. Her girls are loyal, coming rushing to her support whenever there is some new 'plot' afoot to have her removed (the Headmistress trys to accuse her of sexual impropriety). And as a reader you too are drawn under her spell. She is forthright and exciting, with opinions about everything, and never shies away from expressing them.

Her single status is an interesting aspect of the book. In the situation I assume that being a spinster was not judged so harshly or negatively. It is both a curse and a blessing. It frees her from the controlling aspects of marriage on women's lives. This is alluded to in passing after Mr Lowther marries Miss Lockheart and she is referred to as "now Mrs Lowther, and lost to the school." (p. 116) because she would have been obliged to give up her job, and as such her financial independence, upon marriage. But at the same time her insistence that her 'prime' is devoted to her girls felt tinged with regret. She has a love affair with Mr Lowther, but does not want to commit to him, and then devotes her energy to manipulating a relationship between Rose (almost as her proxy) and Mr LLoyd. Her sexual attitudes are more in keeping with the sixties but living when she did she was confined by social attitudes that she was not quite forthright enough to stand up against.

Her supposed 'progressive' educational approach caused me much annoyance.

"It has been suggested that I should apply for a post at one of the progressive, that is to say, crank schools. I shall not apply for a post at a crank school. I shall remain at this education factory where my duty lies. There needs must be a leaven in the lump. Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life." (p.112)

She does not approve of the whole exam system and an imposed curriculum, and all to her credit views education as a means of opening up new ideas and experiences for her girls. This tends to take the form however of them being regaled with stories of her own experiences and her views on everything from art to politics. She can also be very harsh and critical, particularly to Mary MacGregor, who she refers to as 'stupid' on a regular basis. She does not appear to encourage them to ask questions but fires demands at them to ensure that they are hanging on her every word. Not really my definition of 'progressive'.

The writing is beautifully concise and sparse. In spite of it's setting and Miss Brodie's interest in fascism you do not get much feeling of the political situation. It is very intimate, it is a very small world that they live in. She creates a lovely almost cosy atmosphere:

"The evening paper rattle-snaked it's way through the letter box and there was suddenly a six-o'clock feeling in the house." (p.21)

I was left with a very vivid image of a fire-lit front room and tea from one of those brown teapots and a quiet uneventful but contented existence, where people's expectations of life were so different.

The only thing that confused me was how Sandy's life turned out, not what I would have expected for a moment (I'll leave you with that as a little teaser). And I was sorry that the dramatic scene at the end of the film when a disillusioned Sandy confronts and betrays Miss Brodie was not part of the story, it all ended much more quietly. Except that, although with maturity she came to see Miss Brodie with all her faults, she could never escape, nor did she want to, from the important role she played in her life. When asked about her main influences she replies (the closing sentence of the book):

"There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime."

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Just a quickie, meant to post this when we did it, with a nice photo of the empty space ... we Freecycled the car!! How excellent it that. It was going mouldy on the drive (this is Dunk's Audi not mine, which is still going fine at 185,000 miles) for several months and then someone asked on the local Freecycle network if anyone had a car or motorbike as they were moving and needed to get to work, and within three hours of replying it was gone from our drive. I confess it had become a burden and was unreliable, but they knew that when they took it and I hope it works out well for them. I just love it when things work out.

Work Winge of the Week 3 - Customers

Typical conversation with customers:
Me: Good morning (hands post over)
Customer: I don't want any bills this morning.

Me: Good morning (hands post over, again)
Customer: Just more junk, it can go straight in the bin.
(I do love to know I am spending my morning usefully)

Me : Good morning
Customer: Anything for us today?
Me: No, nothing today.
Customer: Oh dear, nobody loves us:-(

I can't bloody win!!!!

(Picture is by someone called Thomas Liddall Armitage, but he is not significant enough to have a Wiki page)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Making amends

I found 'The Ghost at the Table' by Suzanne Berne a while ago in a second hand bookshop. I read her first novel 'A Crime in the Neighbourhood' early on last year, it won the Orange Fiction Prize back in 1999, and I had been looking forward to reading this one. I confess I took a load of heavy weight poetry back to the library, since I was kidding myself that I was going to settle down and read Derek Walcott's 'Omeros' any time soon (I read the first few pages and had not realised it was an epic poem that was going to require quite some concentration.) I decided I had been taking my reading much too seriously (what with the very worthy Philip Roth), the TRB pile has become just intimidating, and had lost something of the enjoyment. So I made the deliberate choice to go back to something I really wanted to read.

I took this book along to the home ed meeting at Blackwell last week and read the first half while M hung out with friends for about three hours (at least I remembered some proper (non-UHT) milk so the tea was bearable.) 'The Ghost at the Table' was just like her previous book in that it is a character book. The events are of secondary importance to the people and their interaction. I think this is obviously the writer's strength and interest, and she does it very well. It is the story of Cynthia and Frances, sisters, and their family history and their relationship with their ageing father. Frances has persuaded the reluctant Cynnie to come for Thanksgiving. Their father has had a stroke and is being abandoned by his much younger wife and Frances has been making arrangements for his care. Cynnie's reluctance is based on a long standing antipathy towards her father and a (it turns out well-grounded) fear that Frances has plans to facilitate a family reunion. The book is all about families, the way that different people in a family will have different memories of their childhood, and that events will impact very differently on each person. Alongside the story of their family visit there are flashbacks to their shared childhood and most specifically to their mother's death and their father's behaviour. The tension revolves around each being suspicious of other people's actions and behaviour around their mother's death, both blaming and trying to protect from what they saw as 'the truth' of the events.

The characters are all just so beautifully drawn: Frances, the older sister, used to taking responsibility, feeling responsible for everyone's happiness, struggling to make things right but tending to be a little overbearing. Cynnie, the youngest, remembers only feeling neglected and determined to alienate herself from a family she felt never cared very much. And Frances' two girls Sarah and Jane, who seem to mirror their mother and aunt in their relationship with each other and their parents. Their father is a brooding presence in his wheelchair, saying little but speaking volumes by his behaviour and meaningful stare. I found myself feeling almost sympathetic to him, that Cynnie judges him very harshly, as only a young child can, blaming him for everything that is wrong in her life. Walter (Frances' husband) is wonderful, solid and steadfast, reliable and maybe a little long-suffering, but very honest. I liked the way that even the minor characters has real presence. The Thanksgiving gathering is populated with waifs and strays that both Frances and Walter have tried to draw into their circle, each of them with something to contribute to the drama.

I think the strength of the book is what it says about families and her very astute observations, not being judgemental or ever taking sides (in spite of the fact the book is written first person from Cynnie's point of view). Cynnie writes historical fiction for girls, based around the lives of the sisters of significant characters opening up their stories from an alternative perspective. It is a clever device within the book for her to tell us the background of her writing, and how she inevitably has to tidy up the story of her subject's childhoods, to make them all neat and acceptable, having to miss out all the petty jealousies and hurtful neglect. Her current research is into the lives of Mark Twain's daughters and their supposedly enchanted childhood that became a troubled adolescence and ended badly for all three. The themes of confusion, misunderstanding, anger and resentment flow back and forth in the personal stories that Cynnie has written about, and so on between the generations in her story and through the layers of the book. Thus she concludes towards the end of the book, Cynnie reflecting on her parents:

"They, like most people, had done their best. You love whom you love, you fail whom you fail, and almost always we fail the ones we meant to love. Not intentionally, that's just how it happens. We get sick or distracted or frightened and don't listen, or listen to the wrong things. Time passes, we lose track of our mistakes, neglect to make amends. And then, no matter how much we might like to try again, we're done. Whatever inspiring song we hoped to sing for the world is over, sometimes to general regret, more frequently to small notice, and even, if we were old or sick, to relief. It's not easy to sit through the performance of another person's life; so often it is music without music, as Mark Twain once said, referring to something else in one of his maxims. Though we have to try to hear it. It's unbearable to think we can't at least try." (p.288)

Definite food for thought here. An excellent read, engaging characters and well written, not preachy or trying to be too analytical, just very good observations about relationships. She does not pretend to have all, or even any answers but the conclusion was suitably satisfying.

Friday, 7 May 2010


While all the pundits and politicians are bemoaning the hung parliament I am celebrating, it is what I have been rooting for since Mrs T arrived in 1989. As far as I am concerned I hate the whole 'strong decisive' government thing, I want politicians to have to work together, to not be able to ride roughshod over opinions that differ, claiming a 'mandate' to act exactly as they see fit without considering other options. The big majorities that governments in the last couple of decades have operated with have given them an inflated view of their own power. I have consistently spoilt my ballot with a protest about proportional representation when I have not had a candidate I wanted to vote for.
Though I was thoroughly depressed to find that the BNP got nearly twice as many votes as the Greens I hope the election of the first Green Party MP Caroline Lucas marks a positive moment for British politics, and that wherever Nick Clegg decides to offer the Lib Dem support we get the reform of our election system that this country so badly needs (but don't trust that bloody Cameron bloke).

And last night we had a couple of hedgehogs snuffling around just outside the back door, so here is a cute photo to lighten the atmosphere. Tish says that apparently they have their own little eco-system of specialist bugs that keep their prickles clean (though if you have ever been up close to one they stink *really* bad.)

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election time

So, no draughty school hall for us here in the Cotswolds, we have this rather grand building, the Redesdale Hall, as our polling station. It is home to an antiques fair most weeks, and a regular exhibition of Tolkien Art, but today the residents of Moreton in Marsh trooped along here to cast their votes.
Mr Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (conservative) has been the sitting MP since 1992. I e-mailed to him once several years ago (cannot remember what about, probably home education) and got a proper letter in reply, but he's not getting my vote. We made a family outing to go and vote together after lunch today, it was Tish's first general election (though not first time voting). Anyway, here's hoping that everyone out there entitled to vote in today's election bothered to go out and make their mark. People can be very scathing about our democracy but for all it's flaws I remind myself that in many places round the world people do not even have the token participation that we get here, and the right was hard won and should not be taken lightly.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Erasing David

I received an e-mail from David Bond back in September of 2008 when he was researching the documentary film 'Erasing David'. The film is an investigation into the amount and nature of the data held about individuals by government and all sorts of other sources, and his plan (as it unfold in the film) is to try to 'disappear' from the system for as long as he can while some specially hired private detectives will attempt to track him down.
I had written to the local paper about the fingerprint registration scheme that M's school were intending to introduce and he had tracked me down (via the internet, see how easy it is) to see if we would be interested in being involved in the film. So he came to our house and interviewed M and myself about the whole fingerprint thing, though he was really lovely and interested and we ended up talking about home education and all sorts of other stuff too, and about the film and his interests in 'personal data' issues. And we had a 'small world' moment as he had also interviewed Terri Dowty at ARCH (Action on Rights for Children) who I know from being involved in EO (Education Otherwise).
I had forgotten all about the film it was so long ago and then Dunk spotted it on telly last night (and will be available to watch on 4OD)
M and I didn't make it onto the small screen, our little interview was edited out, though they did show the interview with Mrs France at school. However we did get a credit at the end for participating in David's research so we felt like we had been part of something very interesting.
He has his own website here (but it is not responding at the moment), you can see a little intro clip here on Youtube and a very interesting article on Spiked here.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Neil Gaiman

Am posting today from Manchester staying with Julie and Al. Last night Al lent me this Neil Gaiman book, 'Angels Visitations' which is a collection of what he refers to an 'miscellany', some stories, some poems etc. Just like Fragile Things that I read back in December last year it is very surreal and thought provoking. Very hard to describe so this is not really a review as such but I wanted to post this quotation from the book, which is actually an entire story, very short, which left me very sad. It wasn't until the very end that I realised it was about Santa Claus, I had never thought before that his role might in some way be a punishment.

"Nicholas was ...
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.

Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves' invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen in time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.




(From 'Angels Visitations, A miscellany, by Neil Gaiman. Dreamhaven Books 1993 0-9630944-2-4)


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