Sunday, June 30, 2019

Back from Shetland

I got back to Leicester around 3pm today, it's hot - my flat was like a furnace with all the windows closed, but the drains seem to be fixed. The plumbers left everything beautifully tidy, I by contrast have already covered clean sheets in cocktail bitters which had leaked in a bag. Because of course they would.

Time in Shetland goes far to fast, I didn't manage to see everybody I would have liked to, or even do half the things I meant to, but it was wonderful to be there and I've come back inspired in all sorts of ways. I'm also broke and have a lot more yarn.

Meanwhile this is going to be another picture post whilst I come down from holiday excitement and contemplate the reality of going back to work in the morning.
One of the highlights of going by boat rather than flying was to come out of a thick sea haar just off Fair Isle. It's much more dramatic than this picture suggests, and was alive with gannets, puffins, razorbills, fulmars, guillemots, and more.
Jamie is a more or less retired sheepdog now, and he gets rather more pampered than he used to. This includes a blind eye to him snoozing on the sofa, but the dangling back end is his way of pretending he's only leaning on it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


I had meant to post a bit more diligently whilst here, but I haven't actually read much - there has been a lot of eating, drinking, and general catching up with people. I've also bought a lot of yarn, but more of that when I return south. Meanwhile a lot of stuff has gone on Instagram, but I like having picture posts here too, so here goes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Back in Shetland

I'm up north for a couple of weeks, which has happily coincided with work finally beginning on the drains in my flat. At the moment I'm being promised that everything will be fixed by the time I return  - fingers firmly crossed.

Meanwhile it's deeply satisfying to be back in Shetland (which is both warmer and dryer than Leicestershire has been) where I can drag D round various wool merchants and textile displays, and he can persuade me to look at marinas and boats.

On the textile front it's great to see so many of the original garments that inspired Susan Crawford's Vintage Shetland Project on display, seeing them gives extra life to her work just as her research and recreation adds more to the story of the objects.

I've also been following the blog posts about the Lace project that the Shetland Museum is Undertaking it's been fascinating so far, and I'm really excited to see that at the end of this they will be publishing the patterns. I might never have the required patience or skill to make these things, but that makes them no less interesting to read about and understand the construction of.

The textile museum has a particularly pleasing display this year too - it's taken colours as it's starting point and pulled an excellent selection of pieces out of the archive. My favourite is probably a rayon jumper knitted in the 90's and which I assume is a reconstruction, or at least a reference to some of the Rayon jumpers that already existed in the museum collection, as well as the ones still in more or less in private hands (we saw some amazing ones in the Whalsay exhibition a while back).

I have no idea what rayon is like to knit with, but the result is beautifully iridescent and eye catching and I quite like the idea of something moths probably wouldn't eat (unlike silk). Either way it becomes something spectacular when the light catches it.

Beyond that it's just been the fun of buying some yarn, and planning to buy some more. These are significant decisions to be made over the next 10 days or so (time is moving much to fast).

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Vinegar Cupboard - Angela Clutton

I don't often use Amazon these days. I don't find it significantly cheaper for many of the things I want, getting deliveries to my flat is a bit of a pain (they don't like leaving them, which is fair because it isn't secure, and there isn't a click and collect place nearby) and I prefer to shop on the high street. Still, I needed an oven light bulb which thanks to online retailers undercutting high street retailers were unavailable to buy in Leicester, and ended up ordering a couple of books too.

One of them was 'The Vinegar Cupboard' which I'd been eyeing up for a while, and though the book itself is excellent, the state it arrived in had hardened my anti Amazon stance. It was the kind of grubby and scuffed that looks like it's been kicking around in sales bins for months, and there were greasy finger marks on the cover. Which took away a lot of the new book excitement. Nor can I find a way to complain to Amazon about it. I can complain about the driver - but he wasn't the problem. I can leave a poor review, but that's unfair on an excellent book. I suppose I could have sent it back, but that's a lot of extra hassle for me. It's altogether an unsatisfactory situation.

As is the fact that my kitchen then drains still aren't fixed, which means I'm eating a lot of sandwiches (minimal washing up) and getting increasingly angry with the neighbour who is withholding consent to get the work done (floorboards need to come up in both flats). Together the two things mean I've not had as much fun with this book as I had hoped to by now.

Which is a shame because it's got a lot going for it - including lavish use of flavour wheels which I'm always a fan of. It's also a particularly well indexed book, which is something else I appreciate (the lack of an index is currently spoiling another otherwise excellent book I'm currently reading). There is a list of vinegar producers to look out for, which whilst it makes no claims to do anything but scratch the surface, is a handy place for a reader to start making a wish list from. There's an index of the recipes by Vinegar type which is really useful, and then an index for everything.

I wanted this book because the recipes in it look great, but even more because whilst I'm aware that vinegar is a useful thing to have around I'm a bit lost when it comes to the subtleties. Which means every so often I end up throwing away sticky, dusty, bottles years past their best before dates, used for one recipe that called for them and then forgotten.

It's a bonus that 'The Vinegar Cupboard ' is a joy to read too, with plenty of history and vinegar legend, as well as really comprehensive breakdowns of flavour profiles. It's easy to see why it won the 2018 Jane Grigson Trust Award. I'm really glad I've got it, I just wish I'd bought it from an actual shop.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Snow White and Other Tales - Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

As a rule I don't much like hardbacks, they take up to much space, and I can't be doing with having duplicate books around the place either. Again, they take up to much space, and who needs more than one version of the same book? And the exceptions that prove these rules... any interesting translation of the brothers Grimm it seems.

I really like the cloth bound, jewel coloured, hardbacks that Oxford University Press are producing, to the extent that I have to hold myself back from buying, or asking for, copies of things I already have, but this one turned up unannounced in the post. This translation by Joyce Crick is a delight and will happily join my other editions of Grimm, a collection that's likely to carry on growing.

The introduction starts by saying that a "new translation of a text with a claim to be the most-translated of texts after the Bible needs some justification" but I don't think it does. These tales are so ingrained in our culture in one form or another that new translations seem an appropriate continuation of the oral tradition.

As an adult I've probably read 4 different versions with reasonable thoroughness, and they've been everything from feeling stripped back to the bare bones of the tale, to Philip Pullman's story tellers take that I was reading this last winter. Crick's translation is somewhere inbetween, fun to read and as scholarly as you would expect from the OUP.

Pullman's collection was abridged to 50 tales. There are 82 here, some of them distinctly challenging to modern sensibilities. The most noticeable aspect of that is an ingrained anti semitism, the sort we generally like to hide away now. It's salutary to be reminded of it here.

Something I expected less is the way that different tales seem to come to my attention in each different translation/edition. I'm not quite sure why it should be that different titles seem to jump out of different contents pages, but they do. It feels a little like a reading version of looking through a kaleidoscope.

Definitely a collection aimed at adults and students, but with all the pleasure of story telling flourishes which make it a joy to read. I'm delighted with this edition.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Death in Captivity - Michael Gilbert

I've enjoyed more or less everything I've read in the British Library Crime Classics series (everything has had something to recommend it), but Michael Gilbert's books have been a particularly happy discovery. I really hope there will be more (there are some spectacularly ugly house of Stratus editions of his work which I will buy if I have too) because based on the sample of 3 that I've read it's hard to understand why he ever fell out of fashion.

'Death in Captivity' is a sort of locked room mystery set in an Italian prisoner of war camp in the summer of 1943. A man widely suspected of being an informer is found dead in a half dug escape tunnel. Due to the arrangements to get into the tunnel he can't have got there by himself which seems to limit the pool of suspects to the group of men who know about the tunnel...

Henry 'Cuckoo' Goyles is given the task of trying to work out who did it, but meanwhile the allied forces are landing in Sicily and there's about to be a significant regime change in Italy. Everybody is jumpy regardless of side - enthusiastic fascists have quite a bit to worry about, and so do the prisoners who might find themselves in the non to careful hands of the Germans.

The need to find the murderer, work out if there's a traitor in the camp, and escape whilst the going's good, make for a tremendously satisfying thriller. The tension as the last few chapters spin out is terrific, but there's more to the book than it just being a good yarn.

As with the other 2 books in this series (Death has Deep Roots, and Smallbone Deceased) Gilbert is drawing heavily on his own life experience. He was a prisoner in Italy, he did escape, not everybody he traveled with survived the experience. It gives his picture of camp life an authenticity that's impossible to counterfeit, especially when it comes to describing how relationships between the men thrive under one set of circumstances, disintegrate under others, and how different personalities cope with the hardship of camp life.

It also helps that these books have aged well - the prejudices of the era are more or less in check, and in the camp there's a tolerance for all the different cliques set on getting through the experience as best they can. The faction that make up the dedicated escapees are only one group, those who spend their time on roulette, amateur dramatics, and make believe, don't necessarily suffer by comparison. Another writer might have made theses characters the butt of a joke, Gilbert uses them to move the plot along in various ways, and his descriptions feel affectionate.

All of that, along with Gilbert's particular brand of understated deadpan humour, makes for a winning combination. These books have all been so much more than the sum of their parts, and they make me really curious about the author as a person (I imagine he was a charming delight of a man). I'm inclined to say this one is the best of the lot, both in terms of plot and for its insights into POW life but all 3 have their points, and they're all excellent.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Woman in Berlin - Anonymous

I've been reading this book slowly, almost but not quite in real time - it's a diary that runs from the 20th of April to the 22nd of June 1945 written by a 34 year old German woman in Berlin. It's not always been the easiest thing to read because it doesn't show human nature at its best and to read it for to long together has a slightly brutalising effect.

I was regrettably hazy about the downfall of Berlin, had never given any thought to what happened when the Russians and other allies swept in. Our inherited war stories are so fundamentally different and it's easy not to dwell on the reality of what being in an occupied city was like, especially at the end of a long war when the enemy is suddenly at your disposal.

In his introduction Antony Beevor touches on suspicions about how genuine the diary is. It's clear that the author was a professional journalist, so it seems safe to assume she had some sort of eye for posterity but the whole thing rings to depressingly true to be anything other than genuine.

It is on the whole an account of hunger and rape, with the deepest anger saved for the returning German men who insist on being protected from the reality of what happened to the women. It's an anger it would have been hard to express post war, and a reality that many must have wanted to put firmly behind them, but equally that resentment must still have been festering for so many women.

Our heroine quickly makes the decision to find herself a reasonably senior officer in the hopes that it will provide her with some protection from the indiscriminate attacks taking place (this is after her neighbors have more or less thrown her to the wolves to protect themselves). It's a plan that works well enough whilst each man is around, but they are moved on quickly and then the the whole sorry business starts again. Still, it means she can get food and there is a level of protection.

Crucially the fact that this is a widely shared experience initially makes it easier for the women to deal with what's happening - they can talk about it, even joke, and assign a certain amount of blame to the administration that left them so vulnerable. That starts to change as the men drift back and the enormity of events generally and what it might mean for the future sinks in.

It's nothing like the heartwarming accounts of life on the home front, but there is a raw honesty here about the cost of war, and something of the pull of nationalism, as well as the humiliation of being part of a defeated nation - turning from a people into a population. The quality of the writing (and translation by Philip Boehm) makes it a particularly compelling narrative, and if enjoy isn't quite the right word, it really does feel like an important book to read.