Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Miss Cayley's Adventures - Grant Allen

Grant Allen was a happy discovery courtesy of a Penguin compendium of Victorian women in crime, I read An African Millionaire last year and loved it so was delighted to get 'Miss Cayley's Adventures' at Christmas (it's also available free as an ebook from project Gutenberg). Miss Cayley started life in The Strand magazine and this book is a series of almost independent short stories which loosely come together as a novel originally published in 1899.

Lois Cayley finds herself freshly graduated from Girton, utterly bereft of family, and with no greater means than two pence to her name. She is however a remarkably resourceful as well as attractive young woman so she sets off to travel the world working on the theory that one can be alone and flat broke anywhere so one might as well make it somewhere new and interesting.

In her first adventure she fall in with a cantankerous old lady who knew her father - the old lady happens to be in need of a companion to escort her to a German spa so Lois seizes the day and offers her services. En route she foils an attempt to steal the old ladies diamonds. Having increased her fortune to £2 and found herself in Germany, Lois is well on her way to adventures which will take her to Switzerland selling bicycles, Florence working as a secretary, Egypt as a journalist, India as the tiger hunting guest of a maharajah (this is my favourite episode) and back to England again to prove the innocence of the man she loves. 

Lois is an engaging heroine, she's the athletic as well as the academic sort, and her cycling and rowing abilities are just as useful in her adventures as her knowledge of maths and chemistry. She has her limitations - the tiger episode is so funny because it's sheer dumb luck that saves the day, but basically she's one of the most able and amusing heroines you're likely to find in fiction. Mostly this is light reading intended to be funny  but Allen makes some interesting points which have nothing to do with humour at all.

Most obvious is that his Miss Cayley is such a capable girl. Nothing defeats her, not tigers, not con artists, not loneliness, and most definitely not poverty but there is a price to be paid for this adventurous lifestyle. When stuck in the witness box her unfeminine behaviour is used against her and we have to wonder how she'll save the situation - save it she does. 

Even more interesting to me though is Allen, and Miss Cayley, on the subject of race - for all the books I read from this period, and all the casual racism therein, this is the first time I've seen it discussed and challenged - specifically with reference to India. It's made clear that nigger is a term of abuse and a word no lady should be comfortable using and Allen takes the time to expose the double standard that operates in the attitude the English display towards their Indian hosts along with a complete and inexcusable lack of respect. 

Funny, interesting, and free if you read it electronically - what's not to love.   

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Whisky Truffles

The aftermath - please believe we left more than we drank.
Our belated Burns night celebration was great fun - a mild hangover and a mountain of washing up both bear testament to the festivities and at least one of those factors has been responsible for a fairly lazy Sunday - though I have got through quite a few odd jobs so maybe not so lazy.

 One thing I particularly like about a Burns night supper is how easy it is to cook. Haggis, neaps, and tatties (turnips/swedes and potatoes for the none Scots) don't really require much attention - you simmer them until they're ready, stab one, and mash the others. I believe Cullen Skink is the approved first course but I favour home made bread (because I like baking it) and fish or mushroom pate which feels appropriately rustic and makes for very welcome left overs - also whizzing something up in a blender is less effort than soup and less faffing in the kitchen when you have friends and wine waiting elsewhere. The blonde insists that the pudding is cranachan which is also easily knocked up ahead of time and demands nothing more than enjoyment after that, all of which means there's plenty of time to think what shall I make now...
This stuff is brilliant.
It was going to be fudge but then I thought chocolate whisky truffles would be even better. Mastering chocolate is something of an ambition for me (in any way you choose to interpret it; all to often chocolate masters me). There's a lot of technique involved, it's messy, and calls for a great deal of patience, all of those present challenges - with truffles though I think it might be the mess that bothers me the most.

The truffle recipe I use is from Sara Jayne-Stanes 'Chocolate The Definitive Guide' (published by Grub Street - they're one of those publishers whose mark on the spine is enough to make me pick up the book). It's a while since I've looked through this book but I remembered the truffles being light, delicious, and easy to mix up (the tricky bit comes later) what I hadn't remembered was just how much other stuff was in there - it's good to get re-acquainted with a cook book you haven't picked up for a while - it's maybe even more exciting than buying a new one. 

Basically you take 200g of the best quality dark chocolate you're prepared to use and 290 ml's of double cream. Break the chocolate into little bits and pop it in a reasonably big bowl whilst bringing the cream to a rolling boil - when the cream is ready poor it over the chocolate and mix until it's all thoroughly blended and melted at which point you add any flavouring - in this case 3 tablespoons of whisky and some vanilla powder, and leave it to cool at room temperature for something between one and two hours after which you whisk with an electric mixer until it just starts to thicken. You can then pipe out the truffles - which makes for very messy washing up, or you can let the mix set some more and then roll them by hand. This is also messy but hands are easier to wash than piping bags and mine currently smell amazing. However even dusted with cocoa after 4 truffles I had to stop to wash mu hands because they got to sticky - the chocolate and cream mix just melts, though try and work with it when it's to cold and it disintegrates then melts. 

Eventually I had enough truffles rolled out for last night (I did the rest today which is how I know what happens when they get to cold) and wanted to cover them in white chocolate. White chocolate is inclined to burn and is not my favourite thing to work with - but is an excellent foil for the bitter dark chocolate and the smoky whisky I used. When it was cool enough to give the truffles a good thick coating it was also cool enough to be difficult to apply - though still warm enough to make the truffles want to melt. I didn't manage to cover all my truffles, or all of all the truffles I did get chocolate on, but happily they tasted great. More practice this afternoon with all the leftover mix yielded very slightly better results. This IS something I will crack.  

Oh, and apparently they will keep for a week - but honestly there's no chance of that happening.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013


This is a brief post between a very enjoyable catch up with Elaine from Random Jottings (always a treat) and having people round for a very slightly late Burns night this evening but I got some new cups this week and feel the need to share.
For years I meant to gather a collection, first of old coronation mugs when they could still be picked up for about a pound, and generally of tea cups, saucers, and ideally a sandwich plate as well. For years I did nothing about it at all in which time the price of royal memorabilia crept up past the point of practicality (between five and ten pounds when I see them now) and I still couldn't make up my mind about a tea set. The first conundrum was whether to have something that matched, the issue being that an attractive tea set is pricey balanced against how often I'm likely to use it, an unattractive one is both pricey and pointless - but there are plenty of them out there.

My second dilemma was whether to hunt out good quality china - beautiful cups and saucers from very respectable makers can still be picked up as odds for about ten to fifteen pounds - and some of them are lovely, almost to lovely to use, quite impossible to replace if you get very fond of one, and probably to extravagant for my needs, but there is a third way and late last autumn I decided to finally follow it.

Charity shops have proved a dead loss for this but I've found a couple of antique stalls where for a very modest sum (about four pounds for a trio, and yes I've been told that's robbery compared to car boot sales and auctions, but it saves me no end of bother and I'm quite happy to pay it) you can get a cup, saucer, and plate in perfectly acceptable bone china if nothing else. These are the sets that have quite obviously been used a lot and probably originally came from Woolworths or similar. My favourite so far features a hunting scene, I wouldn't have given house room to the whole tea set but I love this one example; I firmly believe that altogether this mismatched collection looks great...

They haven't had a proper airing yet - I need to organise a tea party sometime soon - and truthfully I really don't have the space for collecting more junk, but these cups have a real charm. They have so obviously seen life - I can only imagine the amount of gossip shared over them - that I find them hard to resist. I suspect that in another few years they will cost more than I want to pay (I'm not pretending that they're an investment) but already I've seen prettily boxed versions of much the same thing in Liberty's for an eye-watering amount (also saucers with lustre ware cups on them that reflect the pattern but have a contemporary spin and are the kind of idea I kick myself for not having first and thus making a mini fortune out of) so I'm buying whilst I can.        

Quite likely I'll get rid of them all one day in a fit of streamlining but meanwhile I imagine generations of women before me sitting down for tea with friends, or on their own with the latest Georgette Heyer, or perhaps even entertaining a vicar (I do hope that at least one of these cups has entertained a vicar...) and think I must entertain more. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett

The combination of snowy weather and watching some of a terrible adaptation of 'A Little Princess' (Frances Hodgson Burnett is not well served when it comes to adaptations) over Christmas made me really want to read the book again. When I was a child this was a real favourite but it's a long time since I read it and revisiting childhood books can be disappointing; I had mixed feelings about 'The Secret Garden' when I read it a year or so ago it was more interesting than charming - some of the magic was stripped away by my adult sensibilities and cynicisms. 

My original copy is long gone and not every shop stocks 'A Little Princess' (I don't know why it's not as ubiquitous as 'The Secret Garden', I think it's much better) so this turned out to be the perfect time to buy something from the only independent bookshop near me - it's specifically dedicated to children's books so it's taken a while to find something I might want from it. The otherwise helpful lady in there was surprised that the book was for me - I don't think she would have had the same reaction if I'd come in for a Twilight title and there's something mildly depressing about that. 

Fairy tales are fluid things, even written down they evolve into different stories - 'A Little Princess' is basically Cinderella with a bit of embellishment. Sara Crewe is the loved and petted daughter of a rich father who makes her a present of anything she may desire. She's sent to school in London where she manages to befriend almost all around her (though not the wicked stepmother - her headmistress Miss Minchin). She's an intelligent child with a gift for learning and story telling and a rich imagination. All things she'll need when she learns on her birthday that her father has dies and she's bundled off to the attic for a life of drudgery and semi starvation.

Every possible humiliation is heaped on Sara, but just as when she was rich she determined to behave like a Princess, she finds she still can even in her much reduced circumstances (in fact she behaves much better than any actual Princess could be expected to). She is always kind and generous, always honest, and still does what she can to help those worse off than she is. What she doesn't do is loose her spirit which discomforts Miss Minchin and make her harder than ever on the girl she's exploiting. It's interesting that Burnett makes no attempt to make sense of Sara's loss - one of the things I disliked about the film version is that her father turns up alive which is far to conventional a happy ending. Part of the point of 'A Little Princess' is surely to help children understand that life is often desperately unfair and that you have to deal with it. 

Happily things look up for Sara just as they seem to be at their darkest - the neighbours take an interest in her and in the role of fairy godmother sneak good things into her attic - it's gradual transformation from grim prison cell to comfortable boudoir is my favourite part of the book. Eventually Sara's fortunes are restored - quite literally, and what pleases me most is that it's not in the form of a handsome Prince. True she gets an adoptive father figure who can return to her the fortune it seemed had been lost, but it's Sara's fortune - she doesn't have to be beholden to anybody for it. I really like the idea that she gets her independence, that she intends to use it for philanthropic purposes is also pleasing - she's a splendid role modal.

I'm curious about how Burnett felt about this particular book, of the 4 novels by her I've read I'm inclined to think this one the best. The value placed on Sara's intelligence and spirit are encouraging. Even without the fairy god father the reader feels sure she would survive, escape from Miss Minchin, and make her own way in the world. Burnett quietly makes it clear that life is often unfair and that adults don't always behave as they should (as bad as Miss Minchin is her father's lawyer is far worse in the way he quickly distances himself from Sara). The moral lessens about friendship and decency are not overdone - Sara's determination to behave as she thinks a Princess should is almost aggressively defiant at times; Miss Minchin can perhaps be excused for disliking the charge who exposes her for what she is, though there is no excuse for the rest of her behaviour. The value placed on education and an imaginative inner life are also encouraging. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday baking is back

Well for one Sunday at least Sunday baking is in full swing. I got caught out by the snow this weekend, my journey home that normally takes 15 minutes took 2 hours - not because the snow was particularly bad but because traffic was. The world and his dog apparently decided to leave work at the same early time - and got precisely nowhere very, very, slowly. The snow wasn't the problem, ice and far to much traffic were the cause, and the result is that I abandoned initial plans for the weekend, and as today has bought lots more snow I've spent it indoors and in the kitchen.

Checking the cupboards and fridge for comforting winter food ingredients revealed a lot of half used odds and ends left over from Christmas baking so a fruit cake was inevitable. We finished my Christmas cake this week and I've been missing it, truthfully I would have liked to bake another just like it and have it plain but I didn't have any cream, or any inclination to venture out for some. Happily Dan Lepard is not a one fruit cake kind of a man, and half a jar of slightly grainy honey suggested his cinnamon honey fruit cake. Previously my favourite chunky fruit cake was this one from 'River Cottage Everyday' but the honey cinnamon one beats it by a mile (and the River Cottage one is pretty good). 

It was also a chance to use the 5 inch cake tins I got a while back and have only looked at since which has given me 2 cakes instead of 1. It's nice to know that the recipe splits perfectly, the smaller size suited my oven too which tends to take it's own sweet time to cook things so they get a bit crispy on top, so I'm sure with a bit of thought I can come up with some good reason why 2 cakes are better than 1 (apart from the obvious).

The Honey and Cinnamon Fruit Cake recipe is here. I used whisky instead of brandy or cold tea (though I had plenty of cold tea I had more whisky) which I'm inclined to regard as an improvement. The flavour really comes through and is wonderful. I also made lots of wine mulling syrup, a lamb honey and prune tagine, and an apricot upside down cake... It may be cold outside, I may have to venture out to work first thing tomorrow, I may (and most likely will) end up with wet feet before I get home - but when I do get home there will be no shortage of comfort food.      

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gossip From The Forest - Sara Maitland

This is the book that's set the bar for my years reading - anything better will be in the really remarkable category. The first thing I liked about it was the title - 'gossip' made me think of gossip as we understand the word now, but it also has a sibilance about it that recalls the susurration of leaves, and then I opened the book. Just before the contents page there is a dictionary definition for gossip and it is this -
 "1. One who has contracted a spiritual relationship with another by acting as sponsor at a baptism. 2. A familiar acquaintance or friend. Especially applied to a woman's female friends invited to be present at a birth. 3. Idle talk; trifling or groundless rumour; tittle- tattle."
Maitland goes on to say that "This is one of my favourite examples of how the trivialising of women's concerns distorts language. The Gossip of my title is the encouraging, private, spiritual talk that we all want in times of trouble. Stories that are not idle, tales that are not trifling." which was quite a lot to think about before page 1. These other meanings for gossip surprised me - I looked it up to be sure - and now wonder what other words have changed in this way? 
'Gossip From The Forest' is subtitled 'The Tangled Roots Of Our Forests and Fairytales' and a large part of the discussion deals with fairy tales - specifically the Grimm's fairy tales, Maitland is interested not in what they have in common with the fairy tales of different cultures but with what is different and what makes them specifically ours (teutonic). Her argument that they are rooted in Northern European forests: were told by people who lived in forests, and likely often told by older sisters to their young siblings is beguiling. I'm from a part of the country where trees are scarce and even after all these years in middle England I have an uneasy relationship with them, but they have always been part of my imaginative landscape having been absorbed through fairy stories as a child. Trees in any combination fascinate me, I still find them a little other worldly, and on a dark and stormy evening they make me nervous in very different way to crashing waves. Trees in the wind, especially in winter make me believe in wolves.

Fairy tales are only part of the equation though, the other part is how we live with forests, what our joint future might be, and why the relationship is symbiotic. This book is a conversation between page and reader. I wasn't convinced by absolutely everything, but I'm not sure I was meant to be; it's the conversation that matters - Maitland makes no bones about how personal some of the opinions are, alongside the research and knowledge are her own emotional responses to what she experiences amongst the trees.

This is a gentle reminder that complacency is a mistake, it's important to question, to think, and to have an opinion. Our roots are deep in the forest, lose sight of that and what else do we risk losing?          

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Adventures of Sally - P.G. Wodehouse

I was waiting for a train when I got this book, I already had something to read with me but whatever it was I just wasn't in the right mood for it but suddenly, and for the first time in years, Wodehouse felt like just the ticket. I wasn't wrong. Many years ago when I was in my early teens I pinched my mothers Wodehouses - mostly Jeeves and Wooster titles with a few Blandings books thrown in and by no means a complete collection (sorry mum) - I only realised how many books he wrote about a decade later. Whichever way you look at it Wodehouse is a comic genius - which is just as well because sometimes the odds are stacked against him - I think he's been inflicted with particularly nasty covers at the moment (I wouldn't have picked this book up if I didn't already know I liked him) and I didn't particularly enjoy the BBC adaptation of Blandings. It might get better but the pantomime approach really didn't appeal to me - the colours were to bright, the hair to big, and the pace to frantic for me. 

On the other hand if it helps Wodehouse find a new audience than I'm all for it, A.A Gill wrote about him in the Sunday Times - apparently sales are dire (are the covers partly responsible for that?) which truly is a shame. 'The Adventures Of Sally' show Wodehouse in a mode I hadn't come across before. There's a lack of really silly young men and a couple of reasonably convincing young women - intelligent, practical, get ahead types. There's also a genuine sort of love story, but as with any Wodehouse novel I've ever read things like character and plot are secondary to the humour. More than anything he's funny, laugh out loud funny, and in a very charming sort of a way.

I enjoyed Wodehouse when I was much younger because I was fascinated by the 1920's and enjoyed the slangy silliness of it all. I enjoyed him this time round for the same reasons but also for a deeper realisation of how good natured his humour is (a point where I agree with A.A. Gill - there's a first time for everything) and a much deeper appreciation of how he plays around with words. Last time I read Nancy Mitford (it was 'The Water Beetle' which is a collection of articles and not Nancy at her best)  it occurred to me how little I would have wanted to meet her - how essentially nasty she can sound - and whilst that frequently makes her funny it can wear thin. 

Wodehouse however I would have loved to hear talk. There's not much to say about the book; it's very enjoyable light reading full of jokes which wouldn't be at all funny repeated but which had me giggling all the way through. He's the perfect read for me when I'm feeling low or lazy (I have a few more lined up for the rest of the winter) and if you haven't read him give him a go. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's a Library!

Ever since I was a child one of the things I wanted when I grew up was a library of my own (and doesn't every young girl) but I've never been quite sure what counts as a library - where's the tipping point when a collection of books take on that particular mantle? It was something on my mind back when I started blogging - I thought perhaps I was becoming more interested in books as objects instead of for what they contained and that the collector was overtaking the reader. I wouldn't be at all happy with the idea of everything being contained on an e-reader - the books own me just as much as I own them and I'm happy with it this way - although at the moment they've become rather unruly and in need of an organise. 

Last night though I made the definite discovery that I know own a library, albeit a small one. I will confess at this point that I have no idea how many books I have. I stopped counting sometime about 2000, I think there are probably about 3000 now and I should, along with imposing some sort of a system, catalogue them but it's a big enough job to seriously cut into my reading time which is unappealing at the moment. 

This momentous revelation came to me some time around midnight and partly courtesy of amazon. I've been reading Sara Maitland's 'Gossip From The Forest' (excellent, but I've had to have a dictionary to hand - my newly expanded vocabulary includes words like chthonic and deracinated, I particularly like deracinated). I'll enthuse wildly about this book soon but meanwhile the edition of Grimm's fairy tales she references is the Vintage 'Complete Fairy Tales' edited by Jack Zipes - happily the very copy I have which has been useful. I'd quite like to re-read Angela Carter's take on fairy tales when I'm finished, which will be easy because obviously I have her collected short stories as well as her version of Perrault's fairy stories, which I could compare with the Oxford World's Classics edition (if only I could find it, I know I have it somewhere, I was reading it not so long ago - maybe I shouldn't put off that re-shuffle). 

After that I might actually tackle Marina Warner's 'From The Beast To The Blonde' for another slant on fairy tales - though I might also read Barbara Comyns 'The Juniper Tree' a retelling of another of the Grimm's tales - browsing amazon I realised I already had a copy, and was just sighing over the price of 'A Touch of Mistletoe' (also by Comyns and at £18.99 for a paperback and never mind the postage, now far to expensive for the likes of me) when I thought to check my own shelves - I had a copy. Also, and slightly to my disappointment because the new cover looks lovely I also have 'The Vet's Daughter'. 

Equally I could decide to read in another direction altogether, I've been saving Robert Macfarlane 'The Old Ways' but this may be it's moment, or a re read of 'The Wild Places' or maybe something else altogether. This is why I think I have a library now; I can follow a reading path without having to buy or borrow books (not having to isn't the same as not wanting to) - there are obviously gaps but nonetheless the books follow one another in an orderly way; I feel like I've got a treasure house of possibilities piled up around me and  it's just as good as I ever could have imagined  it would be.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Wild Strawberries - Angela Thirkell

I read this one well before Christmas but have been procrastinating over writing about it - amongst all the delights of reading older fiction there is one recurring thorny issue politely referred to as 'opinions reflecting their time'. I had thought about trying to organise my ideas on this and using a particular passage in 'Wild Strawberries' as an illustration but so far so disorganised and it's a theme I'll have plenty of opportunity to return to.

Meanwhile back to 'Wild Strawberries' before my memory fades. It's not (in my opinion) quite as much fun as 'High Rising', it lacks a Tony Morland, and the eccentric Lady Emily is no substitute for Laura Morland either. Lady Emily is an immensely irritating woman who is always late, always losing things and always re-organising things that were working just fine before she interfered with them - I sensed that even Thirkell was fed up with her by the end of the book as she allows a certain amount of criticism to drift into the narrative. Annoying as she can be though Lady Emily is still a living breathing character you can believe in- the vicar who perhaps suffers most from her ability to disturb the peace is determined to speak stern words to her until he sees her touched by tragedy. The bitter sweet moments that Thirkell creates for Lady Emily and her husband are one of the strengths of this book - and one of the things that marks it out from being a standard read once and throw away romance.

Being Thirkell however there is plenty of romance - mostly for Mary Preston, Mary has been having a hard time at home looking after her mother and holding down a job. The job is fairly meaningless but the Preston's really aren't at all well off so Mary is grateful for an invitation to her relations country house for the summer - where she promptly falls in love with a glamorous sort of cousin who turns out to be as unreliable as he is attractive. Will she realise in time that her affections are being wasted on the playboy type and that there's a much more suitable alternative right under her nose? Of course she will, it wouldn't be a very satisfactory romance without a happy ending.

The joy of Angela Thirkell for me is partly that she makes for enjoyable light reading and so often that's just what I need at the end of the day, the other side of what she does is throw a light on a particular way of life in the 1930's. For someone who delighted first in P.G Wodehouse and later in Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford anything from the 30's raises a bit of interest, but much as I love those writers they're not great for domestic detail. Thirkell's world feels more or less real and it's fascinating.

I still hope that Virago plan to publish lots more Thirkell's, so am delighted to see that 'Pomfret Towers' is coming out in November (shame about the long wait) especially as it's one that I haven't read and is prohibitively expensive second hand. With luck it will come out in a pair as 'Wild Strawberries' and 'High Rising' did but either way is set to be one of the highlights of my bookish year. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

My holiday is at an end - I'll be on my way to work well before sunrise tomorrow - and I'm sure it'll come as no surprise to say that I don't really fancy it very much. Hopefully there will be consolations to going back, I generally read more when I'm not on holiday or in a holiday mood and there's no shortage of books to get through...

Meanwhile I've been very slowly reading my way through 'Pride and Prejudice' after catching part of it on T.V. early in the week. It's the 200th anniversary of publication this year so it felt like an appropriate book to start 2013 with. I must have read this book 3 or 4 times before and watched even more versions of it - which was the prompt for this re-read - I wanted to be reminded of what Austen actually wrote, and wanted my interpretation rather than somebody else's. 

There's something curious about reading a book which exists in so many versions - even just within my own memory. Inevitably I find myself more interested in the minor characters with each reading. In this case Charlotte and Lydia. This time round Lydia's elopement struck me as far more shocking than in previous readings; she's so young, just sixteen, Wickham must be almost thirty, coupled with his attempt to run off with Miss Darcy when she was only fifteen and judged by today's standards he's unsettlingly interested in young girls. I'm sure this isn't where Austen meant to take her characters (Lydia and Georgiana would have been well over the age of consent for their time) but it certainly gave me a distaste for Wickham that Austen most surely did intend.

I also find I have more sympathy for Charlotte every time I read about her, I remember her having a slightly bigger role to play than she actually gets so screen writers must generally share my feelings. I respect her motives for going after Mr Collins and though Austen hints that she will end up regretting her bargain I'd rather believe that she continues to find satisfaction in her social position, housekeeping, and children. Marriage is a job for Charlotte and jobs aren't always enjoyable, but they keep a roof over your head - security is worth something after all.

The biggest surprise for me though was in how Lizzie and Mr Darcy develop. As memory served he changed rather more and she rather less than I now think is the case. As I read it this time all the growth is on Elizabeth's side as is the lions share of both pride and prejudice. Her reading of Darcy's character is entirely off (though to be fair who would think kindly of a man who snubbed them in a ball room, and his first proposal is a bit rubbish as well). Even in Derbyshire when she's started to appreciate his worth it's surprising how little faith she has in the man. Darcy by comparison changes very little, Lizzie's initial rejection is enough to shock him out of his complacency but does it do more than that? 

 The genius of Austen though is that this book is still so fresh after 200 years and so many readings, I put this down to the truth universally acknowledged that our families will always embarrass us, especially when we are young, and that we all like a second chance. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year Projects

I have a (small) stack of books to write about but a general holiday mood is holding me back, not being at work is giving me the time to think about and do slightly different things. One of these has turned out to be sewing. Sewing is something I've never been much good at - not quite terrible - but generally inept and definitely terrified of sewing machines. At school they always defeated me especially when it came to threading the dratted things so it's more than twenty years since I've faced one down.

Despite such a troubled and chequered history I'd been playing with the idea of buying one of the John Lewis mini sewing machines for a while. If the picture doesn't give an idea of scale and you haven't seen one - it would fit in a shoe box, and this is a definite attraction; my flat is small and I don't want to take up valuable book space with gadgets that aren't books. The price was also correspondingly modest and that's an attraction too because sometimes these enthusiasms are short lived. 

Part of the reason for wanting a sewing machine at all was because we bought some really lovely tweed in Shetland in the summer and I'd promised the Scottish one I'd turn it into cushions for him - the realisation that it would take me a week to do by hand has been off putting though so it's sat around looking like a tempting meal for moths ever since. Having worked out how to thread my new toy (surprisingly easy, still took me twenty minutes) and messed around with it for a bit I managed to run up a cushion cover - it was a rather quicker process than threading and I'm all round delighted with the result.

I doubt I'll ever make anything terribly sophisticated or complicated but doing something vaguely creative is mood enhancing, as is the mental up yours I'm sending in the direction of the domestic science teacher I had when I was 13 (the one I had before that was actually really good but that's no kind of a story). It's also a chance to tidy up some of those untidy loose ends that are bothering me so much (quite literally in this case, especially when it comes to table cloths).     

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

It's amazing the difference a few days can make to a persons general frame of mind. 2012 was a mixed year for me and for many people I hold dear, it wasn't all unrelenting bad news but sometimes it felt like it and with work being so hectic over the last couple of months I'd started to feel somewhat burnt out and fed up. For the last many years I've gone away for New Year to catch up with Dad and family but this year I've been based at home and initially that was another cause of despondency but it's turned out to be exactly the right decision. I'm slowly sorting out the chaos in my flat, have caught up with lots of friends, and generally feel like a new woman.

I'm not great at resolutions but this year I want to be more organised; tidier of mind and habit. I'm 40 this year so it's probably about time and it can't be a bad thing to know where I've left my chequebook - I wouldn't really miss the half crazed search through the piles of paperwork I engage in at bill induced intervals,  and socks in pairs would be useful... On the other hand chances are it'll never stick. 

Whatever happens it feels good to have drawn a line under the last year, I have a good feeling about the next  one and on that note I'm off to read 'Pride and Prejudice' as my New Years treat.