Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 22: Naming of parts

The daily blogging being completely blown, at least I can show you what I've been doing with another of this month's tasks - the NaKniSweMo cardigan.

I have pieces.  All the pieces, in fact...


From top to bottom, two sleeves, two fronts and a back.  The colour's actually a pale cool grey, but this is how it looks on the chair by the PC in the lamplight...

Having these sorted by the 22nd is great; but I'd really like to get the bands picked up and finished tomorrow, because it's too big to carry to work and back...

That's 76,692 stitches, at my best calculation...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 18: In memoriam, again

It's a month of slightly grim anniversaries, it seems... Was walking past one of the memorials at King's Cross this morning, which was cordoned off, and remembered it was the anniversary of the King's Cross fire in 1987.  I was at college at the time, and friends were visiting London; thankfully, they'd left before the fire started, but we stayed up for a long time listening to the radio...

In all, 31 people lost their lives underground at King's Cross that day, passengers, LUL staff and first responders among them. 100 others were injured, many of them seriously.

In some ways it feels like another era despite only being 27 years ago.  Wooden escalators, for one thing. People smoking on the Tube for another. Smoking on the underground sections of the Tube had been banned for two years, and on the trains themselves for three; but smoking in the ticket halls immediately next to the escalators was still permitted and the escalators themselves were a bit of a grey area. The investigators concluded that the fire had been caused by a match falling through the side of the escalator and onto a build-up of litter and grease below; as well as by a completely new phenomenon in fire research, a flashover later termed the trench effect.

The King's Cross disaster helped to increase the safety of public transport; smoking was banned throughout the network three days after the fire; the escalators took just a little longer (the last wooden escalator was removed from Greenford station on 10 March 2014).

There are two memorials at King's Cross; the first went up in the 1990s.  Later, a clock appeared above it with the upper plaque which says This clock has been given in memory of those who lost their lives in the fire at King's Cross station on 18th November 1987.  From all the underground staff at sub-surface & tube stations.

The later memorial (also in the ticket hall, in the corridor which leads to St Pancras) gives the names.  All the names.  One victim stayed unidentified for 17 years after the fire and, after much searching including a forensic reconstruction and tracking down of the origin of a metal stent in his skull, identified as a 73-year-old homeless man from Falkirk; I'm always moved when I look at the plaque that time was also taken to carve his name in afterwards.

I'm often irked at King's Cross - at the moment, there's a hugely convoluted contraflow because the escalators replaced after the fire are being replaced again, and access to the central line is often controlled at peak times. Walking past both memorials every day should remind me of what happens when health and safety fails, and often it does.

I haven't given up completely on NaBloPoMo, but it does seem to have fallen somewhat by the wayside! Will post as I can...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 15: 2014 books, #86-90

Thomas Quick: the making of a serial killer, by Hannes Råstam [audiobook]. Read by Peter Noble. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes/Clipper, 2013.

In 1992, Thomas Quick confessed to the murder of a missing eleven-year-old boy, while Quick was receiving treatment in a secure mental hospital.  Over the following nine years, Quick confessed to another 30 murders.  Hannes Råstam, an investigative journalist, became fascinated with Quick's case and eventually met Quick in prison in 2008.  What came out of the interviews and Råstam's investigations was, if anything, more frightening than the murderer himself, and raised questions about the Swedish legal and psychiatric systems.  Råstam himself died the day after delivering the manuscript, but the ramifications of the case, and of this book, continue to be felt in Sweden.  This is an absolutely fascinating book.

Burial rites, by Hannah Kent. London: Picador, 2014.

Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to die for the murder of two men; before her beheading, she is boarded out on a district inspector's family. Margrét, the mother of the family, is terrified before Agnes arrives, but they gradually develop an understanding as Agnes works in the household.  Agnes has been able to choose a confessor, Thorvárdur Jónsson (Tóti); what eventually comes out of their conversations is unexpected.  This book gives a powerful picture of the sheer hard slog of life in Iceland in the early nineteenth century, as well as being a fascinating riff on actual events - Agnes exists in Iceland as almost a folkloric character, but very little is known of her as a women.

Who in hell is Wanda Fuca? by GM Ford [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Chivers/BBC, 2007.

The first of the Leo Waterman books. Leo is engaged by a local mobster to hunt for Caroline Nobel, an heiress with a history of extreme environmentalism.  When one of the small army of homeless men Leo has assembled to help search is found dead, there's more than one case to be solved; and staying on the lawful side of the fence isn't always possible.  Ford's tone is light, and funny; and works extremely well with Harding's reading...  Sadly, the cassettes for this were in pretty awful state, and I missed the explanation for the title and had to Google it later (it's a Mondegreen for Juan de Fuca, an area of outstanding natural beauty off the coast.)

Still life, by Louise Penny. London: Headline, 2005.

The first of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books. Shock and fear tranform the village of Three Pines, Québec, when a former school teacher is found dead in a clearing near her house, an arrow through her heart. Gamache is called in with his team, and begins to get to know the people in the village, from the dead woman's neighbours Clara and Peter, both artists, to the gay couple who run the local bistrot. As Gamache investigates more thoroughly, long-dead secrets start to emerge.  There's also a very interesting situation with an extremely unsympathetic policewoman who just doesn't seem to be able to get the hang of her job...  Am about to start reading these in order...

Next to die, by Neil White. London: Sphere, 2014.

I think this must have come from a charity shop in Seaham Harbour earlier in the summer...  Joe Parker is pleased to take a client away from his previous employer, but then finds that it's a man facing trial for the murder of his girlfriend and their baby. Meanwhile Joe's brother Sam, a detective, is investigating a related crime and the two brothers are quickly in conflict with each other.  In the background, a constant presence, is the murder of the brothers' sister Ellie fifteen years before, and increasingly, fear for the little sister they still have.  Really tightly plotted; I guessed what was happening 50 or so pages before the brothers did, but there's always an interest in being proved right!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 12: Nearly halfway. Ish.

So, other than attempting to blog every day, one of the other things I'm trying to do this month is knit a sweater.  Or in this case, a cardigan.

As of last night, I had a back, a sleeve and the ribbing for another sleeve.  In theory, that means I'm halfway. In practice, there's all the sewing up and picking up for bands to do, and that's a real pig. On the other hand, if I were knitting in one piece from the top down, it would long ago have got to the stage where I'd have to be hauling a backpack around, so the sewing up is a necessary evil.

It's not the most exciting garment in the world; but here it is so far.


The gory details of the pattern, yarn etc. are in Day 1's post so I won't repeat them here.  This represents 39,524 stitches, at nearest reckoning; onwards with the fronts now, with the second sleeve as knitting-group knitting as it needs very little concentration...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 11: Acts of remembrance


I went to the Parliamentary remembrance service today at Westminster Abbey; everyone who works on the Parliamentary Estate was invited to apply for tickets, and it felt like something I should do.  On the way, I walked through the garden of remembrance in the Abbey gardens.


So many little crosses, all with different handwriting on them.  Not all for the Great War; I spotted one from the Falklands, one from Suez.

Reminders that people from all over the Empire/Commonwealth travelled huge distances to fight and die for a country they might never have visited,


and that those who stayed at home weren't safe either.



From the first words of the service - We gather today as those to whom much has been given, and from whom much is expected - it was a commemoration of duty and service.  After the two minutes' silence (which fell exactly after the anthem; I have no idea how many times someone must have rehearsed that; it has to be the one set of pips you'd never wish to crash) there was the Last Post and Reveille, a prayer, and then a very strange and beautiful thing - the "trench" cello played by Steven Isserlis.  It was a quiet, muted sound (my seat was only about 3 metres from the little platform they'd rigged up), but gorgeous; the idea of this object from the trenches still sounding out its song (in this case the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite no. V) was astonishing.

Walking past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the way out, people were taking off their paper poppies and scattering them over the inscription, creating a carpet of flowers.  Emerging blinking into the sunlight, the first person I saw was Baroness Williams, talking animatedly; it seemed entirely right that the daughter of Vera Brittain should still be around, still intensely engaged, still making a point.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 10: Tangled web

The observant will notice that Day 9 is missing.  I have no idea how I failed on Day 9; I was at home all day, and after a small amount of emergency fact-checking in the morning, it was all quite relaxing...  And somehow, I just forgot.  So weird.

But I was never interested in the whole prize-winning thing anyway; so I'm just going to dust myself off...

Anyway; the title of this tells you it's about weaving... Here's a representative heap of this year's weaving; scarves, mainly.


When I got my loom for Christmas in 2011, I thought I'd be sick of plain weave after a few months, and heading off for more complicated stuff.  Which I now realise is the equivalent of saying "oh, that garter stitch, I'm way past that"...  In the same way as spinning ("look! I've turned this bundle of fibres into useable yarn!") and knitting ("look! I've turned this continuous thread into something I can wear!") are miraculous, weaving of any sort is too.  I love the way you can plan part of it (you can't wing a warp - it's there and it'll shape your project) but then do a bit of improvisation once you've started...

I've started corrupting others.  Here's Kat. She came over for lunch and weaving, and managed to confect about 60% of the red scarf in the pile above in the course of the day. (She's pretty much omnicompetent though - don't be scared if it takes you longer)...


And also, as it's Happy Berlin Wall Destruction Week, have a video.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 8: Tale of two books, part 2

Went to an excellent event on Thursday night at Waterstones Cambridge, having seen an ad on Twitter; Kate Mayfield, talking partly about her new book The undertaker's daughter


and partly about the Gothic tradition in Southern literature.  (And there was bourbon, and cheese biscuits made by the author from a recipe in Southern Living, and peach cobbler and pecan pie made by one of Waterstones's staff...)

The undertaker's daughter is an autobiographical memoir of childhood about growing up in a funeral home in Kentucky; Kate read a couple of extracts.  One, about a classmate who drowned in a swimming pool, had powerful resonances the characters in Wendy Cope's Tich Miller and Charles Causley's Timothy Winters; the other looked at fear, and the absence of fear, in the face of death.

Kate's talk also took in the wider aspects of Southern Gothic; the idea that there's a constant feeling of being haunted, and some of the causes: religious hysteria, family secrets, violence; the sundrenched wide skies but the feeling of confinement into small towns with small-town expectations and the further confinement into the domestic environment. She also touched on the slave past - in the small town she talks about, there was a lynching of four innocent black men in 1908 - and the weight of history.  It was a really interesting talk, and there were some good questions.  The book isn't out in the US yet and Kate has genuine worries about taking a book tour into the South because of the themes discussed and how people may react.  I haven't started the book yet but am really looking forward to reading it, as someone who can't decide whether To kill a mocking-bird or gods in Alabama is her favourite novel.