Thursday, 29 October 2009

Talking books.

And that's talking about books, as opposed to talking books on disc. I know books are important to many of you, as they are to me, and so I thought I would share some of my favourites, just a few otherwise we'd be here all day! And tomorrow probably....
I enjoy reading about 'famous people' but mostly I prefer an autobiography to a biography, though if the latter has been authorised, that makes it all right. But I feel that if it is actually written by the person, then you are closer to the truth. So in here there are two that fall into the latter category, those of Katherine Hepburn and Dusty Springfield. I wonder if there is anyone else reading this who remembers Dusty Springfield, and whose name conjures up happy memories of teenage years? I once 'played' Dusty in a school concert, the one and only time I ever appeared in one, when I was fourteen, complete with back-combed hair, lots of black eye make up, and miming to 'I Only Want To Be With You'.

The book above by Imogen Smallwood is about life with her mother, Enid Blyton... cost me 35p from the library, and the one about Gertrude Jekyll a princely 50p from another sale at the local library... aren't library book sales marvellous? The Monty Don book was the first of his I ever bought, whilst on a visit to Hay-on-Wye, and a happy hour spent in a shop specialising in garden and nature books.... don't you love the fact it's by MONTAGU DON?
These are just some of my favourite authors, and I have all the books written by most of them, having just treated myself to Elizabeth Jane Howards' 'Cazalet' series of books, my winter reading project.

I'm a bit picky when it comes to Alexander McCall Smith, as I only like his Edinburgh novels, I don't read crime fiction and in any case, would find the time it took to get the pronunciation of his African ladies correct, too testing for a woman of little patience! I have all Maeve Binchy's books, but this is another of those 20p bargains from the library.

There are also books about travel, people's lives and so on, and these are just a sample of my favourites. 'Mrs. P's Journey' by Sarah Hartley is a fascinating read, being about Phyllis Pearsall, the lady who created the London A-Z. A slightly eccentric lady, she was increasingly fed up with the lack of proper street maps of London, making journeys within the city longer than necessary, so she single-handedly set out to change all that and in so doing created 'a publishing phenomenon'. During the course of one year she covered the entire 23,000 streets on foot and mapped it all out, as the author says, thus disproving the theory (by men of course) that women can't read maps.
These are some of my spiritual books. I have some self-help books, just a handful I kept out of my collection. The top one is WISDOM OF THE TAO, since you can't read the title properly, and all of them are books I dip into now and then.

Some of my favouritest books are old ones with faded dust jackets or cloth covers, and again, this is just a handful of the collection. I am looking for REBECCA, since I have a few of Daphne du Maurier's with faded, intersting dustjackets, and somehow they suit the book better than a modern paperback reprint. 'Blandings Way' is the book following 'Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House' one of my favourite old movies.

Well, crafts are always on the go here, and these are some of the books I dip into for inspiration. I love making papier mache, but haven't done any for years, bowls being my favourite item to make, so tactile and such fun getting all dirty-handed (I use newspaper) and sticky-handed (wallpaper paste). Mind you, if the telephone rings, you're in trouble!

And I love what are called 'coffee table books', again for dipping in and out of as the mood takes me... though they should be called 'weekend books' since this seems to be when I do most of my dipping! The top one is THE BOOK OF IDLE PLEASURES.... and certainly reading books would fall into that category.
Oh and one final thing, a message for 'Sherlock' if he's dropped by again, skipping to the end... you might like to look at the end of your last blogs, as I left a comment for you there!!
Happy weekend everyone, be it idle or otherwise.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A rambling we will go....

For the first time in a couple of days, it was dry enough to go for a ramble around the garden. I'd gone out quickly yesterday to pull up a few carrots, heard this rustling noise and out from my little would-be (or should that be 'wood'-be) woodland area (under a laburnum and a HUGE hebe which measures about ten foot across and high) scuttled a young black and white cat. You get used to rustlings in this garden, hedgehogs, birds of all sorts, the occasional cat, and often you walk out there when it's quiet, half-listening out for any surprise noises. (There was an interesting debate on LOOSE WOMEN today about 'listening', how much we actually listen. There is a subtle difference between hearing and listening, isn't there?) Today when I went out, the same scuttling and half expecting a small black and white furry creature to emerge at a fast rate of knots, instead out dashed a pheasant. He ran down the path and stopped. Not sure if I had seen a pheasant or not, it happened so fast and I had the wrong glasses on, I stopped too, and then slowly edged my way along the path. But it's hard to be quiet on shingle paths, and with a whoosh of his wings, he was off, startling the wood pigeons as well as me. I did try shouting that he'd be safer in our garden than out in the open, with all these trigger happy hunters and poachers about the place. My lovely friend Grace used to have a tame pheasant came to her cottage garden, and she would leave food out for him... he seemed to have quite an appetite for things out of the ordinary, and would have made a tasty roast one day perhaps. Grace should have been known as 'the bird lady' for she had blackbirds and a robin who used to hop onto the bottom half of her stable back door, when the top was open, and chirrup or whistle for food! The blackbird even had the nerve to wander onto the worktop, to the corner where she kept a container of cheese and dried fruit specially for the tamer birds.
Anyway, I took some photos of the autumn foliage, just before the skies went slightly greyer and the mizzle began again. There are some lovely colours, from the maple and mixed hedging below, to the cherry tree and dying peonies, and still so many flowers in bloom.

I've found myself in a funny old mood this past week or two, which has culminated in my leaving the only forum I belonged to, and I won't bother naming it, those female friends who know me, will know the name anyway. I had never been happy, never felt I belonged, to this forum. I felt a bit like the new kid on the block, despite having been in it for over a year. Like being at a new school, being a bit too needy trying to fit in, please people, make all the right noises, compliment them on something just to be nice. Agreeing sometimes with things because I wanted to fit in. This happened with the forum, with every other forum I have looked at over the last couple of years, which only amounts to about four. It never happened at school, I went to one school from aged four and three quarters to fifteen and three quarters, and never tried to fit in there anyway, happy with my little group of two close friends. It was all I needed and wanted.
As an adult, I still couldn't get on with women en masse, or en group of more than three! And I am annoyed at myself for trying to fit in with the rest on this forum. For projecting an image of someone who wasn't really me, partly because I wanted some semblance of anonymity, but also because I thought it might make me more interesting, more acceptable. But as others have said, if you don't fit, you don't fit and why bother trying? And to be honest, it's not like me to be anything other than who/what I am, so why did I stray from this I wonder? Many times comments or threads I made were ignored, and it felt like I was banging my head on a brick wall, wasting my time. In the end, I just left, told the people who ran it I was going, changed the email contact address I had used on there, and that's it. No more forums, no more trying to get on with women in a group like that. Just as I can't get on with women in a group in real life, so that also applies to the virtual world it seems. I don't feel any sense of loss, in fact, in some respects, it's a relief.
But the antsy mood which I have been in still hasn't lifted properly. I feel as if I want to do something, but don't know what. It's like when you want to read and can't settle into a book... do any of you readers know that feeling? You pick up book after book, nothing holds or even grabs your attention for more than a few pages. So you discard it and turn to the next on your pile, and the same thing happens. In the end, in situations like this, I often find myself returning to old favourites, classics often, or earlier novels by favourite writers, whose earlier works might not be their best, several of them taking a few novels and years to really hit their writing stride.
Crafts which I was enjoying now seem to be dragging on, taking forever to finish. Knitting a scarf using just three balls of wool, which are only 50g balls but which seem to be neverending. I am knitting until the wool runs out, but it's taking longer than expected and I am now fed up with the pattern and the knitting and want to move onto something else.
A time for regretting, to a degree, some decisions made in the past. A very introspective time, is it to do with the seasons, the shortening days? I don't think so, because I am not someone who is depressed by lack of natural daylight, or who hates this time of year because of the dark dreariness often associated with it, the long winter with the light of spring at the end of a very long tunnel, so long you can't even begin to think about seeing the end of it for many a month yet.
A time for planning as well, not just the new layout of a small organic vegetable garden, but thoughts too, about extending the kitchen. When we bought this house there was a small back room extension, which had been the original kitchen when the house was built in the early 1930s, the huge fireplace, minus range, was still there. The previous owner of the house was an acupuncturist, and this small room was his surgery. For years we would find little needles in the oddest of places, whilst we had it as a small office/craft room. Then one boozy Christmas I drew up plans for extending the space into two brick outhouses at the back of it, and turning it into a kitchen, which is about sixteen feet long by nine across. I designed it with units down the two long sides, the original back door then leading into a lean to, now into the conservatory, one window already looked over the the paved area, and I added another at the far end to overlook the garden, which is where I like to lean on the sill and look out at the pond, the birds on the feeders in the trees, the geese flying over... not to mention the odd pheasant! The plans were drawn for my own amusement, I love drawing room layouts, houses and so on. But we decided to go ahead, and so I got a new kitchen and the rest of the downstairs rooms were changed in their purpose, to suit our needs.... a cosy sitting room was made out of the old dining/kitchen at the back of the house away from the road at the front and overlooking our lovely back garden, and at the front, where we had the original sitting room, a dining room cum library.
Now I am thinking I would like to extend the kitchen again.... Himself has always regretted that we didn't double the size of the original extension, but knowing me, I would still probably be thinking about extending again! I want a bigger, lower window with a table and chairs in front of it, a door to the back garden to save walking through the conservatory, a larder cupboard to save my back and neck as I scrabble about on my knees looking for something in the cupboard under the worktop. And even as I carry on with my ruler and pencils, coloured pencils too, graph paper, tape measure, I know this will remain a pipe dream, unlike the last time I dreamt up an extension.
Still, it pleases me to play around like this, and what does it matter if the drawings get used as fodder for lighting the fire? My mind is wandering, drifting from one scheme, one idea, one plan to another, not settling for long on anything, like a nervous butterfly flittering and fluttering about. If any of you stayed with me this long, and this won't include The Crap Blog Detective I know, thank you. Oh, and before I go... the email address no longer exists; it is now just in case any of you had tried emailing me.

Monday, 19 October 2009

PC-ness strikes again, the latest MUST HAVE pet and just a bit of this and that.

It seems the world is still going mad with Political Correctness, especially in the world of childhood. As if it wasn't bad enough that someone decided conkers had to be banned because of health and safety, now they're mucking around with nursery rhymes. Humpty Dumpty, poor old soul wasn't he? Remember how all the King's horses and so on couldn't fix him? Well, it has been decided that is too downbeat and negative, so now they can and the ending has been altered to say they could make him happy again! Well, that's nice for old Humpty of course, but whatever next? Jack and Jill will no longer be able to go up the hill together, who knows what they might get up to? Little Jack Horner can't go sticking his digits in his food, health reasons obviously. Little Bo Peep will now employ a well-trained collie to round up those lost sheep. The old woman in the shoe would have been reported to social services for whipping her children. The rock a bye baby rhyme would be banned as being too depressing and sad, or perhaps for putting ideas into jealous elder siblings' heads. And Contrary Mary, in the reasons of equal sex rights and all that, will have to have pretty maids and men all in a row!
Coming up to Christmas and pretty soon the ads will start trying to dissuade parents from giving in to their children who want a puppy for Christmas. The usual 'A dog is for life, not just Christmas' signs will appear, and rightly so. However, this may soon have to be changed to either 'A pig is for life...' or 'A hedgehog is for life...' Yes, I really did say 'pig' and 'hedgehog'. Local news items in the last week have featured mini versions of these animals, which are, if the news is to be believed, THE pet to have, big business... especially for the breeders of course. At £750 for a mini pig, which grows no bigger than an average, adult cat, and looks ever so cute (especially the mini Gloucester Old Spot with it's little pink nose) you can see why it's big business! Not many chops for that outlay I can tell you! As for the hedgehogs, well they are special African pygmy hedgehogs, and they have the advantage over our wild native version of not having fleas. Now that really must be a plus sign, because one of these little fellows, who can sit inside a mug when fully grown, will set you back £150. For something that can get into the smallest of spaces your house would need to be as secure as Alcatraz to make sure it didn't escape, or get behind the fridge, under the cushions on the sofa... the list of possibilities is endless.
Had a bit of a day out last week, visiting a favourite small, independent booksellers in the lovely town of Holt. We normally visit at Christmastime, my birthday treat, but decided it would be Himself's treat instead. I normally buy my books online, shopping around for the best bargains, but needless to say they are nearly always found on Amazon. But the one thing you don't get is the discovery of little gems that you can't resist, so whilst Himself bought a couple of the latest offerings from two of his favourite authors, I came home with reprints of old novels. Not shown here is IN A SUMMER SEASON by Elizabeth Taylor, and that's not the Cleopatra Liz Taylor, but the Elizabeth Taylor, authoress, born 1912, and whose works are now being reprinted by Virago. I haven't read any of hers, but have had them recommended by several friends, so I am looking forward to reading this, once I have worked my way through the library-ordered books that is!

But I couldn't resist these two paperbacks either, the title of the one on the right especially caught my eye, and they just looked so 'take me home-able'. I have this thing at the moment about women writers from the late 1800s to around the mid-1900s and that era... Rachel Ferguson, who wrote the wonderfully titled THE BRONTES WENT TO WOOLWORTHS, was born in 1893, and Joyce Dennys, who wrote HENRIETTA'S WAR in 1883. Both books have been reproduced from the originals by Bloomsbury, and are part of a set of five. I also got THE IVINGTON DIARIES, the latest by Monty Don, but bought on line as it is an expensive book. But gorgeous, so readable, lovely photos of the garden, and already after only a couple of days, I am in July.

Needless to say there has to be some crafty bit in here, and this is a parcel of fabric received from Barbara in France, who responded to my 'Books for Fabric' swap posting on the PC forum. I want to make a quilt, six inch squares, which will go on a simple wooden bench seat in the summerhouse, next year. It will be quilted, though I am not yet sure if I shall quilt each square, or just tie the layers together with fancy little bows using contrasting coloured embroidery silk. I shall take photos, but don't hold your breath! There is, as usual, a long list of things to make and do, but isn't that the way it should be?
Enjoy your week ladies and gent(s), and thanks for popping by.

Friday, 16 October 2009

An incredible piece of natural home-building

We just discovered this beautiful home, or what was once home, in the beech hedging, and it is so incredibly intricate, so beautiful and fragile, that I had to photograph it and share it with you. It measures about twelve inches from top to bottom, probably fifteen around at the widest point. Empty now of course, and since wasps never return to the nest, we have taken it down and been able to look at it closely inside. Amazing the amount of work, effort that has gone into it, for just temporary accommodation.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Some things pretty, some things colourful, some things useful.

Just as I will complain about bad service, so I also give praise where it's due. I recently ordered some fabric from who has some beautiful vintage pieces. It's not often I order, but now and then I see something that takes my fancy, often not knowing what I will do with it, but just knowing I would like to have it! Just in case... you know?

So when the parcel came, in a pink plastic mailing bag, and I opened it to discover this lovely dotty paper and stripey string, I was delighted, and wanted to share my pleasure. I did email her and thank her... the reasoning behind the pretty packaging is that it's nice to receive something packaged nicely, even if it's just a gift from yourself to yourself. I agree wholeheartedly. And just in case you are curious about the two pieces of material, here they are.
This is a village scene, and I haven't a use for it yet, though bag/cushion cover came to mind.

And this is a glazed cotton children's fabric, which I am going to make into a bag, and line it with red gingham fabric. Sometime.

This may not be pretty in the eyes of some beholders, and you will see my icing was a wee bit runny (but it did make a tasty bottom as well as top!). This is obviously perhaps, a birthday cake, Victoria sponge, strawberry jam filled, iced, sugar stranded and candled. And the number of candles is of no significance... I couldn't get fifty nine on the cake! It's my bit of madness for my husband's birthday.. luckily he's a bit mad too!
The garden is still being so colourful, here is a small posy of clove pink, dahlia, chocolate cosmos and a marigold gone over tucked in between. The pink still has that gorgeous smell, though perhaps not quite as heady.

The penstemons are still going strong.. next year I hope to be able to stop myself pulling up the seedlings mistaking them for weeds, as I have done for the past two years! But there are several small plants near the summerhouse, this has the most stems and flowers at present, and isn't it lovely?

My transplanted snapdragons look happy too, flowering for the third time now.

On to something really useful, something bought with a project in mind, just for once. This is Rowan four ply, gorgeously soft wool, in a shade of earthy brown, mossy green and tea rose pink. I am knitting a chevron scarf in these colours, in that order, reminiscent to me of brown earth, the green foliage of the plant, and then the pretty pink flower. I've photographed them in the wrong order here.... but perhaps you see my thinking?

And the other really useful thing is my raised vegetable bed. It still has one or two lettuces for me to eat, some carrots nearly ready to pick, garlic planted not long ago, and giant leaved parsley, all looking healthy, but I will pick them this week as it can't stay this mild forever. We have had one or two really cold nights, one even left us with a hint of frost one morning, so best to make the most of all this colour and usefulness while we can.

Enjoy the changing colours as autumn begins to really make itself at home for a while before winter comes along to take over. We are now getting the early arrivals of pink-footed and Brent geese which travel here every winter, in their thousands. Small skeins are now to be seen first thing in the morning and in the evening around tea time, and I am so glad we had the glass roof on the conservatory as I can see them clearly, they are often quite low down. I love to open the door and hear them too. We know autumn has arrived and winter is on it's tail when we see these lovely birds, and that spring can't be far away by the time they leave us next year. But that's a long way ahead yet. Still to come are more delights of changing colours, and hopefully gathering sweet chestnuts this week, roasting them on the open fire, cooking them in boiling water for a few minutes, then removing the skins, with much hopping about, blowing on fingers and cursing my love for these nuts! But I then freeze them, and they are ready to take out and add to stews, or be fried with parsnips, apples, pancetta and lentils. Yum!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Autumnal colours and comforts, some a bit racy, be warned!!!

Despite the leaves falling from the trees, the distinct chill in the air early mornings and late evenings, still the passion flower blooms. I am mesmerised when I look at it closely, by the fine eyelashes that start out as almost black, then there is a stripe of white, then lilacy blue, perfect all the way around, another reminder of how clever is Mother Nature.
Elsewhere in the garden, the changing of the seasons is more evident, such as with the peony above, and the climber over the arch below.

Definitely a time for snugglies, like this hand-knitted one I made years ago, heavily fringed at either end, just right for grabbing and wrapping around myself as I sit in the summerhouse on a very slightly chilly morning with a cup of cappucino. Soon it will be too cold to sit out there, so on a morning when the sun is out, even with that nip in the air, I like to spend ten minutes or so just sitting quietly and letting my mind wander from one thing to another.
Below, a beautifully soft angora scarf which when wrapped around the neck helps keep the chill out when in the garden, doing some deadheading, and it will soon be time for the hottie cover to come into its own, another very soft and cuddlesome thing, adding to the comfort that a warm hot water bottle brings, whether it's to ease an upset tum, or just because you feel in the need of a warm cuddle.

Ah, now we come to the racy bit.... I know a certain gentleman who might need to take a cold shower when he sees these, be still my beating heart he will be saying, hunched over his computer at his desk in the middle of a governmental department office, populated by others in similar position, all 'working' of course.

These, in case you can't tell, are 'over the knee socks'. I am not a tights woman, hate them and find them uncomfortable and unhygienic in hot weather, when I go bare legged at home all the time. Not an option in winter, to go bare legged, and so I wear posh lacy topped hold-ups in sheer black or the usual tannish colour (told you this bit was a bit racy) when I go out, but at home... well, I wanted something more FUN than knee length socks. And I GOOGLED the words 'knee high socks' and got this fab site with loads of them, all reasonably priced, so I could get four pairs at once. Two 'Winnie the Pooh' characters, a stripy pair with a mad cat and some more sensible (?) tartany ones. I love them, though goodness knows what Himself will say when he sees them. Actually, I DO know what he will say... he will shake his head and say 'There's no hope', which is what he ALWAYS says when I revert to ditziness.
Of course, books aren't just an autumn comfort, though is there anything better than sitting in front of a fire snuggled in a comfy chair with a good book, or wrapped in a soft throw whilst you read? Lately I have been revisiting some of my favourite books on the shelves.

I have read these two twice, and know I will read them again. The ANNE FINE one is a story of four sisters, and when three discover something unpleasant, a rumour about the man the fourth one is about to marry, they have the dilemma of not knowing whether to tell her or not, and if so, who does the telling? The ANNE BARTLETT book is about Sandra, an academic whose husband dies suddenly. To cope, she throws herself into her work and never grieves properly. But as many will know, grief will find a way out in time; sometimes it needs help, and help for Sandra comes in the form of Martha, a talented knitter, who she meets by accident. Both were really good reads for me.. obviously, otherwise I wouldn't have read them twice!

The above are two books waiting to be read. The Barbara Taylor Bradford was won in a giveaway after I took part in a survey by the publishers. I used to read her a lot when she first did her WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE books, but sort of lost the taste for her style of writing, so it will be interesting to see if I enjoy her still, decades down the line. Mr T isn't to everyone's taste I know, but I have all his books, fiction and otherwise. When he was writing his first novel, I was in the throes of writing mine, and there the similarity ends! As many will know, he went on to write seven novels, and I am lucky that three of mine have personal letters from him inside. When I have read a brilliant book I make a point, usually, of writing to the author, c/o the publishers, to tell them so and thank them for it. Loosely calling myself a 'writer' I know the hours of work it takes to write, and the discipline needed to do so, which I sadly lack nowadays which is why I don't do much of it any more, apart from blogs, journals and the odd foray into short story competitions. And I know from my limited experience, ie winning a national short story competition, how gratifying it is when someone writes and tells you how much they enjoyed reading your work. That is why I write to authors sometimes, and why I have three letters from Mr. Titchmarsh. (It's not that I didn't enjoy the four next ones, but I ran out of things to say and didn't want to be one of these people who continually write to 'someone famous' for whatever reasons they do so.) I have to say he was very encouraging about my own writing, and I appreciated the time he took to write a proper letter, as opposed to a pre-printed one. When Colin Dexter announced the last Morse book, I found out how to get in touch with him direct as opposed to via his publisher, and wrote asking him if he would send me a card signed by him, so I could put it in a copy of the book to give Himself, who has all of them. Mr Dexter actually wrote a letter addressed to Alvin, which is now tucked inside the book. I have all Maeve Binchy books with cards from her, and many others too. They won't mean anything to whoever gets them when I am no longer here, but they mean something to me, which is what counts.
A bit like my blogs... not everyone will enjoy them or find anything of interest in them, but for the few who do and who leave comments, well... as I said to someone else on their blog comments, I enjoy the writing of the blog and the comments are the icing on the cake.. but I can eat plain cake too, it's just not as nice!
Enjoy your week, and thanks, as ever, for dropping in.