Sunday, 19 November 2017

Light relief

After all the serious stuff that I seem to have been reading over the past months I picked up Terry Pratchett's 'Soul Music'. It is good to be reminded how important it is to laugh, and also to feel a little smug when you get his references that others might miss.
" 'Who's the most famous horn player there ever was, Glod?'
'Brother Charnel,' said the dwarf promptly. 'Everyone knows that. He stole the altar gold from the Temple of Offler and had it made into a horn and played magical music until the gods caught up with him and pulled his -'
'Right,' said Buddy, 'but if you went out there now and asked who the most famous horn player is, would they remember some felonious monk or would they shout for Glod Glodsson?' " (p.219)

So in this tale Susan, the granddaughter of Death, has to take over while he has a bit of a breakdown. Meanwhile in Ankh-Morpork a group of musicians, Buddy, Cliff and Glod, get their first gig in The Cavern and start a bit of a riot. The wizards of Unseen University start reliving their youth with weird hairstyles and leather robes, and the local music store quickly sells out of guitars. It all starts to get a bit out of hand but Death of Rats and Albert (Death's butler) help pull the Discworld back into order. While the essence of Terry Pratchett's style is unmistakably familiar he always manages to come up with wild new ideas that stop the books feeling repetitive. Here we learn about Foul Ole Ron:

"In fact Foul Ole Ron was a physical schizophrenic. There was Foul Ole Ron, and then there was the smell of Foul Ole Ron, which had obviously developed over the years to such an extent that it had a distinct personality. Anyone could have a smell that lingered long after they'd gone somewhere else, but the smell of Foul Ole Ron could actually arrive somewhere several minutes before he did, in order to spread out and get comfortable before he arrived. It had evolved into something so striking that it was no longer perceived with the nose, which shut down instantly in self-defence; people could tell that Foul Ole Ron was approaching by the way their ear wax started to melt." (p.229-30)

Here Susan tries to get to the bottom of the musical phenomenon that is sweeping the land:

"There were other kinds of life. Cities had life. Anthills and swarms of bees had life, a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Worlds had life. Gods had a life made up of the belief of their believers.
The universe danced towards life. Life was a remarkably common commodity. Anything sufficiently complicated seemed to get cut in for some, in the same way that anything massive enough got a generous helping of gravity. The universe had a definite tendency towards awareness. This suggested a certain subtle cruelty woven into the very fabric of space-time.
Perhaps even a music could be alive, if it was old enough. Life is a habit.
People said: I can't get that darn tune out of my head ...
Not just a beat, but a heartbeat.
And anything alive wants to breed." (p.262-3)

So I laughed aloud every other page, and, as always, admired his awesome ingenuity. Then I was left sad, because he is a good writer and not merely a clever one, and you care about the characters, all of them:

"I SUPPOSE ... YOU HAVEN'T GOT A KISS FOR YOUR OLD GRANDAD?
Susan stared at him.
The blue glow in Death's eyes gradually faded, and as the light died it sucked at her gaze so that it was dragged into the eye sockets and the darkness beyond ...
... which went on and on, for ever. There was no word for it. Even eternity was a human idea. Giving it a name gave it a length; admittedly, a very long one. But this darkness was what was left when eternity had given up. It was where Death lived. Alone.
She reached up and pulled his head down and kissed the top of his skull. It was smooth and ivory white, like a billiard ball." (p.373)


Recent Reading

I picked up Michael Rosen's book 'Carrying the Elephant' on a recent charity shop trawl. If you don't follow his blog I would suggest you do, he writes thoughtfully about a wide range of subjects from literature and education to current affairs.  This book is a kind of autobiography in poem form, little snippets that make up a picture of his life. Some of them are mundane, some very moving, they seem to be exploring, I felt, the way it truly is the apparently insignificant things that make us who we are. 

"It was a Formica table that my mother leaned on 
when she said she never did understand why 
Stalin got rid of his generals. He won himself 
the breathing space to get ready and wasted it,
because of course Hitler would eventually go
East, we all knew that, she said. The people in
Leningrad were living off rats. You've never
seen starvation like it. Millions, millions dead.
You don't hear about it, but we knew. And you
waited for news. You always waited for the 
news. And they go on about Alamein and Monty
but it was Stalingrad that turned it round, you
know. When we heard about that, it was the
first real good thing we had heard in years. If
we had lost Stalingrad ... it doesn't bear
thinking about. We wouldn't be here now.
One hand makes an arc across the table wiping
breadcrumbs into the hand waiting at the 
table's edge.
Mind you, there were people here who wanted
Hitler to win. They'd've done a deal. We all
knew that." (p.5)


Lucy Grealy's 'In the Mind's Eye: an autobiography of a face' has been on the shelf for ages. Another one that I spotted and bought because I had fallen for her while listening to Anne Patchett's 'Truth and Beauty', the story of their intense friendship. It is a very personal memoir of loss. Although the book focusses entirely on her cancer, its treatment and her subsequent struggle with reconstructive surgery the title seems wrong, it is not so much about her face but about the loss of her sense of herself. I found myself quite angry with her mother, who seemed to expect her to hide her suffering, to put on a brave face, telling her not to cry when she was hurting. I felt that this must have contributed to the way she withdraws inside her head, becoming very self contained, lacking anyone she can trust and talk to. She spends all those years of her treatment suffering in silence, without much outside contact, you can't imagine how hard this must have been on such a young child. While it come across as self-pitying sometimes you cannot judge her for that because spending so much time on negative introspection she develops a sharp self-awareness and insight into life. This is not a 'brave little girl battling cancer' story, it is about how we become the people we are, not the people we might have been. 

I only noted this quote. It is after she spends time in the hospital with a young man who had been paralysed by a stupid diving accident:
"Two days later I was transferred onto the regular ward, and as I was wheeled away I promised Michael I would come back and visit hime, but I never did. As soon as I was back on the ward, filled with nose jobs and jowl tucks, i grew fearful of my distorted face again, and put Michael and his predicament out of my mind. I was walking to the bathroom by myself now, and each time I opened the door the first thing I saw was my own face reflected back at me. Was that really me? I knew it had to be, but how could it possibly relate to the person I thought I was, or wanted to be? I considered the whole operation a failure, and when the doctors came round and told me how well it was healing, how good it looked, my heart sank. We were speaking two different languages, and if this looked good, then what I thought looked good must be an impossible dream. I felt stupid for having had any expectations or hopes at all.
When I got home, I thought of Michael again and again. Did he ever re-imagine himself standing on top of that roof, trying to remember what it was like not to know his fate for just one split second longer? If he didn't, I did it for him. I'd close my eyes in order to feel the height, see the bright blue of the pool winking below me, bend my legs and feel the pull in my calves as I jumped up and then down, falling from one world of unknowing into the next one of perpetual regret." (p.126-7)

Growing and making things part five-ish

Quite by accident, although I had made a list of a few yarn shops, we came across 'Stephen and Penelope's', a delightful little shop on Nieuwe Hoogstraat. They have the most fabulous selection of hand dyed yarn from all over the world. I wanted something local however so I bought some Undercover Otter (what a brilliant name, would love to know the story behind that). The little ones are for very expensive hexipuffs and the big hank for some random project I will give due consideration to.
I came home and set too with a vengeance to finish a few projects. My 'Lost in Time' shawl is now done. I can't seem to get a photo that shows the colour very well, but you get the idea. 
The Nori dress is making excellent progress, 
but only because I ran out of yarn for the Lilliana blanket that will be a present for mum and dad. This is a little sneak peek because I know mum comes and reads my blog sometimes 
(look away now mum):
The tomato plants in the porch were slowly giving up the ghost. I have continued to pick the tomatoes as they ripened over the last few weeks so I plucked these remaining fruits and then put the plants in the recycle bin. It has been a very satisfying exercise to grow them and I will start earlier next year. I think I just about covered the cost of the plants.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Anne Frank Huis

I find myself at a loss to explain how important our final evening in Amsterdam was to me. I first read Anne Frank's diary when I was about eleven or twelve so I feel like I have been waiting forty years to go and see the 'house behind'. I read the book again twenty years ago when the definitive edition was published, and then again a few weeks ago before our trip. I am distraught that I cannot find my original copy when I still have a shelf of other books from my teenage years.

The book endures because it is so well written and so intelligent. It is not the diary of a child, recounting events and complaining about the food, it is her inner life, her thoughts and feelings and is reflective of her own thinking and behaviour. Her growing up was not put on hold by the terrifying situation they found themselves in, it carries on regardless, and her writing became an outlet for everything she was going through. The things she writes about the other people are not merely factual but gives us insight into their characters too, and her descriptions of life and the atmosphere in the secret annex are mature and perceptive beyond her years. I don't often think of a particular book that everyone should read it, but if it is true of any book then it is true of this one. Her diary makes Anne a real person in ways it is hard to explain; no, there is no museum for any of the other people who's names appear in the deportation list with Anne's, but her diary ensures we are reminded that they too were all human beings with lives, loves and hopes for the future, her humanity reminds us of theirs and helps diminish the anonymity that accompanies numbers like six million.

Here from Saturday 7th November 1942:
"It's different with Father. When I see him being partial to Margot, approving Margot's every action, praising her, hugging her, I feel a gnawing ache inside, because I'm mad about him. I model myself on Father, and there's no one in the world I love more. He doesn't realise that he treats Margot differently from me: Margot just happens to be the cleverest, the kindest, the prettiest and the best. But I have a right to be taken seriously too. I've always been the clown and the mischief-maker of the family; I've always had to pay double for my sins: once with scolding and then again with my own sense of despair. I'm no longer satisfied with the meaningless affection or the supposedly serious talks. I long for something from Father that he's incapable of giving. I'm not jealous of Margot; I never have been. I'm not envious of her brains or her beauty. It's just that I'd like to feel that Father really loves me, not because I'm his child, but because I'm me, Anne." (p.62-3)

This from August 1943, under the title 'A daily chore in our little community: peeling potatoes!':
"We go on peeling. I glance at Dussel out of the corner of my eye. Lost in thought, he shakes his head (over me, no doubt), but says no more.
I keep peeling. Then I look at Father, on the other side of me. To Father, peeling potatoes is not a chore, but precision work. When he reads, he has a deep wrinkle in back of his head. But when he's preparing potatoes, beans or vegetables, he seems to be totally absorbed  in his task. He puts on his potato-peeling face, and when it's set in that particular way, it would be impossible for him to turn out anything less than a perfectly peeled potato." (p.130-1)

From a long entry Saturday 15th July 1944; it feels amazing that Anne continues to feel hope in the face of what they have been through:
"It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I just hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realise them!
Yours, Anne M. Frank" (p.330)

The Anne Frank Huis has had a long journey from the empty shell it was when Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam in 1945. In the 1950s it was nearly demolished but money was raised and the building was saved, and along with the one next door, became a museum and International Youth Centre. Over the following decades it was restored and renovated. The museum, I felt, struck exactly the right balance between being about Anne and being about the Holocaust. The rooms in the annex are quite separate from the museum with it's displays and audio guide; they are simply empty and subdued. Despite the steady flow of people through the space it had an atmosphere of quiet respect. I was glad that they chose not to 'reconstruct' the rooms as they were. It reminds you that the people are gone. It is not some kind of quaint 'how people lived in the olden days' space. It was a hiding place, a refuge from almost certain death, a suspension of life for the inhabitants. 
The annex was stripped bare after the arrest of the occupants, all that remained, and are displayed in the rooms, are a few books, a corrected piece of Margot's 'homework' and a shopping list. The pictures that Anne had stuck to her bedroom wall have been restored and returned to their original position. I cannot find a picture of the girls' height markings on another piece of preserved wallpaper, that show Anne grew 13cm during their time in hiding. It is on the wall of the Franks' room, along with a small map that Otto was using to track the progress of the Allied invasion. It is these tiny details that make these rooms so meaningful. You are not visiting to see how they lived, the diary tells you that, what you are asked to do is imagine their situation, their daily fear of discovery, and their fate. Our only disappointment was to find that because of ongoing building work the original of Anne's diary and other writings had been replaced with facsimiles. 
Monkey and I outside 263 Prinsengracht.
For more remote readers, you can take a virtual tour of the house at The Secret Annex Online.
This piece of film from 1941 shows Anne looking from the balcony of their apartment, it is the only known moving image of her.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Vincent

Wednesday took us to the Vincent Van Gogh museum. His works are among the most recognisable and influential in the world. We waited patiently for a view of the Sunflowers, it was surrounded by a group of schoolchildren. It is worth waiting for. The gallery was busy but not crowded, I think we were glad to have avoided the height of the tourist season, it must be impossible to see anything sometimes. 
As a gallery it shows how art should be exhibited. The galleries were themed and there was adequate but not excessive explanation of the artworks and artists. 
A gallery of self portraits showed the progress of his style and techniques. 
(These are photos of the postcards I bought, you can't take photos in the gallery.)
Self Portrait with Straw Hat
Other galleries gave examples of other contemporary and influential artists and discussed the impact that these relationships had on Vincent's development as an artist.
red cabbages and onions
Being able to look up close and see his brushstrokes and the use of colours gave me a new appreciation for his work. I was stupidly disappointed not to find all the most famous of his paintings that are the familiar ones; Starry Night for example has been in the Museum of Modern Art in New York since 1941, but I found I was much more fascinated by the small inconspicuous paintings, like these shoes:
Shoes 1887
The Potato Eaters was quite an early work that was not well received, being considered too dark and full of mistakes, but Vincent himself was pleased with the representation of peasant life that he had achieved. It is now considered one of his most significant works. Although his paintings were exhibited he notoriously did not sell many works during his lifetime and was supported by his brother Theo who believed passionately in his art. After both their deaths Theo's wife Johanna and then his son Vincent Willem took on the task of promoting his art. His nephew was responsible for pursuing the project to build a gallery for Vincent's work, culminating in the Van Gogh Museum that opened in 1973.
The Potato Eaters
The time he spent studying and painting in France and then the decline of his mental health are documented through his works. The last year of his life was an incredible prolific period. In spite of his decline it was art that he focussed on, continuing to paint while in hospital, often copying other artists work or working from his own old sketches. Vincent has become this image of a tortured artist, but I was certainly left with the impression that he was a tortured soul for whom art was his only escape. I love the way he signed his paintings simply 'Vincent'.
Ears of Wheat
The museum also tells the story of his life, including examples of his extensive correspondence with his family that you can listen to. I love it when you are able to get to know the person and not just the artist. I took this photo of the display about the postal service of the time:
The tea towels were ridiculously expensive, so I bought cushion covers as our souvenir.

How to cross the road in Amsterdam

Take your life in your hands, hold it tight.
Step to the edge of the pavement; the red paved area is the bike lane. Check both ways for bikes. Motorbikes, and even very tiny cars, are also allowed to use the bike lane.
Cross the bike lane to the first island.
Check both ways for cars. They drive on the wrong side here, so just double check.
Cross to the next island.
Check both ways for trams and buses. They are bigger and more predictable, so this is the safest lane.
Cross to the next island.
Check both ways for cars, again.
Cross to the next island.
Double and triple check for bikes, they may come at you from unexpected directions and at unexpected speed.
Cross to the other side. Congratulations, you made it. Repeat as necessary.
If there are crossing light always, always, always wait for the little green man, even if the road seems empty. Still check for bikes. The little red bike lane lights don't apply to certain random cyclists.

We went to Amsterdam. We managed four days without getting hit by a bicycle. There are a lot of bicycles. More than I anticipated, and then some. This is a triple decker bike park near the station, but any empty space around the streets is a potential bike park. And this is in addition to their wonderful, efficient and regular public transport system. Monkey did an excellent job of navigating us around the city, aided by the fact that the trams and buses have screens that tell you the upcoming stops and the connecting services. By the third day we were giving advice to other tourists about the buses.

On the advice of Julie we bought I amsterdam passes that were a brilliant way to get around and gave us free access to many of the museums and galleries. We stayed at the Hostel Slotania; it was cheap and easy to get to from the airport and into and out of the city centre. It was comfortable as a place to sleep but you wouldn't want to hang out there. The room was clean, fresh towels and plenty of hot water, and it was a quiet time of year. The telly picture was fuzzy but we had fun adding our own dialogue to the dutch programmes when we relaxed at the end of the day. We made a plan, and sort of stuck with it, because there is so much to do you could waste a lot of time deciding. There was some disappointment the first evening when Monkey realised that the castle was only open weekends from November to March so we gave up on the idea for a trip out of town.

Micropia was our first stop. It is a museum of the microscopic world. Be prepared to never want to touch anything ever again. Definitely don't look at the toothbrush microbes. But you know what, we coexist with most of them, the ones that want to kill you are not so common.
Some of them are even quite cute.
And they had a colony on leafcutter ants, which are my favourite creatures from my trip to Costa Rica.

The zoo is right next door. In the spirit of going with what we are enjoying doing we ended up spending the rest of the day there, having some lunch in the cafe.
Baby elephant:
Baby leopards:
Several 'walk-through' enclosures; this one with the wallabies:
and indoors with the capuchins and chinese water dragons:
The lion, doing his lion thing:
starfish doing what starfish do well:
and the vultures vulturing:
Tuesday saw us at the massive NEMO Science Museum most of the day,

 followed by a brief and bemusing visit to the Stedelijk modern art gallery. They had some artists I recognised but there was so little information about the art and artists that I did not get much from it. 
We rejected the Cow museum, the Pipe Museum and the Handbag Museum in favour of 'Red Light Secrets' the Prostitution Museum, conveniently located in the red light district. It is a glimpse inside a surreal world, though I felt it was a very narrow picture of prostitution giving us only the story of the profession in Amsterdam where it is legal and the woman are free and protected. It was strange to put yourself on display in the window but we did have fun making passers by uncomfortable by waving to them.
Thursday we visited Body Worlds
It uses real human bodies to teach about anatomy and the physiology of the different body systems. It is a totally fascinating exhibition (and only silly at the end when they took the photos).
Poffertjes for breakfast ... or supper ... or whenever.



Friday, 3 November 2017

THUG

I have been reading. Not a lot, and very slowly, but there is still reading happening here. I read a review of 'The Hate You Give' by Angie Thomas and the library had a handy copy. It is the story of a young black girl who witnesses the shooting of her friend, and the repercussions it has for herself, her family and her community. But it is also a book about an adolescent struggling with growing up, and deciding who she is, and who she wants to be. Her parents choose to live in a rough part of town, because they see so many decent people abandoning the area and they want to resist the encroachment of the gang culture, but they send Starr, Sekani and Seven to a private, mostly white, school. Starr finds herself torn between the person she is at home and the way she find herself behaving at school to make herself acceptable to her friends. It is a very intense, highly charged book. You feel the tension rising within the community as they see the police officer involved absolved of responsibility for the shooting, and the tension rising for Starr as she feels unable to even acknowledge what has happened or express her anger within the confines of school. Add into the mix a young man asking her father for help to escape a gang and an uncle who is also a police officer, and things get very mixed up. While the repeated references to and adoration of trainer brands was irritating, it was just teenage stuff and I'm a middle aged fuddy-duddy who doesn't get any of that kind of thing. What was so vivid about the writing was Starr's emotional turmoil, and fear, and constant awareness of her vulnerability. There is much on the news in recent years, with random shootings of young black men, about relations between the police and the black community, and as a white person you just can't get your head about what it must be like to be afraid of the police, to view them as a group not to be trusted. This is a story to help you get past that. I still don't know what it's like, but this passage, which is quite long, made me literally shake with anger at the injustice. It is the use of the word 'boy' that is particularly insidious, used during slavery and beyond to demean black men, and used here by a black police man. Everyone inside the system is inculcated into its way of thinking and behaving. Here Maverick and Mr Lewis are just talking outside their respective shops when the police arrive and begin the question what they are doing:

"The black officer looks at him. 'Get on the ground, hands behind your back.'
'But ...'
'On the ground, face-down!' he yells. 'Now!'
Daddy looks at us. His expression apologises for the fact that we have to see this.
He gets down on one knee and lowers himself on the ground, face-down. His hands go behind his back, and his fingers interlock.
Where's that camera operator now? Why can't this be on the news?
'Now, wait a minute, Officer,' Mr Lewis says. 'Me and him were just talking.'
'Sir, go inside,' the white cop tells him.
'But he didn't do anything!' Seven says.
'Boy, go inside!' the black cop says.
'No! that's my father, and ...'
'Seven!' Daddy yells.
Even though he's lying on the concrete, there's enough authority in his voice to make Seven shut up.
The black officer checks Daddy while his partner glances around at all of the onlookers. There's quite a few of us now. Ms Yvette and a couple of her clients stand in her doorway, towels around the clients' shoulders. A car has stopped in the street.
'Everyone, go about your own business,' the white one says.
'No, sir,' says Tim. 'This is our business.'
The black cop keeps his knee on Daddy's back as he searches him. He pats him down once, twice, three times, just like One-Fifteen did Khalil. Nothing.
'Larry,' the white cop says.
The black one, who must be Larry, looks up at him, then at all the people who have gathered around.
Larry takes his knee off Daddy's back and stands. 'Get up,' he says.
Slowly, Daddy gets to his feet.
Larry glances at me. Bile pools in my mouth. He turns to Daddy and says, 'I'm keeping as eye on you, boy. Remember that.'
Daddy's jaw looks rock hard.
The cops drive off. The car that had stopped in the street leaves, and all the onlookers go on about their business. One person hollers out, 'It's all right Maverick.'
Daddy looks at the sky and blinks the way I do when I don't wanna cry. He clenches and unclenches his hands.
Mr Lewis touches his back. 'C'mon, son.'
He guides Daddy our way, but they pass us and go back into the store." (p.190-192)

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Readathon October 2017

Dewey's Readathon is with us once again for our biannual slouch on the sofa day. Despite a very much extended working day I made it back a mere two hours after the official start time. There are no spare batteries anywhere in the house so we cobbled together a photo using photobooth. We dashed out yesterday to pick up our copy of Philip Pullman's 'The Book of Dust' part 1 ... yes I know it came out on Thursday but I was too soggy and late after work to make it to Chorlton Bookshop. We have books, we have snacks, we have a hexipuff quilt to keep us cosy. I don't even feel that sleepy considering I have been up since 4am, though I don't anticipate being able to make the full 24 hours this time. Monkey is starting the day with 'Naked Lunch' by William S Burroughs and is on page 115. I am reading Anne Frank's diary, for the third time, in anticipation of our trip to Amsterdam next month, and am at page 63.


Over on The Book Monsters you can join in with the 'Book and Beverage' challenge.

5.30am I've had a little nap but Monkey has made it through the night. I finished Anne Frank's Diary and Monkey finished Naked Lunch. I am now reading 'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas, that has been my breakfast book/tram book for a couple of weeks, and Monkey is reading 'The Magus' by John Fowles, a book that I pressed on her having been a serious John Fowles reader during my 20s.
7.30am Monkey is having a nap and I have finished The Hate U Give. Not sure what to read next.
9am. I am reading 'Carrying the Elephant' by Michael Rosen. I like this poem.




Thursday, 28 September 2017

Dead Hare for National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day so I thought I would share one from a collection I have been reading recently. John Burnside's 'Still Life with Feeding Snake' has been my breakfast book for a couple of weeks now, I am reading through it for the second time. This poem appealed to me because I encountered a dead fox on Fog Lane a few weeks ago and it was similarly perfect, undamaged despite obviously having been struck by a car on a busy, narrow road. It is rare to get so close, so I bent down to stroke its ear.

A DEAD HARE, IN THE DRIVEWAY AT OVER KELLIE, 15TH OCTOBER 2015

I got home late that night, so I didn't see
the body, till the headlamps picked it out,
almost unscathed, so it seemed,
in the hover of light, the taxi-driver
stepping out to look, as I stooped down
and ran my fingers through the empty pelt.

No marks that I could see, no wounds
to tell how it had died, the driver
stepping out to look, unless he'd thought
to see me to the door,
sensing the blur in my hands, the house key
spilling from my fingers in the dark, the smell
of vodka on my breath.

By morning, the fur had creased
and shriveled, and the outcurve of the eye
was nothing but a smudge
of glaze and pulp, the limbs
extended, still, as if they could recall
the joy of bounding through the summer grass,
still formal, while its substance leached away
and left behind a corpse, abridged, unspooled,
all tenderness surrendered to the rain

so quietly, it made me want to stop
and let the spell come over me, a brief
rehearsal of the self shrugged off or pared
away, another body shining though
as skin and bone, perhaps, but with its light
intact, the tawny camber of the soul
protracted, till the chance of something new
seemed possible, if only for an hour.



Sunday, 24 September 2017

All the yarn

Today we took a trip to Yarndale and looked at, and stroked, all the yarn. It took us many, many hours. We admired the needle felting, cooed over the angora bunny, sniffed the unwashed fleece and were complemented on our knitted garments. Then we had some tea. Then we stroked more yarn. There was much debate over whether baby yak or baby alpaca is softer. Opinion remains divided on the subject. We tried to keep track of the stands we planned to return to after our perusal of the entire show, but things never work out as planned. 


I bought some Angus gradient yarn from WooSheeps, to make a Nori dress:
And some Silk Cloud recycled sari silk yarn from La La With Love:
Many, many fabulous yarn shops are out there, and this was a wonderful way to find some new ones, often people spinning and dying their own, here are some that we visited: midwinter yarns, FeltStudioUK, Cat and Sparrow, Pook GB, Tall Yarns (who also do wonderful linen clothing), Blacker Yarns, Fig Tree Yarns, EasyknitsWhistlebare, Injabulo (handwoven baskets and bowls from recycled wire).

Meanwhile back at home projects have been coming along, some more speedily than others.
My Lost in Time shawl is finally making progress, having stalled due to bad stitch counting:
I knit a 'Five Hour Baby Cardigan' in about five hours, and a little hat in about two. These are for a colleague at work who is expecting a baby later this year:
And Claire's grannie square blanket has been completed and dispatched. I was completely thrilled with how beautiful it is; it was meant to be a birthday present but I couldn't wait to give it to her. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

This book, on the other hand, I finished the other day. I must try and keep up to date with the reviews or the system falls apart (system??? what system?). Somebody recommended it, and there it was in the library catalogue. 'Down Among the Sticks and Bones' by Seanan McGuire is a prequel to 'Every Heart a Doorway', which I might or might not get around to reading. She writes a lot of fantasy series and if you're into that kind of thing then you will probably enjoy her writing. While I did eventually get engaged in the narrative the story spent the first forty pages or so making a very laboured point about enforced gender roles and parental expectations, a theme which persisted through the story. Jack and Jill escape the confines of their stifling parents through a trapdoor in their grandmother's trunk, that takes them down to a surreal underworld populated by vampires and mad scientists. Instead of sticking together in this alien environment they are driven apart by conflicting desires and find themselves on opposite sides of a longstanding feud. The two girls eventually develop some personality of their own, but are still confined by the expectations of their new protectors. 

"The man smiled. His teeth were as white as his lips were red, and for the first time, the contrast seemed to put some color into his skin. 'Oh, this will be fun,' he said, and opened the iron door.
On the other side was a hall. It was a perfectly normal hall, as subterranean castle halls went: the walls were stone, the floor was carpeted in faded red and black filigree, and the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling were rich with spider webs, tangled perilously close to the burning candles. The man stepped through. Jack and Jill, lacking any better options, followed him.
See them now as there were then, two golden-haired little girls in torn and muddy clothes, following a spotless stranger through a castle. See how he moves, as fluid as a hunting cat, his feet barely seeming to brush the ground, and how the children hurry to keep up with him, almost tripping over themselves in their eagerness to not be left behind! They are still holding each others's hands, our lost little girls, but already Jack is beginning to lag a little, suspicious of their host, wary of what happens when the three days are done.
They are not twins who have been taught the importance of cleaving to each other, and the cracks between them are already beginning to show. It will not be long before they are separated." (p.70-1)

So, in the new world the 'girly' one gets to toughen up and get dirty, and the 'tomboy' gets to dress pretty, so they don't really escape anything. It all felt a bit lame and added nothing to what could have been a good story about the bonds of sisterhood. I think I will probably stick to writing for grown ups.

Look at me

'Look at me' by Jennifer Egan came from a charity shop in Golders Green several years ago, conclusive proof that buying books and just putting them on the shelf for later is perfectly fine.

I enjoyed this book, she is a very clever writer, taking the most unlikely of characters and situations and making them engaging. 'Look at me' follows two different, though not unrelated Charlottes as they make sense of what life has dealt them.
My favourite character has to be Moose, one Charlotte's uncle, who's life has taken some interesting, often surreal, turns and as such leaves him with a very particular take on things:

"No. It wasn't fresh air that impelled Moose's walks to work; it was the fact that in an era characterised by, among other ominous developments, the disappearance of the sidewalk, he offered up as a gesture of insurrection his own persistence in walking where the sidewalk should have been. I may look silly, his thinking went, as he rappelled over wedge-shaped hedges between parking lots and sashayed aside for heavy-breathing Chevy Suburbans, but not nearly as silly as a world without sidewalks - indeed, my apparent silliness is merely a fractional measure of an incalculable larger silliness whose foil I am." (p.130)

I read this book a month ago, started writing this and then got distracted, and now barely recall it. I like to keep the reading record straight so I will leave you with the only other quote I noted down. Egan is writing mostly about American society, so I often found people's concerns a little bemusing, but despite the picture she paints she is plainly fond of the place:

"At last Irene's pen was moving. Pool-O-Rama, Tumbleweed, Stash O'Neill's, Happy Wok ... I felt proud! Proud of my hometown! Of its hokey ethnic restaurants, of its meticulous obliteration of the natural world. Of the vertiginous sense that we could be anywhere in America and find these same franchises in this exact order. Of Rockford's scrupulous effacement of any lingering spoor of individuality, uniqueness!" (p.395-6)

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin