Saturday, 28 August 2010

More Books

Its not been a very exciting week - back at work, lots of rain, same old, same old.

So I decided it was time for another book-blogging post about my recent reading (Because, of course, you are all totally fascinated by my reading habits )

The Wrong Reflection by Gillian Bradshaw

This is a book which I first read about 5 years ago and which I keep coming back to. Sandra Murray is driving home one night and finds a car which has been driven into a ditch. She manages to pull the driver, Paul Anderson, out and give him mouth-to-mouth.

He wakes up in hospital with no idea of who he is, just a certainty that he is not Paul Anderson, and that he is afraid.

The truth about who he is, and how others react to him  is the basis of a thoughtful and intrigueing  science fiction thriller. The characters are well drawn and believable, and the book sets out some all too plausible scenarios.

It is difficult to go into further details without spoilers, but  this is well worth a try. Ms Bradshhaw has also written at leastr two other Science Fiction novels - 'Dangerous Notes' and 'The Somers Treatment', both of which are well worth reading, but she is better known for her hsitorical fiction.
The Floating Brothel by Sian Rees

The Floating Brothel is what you might call easy-reading - it is non-fiction, dealing with the 'Lady Julian', the first ship sent to carry female convicts to the then newly formed penal colony in New South Wales, in 1789.

The book gives some background, based on contemporary records and the memoirs of one of the ships crew of the womens lives, crimes, trials and eventual fates.

For me, my enjoyment of the book was marred by the author's habit of fictionalising those parts of the women's experience which is unrecorded. She is open about this being speculation, and I assume that it is intended to flesh out the bare bones of the story and make it more accessible, but I found it somewhat irritating!

Despite this, an interesting book about  an interesting period in history.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Sticking with the Australian theme but on a much more light-hearted note, The Reformed Vampire Support Group is a YA novel, written in the 1st person by 'Nina' a Sydney teenager who, owing to a chance encounter with a vampire has been 15 for the last 37 years.

Unlike your typical fictional vampire, Nina and her fellow 'reformed vampires' are weak, vulnerbable and comitted to not biting anyone. They survive on a diet of Guinea Pigs and attend weekly meetings presided over by a local catholic priest.

When they find themselves faced with a vampire slayer, they have to try to track him down, in order to protect themselves, falling in with a werewolf as they go. Lightweight, fluffy fun, with an interesting twist on some of the normal vampire tropes. (And not a sparkle in sight, thankfully!)

Pastworld by Ian Beck

This is Mr Beck's first YA novel, and is set in the not-too-distant future, wherea chunk of Victorian London has been recreated as a giant theme park, complete with rookeries, criminals, Victorian laws and punishments for breaking them, and 'The Fantom', a Jack the Ripper figure who leaves residents in fear, and gives  'Gawkers' or tourists a vicarious thrill.
Eve, who had no idea her home was a theme park, runs away after learning hre presence may put her guardian in danger. Caleb Brown, a modern visitor, finds himself on the run and hiding from the law after his father is attacked and he is accused of murder, which, in Pastworld, is a hanging offence.

With characters including an Inspector Lestrade of Old Scotland Yard, there are nods to period fiction, and the author doesn't shy away from the harsher side of Victorian life - characters are cold, hungry,and vulnerable to disease and poverty. There are plenty of clues to allow the alert reader to work out Eve's secret, and to guess how things are going to end, well before she or the other characters get there, but for all that this is a fast paced book, and one which I suspect might well appeal to both boys and girls.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

This is the second book of Ness's 'Chaos Walking' trilogy, and continues the story of Todd and Viola, starting immediately where the first book, 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' ended.

Todd finds he has not escaped the Mayor of Prentisstown, and both he and Viola have to contend with greater challenges, and more choices to make, never so simple as a choice between right and wrong, but between differing kinds of wrong.

The books raise all kinds of issues, about loyalty, courage, fundementalism, sexism and misogyny, exploitation and colonialism and compromised principal; not to mention addressing the areas between resistance and terrorism. Just like real people, most of the characters are neither wholly good, not wholly evil.

This is not an easy book to read; it makes you think. And it has no sense of safety, you cannot feel any confidence that things will work out alright in the end. In the first book, we saw that Todd's fathers were good men, and tried their best for him. But they died, and he is still in danger.

 Todd and Viola are both good people, neither wishing to harm anyone, but good intentions are no protection, and neither of them is able to remain entirely innocent.

As I said, not easy or simple books, but very, very good. At the end of 'The Ask and the Answer' we are again left on a knife-edge with a new danger looming and no doubt further hard choices and complex, nuanced issues to deal with. 'Monsters of Men', the final part of the trilogy, is just out, and I shall be reading that as soon as I can get hold of it, until  then, I shall wait, somewhat apprehensively.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

In Which I Do Not Go Sailing

Friday saw me driving down to West Sussex to spend some time with my sister, her fiancee and sister number 2, who has been visiting them all week.
The others had got home on Thursday  - K&C have been sailing for the past 3 weeks, and E had joined them for the past week.

We went out for a meal on Friday night - to a fish resturant, where we had a lovely meal - the restaurant has lots of frsh, local fish, and we had a vey nice time!

We had hoped that the weather would be suitable for sailing on Saturday, but unfortunately it was grey, wet, windy an forecast to get worse, rather than better, so we had to give up on that idea. We also decided against walking down to the beach to watch the shoreham airshow, although we had seen the Battle of Britain flight practicing the previous afternoon.

Instead, we enjoyed a late and luxurious breakfast and then most of us went to Bignor, near Arundel, where there was once a large Roman Villa, which has a number of mosaics.

The 1st mosiac was unearthed by  a farmer in 1811, and the land is still owned by the same family, so the mosiacs etc are privately owned rather than owned by English Heritage, or any other official body (although I believe the most recent excavations were carried out with official, expert involvment)

There are very well preserved mosiacs from what was a dining room, a bath house, and a bigger room which is thought to have been for dining and entertaining. here is also a long stretch of corridor.

The villa is tucked away down some very narrow lanes, and there were only a few other people there, which was a good thing from our perspective. We were even able to fit in a cream tea!

Later in the day,after coming home, we walked down to Shoreham beach - it was still grey and drizzly - which seems to be good weather for Kite-Surfing, as the kite surfers were out in force...

The day finished with  home cooked roast lamb followed by local raspberries and ice cream, before I drove home, in order to have Sunday at home to make my peace with Tybalt, (Who has been well looked after by Cheryl, but who diapproves on principal of my going away) and to have a day to do chores before going back to work on Monday morning..

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Patchwork & Seaside & Rain

More rain, today, definitely no chance of anything outdoorsy, so we opted for the long, lazy lie-in (We finished breakfast at around 11, I believe, then went to Bideford, where they were holding a Quilt exhibition at the town museum.

Patchwork & Quilting being  something which my mother is interested in, it seemed like an interesting thing to see.

Some of the quilts were what I think of as being more traditional quilts which might even be used on bed, others were definitely art quilts suitable for hanging on the wall.

We also looked at the rest of the museum, which has Bideford's Royal Charter granted by Elizabeth I, and pottery made by the potteries which used to be in Barnstaple and Bideford, one of which my Granmother worked for before her marriage.

We finished with a quick trip to Westward Ho!, to wander by the sea, but as it is a very pebbly beach, and it started to rain shortly after we arived, we had only a VERY brief walk, before heading home for a relaxed evening.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

More Gardens, and More Tea

We found that, sadly, the weather forecasters continued to be correct, so on Tuesday we mostly stayed indoors and read, although we did have a brief, damp, walk during the afternoon, and a trip to go ringing and to the pub in the evening.

Wednesday was scheduled to be showery, so we decided to go to Arlington Court, which is another National Trust property, on the basis that between the house, the Carriage Museum, and the Gardens, we should be able to dodge the worst of the rain, which we duly did
Victorian Garden, Arlington Court

 Arlington was the home of the Chichester family, the last of whom was a very eccentric maiden lady who lived there for over 50 years, and who kept a pet parrot which was allowed free range of the house, and destroyed much of the plasterwork of the ceilings!
The house has a large collection of model ships, the earliest being ones made by French prisoners of war, during the Napoleonic wars, the latest being models of the family's own yacht, and the 'Gypsy Moth' in which Sir Francis Chichester (Who was a member of the same Chichester family, but a cousin, not one of the owners of Arlington) became the first person to sail single-handedly around the world.

We also spent some time in the Carriage museum,  looking at the various carriages, all of which were most impressive, but didn't look, even the best of them, as though they would have been very comfortable to travel in!                                                          

We also met some of the horses (Percherons and Shires) which they keep to give horse-and-cart rides at weekends, and (Naturally) visited the tea-rooms, where we found a coffee cake of truly epic proportions and delectable flavour, just as the heavens opened and it poured with rain.                                                      

I think we got the last available seats before the surge of people getting in out of the rain!

As I am leaving on Friday morning, I had made a request to bring forward Sunday lunch, so the day ended with Sunday roast - local beef, accompanied by Yorkshire pudding, local runner beans and carrots and a very nice bottle of red wine, followed by a floating lemon pudding.

All in all, a most satisfactory day!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside

The Met Office are threatening rain for the rest of the week, so we decidsed to make the most of the sunny weather on Monday and headed to the beach.

We went to Putsborough, which lies at the end of some very narrow, twisting lanes, and which is one of the beaches of my childhood, as we used to go there regularly, and, as my Godmother lived very close by, used often to bump into various cousins there.
Putsborough sands
By the time we reached the beach, the sun had gone in, and is was quite breezy, so in true British fashion we erected our windbreak and settled down for the afternoon.

Happily, the sun did come out intermmittently, and we were able to stroll along the beach, and to paddle, and sit & read and watch the seagulls. I even braved the water and went for a short but bracing swim!

You can't tell from the picture (which was taken just before we left, as the sands were emptying) but there were lots of people there - it was nice to see so many small children enjoying themselves with buckets and spades!

And yes, we did treat ourselves to the traditional ice-cream...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Holiday Time!

I have a week off work, which is very nice, and having been insufficiently organised to have made any other plans, I decided to travel down to Devon to spend some time with my parents.

The journey down was horrendous - pouring rain, very heavey traffic and queues on the motorway, so the journey took about an hour and a half longer than normal. However, once I arrived, all was well.

On Friday night, after a very tasty supper (cooked by someone else, which is always a treat for me!) my Dad and I were able to go out into the garden to look for meteors - happily, there is very little light pollution here, and  saw 6 or 7 shooting stars, which was a lovely end to the evening.

As Sunday came a nice day, we decided to go to Rosemoor, which is owned by the Royal Horticultural Society - there are several formal gardens - a rose garden, cottage garden, mediterranean garden, a herb/sensory garden, plus woodland and vegetable gardens.

There were thousands of bees everywhere - both honey bees and bumble bees, and there were also lots of butterflies - small Toirtoiseshells and Cabbage Whites, which one gets everywhere, but also Red Admirals, Peacock Butterflies and Painted Ladies, which are less common.

The colours were beautiful, and although I know very little about gardening, and have difficulty in recognising all but the most common flowers or trees, wandering around beautiful gardens in the sunshine, amid the bees and butterflies, is very pleasant indeed.
More photos on my flickr stream

Friday, 13 August 2010

Drive-By Builders Strike Back

I blogged before about the Strange Affair of the Stolen Tiles, and  since then, I have had a couple of ... interesting conversations with the builders, and with the guy from the housing association.
   Sad,Naked Porch

The upshot of which was that they asked whether it would be alright for them to come back, to re-tile the proch, today.

I agreed, and asked them about replacing the ?strut? at the same time - the old one was broken (and I can't pin that on them - may have been them, may have been local vandals) - they had put up a temporary one when the took away the tiles, but it wasn't attached with a proper joint to the rest of the frame, and I thought it would be nicer if it were.

And it seemed to me, that it would be easier & cheaper to get them to do that at the same time as they were doing the re-tiling. 
Happy, Tiled Porch
The builders turned up just as I was preparing to leave for work, and I came home to a beautifully neat, and not-naked-at-all porch.

So that's alright.

A Quiet Week

So, it has been a relatively uneventful week.
No further drive-by home improvements (or unimprovements) and no more spending sprees.
I have mostly been battling a horrible summer cold, which lodged itself, in an antisocial way, in my ears and sinuses, meaning I have been lurching around like a drunk as my balance is off. It has been a whole lot of no fun at all.

I suppose I should be grateful. Normally I seem to get some time off & then get ill. At least this time I have done the getting ill bit before I have the time off. But I can do without it, all the same!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

In Which There is Baking

I have been very domesticated today.

I started with some more of yesterday's beetroot bread - didn't make it, I bought it at the farm shop out of curiosty, never having had pink bread before.

It wasn't very exciting - in fact, if you ate it with your eyes shut you wouldn't know about the beetroot. But it was very nice - fresh crusty bread.

I then had a go at making rhubarb Cake, from a recipe which Ticia sent me - nice, but a little bit too sweet for me - I think next time I shall make it with a lot less sugar, and more rhubarb. But nevertheless very tasty, especially with ice cream..

Also at the farmshop I bought some red and some blackcurrants, just because they were there.

The redcurrants I have frozen - I want to try my hand at making redcurrant jelly, but that takes 12 hours so I shall save hem untl next weekend. (also, the recipie I have suggests ading port to the mix, which I on't have in the house.

The blackcurrants, however, were fine just as they were, and I made them into jam. I haven't made blackcurrant jam before, and I rather think I cooked it a little too long and it has set like a rock - but it tastes OK. I only bought one punnet (about 8oz) so there was just enough for one jar.

Blackcurrants are fiddly to prepare, though.

I do enjoy pottering about making stuff, though. Cooking is one of the few creative things I can do. The thing is, I need people to eat this stuff...

And tonight - the last episode of "Sherlock". Looking forward to it. Especially Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones, and Martin Freeman's everthing. Makes up for Docror Who being over.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Lions of Bath

Bath is full of Lions at present.

They are part of an art project and fund-raising effort. Two years ago, there was a similar project involving King Bladud's pigs , this year, we have Lions.

One of my favourites so far is "King of Fudge", who stands proudly above the ;'San Fransisco fudge Shop', near the Roman Baths,

I also like 'Robo Lion', who is behind a shop window and thus difficult to photograph, but who appears to have survived an encounter with the Borg...

There are 100 Lions altogether, in and around Bath. (I have a flickr set here , which I shall keep adding to - but I still have a long way to go to collect them all....) They are not all in Bath itself - I have found two in Bradford on Avon, one at the Farm Shop near Farrington Gurney, and I have heard that one went to stay with his cousns at Longleat.

I like them.

In Which I Go Shopping

I believe I have mentioned before that I am not a fan of shopping. I particularly dislike shopping for shoes, due to having spent years growing up when it was almost impossible to find shoes which fit (I have very wide feet, and high insteps, my big toes stick up, and I walk on the sides of my feet and have weak ankle, which means wearing heels can be a problem) and it's often very hard to find them even now.

But it has to be done. And often when I do make it to the shops I tend to buy a lot, as then I don't need to go back for ages.

When I made my great mattress-buying trip I had originally planned to do some clothes shopping as well, as I needed things such as a plain black suit jacket (for work) and some new shoes (also black, also for work) as in both cases these things seem to wear out, and you have to replace them from time to time.

So today, having nothing else very pressing to do, decided to brave the shops once more. This time, I went to Bath, where, although it is sadly often rather full of of Other People, you are at least not stuck inside a mall.

My shopping trip was successful. In fact, it was more successful than anticipated, as it seems that it has reached the time of year when all the autum/winter stuff is available.

My haul?
  • A pair of black, laced ankle boots with a kind of Victorian vibe going on
  • A pair of black, strappy court shoes
  • A black suit jacket
  • A grey & white dress which should be suitable for work and can be dressed up a bit as well.
  • A lightweigh coat / jacket - double-breasted, vaguely military look

I particularly like the boots; I think it is the fist time I have found a pair of boots which fit me (and I could afford) which made me go "wow, love the look" rather than " yeah, they'll keep my feet warm and dry". And as I've had M&S 'footglove' boots & shoes in the past I'm optimistic that they will be comfortable for long-term wear as well.

All in all, I'm happy with my shopping trip.

While I was in Bath, I got a call from the optician to say my new specs had arrived, so I went home via Frome to pick them up.

I still like them, which is good. You can't tel from the pic, but the sunglasses have tortoiseshell-look frames. The 'normal 'specs are almost identical to the old ones - the frames are a v. dark grey-green insted of black, but you can't tell from a distance.

Finally, I headed for the farm Shop, hoping to pick up some of their frozen croissants (they are sold unbaked - you leave them to defrost & 'prove' overnight, pop them in the oven, and yet yummy freshly-baked croissants for breakfast.

Sadly, they'd run out of croissants, (although I did pick up some pains aux raisins to tide me over) but they were selling 'beetroot bread' - bright red! Who could resist?

I think the bread was made substituting beetroot juice for the water/milk - it tastes very nice, but I am not sure you'd know it was beetroot-y if it weren't for the colour.

I also have some blackcurrants, so I may have a go at making some jam tomorrow, if I'm nt to knackered.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Mystery of The Missing Tiles

Having enjoyed watching Sherlock the past two weeks, I have been in the mood for detective fiction.

I was not expecting to require non-fiction detection...

Picture the scene. A quiet (or at least relatively traffic-free) residential street. Rows of neat identical houses, built in red-brick and with no regard for aesthetics. Not a hansom cab, pea-souper fog or cocaine addicted detective in sight.
I returned home from, and noticed nothing untoward*

A little later, I went out, looked up, and realised that there was something a bit off... the 'porch' above my front door was looking a bit naked. There were no tiles.

This was unexpected and disconcerting.

At first, I thought I had been the victim of vandals, but it seemed a little tidy for that., and there was no sign of any broken tiles.

So I then wondered whether I had been the victim of a particulaly un-ambitious thief.
But I couldn't understand why, in that case, they had picked my house, and left the neighbours fully tiled. And again, it seemed oddly tidy.
Most confusing.
Then the following morning, I was able to take a closer look and realised, not only that the tiles were gone, but that one of the two struts had gone and had been replaced. Now, I can, just about, imagine that a thief might be tidy in their stealing, but not that they would repair something they damaged.
Now, in my street, most of the houses are owned by a Housing Association, so I then wondered whether maybe they (or their agents) had made a mistake and were supposed to be doing something to one of the houses which they own.
They aren't the easiest people to get hold of, but I am persistant.
Ths afternoon, I managed to speak to someone in their maintenace department. "Do yu happen to have had contractors in [my street] his week" I asked, "perhaps dealing with tiling on a porch.."
Him: "Oh, I think we had the contrators there, why"
Me:"My porch has been de-tiled, and I haven't heard anything from you about why that might be"
Him "Oh yes, I was doing an inspection with our contractors in that street. I saw there was a porch that I felt was in danger of collapse, so I instructed our contractor to remove the tiles straight away, in case they fell on someone"
Me "Did you think to check it belonged to you first?"
Me: " it was absolutely fine when I last saw it"
Him "you're not one of our tenants?"
Me "No"
Him "Oh."
He then admitted that as he had instructed his contractor to tske bits of my house away, thatit was his, (or at least his company's) responsiblity to replace them.
Personally, I have some doubts about his inspecting, too, as while I would not deny that there was a tile missing (before they were aall nicked, I mean) there was no collapsing going on, and it doesn't seem very probable that it would deteriorate to he collapsing point between my leaving for work, and their drive-by inspection.
I shall now wait for the return of the missing tiles. I have asked them to tell me first, this time, before they start any work. And please to not take away any other bits of my house without aking me first.
*I'm not saying there wasn't anything untoward. I didn't expect to be detectoring, so I wasn't looking for untowardness.

Monday, 2 August 2010

More Excitement (or not)

After the thrills of a new phone and a new mattress, what next?

well - new glasses.

I was due my annual check up, and as I have been wearing the same pair of specs for the past 4 years at least, I decided to see whther I might be able to afford some new ones (assuming my prescription stayed the same: if it changed, I'd have to get new ones anyway)

I had a voucher for a free eye-test, which was good. There's nothing like saving £27.95 to cheer one up! And it turns out that my eyes are doing well - I have peripheral vision, and internal pressure and the tests that involve putting green goop in your eyes, and the tests that involve blowing cold air into them all produced the correct responses, apparently. My prescription changed very slightly - not enough to matter, the optician said - I can carry on wearing my current specs, and will be absolutely fine and legal to drive and so forth.

I occasionally wear (disposable) contact lenses, and part of the deal which I have means that for as long as I'm buying the lenses, I get 50% off any glasses I buy, as well.

The upshot of which is that I shall have a new par of specs, plus a pair of prescription sunglasses, all for less than the normal full price of the lenses...

Of course, they are not exactly cheap, either, but they were within my budget, and I was expecting to et one pair, not two, so I'm reasonably content. Also, on current form, I probably won't be buying any more for some time - on a 'per wear' basis they are probably pretty cheap!

They should be ready within a week, with any luck, and if I am feeling exhibitionist at that point I may even post photos of myself wearing them!