24 December 2008

200-word review: 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte

I should have read ‘Jane Eyre’ years ago, when I performed a monologue based on an extract from the novel at two drama festivals, but I started halfway through to save time and soon gave up. I wish now that I’d stuck at it, because this is a brilliant novel, deserving of its status as a classic work of English literature.

A plot summary wouldn’t do the story justice. It takes place over at least a decade, covering the childhood and early adulthood of the eponymous heroine, and incorporates several different storylines, the most famous being that of her relationship with Mr Rochester. I already knew the story, having seen a couple of screen adaptations, but this didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the novel. The use of language is bewitching, particularly the distinctive Bronte touch of incorporating landscape, weather and superstition into the narrative as if they are all inextricably linked.

The only bit I didn’t like was the section about Jane’s time in Morton, which, while not superfluous, seemed to drag and detract from the far more interesting love story. Other than that, I loved the novel and will almost certainly read it many time in years to come.

22 December 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... still knitting that cardigan! (Actually, reknitting part that I'd knitted far too big last time - it ain't gonna be done for Boxing Day as planned)
... reading 'Jane Eyre'
... watching Christmas TV and maybe 'Prince Caspian'
... overeating
... seeing my wonderful family (and hopefully hearing from big bro in South Korea)
... wishing all her friends, family and readers a very merry Christmas!

15 December 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... not rehearsing! Yay!
... partying at various Christmassy do's
... reading 'Jane Eyre'
... trying to finish the cardigan, although it would appear I don't have enough wool :S
... watching something, I can't remember what Lovefilm sent us
... basking in the glory of having done all my Christmas presents (and worrying that I've missed someone!)

09 December 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading past copies of 'Big Issue in the North' (had to return 'Jane Eyre' to the library so am reading odds and ends until I can get it back and finish it!)
... knitting the last bit of the cardigan when I have time
... either rehearsing or performing, tonight is my only night off until Sunday
... maybe watching 'Donnie Darko' if I get time
... wearing a nun costume
... very, very tired

01 December 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... rehearsing, rehearsing and rehearsing
... reading 'Jane Eyre'
... watching 'The Colour of Magic'
... hopefully finishing that blasted sleeve
... cold
... trying to build up flexitime so I can have Christmas Eve off (my train pass runs out on 23rd!)

24 November 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Jane Eyre'
... watching 'Pride and Prejudice' (the recent film version)
... knitting the sleeve still
... busy rehearsing
... nursing Chris (I've given him the very nasty stomach bug I had last week)
... hopefully getting more Christmas shopping done

22 November 2008

Having a Generous Christmas

Last year I did a post summarising the Christmas related actions on the Generous website, then said that I'd done very few of them! Oops ... Anyway, here are the things I'm doing, or hoping to do, this Christmas to make it a little more generous:

* I've bought Christmas puddings from my church, who are selling them to raise money for their preschool. So I get to enjoy super-yummy puddings and the little ones get a party!
* I still didn't get my act together to do a Christmas shoebox but I did knit three kiddie-sized scarves to go in other peoples' boxes (also beneficial as I used up loads of yarn!)
* I'm trying to buy the odd ethically sound present, which is helped by the fact I now work quite close to a Shared Earth shop which I will probably dip into on the odd lunch break. I'm still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of 'Just' gifts (i.e. presents like a goat for an African family) because you never know if the recipient will appreciate it, but I might give it a go.
* Also, to avoid needlessly buying presents that the recipient won't use (thus wasting the present, wrapping paper etc) I'm trying to shop from wish lists where I can. God bless Amazon.

I still have cards left over so won't be making my own/buying charity ones/sending e-Cards but maybe that'll be an aim for next year. And again I'm not doing the meal, but it will be at my Mum's and she will be using as many home-grown veg as possible as she's a gardening nut (which I secretly admire but tease her for). So I'm slightly more Generous this year than last - how's that for progress?

17 November 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Jane Eyre'
... knitting a sleeve
... watching 'Stardust'
... Christmas shopping
... tired

10 November 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Jane Eyre'
... knitting sleeve number two
... watching 'Tristan and Isolde'
... psyching myself up for five weeks of exhaustion (more rehearsals, loads to do at work, still got singing class, youth club and driving lessons - I'm going to collapse!)

07 November 2008

200-word review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

It seems appropriate that I finished this book the same day that we heard in the UK that America had elected its first black President. If anyone doesn’t see the importance of Barack Obama’s rise to power, they should read this book to see how far the nation has come.

This book sits uncomfortably with the usual age categories prescribed to fiction; it is narrated by a little girl so on the surface appears to be a children’s book, but the material is far darker than most children would be allowed to read. So why does Harper Lee choose to tell her story through a child? The answer becomes apparent throughout the novel – in a 1930’s American town full of hypocrisy and prejudice, only the children have minds pure enough to see injustice for what it is. The narrative also lends the story a ‘morality tale’ feeling, without it becoming preachy or self-righteous.

This novel has become one of my favourites already, and one I will definitely be lending to my future children when they’re old enough to appreciate it. I really recommend it to anyone who wants to understand American history better, or who just like a good story.

**P.S. Sorry for the lack of picture, I couldn't find one to match the edition I read**

03 November 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
... watching 'Tristan and Isolde' or 'Be Kind Rewind'
... knitting a sleeve and hopefully another scarf (when's the deadline again Fi?)
... wearing warm clothes
... waiting in on Friday for our kitchen floor to be fitted (we've been waiting since the end of August!)

28 October 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
... knitting a sleeve
... watching Strictly-related shows
... chilling - got Thursday and Friday off work, plus no singing class or youth club
... going to a wedding on Saturday (yay!)
... practising walking in knee-high boots with a 3-inch heels for said wedding
... feeling Christmassy now it's dark when I leave work

20 October 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
... knitting a scarf and possibly a sleeve
... watching 'Casablanca' (didn't get chance last week)
... hobbling (pulled a muscle at the ceilidh on Saturday, ouch!)
... looking forward to half-term next week

19 October 2008

Ooh la la!

Remember a while ago I mentioned making a beret that was way too big for my head and made me feel sad? Well, I've now transformed it into this:

So chic it makes me want to speak French! I just stuck it in the washing machine with some clothes on a hot wash (normally stick to 30 but on this occasion went higher to achieve the effect)and it came out looking like a fancy felt beret from a shop! The wool content of the yarn makes it a bit itchy but I've sewn some ribbon into the band to stop it scratching my forehead - so I'm also getting my stitch on a little!

So now I'm just knitting scarves to go in Christmas shoeboxes for children who won't otherwise get a present. I've done one, nearly finished another and I might have enough spare yarn for a third if I don't get sick of knitting them. I also need to get back to my cardigan, not even half-finished and the winter is upon us!

15 October 2008

My Blog Action Day post

I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

When I heard about Blog Action Day, I instantly wanted to get involved. I wanted to join the thousands of bloggers writing about poverty today. And I started writing a paragraphs on how modern society has got the wrong priorities, and the virtues of Fairtrade and the ‘Big Issue.’

Then I thought, who am I kidding?

The truth is many of the other blog posts that will form part of this day of action will be far more insightful, and probably written by people who are actively fighting poverty. This makes me feel very small, because I know that so much of the way I live my life is short-sighted and selfish. I don’t do enough to fight poverty, either through fear, greed or apathy. I don’t give money to homeless people because I find them intimidating; I don’t tithe my earnings because I’d rather have a bit saved up for a rainy day; I don’t participate in activities aimed at reducing poverty because I feel like I don’t have the time or energy.

I’m hoping that, by being honest, anyone who reads this will think, ‘thank goodness, I’m not the only one,’ and not, ‘God, what a selfish cow.’ If you do think the latter, I am trying. I try to buy Fairtrade goods as much as I can to support the initiative of allowing people to work their way out of poverty, I sometimes buy the ‘Big Issue’ (not often admittedly) and I do give some money to charity. I give to and buy from charity shops, and try to avoid cheap fashion because you never know how they’ve cut their costs. I try to reduce my carbon footprint, aware that the people most adversely affected by climate change are very often the poorest. These are all achievable little things, and I know I should do more.

So, for my Blog Action Day post, I ask you to leave a comment suggesting another action I can take. If this day is about anything it’s about sharing ideas, and it seems I need more than I can share. So please leave a comment. Thank you.

13 October 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee
... watching 'Casablanca'
... knitting another scarf
... sewing ribbon into the band of my now-felted beret
... blogging about poverty on Blog Action Day (Wednesday)
... getting leeched on Thursday (or giving blood as it's normally called)
... going to a ceilidh on Saturday, weeeee!

09 October 2008

Another link

I was just having a browse on Recycle This when I came across a post about refashioning clothes - and it referenced a blog by a woman called Amy Quarry. This is my kinda blog - craftiness and a love of green-ness combined. So I've added it to my ever-growing list of quite interesting websites so I don't forget her. And if you're interested, you have a look too!

200-word review: 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' by Mitch Albom

What a load of sentimental codswallop! I read this book because it was on the list of 100 best novels I posted a while back – the only explanation for this is that it was inserted by the kind of person who sends sickening chain e-mails about ill children or dying old men. I expected the epilogue to contain a demand to pass the book on to ten people in exchange for something good happening to you.

Here’s the story: 83-year-old Eddie dies in an accident at the amusement park he’s worked at most of his life. He goes to heaven where he meets five people from his past who explain his life to him. Even in a nutshell this book sounds nauseating, and it lives up to its promise. If the premise wasn’t bad enough, then Albom’s visualisation of heaven is cringeworthy. He half-heartedly describes skies changing colour and people flying, but in a disjointed way that just feels like he thought, “Hey, this isn’t ethereal enough, I’ll stick some trippy stuff about dry snow and clouds in there, that’ll work.”

Sorry, but it doesn’t work. What you have here is the world’s longest glurge e-mail put into book form.

07 October 2008

Blog Action Day

I heard today about Blog Action Day. It's on 15th October, and bloggers everywhere will be posting something about poverty. I think it's a great idea - get people talking about the issue, and maybe action will follow. All I need to do is think of something to write next week!

If you're interested in this, click on the title of this post and it will take you to the website, you can register your blog and join in. It's going to be really interesting to see what sort of posts will come out of this, so sign up!

06 October 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven'
... watching 'The Count of Monte Cristo' (a more recent and hopefully better version)
... knitting a scarf
... practising for my driving theory test on Thursday (eep!)
... wrapping up warm, it's turned freezing suddenly!

01 October 2008

It pays to be a vegetablist!

Just a little sidenote - apparently turning veggie could reduce carbon emissions generated by production of meat:


So I've been unwittingly cutting carbon emissions for 14 years! Love it!

29 September 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' by Mitch Albom
... watching 'Strictly Come Dancing' and related programmes
... knitting a scarf - really! I've cast on and everything!
... back to my mega-hectic schedule - theatre group Monday, singing Wednesday, youth club Friday, arrgh!
... practisting for my driving theory test next week

28 September 2008

Knitter's Block

I have a confession to make - despite promising to start a new knitting project this week, I haven't. In fact, it's nearly a fortnight since I knitted.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that I've just started a new job and feel permanently tired, so the thought of lifting a pair of needles at the end of a day just seems too strenuou, particularly in comparison to stroking Millie's tummy. (Millie's a cat in case you're not a regular reader)

Another reason is the project I've just finished. Well, it's not really finished, but I'm done knitting it. It's  a beret knitted from a pattern in 'Let's Knit' magazine and not only was it rather awkward to knit with lots of short-row shaping, I had to use some short needles which worsened my hand cramp so it took ages, and now it's done it's enormous! I've no pictures yet to back this up because taking it out of my knitting bag makes me feel sad. It's a disaster like I haven't experienced since I was a very new knitter and attempted mittens for my Mum. So I feel rather disheartened by this. Plus, I've decided to felt it to try and shrink it a bit, then I need to sew some ribbon on the inside of the band to stop it itching, so it's not really done, and I hate leaving things unfinished but I never remember to put it in the washing machine with a load so I'm falling at the final hurdle a bit.

Then there's the simple indecision about what to knit next. I could do some more of my cardigan, but I also need to knit at least one scarf or hat before the middle of November to give to the Christmas shoebox appeal and I'm not sure I could do both in time. I've still got about a skein of the black wool I used for the beret to use up which I was going to use for a scarf, but I've never liked scarves so the thought of making a start on one is enoguh to put me off doing anything remotely crafty.

So I've generally lost my knitting mojo. Any other knitters out there experience this?

200 word review: 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' by Mark Haddon

It’s a brave author who narrates a novel from the perspective of a teenage boy. Braver still is the author who narrates a novel from the perspective of a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome. Mark Haddon does this so convincingly, it made me wonder whether he was autistic (apparently not, but he has worked with autistic children.)

The story of ‘The Curious Incident …’ starts out simply – Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog killed and decides to find the murderer. Using this simple concept, Haddon not only explores the workings of Christopher’s mind, but also the repercussions that autism can have on a family and community. The reading experience is at times unsettling, particularly when the main narrative is interrupted by Christopher’s thoughts about science, but this creates awareness of how unsettling the world must be to a child who notices absolutely everything in a room but cannot understand jokes, irony or metaphors.

Apparently Haddon was surprised when his publishers suggested marketing this novel to both adults and children. However, I think this novel should be part of the national curriculum; not only is it a sound literary work, it may also create more acceptance of autistic children in mainstream education.

22 September 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... hoping I'm not as ill as I was last week, blimmin' colds!
... looking after hubby as he's caught my cold
... reading 'Curious Incident ...'
... watching 'The Count of Monte Cristo'
... knitting either a scarf or more of my cardigan, not decided yet
... tidying, the house is a mess!

15 September 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'
... watching 'The Count of Monte Cristo'
... STILL finishing the beret (it's a beast!)
... shopping for my Mum's birthday present
... seeing the family at the weekend

14 September 2008

200 word review: 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens

Usually when I read a book I write the review in my head as I go along. But, with ‘Great Expectations’, I became so engrossed in the story that I forgot to do this. So writing this review is going to be tricky!

I already knew the story from the BBC adaptation, but this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel at all. There were still moments when I read faster because I desperately wanted to know what happened next and I still created my own images of the characters. The real mastery is the way the emotions of the narrator (Pip, a village boy who comes into money and becomes a London gentleman) are conveyed, both in the moment of the narration and in the melancholy hindsight. There is a bitter tinge to his telling of how he came into his fortune, and yet this doesn’t betray how his expectations turn sour later – although I knew it was coming, I still felt the shock and profound disappointment of Pip when he discovered the identity of his benefactor.

Despite avoiding Dickens for years, I greatly enjoyed this shining example of his skill in storytelling, and would recommend it to anyone.

08 September 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Great Expectations'
... finishing the beret and going back to the cardigan
... watching 'The Terminal' (didn't get round to it last week)
... getting over the horrible cold I got after getting soaked on Friday
... officially a permanent member of staff at LMU!

02 September 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Great Expectations'
... watching 'The Terminal'
... knitting a beret
... learning my new job, eek!
... busy (was out with theatre group last night, got a driving lesson Thursday and back to youth club Friday, phew!)
... aching (the 20-minute walk from the train station to my office is taking it's toll after just two days)

31 August 2008

Generous inspiration

This month I've been inspired by, of all things, a BBC blog. It's written by a woman who decided to avoid buying or otherwise collecting any plastic products for the whole of August. What I've found most interesting in a way is the debate that raged in the comments pages as to whether such lengths are truly necessary - and Chris, the blogger, joined in this theme by examining the pros and cons of plastic alternatives in her posts. But the main theme that seemed to come back again and again was that plastic is not a bad thing, it's the 'disposability' of many plastic products.

The eco-geek's motto is 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle'. I'm pretty good at recycling and reusing, but never really gave the reducing part much thought. Putting the plastic debate aside, I send vast amounts of cotton pads and wipes to landfill just through washing my face - I have mega-sensitive skin and using water to wash off face cream brings me out in spots, so I wipe off the face cream with cotton pads or, if I'm in a hurry, use cleansing wipes. My bedroom bin is usually about 80% full of these items alone. I try to reuse them, perhaps to wipe excess cream off my hands when they've dried out or to wipe condensation off my window, but as they're covered in cream or some other cleansing product there's not many options to reuse or recycling. So, inspired by Chris's blog, I'm thinking up reusable alternatives. I might try using flannels, although they might be a bit rough and I'd need to remember to wash them often enough to make sure I didn't run out (a similar problem to that encountered by Chris with reusable nappies, only less icky!).

So in terms of environmental stuff, I'm sticking to my new year's resolution of learning more about the causes I support. But I'm still struggling when it comes to finding out more about ethical things - Fairtrade, the clothing industry etc. The problem is everything's so biased that I can't really compare like for like, might have to do more digging there.

26 August 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Great Expectations'

... watching repeats of 'Friends'

... knitting a beret

... enjoying the last week of the summer hols (no more free Friday nights and househusband after this week!)

... hoping my last week in my temp job goes fast!

23 August 2008

New look!

As you can see I've made some drastic adjustments to the colours on the blog - this is because apparently having a black background on a webpage uses less power than a white or pale background. So I'm saving on your electricity bill (probably only a few pence though) and using up fewer resources. A little change but, as a well-known supermarket chain in the UK would say, every little helps!

Call off the search!

Well, the big gamble paid off - I got a job at the uni! Starting on 1st September as a temp while the contracts go through. It's even a higher grade than I thought I'd get, I only went to the interview as practise but I'm thrilled that I got it! It just goes to show that a bit of persistence (and a lot of guts) pays off in the end.

The weird thing is that I've been jobhunting since April last year, and now I don't need to anymore, at least not for a few years. I kind of feel like I'm at a loose end now! Hubby almost asked if I had any application forms to do this weekend and then suddenly realised that that answer is no, and will be for every foreseeable weekend!

Still got the medical screening to get through which I'm a bit worried about, but hopefully it'll all go well. Yippee!

(DISCLAIMER: Bec would like to apologise for the number of exclamation marks in this post)

18 August 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... on reception (God help me)
... reading 'Great Expectations'
... knitting a cardigan
... watching whatever LoveFilm sends
... looking forward to the Bank Holiday weekend
... hoping the rain goes away

15 August 2008

A nice surprise

The other day I got home from work and had a nice surprise waiting for me. It was a letter from the National Blood Service - at first I thought I was due an appointment to donate blood but they'd actually just written to thank me! I even got this lovely card:

I don't give blood to be thanked or praised, but it was still really moving to receive this. I kind of look at giving blood as a duty and forget that there's a lot of people out there who don't even show an interest in giving blood, so what I'm doing is actually pretty special.

Thank you National Blood Service, you made me smile!!

13 August 2008

A hat for hubby!

Remember that gorgeous but illicit yarn I bought in Staffordshire? If you need a reminder, here it is:

So beautiful ... mmmm ... anyway, now around half a ball has been transformed into this lovely head cozy for my equally gorgeous hubby:

I should explain ... my hubby doesn't have a freaky alien pixelated face in real life, he just doesn't like his face being on the internet so he photoshopped it. But that's fine, because the real star of the picture is the hat! It's based on 'Hot Head' from 'Stitch n Bitch' but without the striping effect and using bluey-green instead of reds and yellows, so I've dubbed it Cool Head (clever, eh?). I love the patterning effect and the supersoftness of the Blueface Leicester wool, I think it may spend more time on my head than hubby's!

Unfortunately it didn't use up much yarn, so there is still plenty of evidence of my torrid liaison. Oh well, I found a fab pattern for a scarf in this month's 'Let's Knit' that should use up the rest, but for now I'm back onto the cardigan.

Illicit yarn, project bigamy ... what am I turning into?!

11 August 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Great Expectations'
... knitting a hat and maybe more of the cardigan
... watching 'Rumour Has It' and/or 'Good Night and Good Luck'
... eating eggs (Dad gave us three dozen yesterday!!)
... bored at work, it's so quiet
... practising my turn in the road

04 August 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Great Expectations'
... knitting a hat
... watching 'Memento'
... working in the IT Faculty of LMU
... going to a wedding on Saturday (yay dressing up!)

28 July 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens
... watching daytime TV
... knitting a cardigan
... hoping work comes in soon
... not walking - got a very sore foot so can barely hobble round the flat
... eating chocolate as comfort food to distract me from the foot!

27 July 2008

Stash Wars: fighting a losing battle?

Well, my attempts to deplete my stash have fallen on rocky ground recently. Not that I haven't been knitting - I've been a busy bee! First I made a tea cozy for my Mum:

The slogan on it isn't very clear but it says 'Coffee, Tea or Me?' I got the pattern from 'Stitch n' Bitch Nation' by Debbie Stoller and hoped that not only would it provide a nice present for my mummy, but that it would up a good chunk of my not-too-pleasant acrylic yarns, which I don't really want to use for clothes. I got through a lot of the pale blue but it barely touched the white or cream. Then I made myself a lace pattern skinny scarf:

I designed this myself using a lace pattern from 'How To Knit' by Debbie Bliss. It was supposed to use up a spare skein of Jaeger Trinity yarn but I don't think I even halved it before the scarf got stupidly long and I got sick of repeating the same four rows over and over, so I have to think of a way of using that yarn up too. My next project was to make a little cozy for hubby's new DAB radio:

I figured out the design myself from the gauge and dimensions, and knitted it up in moss stitch to make it a bit more cushiony to protect hubby's precious new toy. Sadly it used up a puny amount of my aran-weight denim-effect yarn.

Not downhearted, I decided to abandon the little projects for a while and embark on a biggie - a cardigan knitted with the yarn from a frogged old jumper. It's going to take months but currently looks like this:

That's just the start of the back. Hopefully this'll be one big stash-buster! I don't like big projects so may break up the monotony by doing a different project in between pieces.

The biggest blow to my Stash Wars, however, was this:

I mentioned in an earlier post that I went to The Threshing Barn on holiday. Their craft shop had some gorgeous yarn. A non-knitter cannot begin to understand the temptation this poses. So I bought two hanks of this gorgeous, hand-dyed British wool. My excuse is hubby picked it out because he wants a hat. But it's so beautiful I want to just cuddle it and drool over it with glee rather than knitting it. Oh well.

So all in all, I'm not winning the war. But I've learnt a lesson: small projects just don't cut it when it comes to stash-busting. I've also learnt that going into a shop that sells yarn so gorgeous I nearly explode is too much temptation for me.

200-word review: 'Audrey Hepburn, an Elegant Spirit' by Sean Hepburn Ferrer

Audrey Hepburn is one of my idols – brilliant actress, style icon and a wonderful person. So this book, written by her son, appealed to me as I thought it would tell me more about her personality. It didn’t disappoint.

It’s not really a biography. If you want details on her life and career, there are plenty of biographies around (I recommend ‘Hepburn’ by Barry Paris). But to learn more about the real Audrey this is perfect. It’s unashamedly sentimental in tone (what do you expect from an adoring son?) but this shows what a good mother and inspirational figure she was. There is little discussion of her films, as it focuses more on her humanitarian work, something I was interested in. This confirmed her idol status for me; she really was a wonderful role model in a way that no modern celebrity can emulate.

There are lots of photographs of and about Audrey, including many family photos. These give a clearer picture of the woman behind the stylish clothes - although there’s plenty of that too!

If you’re a fan, I thoroughly recommend this book. All proceeds go to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, so it’s definitely a good buy.

26 July 2008

Books galore

Saw this on my friend Fi's blog and thought it was pretty cool. Apparently this is a list of the Greatest Ever Novels, although it's debatable I have to say (for a start, since when was the Bible a novel?) but it's a bit of fun and makes me feel all well-read and brainy:

Look at the list and:
1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicise those you intend to read.
3) [Bracket] the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list on your own blog.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2.The Lord of The Rings - JRR Tolkein
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 [Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte]
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (actually starting this next!)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott 
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I’ve read a lot of sonnets and 19 plays, I think I can count this one!)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 [Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky]
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 [Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis]
34 [Emma - Jane Austen]
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
(I agree Fi, this should be included in the Chronicles surely!)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie-the-Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby-Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (I think, probably ages ago)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - A. S. Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Generosity on Holiday

Well I'm back from a week in Staffordshire with hubby, Mum and my two big brothers. The weather gods were very good to us (much better than last year!) and all had a lovely time. 

It struck me that being generous on holiday isn't as tricky as it seems - in fact, it seems to come pretty naturally. Her's a run down of my holiday and how generosity just seemed to happen:

SATURDAY - drove down (not very generous admittedly, but unfortunately public transport just doesn't cut it if you're going on a country break), got there pretty late as we'd had to drop Millie off at 5pm because the cattery was full. Got to the cottage and had a nice meal with the family - generous thing: most of the vegetables we had with the meal were from Mum's veg patch!

SUNDAY - went to Froghall Wharf and had a trip on a canal boat through the Churnet Valley. I don't know how eco-friendly canal boats are as they still have engines, but it's probably better than a car. Plus there are no roads through the Churnet Valley to preserve it, so a canal is a much greener way of seeing the scenery without plonking a horrible road through there! The trip was run by a small family business, so we were supporting the little guy too!

MONDAY - went for a walk down to Froghall so we could walk along the towpath and see more of the valley. Very green, no car involved, and we stopped at a local pub for lunch (supporting local business, and it looked like he needed it as there weren't many other customers!) It was exhausting though and we got lost twice so ended up going further than we intended. I say we, I knew where we were supposed to go both times ...

TUESDAY - we went to Cheadle. If you're holiday in Staffordshire, don't go to Cheadle, apart from a very pretty Catholic church there's really nothing to see. But while we were there we did go to the local greengrocers and butchers so that's pretty generous.

WEDNESDAY - we went to Leek. Still not much to do but it's a lot nicer than Cheadle and has some lovely shops. Continuing with the 'shop local' theme we went to a sweet shop there, had a drink in a little tea room and lunched at a cafe that supported Fairtrade - unfortunately none of us had their Fairtrade tea or coffee as they had luxury milkshakes on offer!

THURSDAY - while Mum and my brothers went off to Tittesworth Reservoir and the Roaches (hills I think), I had a bad foot so hubby and I went to the Threshing Barn, a fabulous craft shop which also runs courses in spinning and weaving! I nearly cried with excitement when I saw all the wool and despite my resolution not to buy more wool until I'd significantly reduced my stash, I succumbed to temptation - and dressed it up as supporting the sheep industry by buying British wool! Seriously, it was a small business so I think a compromise on my promises for the sake of supporting local business is forgiveable. We then went to a Nature Reserve run by the RSPB - didn't see any birds and didn't leave a donation either which I feel a bit stingy about. Maybe generosity doesn't come so naturally when you've just spent money on illicit wool!!

FRIDAY - best day of the week, we went to Trentham Monkey Forest, a 60-acre stretch of woodland which is home to 140 Barbary Macaques, a very endangered type of monkey. I like to think the admission fee goes towards keeping the monkeys happy and healthy, they certainly all looked it, they're really beautiful creatures and the babies are so cute I want to steal one! Along with two other forests in France and Germany, they've managed to release 600 Barbary Macaques back into their homeland in Northern Africa, which is fantastic news, and the ones still in England seem very content. In the evening we went to a local pub for dinner - supporting local business again, and considering how many pubs we saw up for let in the area I think it's a business that needs help! 

And today we just drove back. So, a nice holiday plus a lot of unexpected chances to be generous. Don't feel so guilty about the car now!

19 July 2008

Next Week I will mostly be ...

... in the Peak District on my hols! Byeeeee!

14 July 2008

Ten Things I Hate about the modern usage of English language

1. Would of/could of/ should of - no I'm not naming a Beverley Knight song. This is where people hear the compound word 'would've', assume it's a shortening of the words 'would' and 'of' rather than 'would' and 'have' and pronounce as such very clearly. Think about what the words actually mean!! An old manager of mine made this mistake once - I lost all respect for her instantly.

2. Like - this should be used in phrases such as, 'I like cake' or 'she looks like Jennifer Aniston' (for instance, I've never met anyone who looks like Jennifer Aniston, although I do like cake). It is not to be used in phrase such as, 'I was like so annoyed' or 'it's like what's going on?' I am guilty of this weird lingual phenomenon too and I am seriously considering starting a 'like' jar instead of a swear jar to purge myself of the hideous verbal disease.

3. Text language - if you're texting and running out of characters, fine, shorten away. But don't send me e-mails with words like gr8, lol or l8r, there's no character limit and therefore no justification. And if you actually write these words with pen and paper, well, you deserve some form of punishment.

4. Shock tactic language - people who swear or use language relating to potentially offensive matters just for the sake of it. It's neither big, clever nor funny, it's just a lazy use of the the gift of speech to get a bit of attention. If you want attention, learn to speak about interesting things.

5. The wandering apostrophe - a while back I went past a shop with a sign saying Baby Need's. I wanted to weep.

6. Their/they're/there - Their is a plural, third person possessive noun (if my grammar lessons serve me correctly), i.e. 'Jack and Jill went to their mother's house for tea.' They're is a shortening of 'they are', i.e. 'They're going to the zoo.' There is trickier, but generally it's an expression relating to place or an introduction to a clause or sentence, i.e. 'The bag's over there' or 'There are cookies in the oven.' Please, oh please, never muddle them up again.

7. Your/you're - in the words of Ross Geller, "Just so you know, Y O U apostrophe R E means you are. Y O U R MEANS YOUR!"

8. So - similar to like, this little word seems to pop up in the most inappropriate places. In fact, it is often combined with like in phrases such as, 'I was like so not happy about it' just to emphasise the hideousness of the incorrect usage of language. It is also often used at the start of a sentence, for instance, 'So I went to the shop yesterday ...' but that's not referring back to a previous statement about needing to buy something, oh no, that's the first sentence in the text! Horrible!

9. Innit - really, must I expand?

10. Effect/affect - another two words that are apparently interchangeable these days. Hence phrases like, 'I must stop playing so many computer games, it's effecting my eyes.' Really? It's producing or bringing into existence your eyes? That's some computer game.

Maybe I should be an English teacher ... no, I think I'd make the children cry. 

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Audrey Hepburn: Elegant Spirit' by Sean Hepburn Ferrer

... knitting a skinny scarf

... watching 'Hogfather' (if we get time)

... at home. Temp contract finished on Friday and I go away next week

... doing loads of housework

... packing

12 July 2008

200 word review: 'Geisha of Gion' by Mineko Iwasaki

I added this book to my Amazon wish list after reading ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ – I was intrigued about geisha culture and wanted to find out more. While I’m aware that Mineko Iwasaki, as the most successful geisha of her time, was probably an exception to the rule, I couldn’t believe how differently she portrayed life as a geisha to Arthur Golden’s novel. In many ways it is a much kinder picture, but still communicates how tough it is to live that lifestyle.

I found Iwasaki’s telling of her life story very fascinating. She brings in a lot of details about Japanese culture in general but also gives an evocative picture of life in the karyukai (districts where geisha operate, literally ‘flower and willow world’). There are also amusing anecdotes involving Gucci, Prince Charles and even the Queen – unusually making a gaffe greater than Prince Philip! However, the book did leave me wanting more. She spends a lot of time on her childhood and training, but only hints at her efforts to reform the industry to give geisha more rights, which I was interested to know more about. Still, it’s a great read especially if you’re interested in Japanese culture.

09 July 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading a theory test practise book
... reviewing 'Geisha of Gion' at some point
... knitting a skinny scarf
... driving a bit more
... going to a BBQ on Friday
... having some retail therapy on Saturday

06 July 2008

Generous Journal: Learning to drive

Learning to drive is something I've avoided for a few years now. I took some lessons before I started uni but didn't enjoy it at all. I stopped lessons because I just didn't have time once I started uni, then when I graduated I couldn't really afford lessons, then I moved to Leeds and, while I complain about public transport here it's actually pretty good so I had no need to learn to drive. That and hubby drives, and I was perfectly happy to be chauffered when required! 

As I became more eco-conscious, I resisted learning to drive on an ethical level - why learn to pollute the planet when public transport is greener and isn't that bad? But it's got to the stage now where I feel I really should learn. I still won't be driving much, but I don't like getting public transport at night so could do with an alternative to begging a lift off hubby when I go out, plus we visit my family in Lincolnshire a lot (don't get train because the journey is hellish) so I feel I ought to share the journey so hubby doesn't get tired driving the whole way. Plus there's the fact that we may start a family sometime and then it may be easier if we both drive, and might in the distant future move away from Leeds to somewhere without decent public transport, so driving will become more of a necessity. So, I've started lessons.

Here are a few ways I'm trying to keep learning to drive ethical:

* Supporting local trade. Instead of going for Bill Plant, BSM or a similar franchise, I'm using a local, independent instructor. This means I'm supporting a small business, and also means she's not travelling far to get to and from my house, thus saving emissions.

* Practising with hubby. I'm on his insurance and if I combine practising with a journey we'd make anyway with him driving, then I'm not producing more emissions, and it'll help me ...

* Learn quickly. As far I'm concerned driving lessons are essentially a waste of petrol as you're not going anywhere you need to go, just going in circles, often not very efficiently either. So I'm doing my best to learn fast so I need fewer lessons and can reserve my efforts for functional journeys.

I can't really think of any other way of making learning to drive generous, but it's a necessary evil, so the sooner I get it over with the better!

New links!

A few months ago I got a text from Shoegal with a couple of websites she thought I'd be interested in. Now my problem is, I read texts, think, 'oh that's nice', and promptly forget about them (I think I have the brain of a goldfish. But I finally remembered today and discovered an interesting website - Hippy Shopper. It's hosted by Shiny Media, which also hosts Crafty Crafty, and so I clicked on that link. That led me to find Little Cotton Rabbits - free knitting patterns for little projects that I couldn't possibly get bored with. So I've added that little lot to my Websites of Note. Have a look!

30 June 2008

Special Delivery!

No point to this post, just wanted to share this very cute picture of Millie!!

This Week I will mostly be ...

... fed up. Got a horrendous week at work ahead.
... reading 'Geisha of Gion' by Mineko Iwasaki
... watching 'Brokeback Mountain' and/or 'Capote'
... finishing the tea cozy (depending on whether I can borrow a teapot to help with the seaming!)

26 June 2008

200 word review: 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

I first read ‘Little Women’ when I was about 12, but over the years I’d forgotten a lot of the story so thought I’d revisit it for old times sake. Reading it as an adult (if I can describe myself as that) I didn’t find it as enthralling as I had when I was younger. Perhaps I had a more objective view, as the characters were no longer a similar age to me, but the moralising tone seemed more prevalent than I remember. It feels more like a series of connected cautionary tales than a story, although much of its charm is in its apparent disjointedness. It doesn’t have the strong plot I usually look for in a novel, but I still got involved in the trials and tribulations of the four March girls, albeit not as much as I did as a teenager. I’m pretty sure I vowed to follow their example and become patient, humble and industrious myself. It probably lasted a week!

For a little reminder of childhood, this is a good book to revisit. And whilst it seems very patronising to an adult, I still believe that it is an essential book for any ‘little woman.’

23 June 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... ill if today and the weekend is anything to judge by
... at home more - not going to theatre group tonight and singing course is over
... reading 'Little Women'
... watching whatever LoveFilm sends us
... knitting a tea cozy
... hoping that the sunshine will last through the weekend

16 June 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Little Women'
... knitting a tea cozy
... watching 'Monsoon Wedding'
... playing rockstar on Wednesday night (my final LCM concert!)
... trying to get more sleep, seeing as I woke up this morning still tired

15 June 2008

Baby bits!

Well, part 1 of my stash wars has been completed - I've managed to reduce one-and-a-bit skeins of Rowan All Seasons Cotton into half a skein by creating these little beauties for a friend who is pregnant.

Aren't they cute? They are the One Hour Baby Booties from 'Stitch n Bitch Nation' by Debbie Stoller and the Umbilical Cord Hat from 'Stitch n Bitch' also by Debbie Stoller. I love Stoller's books, the patterns are all very modern and funky and because they are contributed by lots of different knitters (mostly non-professionals) you get a lot of variety and varying levels of challenge. There aren't many baby patterns in her books but the ones there are tend to be more modern than in other books whilst still being really cute.

I'm really pleased with how these have turned out and I hope they will be appreciated. Luckily enough, the remaining half-skein may be enough to make some more booties for when I have a baby (whenever that is!)

10 June 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... a bit late blogging (sorry)
... reading 'Little Women'
... watching 'The Da Vinci Code' (yes I know I hate the book, but the film features Lincoln Cathedral and my brothers' old scoutmaster!)
... knitting a baby hat for a friend
... sleep deprived (Millie's nocturnal activities are getting noisier and more persistent)
... lacking in blood (just gave a pint away - oww, hurts to type after giving blood, must remember that!)

07 June 2008

200 word review: 'The Summer Book' by Tove Jansson

Before reading this book, the only thing I knew about Tove Jansson was that she created the Moomins. I know nothing about the Moomins, so that didn’t help me imagine what the book would be like. Thankfully, no prior Moomin knowledge is required as this is one of Jansson’s novels for adults, and a Scandinavian modern classic.

The style feels very strange. There’s no plot, just a series of anecdotes about summers spent on a Finnish island by a little girl called Sophia, her father (not a major character) and her Grandmother. Normally I hate books without a strong plot, but this was refreshing. It felt like summer: leisurely, warm and peaceful. Most of the action revolves around the relationship between Sophia and Grandmother, which is really charming. Old age and childhood are explored truthfully and without sentiment. Sophia comes out with funny comments, but this isn’t written in a patronising way, it’s just accepted as part of her youthful character. And Jansson portrays neither Sophia nor Grandmother with the usual saccharine saintliness. Sophia has tantrums, Grandmother is cantankerous, and they feel real.

If you need a nice light read without the usual sentimentality, I thoroughly recommend ‘The Summer Book.’

02 June 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... working as of tomorrow! At last!
... reading 'The Summer Book'
... knitting a baby hat (a hat for a baby, not one made of baby, that would be wrong)
... out a lot - three nights in the week and maybe Saturday too
... trying to get early nights - my new job involves getting a bus at 7.37am, not nice when you're used to a short train journey at 8.31am!

31 May 2008

Thoroughly maddening Millie!

I'm feeling rather sleep deprived. Millie, my lovely, beautiful cat, turns into a monster at night. We used to let her wander the flat at night except for our bedroom (hubby doesn't want her sleeping on the bed as we'd wake up with a face full of fur) but a couple of weeks ago she started scratching on our door at about 2am and 5am. And she was persistent too. We'd try ignoring her, shooing her off, throwing socks at the door, but nothing stopped her. So after reading some advice on a cat chat forum, we started shutting her in the living room at night.

The night before last was OK, she scratched for about fifteen minutes but it wasn't too loud and we managed to ignore her, and so eventually she gave up. But last night she was being so persistent hubby went to try stopping her. Big mistake, that only made her worse. He put cardboard up against the door to try and deter her from scratching but it didn't work. She started scratching everything - the door, the sofa, even the floor. The third time she woke us up I relented and let her in our room, hoping she'd just curl up and go to sleep. No such luck. She wandered around on the bed, licking any bit of human skin she could find, at one point standing very heavily on my chest. In the end hubby had to go feed her and she happily trotted off to the spare room for a nap. In the meantime, we're shattered.

We really don't know what to do. We need a proper night's sleep, and we also need her to get used to some rooms being out of bounds at night - in the next few years we may well have a less furry dependant to worry about, and I don't want Millie wandering in and out of the nursery at night. We've now attached a trellice (sp?) to the living room door to try to stop her scratching, but if that doesn't work, goodness knows what will!

Stash Wars!

Every true knitter has a stash issue. There are two main contributing factors: the buying of a little too much yarn for a project, leaving you with an often useless amount of yarn, and the fact that yarn is so very pretty that you can find yourself buying it even when you don't really need it, and then can't find a project to fit. It's the first one that's a challenge for me. Here is my main stash:

See what I mean? A real problem. And that's not even all of it, after taking the picture I realised I'd not put in some of the smaller balls I've got. I can remember where most of the balls came from. The two bigger black ones are from when I knitted myself a tank top about two years ago, the smaller black one was given to me by a friend who'd bought to just use a bit for a Sunday School game (along with the red, cream and one of the browns). The other brown and the pale pink were bought for making knitted cupcakes. The yellow ball is left over from a tea cosy I made for hubby's Grandparents. The white one I saw in a charity shop and bought with nothing to use it for, it's been used for cupcakes and a matinee jacket I made to send to Moldova. The pale blue was bought from Poundstretcher when I first started knitting because it was cheap and has been used for cupcakes, a baby cardigan (also went to Moldova) and a headscarf that I don't wear because it makes me look like someone from 'Little House on the Prairie'. The denim blue wool was for a crocheted shrug.  And the bright pink is left over from my Mum's shawl. Oh and the weird brown thing on the edge is Millie's tail, she wouldn't move.

In addition I have the yarn I 'thrifted' (a horrible word but fitting) from a jumper that had seen better days:

All in all I've got a lot of yarn. So I've decided not to buy any more (unless it's for a special gift) until I've reduced this little lot to oddments at the most. I'm using the jumper yarn to make a cardigan, the bright pink for a skinny scarf, the yellow will make some baby boottees and maybe a hat for a friend who's expecting, I'm thinking of making a beret out of the bigger black ones and I also need to make a tea cosy for my mum out of a combination. As for the rest, any suggestions would be good, otherwise it'll be cupcake mania!!

I'll keep posting the results as I go along!

Generous Journal: Mama's got a brand new bag

I did it! For months on end I've been working on a carrier bag knitted out of plastic bags. I actually started before Christmas and only finished it last night. Ain't it funky looking?

The pattern is called 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' and was found on the internet (but unfortunately the pages is now extinct). I don't know how useful it's going to be as a bag, but I think of it more as a statement - a surprising 18 bags went into the making of this, and they have all now been replaced by just one. It just goes to show how wasteful we are as a society (myself included - after all, the bags weren't donated to me!). Instead of carrying around one or two bags to reuse, we amass dozens of carrier bags, often very flimsy. There's one bag in there from Greggs that snapped whilst I was knitting it and I had to do a hasty repair job, it just shows you how these bags aren't built to last at all.

Also interesting to me was the amount of nasty dye used. Some bags were just white or transparent, but there were some that left my fingers all sorts of nasty colours (you can see a line of pink at the bottom, that was a T-Mobile bag and it made me look like I'd trapped my fingers in a door!). You've got to wonder whether those chemicals are really necessary, and what damage they could be doing in landfill.

So there we are, about six months work - a hopefully more durable bag than the sum of its parts, and a symbol of just how much we clutter up our lives unnecessarily.

27 May 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Summer Book' by Tove Janssen
... finishing the knitted carrier bag (I'm determined!)
... enjoying my last week off before I start work again
... enjoying having hubby home with me
... watching all the DVDs we've not had chance to watch
... hoping the sun comes back

22 May 2008

200-word review: 'True Grit' by Charles Portis

Wow. It’s a long time since I read a book this fast! When I got ‘True Grit’ as a birthday present, the title and front cover put me off – why would I want to read a book about guns and grit? But I’m so glad I did, because this is a good ol-fashioned gripping yarn!

It’s a Western, based around the 1870’s, about a teenage girl (Mattie Ross) who goes into Indian Territory with a maverick marshal, Rooster Cogburn, to avenge her father’s murder. I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but what drew me in was the narration. The story is told retrospectively by the older Mattie and the style is fascinating. It comes across as very dry, almost matter-of-fact, with a lot of attention to detail. This makes the action of the story really stand out, and gives the sense that the older Mattie is numbed to the harsh realities of what she went through then. The realities are harsh – gunfights, snake-infested pits and corpses galore, and the narrative has the effect of making this action more believable.

Even if you hate Westerns, read this. If you don’t like it, even a little, there’s something wrong with you.

19 May 2008

200-word review: 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Having loved ‘Crime and Punishment’ when I was 17, I had high expectations for ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ – I thought it would be as compelling as Dostoyevsky’s earlier, more famous work. Alas, ‘Crime and Punishment’ is more famous for a reason. ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ is nearly as boring as ‘Don Quixote’.

The story is of a father, Fyodor, and his three adult sons, Mitya, Ivan and Alyosha. Fyodor and Mitya have an ongoing feud over money and a woman who is mistress to both. Fyodor is murdered, and Mitya is blamed. After the murder, the novel is quite engaging, reading like a whodunnit-cum-courtroom drama, but leading up to the murder it is convoluted and frustratingly dull. I think the problem is that Dostoyevsky uses the novel to comment on contemporary Russian society and draws in a lot of unnecessary characters and subplots, padding out a simple murder tale to a 900-page bore. Perhaps the social comment was riveting at the time, but as I had no contextual knowledge, it was lost on me.

If you know about and are interested in 19th century Russia then this might be the book for you. If not, I suggest you give it a miss!

This week I will mostly be ...

... working a bit. Got a day's work on Wednesday
... otherwise being a good little housewife
... reading 'True Grit' by Charles Portis
... watching the Kaiser Chiefs perform live on Saturday
... hopefully getting closer to finishing my knitted carrier bag
... eating salad leaves (they just keep coming!)

16 May 2008

Generous Journal - update

Well, I've been generally rubbish at blogging recently, but particularly regarding my Generous Journal. So here's a little update on how I'm getting on:

* Thanks to one of my neighbours in our block of flats we now have a compost bin in the garden, so I'm working hard to reduce the amount of leftovers and kitchen scraps we throw away (hubby not doing so well, keeps having to fish teabags out of the bin having forgotten they can go in the compost pot!) As a result, I can now sign up to the 'Compost Your Leftovers' action on Generous
* Undeterred by the lack of garden space, we are growing our own veg! We've got onions in planters outside, little baby chilli plants in the kitchen and a tub of salad leaves on our landing. Also, in conjunction with our neighbour, we have planted out some potatoes - but perhaps not at the right time of year ...
* As a bit of a crafty challenge and a statement on the wasteful use of plastic carriers, I am knitting a bag out of cut-up plastic bags! This has taken me since December and I'm only just getting close to finishing, I'll post the end result when I get there!
* I'm doing Race for Life again this weekend, although I've not raised as much as last year, couldn't set up a website because I was registered by Mum's friend who forgot I was married so registered me under the wrong name! While I'm there I'm also donating some clothes so they can sell them on and get a bit more cash out of me. Two items of clothing are in fact from charity shops themselves, but alas I can no longer fit my voluminous bottom into them so I'll give them a home with someone who can resist their desire for cake!
* As well as giving old clothes to charity, I'm putting something that's too battered to pass on to good use. It's a cotton knitted sweater I bought as a student but the polo neck ripped along the seam, so I'm in the process of frogging it to re-use the yarn. Clever eh? May post a bit more about that later on too.
* We're making a more conscious effort to buy local produce when shopping, although it's not easy. I know not everything is in season over here, but really is there any need for apples to be brought over from Chile? I don't think so! We're trying to buy British (or at least European) produce where we can.

I'm really pleased also that some people have noticed that I'm trying to live more ethically. A friend of mine said the other day that she's trying not to shop at Primark any more since I mentioned their use of sweatshops, and when I left work I was given a box of Fairtrade chocolates wrapped in recycled, handmade paper! So either I'm a big hippie-bore or I'm inspiring people - hope it's the latter!

12 May 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... working (I hope - nothing in for temp work yet :S)
... finishing 'The Brothers Karamazov' at long last
... watching 'The Motorcycle Diaries' and probably a bit of daytime TV
... knitting a carrier bag still
... enjoying the warm weather
... resting my ankle so it's ready for 'Race for Life' on Sunday (having hurt it on my dummy run that ended up much longer than the actual race by virtue of getting lost)
... blogging more (if I don't find work that is!)

08 May 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts, been unusually busy doing not a lot recently, but I leave my job tomorrow so may get a bit more time. Yay!

21 April 2008

The Great Escape

So ... I handed in my notice last week. Even though I have no job as such to go to.

Some would say this was a foolhardy action. After all, I have a mortgage and a cat and other grown-up responsibilities, I should be in a stable job earning stable money. And this is why I stayed in my job for two years. But there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough.

The bottom line is, my job doesn't make me happy. In fact it makes me actively unhappy. If I stay in it because of my mortgage, cat and other grown up stuff, that would mean I'm unhappy because of all those things. I should enjoy owning my own home but instead I've regarded it as a millstone round my neck, keeping me stuck in a horrible job, ever since we bought it. That's just silly. Why spend more money than you've ever spent before on something that makes you miserable?

So I quit. I decided I deserve to be happier than I am, to enjoy being 24, married and a home owner. If I have to temp for a while so be it - I might even enjoy it, you never know! And doing this has made me realise that nothing needs to control my life other than me. There's no point waiting for a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card to fall in your lap if all it takes is a calculated risk. I've taken a risk, and it means I can escape. And I will, on May 12th.

Wonder what will happen on May 13th??!

This Week I will Mostly Be ...

... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' - I might have it done in another four weeks!
... watching 'Life is Beautiful'
... looking for a job
... playing with Millie
... going to Leamington for a houseparty
... going to see my first G&S!
... feeling excited about the future

15 April 2008


Well, it wasn't years. Or months. Or even weeks.

Freddie didn't respond to medication. He just got worse. His breathing became more laboured, one of his legs swelled up with oedema, and he struggled to even lie down comfortably. So last Monday we made the heartbreaking decision to have him put to sleep.

It's sometimes hard to explain to people who aren't 'animal types' just how hard it is to lose a pet. People think it's daft to say they're part of your family, but they are. Freddie was like a baby to me, and I loved him. Seeing him suffering was the most heart-wrenching experience I've ever been through, and letting him go was just as bad.

Our time together was all too short, but here are some of the things I'll remember about Freddie. The way he used to purr for ages after you'd stroked him. How much he loved being cuddled. His inquisitive nature - I once walked into our bedroom to see his tail poking out of our canvas wardrobe, I tried to tell him off but it was so cute I couldn't manage it. When I was off work ill, laid on the sofa almost unable to move, and he came and cuddled up with me. The way he used to sleep on the back of the sofa and he would slowly sink down until he was resting on your head. The way he loved being groomed. His ability to recognise a milk bottle - and how he would chase you if you walked around carrying one. Dipping his paw in an almost-empty cup of tea so he could have the dregs. How he was always at the door when I came in from work. His beautiful face, like a barn owl. Him and Millie chasing each other about like kittens. How he used to take up well over half of the bed we bought for the two of them.

All these things I want to remember, and I will. We had him for two months, and the last three or four weeks he was not the cat we first got because of his illness, but at least we had those first few weeks. He was part of our family, and will not be forgotten.

This Week I will mostly be ...

... a bit more able to face blogging
... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov'
... catching up on DVD watching
... choosing what else to buy from Next having bought a fabulous coat
... working out my notice!
... panicking because I have no other job to go to!!

05 April 2008

More trials of cat ownership

Remember in my last post about the cats having their teeth out I mentioned Freddie had a bit of a cough? Well it turns out my worries weren't unfounded. After the operation, Freddie went off his food, became much less active and started breathing heavily. When we took him for a check-up on his teeth a few days later, the vet noticed his breathing, took him in for an X-ray and found fluid on his lungs. Having drained it off it became clear that Freddie has heart failure. He went on tablets for a week, but it seems these didn't do much and the fluid reappeared. So now he's on stronger tablets and diuretics, but he's still not too good and whatever happens he'll never be the same cat again.

It's come as a huge shock. We've only had the cats for two months and already it looks like we might lose one. I couldn't believe just how much we'd become attached to him, we're so upset about it and can't bear to see him in discomfort. I suppose that's the risk you run with rescue cats, it's not something that would have been picked up had he been through a proper rescue agency, it's just bad luck. But at least now we can give him a loving home for however long he's with us.

I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping the tablets take this time, if they do we could have him for years to come, if not it'll be weeks. However long we have him though, we'll love him and care for him as much as we can.

Generous Journal: Our green holiday

Everyone needs a holiday, even people who are trying to be generous. But holidays are tricky little things. Do you go abroad and use a plane, or do you go to somewhere in England but have to use the car because our public transport is so doggone awful? Well here's a solution, Eurostar!

The week before last hubby and I went to Brussels for two nights then spent a night in London afterwards. Altogether it cost about £400, and the only time we got in a car was getting a taxi home on Sunday evening because we'd missed our train and din't want to get back late (were it not for the fact that one of our cats is really ill at the moment and we wanted to get back to him, we'd have waited for the next train). We got the train from Guiseley to Leeds, then Leeds to London, then the very whizz-bang Eurostar to Brussels. It also goes to Lille and Paris if you fancy France more than Belgium. Once there we got Brussels Cards, which cost 20 euros and allow you free entry to about 30 museums for 24 hours and free public transport for 2 days. So we used the underground and trams to get around when we were there, as well as a heck of a lot of walking. How green is that?

We also tried to be generous when it came to eating. We saw at least three Pizza Huts when we were there, and as a veggie it was tempting to go to one because then I knew I could get a meal, and it was cheaper than other restaurants. But instead we supported local restaurants, and just used our collective knowledge of French to find meat-free food for me! (Actually, we only went to one restaurant where they didn't have English translations, another reason why Brussels is great!)

After Brussels we got the Eurostar back to London and used the tube and the busses to get round there. I actually preferred the busses, once we'd worked them out they were more convenient and usually less crowded than the Tube, and so much cheaper! Then the next day we got the train back to Leeds - which took almost twice as long as it did to get from Brussels to London!

If you're looking for an eco-friendly way to go on your hols, I really recommend Eurostar. It's fast, comfortable (apart from the ear-popping 20 minutes under the Channel!) and carbon-neutral. And if you're not from London it's an excuse to do some sight-seeing in between train journeys!

01 April 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' (nearly halfway through now)
... watching 'Atonement'
... back at work after 10 days off - ouch
... worrying about my poorly cat
... chilling out in the evenings - back to singing and youth club next week

24 March 2008

The trials of being a cat owner

A while back, I mentioned my lovely new cats, Freddie and Millie. Well, last week they had to go to the vets for some dental work. The bill that had originally been quoted as around £270 actually came to £390 in the end. Our hopes that Millie would just need a scale and polish were dashed when we were told she'd had a tooth out, but not nearly as badly as our hopes that Freddie would need less than four teeth our thus only incurring a charge for minor extractions - he ended up with eight out, very major indeed. A cautionary tale on getting rescue cats from someone other than a rescue centre if ever I heard one.

But it's not just the cost that hurt. I wasn't prepared for the anxiety I felt when they went in. I became convinced that Freddie was going to die under anaesthetic just because he'd had a bit of a cough, and I actually cried after dropping them off at the vets. Not only had we starved them overnight then forced them into their carriers, we then abandoned them at the vets. All day at work I couldn't stop thinking of them, hungry and scared.

Then they came home. I was heartbroken to see bald patches on their necks, and really upset by how the anaesthetic had made their eyes glazed. What was worse was that evening, when hubby had gone out and I stroked Freddie on the head, only for him to raise his head and reveal blood all over his chin. It stopped eventually thankfully, but I was terrified, and my attempts to get through to the vets' emergency helpline were met with recorded messages every time.

The next trial was giving them their antibiotics. After several attempts at putting the tablets in their mouths, and a few resulting scratches, we gave up, crushed the pills and mixed them in with their food. Cheating, I know, but you can hardly blaim a cat with sore gums for lashing out when someone forces his mouth open!

They're a lot better now and hopefully everything's healed nicely. But I was amazed at just how emotional the whole process made me. I used to think treating pets like your children was weird, but now I totally understand it!

This Week I will mostly be ...

... not at work! Hurray!
... going to Brussels and London
... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' (hoping to get a chunk out of the way whilst travelling)
... listening to 'Drastic Fantastic'
... eating Easter eggs
... generally chilling out!

19 March 2008

My birthday

Bit of a random post but Shoegal asked me what I got for my birthday - so I'll tell the whole of cyberspace! I got:

Books: 'Stitch'n'Bitch Nation' (knitting geekery), 'Little Women', 'The Book of General Ignorance' (a spin-off from QI, I love random trivia!), a book about Renoir, 'Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit', 'Geisha of Gion' and 'True Grit' by Charles Portis

DVDs: 'All About Eve' (classic Bette Davis, never seen a film of hers so excited about this!), 'An Affair to Remember' (possibly in the top five romantic films ever) and 'How to Start Your Own Country' by Danny Wallace

CDs: 'Drastic Fantastic' by KT Tunstall (the woman is a legend) and 'Music from 31 Songs', based on the book by Nick Hornby (which I haven't read yet!)

Other stuff: Two Next giftcards (yippee, I'll be well-dressed this spring/summer!), a ring holder shaped like a cat, some posh cherry lip balm, £10 and my Mum's paying for my subscription to 'Let's Knit' magazine

So I've done pretty well I think! Plenty to keep my busy, and it softens the blow of turning 24!!

17 March 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' (nearly a third of the way through now!)
... eating chocolate now Lent is over
... 24 :(
... gazing lovingly at my birthday pressies
... chilling out - only four days of work this week, no singing class and no youth club!
... watching 'The Bridge to Terabithia' and possibly also 'All About Eve' and 'An Affair to Remember'
... continuing to knit a carrier bag
... trying to get on the PC more!

10 March 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov'
... watching 'The History Boys'
... looking forward to the end of Lent on Sunday
... hoping the bad weather doesn't flood the train line again (I know, there's a bigger picture, but hey, when it comes to transport I'm selfish!)
... 23 (for the last time ...)

04 March 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' STILL (and it's not really getting interesting)
... not eating chocolate
... craving hot chocolate as a result
... feeling much better than last week when I got an infection in my cheek (nice)
... finishing my course of antibiotics for said infection
... knitting a carrier bag

P.S. I've joined a theatre group now so This Weeks will probably be done on Tuesdays

26 February 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov'
... not eating chocolate
... busy - have joined a theatre group so that's one more night I'm out!
... battling through the wind
... hoping I find a better job soon as my current one is driving me crazy

24 February 2008

This week I have mostly been ...

... not on the Internet
... playing with cats
... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov'
... getting ready for hubby's birthday
... feeling fed up with my job (but then that applies every week)
... not eating chocolate

17 February 2008

Generous Journal: Freddie and Millie

Those of you who have read a few of my blogs will know I'm a fan of second hand items. So when we decided to get a cat (read 'when I managed to persuade hubby to get a cat') it made sense we'd get one second-hand too. In fact, we got two!

Freddie is the ginger one, and Millie the brown tabby. That's me in the middle - sorry about the slovenly appearance, the robe is to try and protect my work clothes from fur!

I'm a strong supporter of pet rescue organisations, having persuaded my Mum to go to a dog shelter after the death of our first dog, Buster. As a result we got Jake, a bouncy, bonkers 5-year old cavalier king charles spaniel (mainly, although he was a mongrel). He was a very sweet dog and hadn't had the best of lives before we got him so it was very rewarding giving him the home and love he needed. So I decided we'd get our cat from a rescue centre too. Only it didn't quite work out like that.

We approached a few organisations, but because we live on a main road and wanted an indoor cat, we weren't having much joy. In the end, we heard about Freddie and Millie through Wharfe Valley Cats Protection, who had been in touch with a cattery who were looking after them because their owner had gone into a home. We went to see them and, despite having previously wanted one younger cat, fell in love with these two eight-year-olds! Unfortunately because they weren't officially rescue cats they hadn't had any vetinary treatment, and it turns out they need a lot of dental work which is going to put us out of pocket, but we still love them!

I really recommend getting a rescue pet. They're often very grateful for their new home and very loving as a result, and you can make a huge difference to their lives. You can even resue rabbits and guinea pigs at some places nowadays! If you're thinking of getting a rescue cat, I recommend the website www.catchat.org which will show you your local rescue organisations. If they're officially rescue cats they cost arounf £70-90, but considering we're going to end up spending nearly £400 on vets bills which would have been avoided if they had been taken in by a rescue centre, it's not that much.

Got to go, I have some very loving old cats to play with!

11 February 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (don't expect a review for a while, it's nearly 1000 pages!)
... stroking my lovely cats
... going to an Alexander Technique workshop tonight
... making hubby do the housework (half-term, yippee!)
... having a rest from singing and youth club (half-term, yippee!)
... not greeted by a group of unwashed teenagers when I get on the train in the morning (half-term, yippee!)

09 February 2008

200-word Review - 'Eco Chic' by Matilda Lee

200 words? I could review this book in six: Every Clothes Wearer Should Read This. But I’ve got the words, so I’ll use them.

‘Eco Chic’ explores ethical questions behind our growing demand for cheap, fashionable clothes. Now I know I’m already part-hippy but this book still challenged my way of viewing clothes. The early chapters deal with the pitfalls of modern couture from sweatshops to scary chemicals, and the latter chapters show the alternatives: designers using green or Fairtrade materials, high street stores engaging with the issues and alternatives to buying new clothes. It also has a huge directory of companies selling ethical clothing.

The early chapters had me riveted and appalled at the grim facts behind clothing manufacture but I admit I got bored with the lengthy discussions about ethical designers, and felt that the topics of refashioning and making your own clothes were hurried through at the end. But then I’m sure a fashionista would be more interested in design than a tomboy like me. However, this isn’t just for fashion fanatics –people who aren’t concerned about fashion and just look for a bargain should also read this book to see the true cost of their clothes.

04 February 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'Eco Chic'
... looking forward to Cat-urday!
... giving up chocolate for Lent
... hoping the milder weather continues
... watching 'Shrek the Third'

28 January 2008

Generous Journal: My New Year's resolution

Oh dear, the Generous Journal has gone quiet due to my exile from my PC recently, and also because I must admit I haven't been doing anything generous. Well, no more than usual. I'm still refusing carrier bags, trying to buy local and ethical, giving to charity shops etc but I've not added anything new to my repertoire of generosity.

But - one of my New Year's resolutions is to learn more about the causes I back. Regular readers may know that a while back I had a debate about the effects of Fairtrade with a work colleague. Well, I say debate - I listened to her talk about her experiences in Africa where she believes she saw Fairtrade causing instability and conflict, and thought to myself 'I know that Fairtrade is right, but I don't know enough about it to argue.' It was embarrassing and, I have to admit, upsetting.

So this year, I'm going to get educated. Yes, I will never see first-hand the effects of Fairtrade because I can't drop everything and go do aid work in Africa. But I can learn more and find out whether my gut instinct that fair pay is always the right thing is the truth or just naivety.

I'm going to start by reading a book I stumbled across in the Geography section of Lincoln Waterstone's (don't ask why I was in the Geography section!) It's not as high brow as you might think - it's called 'Eco Chic' and is subtitled 'a savvy shopper's guide to ethical fashion'. While this is probably just a gloss-over of the ethical problems within the fashion industry, I'm hoping it will point me in the right direction to find more material to base my judgements on. In the meantime I'm going to continue with my gut instinct.

Knowledge is power.

200 word review: 'The Da Vinci Code' by Dan Brown

Sometimes you read a book you know you will be biased against. Having had people using ‘The Da Vinci Code’ to attack my beliefs admittedly made me prejudiced. But I gave it a try with an (almost) open mind. I still hated it.

This is a novel designed to cause controversy. The basic story is of a lecturer and a cryptologist seeking the Holy Grail in order to acquit themselves of a murder. Brown draws on legend, paganism, secret societies and conspiracy theory to argue that the Grail is the remains of Mary Magdalene, Christ’s wife, and that Christ and Magdalene have living descendants. I’m sure some of his argument was well-researched and based in truth but what troubled me was the lack of distinction between fact and fiction; the novel cannot possibly be wholly one or the other, and the failure to clearly separate the two could dupe readers into accepting fabrication as truth.

This isn’t my main objection, however. Religion aside, it’s little more than a mediocre thriller. It’s badly written with poor characterisation and a laughable plot. You can see why Brown wanted to create controversy – this book would never have sold as many copies without it.

This Week I will mostly be ...

... in less pain than last week (pulled shin muscles, inflamed coccyx, it's a long story)
... reading 'Eco Chic' by Matilda Lee
... wondering where January went
... buying cat stuff (we're getting cats in less than a fortnight!)
... watching 'A Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' rented from lovefilm.com
... shopping with my Mummy on Saturday

21 January 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... getting the bus to work (bit wet)
... reading 'The Da Vinci Code' - or not actually, can't read on the bus
... feeling ill and achy because of the cold
... wanting a cat but probably not finding one :(
... eating chocolate. Hey, when it's this cold, you need fat for insulation!

19 January 2008


Sorry for my recent lack of blogging! As I may have mentioned before, my evil workplace has banned all personal internet use even in lunch hours, and when I get home hubby is plastered to the PC planning lessons until bedtime. So I've spent about 15 minutes in total using the internet for non-work purpoes this week. I'll try to chisel hubby away a bit more next week!

Anyway, nothing interesting's happening at the moment so you're not missing out.

08 January 2008

This Week I will mostly be ...

... reading 'The Da Vinci Code'
... looking into getting a pussycat :D
... relaxing now that the Christmas season is officially over
... getting back to normality - singing class, youth club, hubby being back at work ...
... eating mince pies and chocolate (leftovers from Christmas)
... seeing what happens

01 January 2008

200 word review: 'Thank God it's Monday' by Mark Greene

‘Thank God it’s Monday’ is a Christian book and bears the subtitle ‘Ministry in the workplace’ which made me panic– I thought I’d be told to hand out tracts in the office. But while evangelism is discussed, Mark Greene mostly deals with your faith should affect your working life. After all, many Christians spend most of their waking lives at their workplace, and wherever we are, God’s there too.

Much of the book made uncomfortable reading, because Greene challenges the view of work that I, and most of my peers, hold – that work is an inconvenience and bosses are to be moaned about. Greene reminds us that God put us in that job for a reason, He chose our bosses, and we should work as if He is our boss. However, I think it’s a shame Greene doesn’t deal more with situations where people hate their jobs and feel stuck – much of his discussion is based on his apparently rewarding work in advertising. A few pointers for people who are not fulfilled by their job might have been helpful. However, it has really challenged my views and hopefully will make me a better example of a Christian to my workmates.