Tuesday, September 27, 2022


Once again I've been absent longer than I meant to be. This time it's due to a very busy week at work (we were very short-staffed), and then heading up to Inverness to see Doug's dad whilst we have a brief window of opportunity. He's currently in hospital after a fall which is worrying given his age and our distance from him. 

It's also the first chance I've had to get back to Inverness since before lockdown, and I've fallen for the place all over again. Inverness isn't a flashy place, but it's got a lot going on to recommend it. It's an excellent base for exploring from, especially if you like whisky (Speyside is right there) and you don't have to go far to find beautiful scenery. The town centre is a little dilapidated, but there are hopeful signs of regeneration and a few favourite places still going strong.

There's The Castle Gallery and Leakey's Bookshop. I really like the Waterstones here for new books, there are a couple of decent independent wine and whisky merchants including WoodWinters who give reliable advice, stock some good stuff, and are fairly priced. The food and drink scene also seems to be quietly improving all round since my last visit - there's a very promising addition of a new food hall to the Victorian Market anchored by the new to me Bad Girl Bakery. 

I saw their book first (in Waterstones) and it looked good, delicious even, and then came across their new cafe minutes later (exciting) which only opened here about 2 weeks ago so we're lucky with our timing. The coffee was great, the cake to go with it even better so now I need to buy the book. The food hall itself is a real asset to a city that has its share of cold and wet days - a decent open space with plenty of seating right in the centre of town with browsable under cover shops is a definite plus. 

I feel like this book flew under the radar a bit, it came out late last year but I totally missed it. A flick through shows some great stuff though with plenty of vegan and gluten-free recipes - the coconut, cranberry, and chocolate flapjack I had today was easily the best flapjack I've ever had. It's just as well there's a 500-mile drive separating me from them on a daily basis. 

Other Inverness highlights have included the museum which has got some great Pictish stones and a really spectacular outfit thought to have been worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie, a shopping centre with a stunning view over to Ben Wyvis, and the walk along the river to the Marina is decent too.

Friday, September 16, 2022

A Near Miss

Yesterday delivered more than I bargained for when about 30 tons of masonry fell from the roof of the building across from us at work, missed smashing our windows by millimeters, and genuinely made me think a bomb had gone off. Almost miraculously only one person seems to have been injured in the street, and then not seriously (I hope this stays true). 

Several tons of sandstone and stucco hitting the road makes a hell of a noise, and creates a lot of dust, which looks for all the world like smoke - hence the bomb assumption (and that's a thing that takes you back to the IRA attacks of the 80s and 90s) so there was quite a bit of running and screaming outside the shop which added to the confusion. When fire alarms didn't start ringing there was a moment to reassess before customers started to complain that they wanted to pay for their books. 

When I say it was a near miss, there was a brick the size of War and Peace less than an inch from our staff entrance/exit - exactly where we stand to unlock the door every morning and evening - it seems like the building could have gone at any time and the fact that it didn't earlier in the day when people were arriving for work with deliveries in full swing is another small miracle to be grateful for. 

What I'm less grateful for, but no longer surprised by is the amazingly snotty attitude of so many people in the shop at the time, and after. They did not want to be evacuated to safety until they'd got what they came for despite the very real likelihood that the rest of the building was set to come down, and if it had, we were the only thing between it and gravity having its way. 

Years ago I stood across the street from another shop I worked in whilst alarms rang and 2 fire engines full of firemen assessed the situation watching a man bang on the door to be let in, and argue with the firemen about getting out of the way. Later we found that not only had he complained to head office that we were closed when opening hours clearly stated etc, but he also turned up in person to shout at us. Apparently the sirens, appliances, alarms, arguments with firemen, and smoke hadn't sufficiently communicated to him that the building was in fact on fire (small, quickly contained, and not serious, but still burning at that point). The lights had been left on and he wanted what he wanted. 

This morning I listened to people standing by a barrier complaining that shops stated opening times were X and now it was Y and yet they were still closed. Complaints, they threatened, would be made. Had they seen the local news about the falling building, just visible behind the barriers? Yes, they had. Could they put this together to understand why shops weren't yet open? No. Not without extremely patient explanations. 

I'm old enough to remember when shops closed not just on Sundays, but had half-day openings and closed for lunch too. When I first worked in retail very little opened on a Sunday, we always closed on Bank Holidays, and even when that started to change it meant double pay. Not anymore - it's just part of a normal working pattern. There's also the regular 5.59 debate with somebody that refuses to believe that we close at 6, and will make a point of walking out as slowly as possible, through the exit at a maximum distance so we all have to hang on, unpaid, a little bit longer. 

I try not to dwell on the smug customers who explain they're breaking the spines of books and generally thumbing them because they like to have a good look before ordering on Amazon who are so much cheaper. Awesome. Point out the shitty employment conditions and tax-avoiding tactics that fund those low prices and you're So Rude - they'll never come back. Sadly, a lie - because they're a dead loss, the sort of delights who leave their unpurchased from us books lying around any old place in the shop so we can't find them again for actual paying customers. 

The same people are naturally outraged at the number of places closing up for the day of the Queen's funeral, although they themselves will not be at work either - but who will serve them whilst they complain to each other about how we should be a republic and state everybody is equal? 

Yesterday was a very near miss, and it was frightening. It's left me with very little patience for people who can't see beyond their own convenience. I'm back at work tomorrow - wish me luck. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Shetland Wool Adventures

It's almost Shetland Wool week which means there are a whole lot of Shetland themed knitting publications to look forward to - this is a quick round up. 

Shetland Wool Adventures journal volume 4 has been out for a few weeks and is the normal collection of patterns I genuinely want to knit, book reviews (by me), recipes, walks, and articles relating to the islands. I genuinely love this journal, which I think is going from strength to strength. The piece on Tom Kidd's photos was a particular pleasure to see. His books are currently hard to find but are a wonderful record of life just as the oil industry really started to change Shetland. Available Here

I have pre-ordered my Shetland Wool Week annual and am really looking forward to it arriving, I might not be able to get north for the event but I've been following on insta and the patterns look great this year so at least I'll be able to enjoy from the comfort of my own sofa. To order the annual and check out the rest of the merchandise have a look Here

Previous wool week patron Donna Smith has her first book of patterns coming out in the next few weeks too. Donna's designs really hit the sweet spot between timeless, traditional, and contemporary so I'm excited to see this - it's called Langsoond, same as the yarn that comes direct from her sheep, and will be available to pre-order from Friday the 16th Here

And finally, I might be most excited about a couple of reprints from The Shetland Times. I've been one of the chorus of voices calling for these to come back into print over the last few years, and although somebody very kindly sent me a copy of 'A Shetland Pattern Book' a while back, being able to easily buy it again for the first in 30 years is something to celebrate. What I like so much about this book is its size and simplicity. The same size as the squared jotters we had at school for putting patterns in. It's maybe not the most exhaustive collection of patterns and motifs but it's probably the easiest to use. The original even has pages at the back included for making notes and jotting down your own patterns.

Maggie Smith's companion volume A Shetland Knitter's Notebook is also getting reprinted and I haven't yet read that and again, I'm looking forward to it. The availability situation on The Shetland Times website isn't entirely clear, for the pattern book it's saying sold out as I type this - and I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that the whole print run had been snapped up - or it might mean copies haven't come in yet. Either way, keep an eye out for it Here and again, lots of other great books to browse there too. 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Post After Post-Mortem - E.C.R. Lorac

I have so many books to write about at the moment and post review at work, my stint as host for #ReadingHeyer done, and almost being finished with wedding thank you letters I think I might actually have time to get stuck into some reviewing here. If only it would cool down a bit!

I read Post After Post-Mortem a while ago but hadn't found the opportunity to write about it until now. In some ways that's been a blessing, I thought the book was okay whilst I was reading it but with time to reflect there's more to it than I originally thought. 

The Surrays and their five children are a prolific and successful family of writers and professionals, the youngest daughter has just got a 1st class honours degree from Oxford, and is worried that the family doesn't need a 7th author - though she possibly fancies writing a thriller. Her older sister, Ruth, is a respected author and reviewer whose championship can make a career and who seems to have the literary world at her feet.

It's Ruth who is found dead, apparently due to suicide, an event that shocks her family to the core - and then a letter arrives from Ruth to her brother Richard. It's been delayed by having a miss-written address and both the time it was sent and the contents suddenly raise questions over the suicide verdict. 

The family and Ruth's friends are wary of police intervention, in an effort to protect her name they've not been entirely honest, but their white lies and omissions have muddied the waters, and they're even more hostile to the idea of murder than they were of suicide. Everybody suddenly appears as a suspect, and there's the possibility the murderer isn't done yet.

I didn't warm to some bits about a woman's place and cod psychology early in the book, but the examination of a family that seems outrageously successful on the surface, but still has their problems is interesting.  Early on Mrs Surray worries that they have tempted fate, and so it seems to be. In the end the motive for murder is almost an inconsequential one, except to the murderer of course, which seems more believable somehow than plots about killing a spouse for the love of someone else or murdering for a large inheritance. 

It's an interesting and thoughtful mystery that seems timely against the growing cost of living crisis - Mrs Surray's worry that the good things of the world have come too easily to them and there will be a price to pay seems like it might be prescient as most of us find we're struggling a little bit more, and the politics of envy is rife on social media.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II 1926 - 2022

 The news that the Queen had died this afternoon broke just as I got home tonight, I didn't expect to be quite as sad about it as I find I am. My earliest memories are around the silver jubilee celebrations, this years Diamond jubilee is something that I'll always associate with preparations for getting married. In between those events, there's a lifetime of memories punctuated by royal appearances and occasions. 

I've managed a lot of near misses when it came to seeing her, my favourites being a toss-up between ducking behind a pile of grit for a much-needed wee as a very small child just at the moment her car went past and catching a train to London which left at the same moment the queen got off her train in Leicester on the opposite platform. Not significant life moments maybe, but my parents split when I was young, those early jubilee fragments are a significant part of the family life I remember before that happened so they're precious to me.

However we feel about monarchy we surely all have memories like this - of days out and excuses for village get-togethers, going to see a spectacle with friends, buying tacky memorabilia and loving it anyway. This really does feel like the end of an era, maybe more so as we're looking toward a difficult winter anyway, so for now I'm going to make a cup of tea, drink it from my jubilee mug and reflect on a life of duty and the passing of an icon.