Thursday, 31 July 2014

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I have to read this book for our September bookclub, which is doing a double-meeting with this and The Rabbit Back Literature Society. Now, that sounds more ungenerous than I wanted it to. I wanted to read this book anyway and choosing it as a bookclub book gave me a legitimate reason to buy and read it.
It is set in early 19th century Iceland, at that time a dependency of Denmark and based on real events that happened in 1829 when the last execution for murder took place on Icelandic ground.

Agnes Magnussdottir has been found guilty of murdering two men and is being held in a private house in preparation for her execution. The family have to have a murderess living in their small house and to deal daily with the fear, hatred and distrust that they feel. A young and inexperienced  priest has been appointed to prepare Agnes for her fate and when he comes as often as possible he finds the best way to deal with Agnes is not to preach, or to share tracts of scripture, but to let her talk. And so she does.
How the houses in Iceland used to look; from the Picador blog.

The book is told either in the third person, allowing us to see the actions of Toti and the other people around Agnes or in the first person by Agnes herself. Very often the things Agnes and Toti talk about are expanded on and clarified by Agnes' monologues. You gain an insight into her life as a pauper, her work on various farms and the history that brought her to Natan's small holding. We are told the public version of events, through conversations or through chapter prologues that are official papers or letters, and we get an experience of other people's reactions to Agnes, but we only realise the whole story through Agnes herself. We know what the inevitable ending will be, but we still seek a different ending.
Traditional badstofa
The Badstofa would have looked like this; everybody asleep in one room.
I enjoyed the book a lot. I thought that the characters were well-drawn and not caricatures. The relationships between them are conveyed well, and the subtleties of attitude changes were portrayed without fanfare. The descriptions of Iceland don't exactly encourage me to want to visit; it's bleak, cold and dark for a lot of the year. The Icelanders live in small dirt houses with little privacy and less possessions and the concept of isolation is palpable. It really does become another character in the story, as if the murders would not have happened if Agnes lived elsewhere. I'm looking forward to discussing it at our bookclub. It was not an easy read, but it was a compelling one.
Picador have a photoessay showing sites named in the book. Looking at these brings the story even more to life, although I have to say I had the pictures in my mind that looked like these anyway, so well-described are the events.
What is also impressive is that it's a literary debut; hopefully Hannah Kent will write more of the same calibre. The book has been well-received and boasts an impressive list of awards and nominations;



Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Another Time... Another Place....

I can't remember if I've ever posted about Another Place before? I haven't been for ages, a fact proven only too well today when I told the Princess where we were off to and all she could ask was "What place? Where?"

Another Place is Antony Gormley's art installation of 100 cast iron men, height 6ft 2 and based on his own body. It's been at Crosby since 2007 when permission was finally granted for it to stay permanently. I find it an amazingly intriguing collection since the men are all identical and variety comes from the positions they hold on the beach.

We were there near to high tide so there were only a few figures available to see, but the chance to be your own Figure was too good to miss.

The Princess and JW spent quite a while dipping their toes into the freezing waters, trying to bury their feet as deep as the figures, stand still as a statue (difficult considering the wind off the Irish Sea was... well, lively) and basically getting their legs and trousers wet enough to be giggleworthy.

We'd started off the afternoon with a picnic using our new picnic bag. It was a bargain from Ebay, bought to replace our knackered old wicker one, faithful servant for at least 15 years. We had Frikadellen, mini sausages, chicken wings, crisps, dips and crudités with coke and squash to drink. Aldi's picnic blanket and my red tartan car rug gave us a smooth base to sit on and, apart from that wind fit to winnow corn, the sun unexpectedly shone.

And there was fun to be had with my camera, as well. I love its panorama function, especially when I can persuade a willing victim into playing games with me!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Sometimes the best things happen in Liverpool...

It's easy to forget that not everything really good happens in London; this weekend Liverpool has been alive with people and happiness because the Giants are back.
It's about 2 years since they last came, with the Little Girl and her Dog chasing after her Uncle the diver. This time, the Little Girl was back and so too was Xolo, the dog, but this time she brought her Grandma.
We went today and waited to see them, planning our routes so that we could see both of them.

My beautiful family... yes, I am the one in plain red.
The streets were heaving with people and noise, the cars had left the city for the afternoon and for a few brief hours there was a lot of waiting (a lot) while people filed past; police, stewards, the press...

Xolo can move  very fast indeed!
And in the end there were the puppets. Massive, fantastic puppets operated by velvet-coated servants who sprang and bounced to make these puppets live. Xolo, bouncy and full of life. He raced past as fast as he could when the street was clear, stopping to smell and sometimes to catch a drink of water.

The Girl, looking from side to side, moving gracefully as the red monkeys around her worked hard. She is my favourite of them I think, she looks so like a doll I had when I was little.

And Grandma, tired after a day around the city, sat in her wheelchair and sharing her knee with a tired operator.

Bravo, Jean-Luc (he's the man in the pink jacket) another brilliant event.
I love my city.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Linky Dream Stationery Box

It comes wrapped up in gift wrap, with items nestled amongst tissue paper and covered in confetti.
You unwrap it slowly, piece by piece if you are alone.
But if your daughter is there you fight to slow her down as she asks, "What next? What next?"

It's like a dear friend has chosen items just for you and had a lot of fun wrapping them and sending them to brighten your day.

And the best thing? You could be Billy No Mates and  send this to yourself. Brilliant.

The Linky stationery box is available to order here. It costs £15 for the monthly box, but you can order one or more and don't need to subscribe for a fixed period. You have to choose the size of Filofax you use, and suggest some of your favourite hobbies. I really enjoyed opening it, and have placed an order for a September box which I selfishly hope arrives when the Princess is out.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Want to go back in time? Visit History Live!

We went as a family to History Live at Kelmarsh Hall last weekend. It's English Heritage's flagship re-enactment event and all history is there. Choose an era and there was probably somebody dressed in the costume to meet with and talk to.
The event had a choice of arenas to watch different re-enactments in. We really enjoyed the Roman army being put through their paces and cheered when they made the Testudo (tortoise). There was a little lad next to us aged 8 or 9 who was obviously a Roman fan in his helmet and armour who positively jumped up and down when he saw the shields go up.

But from Romans to Roses and on to WW1 and 2 there was something for everyone. It was very boy's History, all battles and burly men, but that's not a criticism. So often a museum, by dint of being enclosed or static or just keen to follow the National Curriculum is restricted to the how we lived and forgets that throughout history it is the STORY that gets people's interest. And there is something weirdly magnetic about the clang of steel on steel and the grunting effort to drive your enemy back and pinion them to the ground. The re-enactors are real enthusiasts and happy to talk about their time period. I got scolded for calling somebody a Viking when, as he sharply said, he was patently an 8th century Anglo Saxon. Ok, whatever, but to the untrained eye he radiated scandi chic, with his cape and furs.
Giles Kristian is the guy on the left in a black top, not the one with a big heavy helmet covering his face.

I am, of course, Danish this year so I was really keen to see any sign of the Vikings or Vikingic warriors. The event did not disappoint. And an added bonus was free lectures in the BBC History Magazine tent. I took DP (bookworm aged 16) to see a cracking author,
Giles Kristian. He writes historical novels set in viking times or during the English Civil War. It was good to listen to a published writer telling us how he writes and what sort of research he has done. I had done my homework and figured this was a good talk for us to see. His books fell on our Kindles before we went so we knew who he was talking about when he mentioned names like Sigurd, Svein and Osric. They are good books and I will post a review up on Jo's Books. Of course with events like this one thing leads on to another and Giles was telling us about researching Viking longships by rowing on board a replica that has been made in Norway. Our ears pricked up when he said it was in Liverpool!! As soon as it is open to the public It looks fabulous!
The best thing to do when the weather gets too hot
The family ticket to the event cost us £100 for the two days. At first I was not impressed with the cost, but having been to the event and seen the organisation it was worth it for us. It was a full two days of entertainment that we all (ages 12 to nearly 50) enjoyed and that is a rare event. And £50 for a day out is a common price nowadays. The downside was that we still had three days of school to go through and the weekend put us in full holiday mode. Not good. It's Wednesday evening now, the kids are off at last and I have one inset day to do tomorrow. *sigh* It will be good to relax at last.

Giles Kristian's books are;
Blood Eye (book 1 in the Raven Trilogy)
Sons of Thunder (book 2)
Odin's Wolves (book 3)
God Of Vengeance
The Bleeding Heart, set in the English Civil War and
Brother's Fury, the second part.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Filofax for the summer; a new little baby!

Summer comes every year, right?
And every year I get my bag of choice for the summer out and fill it with the stuff of summer.
The wet wipes in a small packet for cleaning the inevitable mess.
The sun cream that will spill over the inside of the bag and empty the mini wet wipes quicker than a bad smell empties a full lift.
And the umbrella for the inevitable wet day.
This is England.

And usually my back creaks with the effort of carrying all that and my beautiful (love it still) Matt Malden. 
And all the time I worry that the sun cream will spill on him, or the wet wipes will bleach out his colour.
I do love my leather Filofax, and I know a battered Filofax is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but just occasionally I don't want to batter it more than is necessary.
So I gave in to temptation and got me a plastic Filofax.

It's a very pretty shade of blue; more subdued and delicate than baby blue, but definitely a blue. In Dulux colours you'd be looking for Duck Egg for sure.
There is an elasticated pen loop, so no problem fitting my Bic 4 colour... and what a colour complement I found this week!

The front has two card slots and an open flap pocket that fits enough in for use as a notepad/planner but probably makes it ineffective as a wallet without major investment in plastic inserts.

Talking of investments, I invested in Filofax Love's beautiful Matryoshka top tab dividers. I think you need top tabs in a pocket Filofax, or any that has smaller rings. I don't know sizes of rings, but the information is out there somewhere, so leave a comment below if you know!

 I bought my Filofax off Ebay and it came with an 18 month diary, so I'm good until December 2015. It was a multi- language diary which takes up a fair bit of space, but I like having a lot of languages around (no Danish, undskyld)

I'm using the white To Do pages as my planning inserts, for packing lists, book lists, films etc. Sashiko lets you choose your own divider names so I chose the ones that fit my planning system; Diary, GTD, Lists, Home and Ref.

Two plastic pockets hold some stickers, labels etc to help pretty up the pages. I don't do a lot of decorating on the move, so these two little packets are enough.

 It's a slimmed down system, but it might just work. I love my Thor charm. It's from a Kinder egg. We (the Princess and I) ate about 26 eggs in a weekend to try to get one. We have 4 Green Goblins and 3 Spidermen and one -- only one-- Thor. No Loki, though. He is the only one we didn't get.

 There is a pad pocket at the back, which can be used to hold pieces of paper. I miss the full width back pocket that other pocket sizes have, but not enough to spend mega bucks on a leather pocket.
It's wipeable, unlikely to get too badly damaged in the bag over the summer, small, light and very, very well used. So far the Summer scale down has worked for me. Come September (or perhaps October) it will be time to change up again to make space for the inevitable C*r*s*m*s lists.

But for now, the Filofax has a definite charm. And such a Kidston vibe. (forget Kate Spade and her chi chi leather folder, I still want the oilcloth red polka dot one!!)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

One day, Paddington found a new suitcase on the table....

It was a small size, about the same as his old suitcase.

 The back was very clean but the front looked like somebody had carried it out in the rain. "Poor suitcase," thought Paddington, "the rain has such a bad effect on pure leather in pale shades like tan."

He took a close look at the handle. "Good strong stitching, "he thought, "and a nice sized grip for my paws."

The suitcase had a price label still attached. "How marvellous!" thought Paddington, "Perhaps the case is for sale?" He was surprised at the reasonable price displayed on the suitcase. "Mr Gruber will think it's an absolute bargain! And enough change from a fiver to get a sachet of Suchard's hot chocolate to drink!"

Paddington liked catches that are easy to spring open. "Bear's paws aren't built for stiff openings," he said to himself as he opened the first catch. It sprang up quickly and Paddington wondered if the suitcase was being used. "It would be wonderful if it were empty and I could use it as my second best case,"he thought. "An extra place to store my marmalade sandwiches and my floral pyjamas."

But Paddington was out of luck. As the second catch sprang open the lid popped up, the suitcase was so full of something. Paddington peeped inside. He could see a lot of bright colours and what looked like a tin. "Marmalade sandwiches, perhaps?" Paddington mused hopefully, "or Rich Tea biscuits to dunk in my Earl Grey?"

Paddington lifted the lid cautiously, keen to see what was inside. Alas, not marmalade sandwiches but something infinitely more colourful and even more useful for keeping Mrs Brown quiet while he watched the tennis final on TV.

"What lovely colours!" Paddington exclaimed, "They look just like the ones available from Wool Warehouse in the Attic 24 pack of 17 shades, the ones I was going to get for making my granny squares blanket... " and then Paddington looked closer at the pockets on the back of the case. His heart started to beat quickly and he began to smile happily.
"Small squares of three shades, with two rounds of gentle cream edging and a single crochet border in meadow green; perfect!" he said dreamily. "If whomever could make enough and sew them together in rows of ten for about twenty columns that would make a perfect blanket for me to snuggle under in the cinema when my film comes out."

Then Paddington sat quietly and thought. "And whoever I sound like, it better not be that snarky Colin Firth!!!" he said with a growl.

The suitcase came from a garden party held in a friend's rather small back garden in aid of the local Claire's House Hospice. We raised £1500 between friends and neighbours which will all benefit sick children and their families. 

Paddington comes from the new film, due to be released in December, voice of Paddington unknown since the 'conscious uncoupling' between it and Colin Firth. I can't imagine who else they could have; Martin Freeman? Morgan Freeman? (walk of the Paddingtons, anyone?) Benedict Cumberbatch? (might not be right for Paddington but would certainly give me a treat!) or my personal favourite idea; somebody doing Heath Ledger's voice as the Joker. Now THAT would be a family movie!!!

Image from the Creepy Paddington Tumblr feed.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Meal Planning Monday

To link up with At Home With Mrs M

Last week I never even went to Mrs M's blog and linked. I don't know what happened; I scheduled the post on Sunday (the free time I had to schedule it) and meant to go on Monday to link in, when ...poof!... the time vanished, it was Friday and the planned week was nearly over.

I plan my menu a month in advance, often using just one cook book as my inspiration. This month I'm planning on using Jamie's Italy. That doesn't mean I'll slavishly plan every meal out of the book, or even use any of the recipes, but that I read the book a few times and see a dish I like the look of but it reminds me of a family favourite or with a twist would be fab to use, or I need to use a cheaper cut so instead of roasting would prefer to slow cook. Like crochet patterns, recipes are only advisory, except for baking recipes where I KNOW I need to follow them to.the.letter.

Enough already! You want to know what we're eating this week, no?
For your delectation and delight;

lunedi; rigatoni con ragu. Pasta with tomato sauce  Jamie's Italy page 105. No, I will not make my own pasta. Mr Aldi is making it for me as we speak.

martedi; pollo con pepe rosso arrosto. Chicken and red pepper roast, served with roast new potatoes. This isn't strictly in Jamie's Italy, but we like it and it's an easy make, requiring 5 minutes prep and 1 hour or more in the oven.

mercole; spiedini di salsiccia e manzo. Sausage and meat kebabs Jamie's Italy page 218. Cooking anything skewered on wooden sticks must be fun, yes? I'll probably actually do mash with this, as son no.2 has an aversion to rice.

giovedi; Meatloaf. Sorry, Jamie doesn't have this in his Italian book, but I have been using his Money Saving Meals book, which has a lovely meatloaf recipe in.

venerdi; porchetta in Jamie's Italy page 48. Slow cooked and slow roast pork so soft you can tear it to shreds, we love meat cooked this way. I'll do it for the children in large buns with barbecue sauce and chips as a side and for me & Mr Angel Jem with fried mushrooms, broccoli and Aldi's best potato gratin. The price of a piece of pork at Aldi is so ridiculously cheap it makes this a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.

sabato; Is still under consideration. My Mum is back from her hellishly long continental jaunt, so I may have her over for a meal, or be going there. Either way it will be a good meal with good company and perhaps a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo as well. Golly, I wish I was sponsored by Aldi.

Speaking of which, we did our weekly shop at Aldi again. It cost us £89.58 with a couple of decent pieces of pork (one to freeze) and a whole chicken, frikadellen and enough for lunch and dinner for a week for five adult appetites. I comparison shopped with Sainsbury's again (because that was our favourite supermarket before) and the comparable basket would have cost £122.86!! That's a £33.28 saving this week alone!!

Sunday, 6 July 2014


"Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and cold beer and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking – preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps the Danish idea of hygge explains why the Danes are often considered the happiest people in the world?"

"One of the fundamental aspects of Danish culture is "hygge", a concept closely related to "coziness": relaxing with good friends or loved ones, often while enjoying good food and something to drink or creating a more friendly atmosphere by lighting a few candles. Christmas time, when loved ones sit close together on a cold rainy night, is a true moment of hygge, as is grilling a pølse (Danish sausage) and drinking a beer on a long summer evening."
(From Wikipedia)

"The Danish word hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary; whether it’s making coffee a verb by lingering over a cup to a cosy evening in with friends to lighting a candle with every meal."

My hygge last night; the fire, a cool pear cider, my crochet in a thrifted leather suitcase and my biggest son, reading next to me and talking about life as we never can inside with the TV on.