Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for September, 2013

Books this Summer

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Recently I have been listening to some new audio books, notably ‘A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters’ by Julian Barnes:


This is really a collection of tenuously connected short stories – some quite long, in fact.  Each one re-tells some aspect of either global history (or myth, depending on your point of view); or illuminates a facet of human nature and behaviour.

It was narrated by Alex Jennings, whose voice is mesmeric and soothing; alive and varied.

I enjoyed this book in a steady, gentle way, the way one does with short stories far more than with a novel, whose pace and unfolding drives you on.

I have also caved in to the Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell) pressure and listened to this last week.  It’s a long audio book (I only ever buy the complete works anyway) and at first I thought I had made a mistake because there are about five narrators.  For me, an integral element of an audio book is the reader.  A bad reader can – and has – ruined a book for me.  A good reader can add so much value.  I like the very different narrators in Cloud Atlas.  You cannot compare them as they are so very apart from one another, reflective of the very different sections of the book.  If you like a book to have the conventional parts:  beginning, middle, end – then I think Cloud Atlas may not be for you as it in fact, like the Julian Barnes, above, a series of short stories, but with slightly better linkage than the JB.  The stories are also often very long indeed – novellas, really.  It is not just that there are very different readers, the stories are very different in style too, giving the feeling of a collection of authors.  One uniting factor is the quality of the writing which is superb.

However, I did not understand the ending of Cloud Atlas at all and I resent books that make me feel I need to Google the plot in order to ‘get’ it.

One of the best listens I have had this summer – in fact for many years – was A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, probably best known for The World According to Garp.


This book is very long indeed.  I have a kind of rule about my audio books relating to length.  The longer the better and any under 15 hours have to be really compelling for me to consider spending a credit on them.  This one is huge.  It is so odd and so compelling, that I can’t think how to convey its many charms and quirks to you.  As the life-times of the two main characters, boyhood friends as they are at the start, play out, the oddness of the book’s central premise – the existance of God, basically – just doesn’t seem so odd any more.  There are tragic elements, none of which is milked for pathos or to jerk the reader’s emotions about in a crass and obvious way.  There are many examples of light-touch humour, black humour and even slap-stick comedy.  It is so rare for me to laugh when reading (or listening) but I did laugh several times in this happy few days – maybe I made it last a week, I can’t remember.  But even after so many hours with them, I was bereft when it was over.  Just get it, or read it – though the narration of this on Audible is simply stunningly good – and if you do, go with it for the first hour or two.  I am sure you won’t regret it.

I read another Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending:

The Sense of an Ending.jpg

Very short, more of a long short story really.  Beautiful writing captivating the eras it spans, and yet…I didn’t care in the least about any of the characters by the end.  In fact, I was quite bored and glad it was over.  I had no sense of an ending, either.

In other real reading, I have just read two Ann Patchett books.  Her first, The Patron Saint of Liars:

The Patron Saint of Liars Cover

I have now read three books by AP and I intend to read everything she has written.  This first novel is actually amazing.  It’s so assured and paced – and very confident.  The narrative is shared between three ‘voices’ beginning with the central character, Rose.  As it moves on, it also moves through time and we span several decades.  What intrigues – and irritates – is that we never really know Rose.  Therefore we have no idea of what it is that really compels her to behave as she does.  She behaves disgracefully and inflicts incredibly painful life sentences of actual or border-line misery on all those who should be closest to her.  She really appears only to love two people, neither of whom is a family member.

Rose is not a monster in the conventional sense of a fictional ‘baddy’, in fact she is partly conveyed as a good woman.  No-one gets murdered by her; she doesn’t steal fortunes – though she does in a sense steal important parts of family life from all her closest relations, who love her very much.  Rose just casually cuts up hearts and slashes away at love in a way that there is no explanation for.  No dark source for this pattern is revealed.  We know her early life to be happy, blessed.  She herself is widely loved, beautiful and indulged.  Throughout, despite her inexplicable and daunting life choices, she carelessly falls into a fortunate place with kind, loving people.  And then she quite absent-mindedly abuses them with her disdain and complete self-absorption.  Which is why it slowly dawned on me that I really hated her.

There is a loose theme of water – of springs rising, remaining for some time, and then vanishing – and I felt that she was like a spring that comes, stays and then for no apparent reason, vanishes, maybe to resurge elsewhere.  But that we do not know.  In the case of people, there really does need to be a reason, unless the reason is that Rose, like a spring, has no self-control and simply is.  The story is relatively mild yet it deals with all the Big Issues in this life.  For much of the novel, AP conveys a sense of long days, similar in their pattern and flow, bordering on boredom though the book never bores.  I was driven to read it for hours – late hours that I can’t really spare at my great age.  What interests and impresses me most of all is how the author managed to make me want to go on and on reading, despite a growing dislike for Rose, who, by the end, I thoroughly despised.

Then I plunged right into another Ann Patchett, Bel Canto:

Bel canto.jpg

So different to The Patron Saint of Liars (and indeed to The Magician’s Assistant, which I read some years ago), it is hard to credit that it is the same author.  It is set in a fictional hostage-siege in a fictional South American country.  Almost all the book’s activity takes place in this Vice-Presidential Mansion, as the siege drags on for weeks and months.  It’s a violent premise and yet the book is largely – though not entirely – gentle and observational.  The writing shines.

Next on Audible, to see me through autumn and up to Christmas I have:  another John Irving, A Son of the Circus;  The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro;  Can You Forgive Her? and Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope;  and David Copperfield, which will be my third Charles Dickens.


Dachshund Love-In

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

It’s the boys!  Doing what they do best:  snuggling and sleeping and looking just painfully cute, if I say so myself.

More snuggling here:

A rare wakeful shot of Rupert, visiting Florence’s flat for the first time, lying on me, watching the progress of the roast chicken:

And finally a massive over-dose of cute/yummy/loveliness:  the Dachshund muzzle – this is Arthur, Rupert snoring like a train in the background:


Whiny Face Book Users: wots up wiv U???

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

I like new media.  I am really keen on social networking.  To be quite honest, it works for someone like me who is a hermit at heart – OK not just at heart – but has rare social outbursts.  Face Book (FB from now on ‘cos I’m too cool and busy to write it out each time;  but not too busy for apostrophes, it seems, hmmm?), for example, means I can kind of ‘meet’ people, but not actually go out.  Or get dressed.  Sometimes, if the world or just Bridgwater is really lucky, these things – going out and getting dressed – might coincide.  That said, it’s been a warmish summer and Bridgwater has had its clothes off for most of it.

Clearly, I also like blogging.  I’ve been droning on about leaves and dogs and sometimes even knitting, on this blog for almost three years now.

I also tweet.  I like that a lot less.

But, as with so many things in life, there are downsides.  Take swimming with sharks.  Great fun, as I think we can all agree, but sometimes someone has to spoil it and get eaten up, and then suddenly it’s not all fun and games any more is it?


Now FB is like that.  It’s all fun times and pictures of your dog dressed as a radish, or a profound thought for the century (‘Every journey starts with a single step’.  Oh please.  No it doesn’t.  It starts with every time I try to pull off my own bloody drive, every other car in Somerset comes charging down my road.  Which is basically a dead-end).

See, what I love about FB is the random stuff such as pictures of what people are eating.  I know it’s hip to judge this use of FB (and Twitter) but it’s one of the main aspects that I like.  I want to know what you made for brunch!  I love to see what you took to work for lunch.  I genuinely need to see your Sunday roast/tapas/fish and chips.  I am not being sarcastic.  I even like pictures of pints of cider or beer, even though I don’t drink it.

The trouble with maybe being a bit sarcastic and um, borderline ‘snippy’ (not borderline, sweetie, not at all. It’s all or nothing.  In the case of snippy, it’s all), when I say something serious that sounds like it might be sarky, even I think it comes over that way.  But I genuinely like the mundane, every-day things that I think FB is so good at.  If I am friends with you on FB, then that is probably why and also, for future ref, it’s what I’m looking for from you guys.  OK?

What did you buy at the shops?  How cute is your dog?  How hilarious you look with ice-cream down your face.  Wow!  you were really drunk last night!  That’s what I need.

I also like a good rant.  You may from time to time get one from me, if you’re lucky, about once every two or three months.  I’m a ranter.  I like that quality in others.  To be quite truthful, I distrust the non-ranters.  It’s in there, inside us all, trust me, it’s in there but it’s all pent up in the N-Rs.  Let it go.  FB (if you’re friends with me on FB that is) is the place to do it.  I love to read a bus-journey/train-delay rant.  I enjoy a rant about so-called public services.  Rants about co-workers (that would be yours, I don’t have any.  Any more.  Sigh), are almost my favourites. I especially like a rant I can relate to, you see, but any rant will do, really.

Know what else I like?  Bragging.  FB bragging rocks. You know, the pride that I think we’re all entitled to if we have a good day.  Your child gets good examination results/a place at their choice of Uni – I LOVE that, because FB is – or should be – a friendly place.  I love it when someone goes on FB and yells:  I knitted a really hard lace thing and the numbers all worked!  Or:  I ran a race and I feel amazing!  Or:  LOOK AT MY BAKED GOODS!!  This may be because I can’t bake really so I like it when I see proper home-made looking stuff on there, not perfect – so much the better, because it’s more real.  It actually makes me happy if my friends are happy.  See, I’m not the knitting Grinch after all.  Green – so trying…

And…you’re back in room.  Here’s what I don’t need on FB.

Games:  Just.  Go.  Away.

The FB whine.  This differs from a rant because a whine is either just incredibly boring and self-pitying; or – and this is worse – it’s cryptic.

The cryptic whine.  It might go like this:

Whiny FB User:

Grrr…. (sad face)


I’m soooo mad right now at certain people…. (snarly face)

To which the correct response is to un-friend Whiny FB User or at least un-subscribe from any of his/her future posts.

But what actually happens is, WFBU’s friends all swarm on to offer sage and helpful comments such as:

O babe, wots up wiv U hon? RU OK? XXXXXXX

WFBU will then either abandon FB, presumably while they dig out some new emoticons (go and look it up on Google – then be a bit sick in your mouth).  And sit back and wait for their ‘besties’ to whip themselves up into a FB ferment of indignant outrage, the origins of which may have become unclear- if indeed they ever were clear.

For all we know, as we gnash our teeth and clench our collective FB fist on behalf of our slighted, whiny friend, s/he has discovered her partner in bed with the newsagent.  Or s/he may have just discovered that his/her latte was not hot enough/too hot and had no vanilla shot in it.  We’ll never know, either, because WFBUs never tell.

WFBU might come back onto FB and say, bluntly:  thanx Babe, will PM you XXXXXXX  (PM = personal/private message).


If it needs a personal message, then why the hell did you kick it off on a public forum, you numpty?

Or even more blatant is the ‘I just popped that cryptic whine on FB because I wanted you all to pay me some attention’ league, is the response:

I’ll txt U hon – FB not the place for this, LOL

And that didn’t occur to you when you started with this post either, then?

Anyway! That’s my up-lifting post of the day.  As I say, I do love FB but I prefer to keep it light; if not always light-hearted, at least not to do it in some silly, secret-squirrel style of posting.  So let’s have pictures of sandwiches, parties, knitting, tipsy parties, feet (a firm favourite of mine on FB, perhaps I mean shoes…?), more parties…OK?

Great! Thnx babe luv U (sideways heart).


The Bump Bag and Needle Case

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

The Bump Bag has been re-designed, using Rowan Felted Tweed.  The result is a large and sturdy knitting bag that I think and hope will provide the reliable service I have had from the original, now about eight years old and knitted in the long-gone Yorkshire Tweed DK.  Here is my new version in purple, green and dark red.


Bump Bag almost full 1

I am running two workshops (both the same, repeats) on Shibori knitted felt here this autumn, and the main star of these is the new Bump Bag for which participants will get the pattern and full instructions, as well as an opportunity to practice the Shibori I use on this design and several other Shibori skills on top, such as weaving and pleating.

The ‘bumps’ on the bag are a trick with marbles, frogs* and dew-spangled cobwebs, which I will be passing on to the lucky cult members participants on the day.

*No frogs are harmed in this workshop.

Here are some lovely bumps:

Bump Bag close up of bumps 1

There are two places on the October workshop and you can book a place here if you’d like to join us.  There has just been a cancellation on the September event too, which was full, but there is now one place on that, too, which you can book here.  Both these days have been full at different points this summer – but things happen and so I now have these three places going if you’d like to come along.

A bonus is the felted needle case pattern which uses every scrap of left-overs from the main bag.  It is lined with a contrasting interior felted layer and the outer case is beaded on the front.

The course is packed with useful information aimed at getting you really confident about felting your hand-knitting.  If, like me, you are in any way nerdy, as a bonus there is homework.

So if you fancy a really packed yet somehow mesmerically relaxing day of autumnal knitting with delicious food, come along to my Bump-athon. Yes, it is a word.  It is now anyway.




If you go down to the woods today…

Friday, September 6th, 2013

…you may get a big surprise!

I went camping.  Actually, that obnoxious phrase ‘glamping’.  It wasn’t glam.  It was good fun, it was an experience – but it was not glam.

We stayed in a converted British Telecom canteen wagon, de-commissioned in the 1970s and then, about two years ago, moved to the small holding in Wales where it now lives.  She is Matilda.  Her owners have converted her into accommodation, complete with a large double bed which you make from boards and foam cushions; a 2-ring camping type oven; lots of nooks and crannies for storage and best of all:  a little wood-burner, flat but surprisingly long and powerful enough to keep you very cosy indeed.

Outside, in the clearing in the woods where Matilda lives, is another fire pot, an outdoor gas burner and sink – and the ahem – facilities: gas shower and a compost loo.

The place is very remote, making evening trips to the pub basically impossible.  So we went out all day, cycling (note:  Wales is not flat.  At all);  or walking in the hills but once we were back at Camp M, we stayed in.  We made the fires (this was my job because I am, as you know, obsessed with fire); collected wood for the fires; cooked the evening meal; drank some wine; listened to the battery radio or to music courtesy of my portable charged iPod speaker; read until it went too dark; lit the many tea-lights and went to bed at about 10 PM every night.

It was magical, really.  Quite hard work, not restful physically, but in every other sense it really was a complete change.

No electric plugs.  No gadgets or hair-dressing accessories.  No mobile ‘phone power away from the car, and also, no network coverage.  Bonus.

What we did have was complete darkness, the silence of deep countryside, hundreds of trees around us – and free-range chickens now and then from the farm.  And scenes like this, moon-set over the camp:

One night it rained.  Matilda is a tin can van so the rain and the attendant dripping from the surrounding trees, made an amazing, soothing rhythm on the roof.  In the night it must have stopped only to resume just after dawn.  So we just went back to sleep.  Like I said:  magical.

On the day we left, I was up at 6 AM.  As it dawned about half an hour later, a solitary bat flew round and round the clearing in which we were camped.  Silent and tiny.  Round and round.

I did some knitting:

This is the (now felted) beaded needle case that goes with the new Bump Bag.

This is William’s scarf:

But once it got dusky, it was too dark to read or knit and anyway, I was exhausted by 9 o’clock.

I have learned that I could camp – but I wouldn’t like it because the saving grace for me at Matilda was the wood burner inside.  The nice chap from whom we rented the van said: you probably won’t need to light it but if you do, here’s the wood burner.  We nodded.  The instant he was gone, we gathered twigs and sticks and got the fire going. I am not roughy-toughy. I wouldn’t miss dressing up or make up (utterly pointless here and also means you have to wash more often); or electricity or telly.  But I simply cannot stand being cold.  In August, in Britain, the minute you stop moving about, it’s cold.

I will ‘glamp’ again though.  Next time I am thinking of a yurt…