An elegant sufficiency

Monday, September 24, 2007

Restarting the Bunting Machine

A friend of ours has a special birthday coming up and has requested some bunting, just like her baby sister, so it was time to crank up the machine and create a few yards for her. Such bright colours on a lovely sunny day are enough to lift the gloomiest spirit, don't you think?


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another good read

I'm a sucker for Margaret Forster's novels and eagerly snap them up as soon as I spot a new title. This one snook up on me though - I hadn't seen it in hardback, still having "Keeping the World Away" on my "to read" pile. I was immediately hooked from the first page, as usual and though it's a slow, thoughtful tale, I found it hard to put down.

The pace of the book is considered, the events few. Written in the first person, Lou's point of view was clearly going to be the most persuasive. I sympathised entirely with her from the start and when, three quarters of the way through the book, she was dealt a cruel hand, I fully expected an altogether different turn of events. But family relationships are not straightforward; shared history and experience - and love - create strong bonds and the eventual outcome was not unexpected (or contrived).

Another satisfying read in a week when distractions have been more than welcome.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Satisfying read

I've had a couple of days to myself here and have read more than usual. As I finished The Concert Pianist, late last night, I thought what a rare book it is - intelligent, sensitive and beautifully written. In view of our recent encounters in the world of a classical pianist and subsequent discussions, I found it particularly thought provoking. A really good read and one to recommend.

However, in this review Ying Chang comments: "This is an admixture of ‘chick lit' with ‘classical music explained for the chattering classes.' In the strap lines with which Mr Williams will be familiar, this is Jilly Cooper meets Alain de Botton. It is a book trying to be three things – a philosophical excursus on the relation between Art and mortality, a psychodrama on the life-path of the artist, and a domestic love story. It only partially succeeds in any of these. "

Well, excuse me if I disagree here. Far too well written to be dismissed as "chick-lit", perhaps the plot is somewhat predictable in places. But "classical music explained for the chattering classes"? In my opinion, Conrad Williams manages to explore the psychological effects of such a demanding artform very well indeed, whilst maintaining an intelligent discussion around the musical works concerned. It would surely be unwise to assume any depth of musical knowledge when writing for a mainstream audience; Ying Chang's review patronises the reader far more than the novel he criticises.


Friday, September 14, 2007

A calming activity

We ate early tonight because Mark had an appointment, so after supper I took a walk in the garden and spotted the lavender looking lovely in the breeze. Can there be any more perfect inspiration for a spontaneous craft session - time to make a couple of lavender rattles. With my Mum in mind and also David, the fellow who helps us keep our garden together who's in hospital right now and also in need of a cheering up, I set to and gathered my things together.

All that's needed is 26 stems of lavender (that's 13 pairs) and about 5yards of lavender coloured ribbon. I only had the really narrow stuff, but anything up to a quarter inch wide works well and the wider it is, the easier it is to use. I was working on a tray to catch all the stray bits which will find their way into lavender bags later, out on the patio.

First thing to do is to strip the leaves and any stray flowerheads from the stems. All of these bits smell so sweet and can be used in the bags so no need to waste them.

Use one end of the whole length of ribbon to tie the bunch together as close to the flowerheads as you can - slide the wrapping up the stems as far as it will go.

Bend the stems over the flowerheads as above - don't worry, such fresh green stems won't break but will bend quite easily. Having bent them over, retrieve the long end of the ribbon and begin to weave around - under two stems, over two stems, keeping the stems in pairs.

The first few rows are quite challenging but it soon gets easier, I promise!

Tuck the flowerheads into the cage of stems as you go but don't worry if the odd one pokes out, because you can deal with it later. Keep the ribbon weaving quite tight and try to create a pleasing shape as you go.

By the time you get half way down, those pairs of stems almost jump up by themselves so you can weave the ribbon over and under them. It really does get easier - or maybe the calming effect of the lavender oil scent means that you relax and get into the swing of it.

When you get to the empty stems and all the flowerheads are covered in the ribbon weaving, wrap the ribbon end around the stems a few times and tie tightly.

Finish by adding a bow, a hanging loop if you want and trim the ends straight. Cut the stems to the length you like and you're done.

The rattle gets its name from the sound it makes once the lavender flowerheads begin to dry and shrink. They become trapped inside the ribbon weave and when shaken, they rattle. If hung in a cool dry place, it will last until next year, when you can unravel it all and reuse the same ribbon again to make next year's lavender rattle!


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Another beginning

Yesterday afternoon I was in Cricklade, at the Blackthorn Centre for the start of something rather exciting - the Great Western Embroiderers. Maggie and her friend Kath identified the need for such a group in the area and twenty two like-minded women turned up to find out what it's all about. We got off to a great start.

As well as familiar faces and good friends it's always great to meet new ones: Anna, and Jackie amongst others. Nice to meet you all!


It all began here

Whilst up in Hull at the weekend, I spotted this little cloth which has always lived on a small coffee table in Mum's sitting room. It's the first piece of sewing I ever did - worked whilst at Beverley Road Infant school, aged 5 or 6. Everyone (boys included) made a similar cloth from binca and Anchor Soft Embroidery cotton . We were allowed to choose the colour for each row of stitches, the teacher started us off on a new stitch and we were expected to continue round. In today's terms, I guess she achieved differentiation by starting us off on more challenging stitches, depending on our progress towards the centre. All very impressive, I think.

Equally impressive is the wonderful 50's print on the reverse. The teacher herself finished off the back for us.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Good grief, she sews!

A day at home, set aside for "me". I've had a little project on hand for a few weeks (thanks Fanny!) and today was the day to make the blueprint. Took a while to sort myself out - how long is it since I used the software with my sewing machine to access stitches? - and I never did manage to track down the particular stitch I was after but made do with a similar one which worked just fine.
The product of my labour is now drying in the sunshine (there's a layer of acrylic paint on it) and will be finished later. Seems ages since I fiddled about like this, with fabric and thread and I must say, it's been fun.
Here's to more days fiddling about! I think I have another free day scheduled sometime next March...
Off to see Atonement later, which should be good, too.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A fine afternoon walk

It was a beautiful afternoon and, determined to escape from the pressure at home* I decided to take my ipod and go off for a walk in the village.

Our village is littered with these small grassy paths, originally used for the ponies to take the woolpacks down to the valley and the canal below. Some have become roads, others have been resurfaced but many remain grassy like this one.

The fun begins when someone's satnav system suggests that this might be a good route to take. Sure, they often take the most direct route up and down the hillside, but I don't think it'd be a good idea to try to drive up or down many of them.

We always preface any directions to strangers visiting our area with the warning that, if there's a sign to say "Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles" then it probably is!

There is great fun to be had by aimlessly wandering up and down these paths, for they all look so similar and even if you get hopelessly lost, at some point you will emerge on a "proper" road and be able to navigate yourself back to where you intended to go. The path above is my favourite one, though.

Because it leads to my favourite place of all.

* Pressure at home stems from the fact that a book will soon be published with stories of "The Gloucestershire Flood 2007", all proceeds to the Gloucestershire Flood Relief Fund. Though we are so nearly there, one or two loose ends needed to be tied up, a few phone calls made and a little bit of firm persuasion applied. Watch this space for news of publication - mid November scheduled at the moment. The cover went to print today!

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

My home city

Since I left college, "home" has been in several places, but I always consider my roots to be in Hull; Kingston upon Hull in East Yorkshire. Though we still go there from time to time to visit my Mum who lives just outside the city, it's quite a while since I had the chance to walk around the city centre and see some of the remarkable changes which are taking place there right now.

With visiting times being strictly enforced, there are hours to be filled in between hospital visits, so Thursday morning seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a wander around with my camera.

I walked into the city centre from the hospital, so my first stop was by the new development around the station, St Stephens Centre. This photograph of Ferensway shows the new station front and the building with the green and orange window is on the site of the old ABC cinema where I saw the Beatles on 24th November,1963! Other Hullensians reading this will recognise the Hull Royal Infirmary in the background (tall, grey building looming on the horizon) to get their bearings.

The Holiday Inn Express is at the entrance to the new centre which is going to transform the city significantly when it opens later next month.

For every corner which has changed, however, there's another which hasn't, and Victoria Square remains much as it ever was - though I'm not sure the large TV screen (with amplified sound) does a great deal for anyone.

Here in Gloucestershire, the floods are a consistent topic of conversation, and of course, it's much the same in Hull, where similar events occurred a month or so before. The presence of an insurance advice centre reveals how much of a preoccupation rebuilding and recovery is right now.

On such a glorious morning, it was a pleasure to walk over Monument Bridge and remember how, as a small girl, I would be taken along the side of this dock (Princes Dock) to visit my Grandad, who worked in the Customs office on the bridge at the far side. Now a(nother) shopping centre, the street-side cafes and smart restaurants are a far cry from the old fruit market, which used to be situated down there. This photo shows the same curved stone wall when the dock was working, and until I saw it, I'd forgotten that the Wilberforce Column was moved from its original site here to a place in front of the College in Queens Gardens. That was before my time as well, though!

One of the first docks to be filled in (before my time) was Queens Dock, and the gardens there were always a bit uphill and down dale, as subsidence had occurred. All that has been sorted out now, and the gardens are as lovely as ever. The three cornered building with the green domes is the former Dock Offices (now the maritime museum) and in the background, with the pale green dome, is the City Hall, a fine turn-of-the-century concert venue. Not only have I played there on several occasions with the Hull Philharmonic (with Paul Tortelier, John Ogden, Alfredo drop, name drop....) but it was where we would go to see Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Jethro Tull...oh my.

That takes you back, doesn't it?


Time to blog

Did I mention "back to routine" in my last blog entry? Hmmmm. Life has taken a bit of a u turn in the meantime, the kind of u turn that happens when one has elderly parents. Last Friday, my Mum (Edna) had a stroke, so much of the week has been spent in Hull at her bedside, relieved by every small step of progress and doing our best to be patient, for this is likely to be a long haul. However, the prognosis is good, the improvement so far has been remarkable and we are optimistic that she will make a good recovery. In the meantime, however, she is in Hull and we are, for the most time, in Gloucestershire, some 200 miles away. We'll post updates on her progress on our family blog, Here and Now, link in the sidebar.

Thank you to everyone who has emailed good wishes and sent love and kind thoughts. All are greatly appreciated.