Tuesday 29 April 2014

Mr B's Reading Year - The Testament of Jessie Lamb

A little late - but here is my review (I've been snowed under with things to read!)

My next Mr B's Reading Year book arrived in the post, looking as wonderful as always...

This is the most exciting part - beautifully wrapped, with their distinctive seal, trying hard not to rip the nice paper in my eagerness to see what book Emma (my bibliotherapist) has sent me...

This month was The Testament of Jessie Lamb. I had never actually heard of it, or of Jane Rogers, the author, although it has been longlisted for the Man Booker! And I thought I was aware of books that on the Booker list! It was a little while ago (2011), so there is my excuse...

Because of this, I had expected it to be an adult book: as far as I know, the Man Booker doesn't branch out into young adult literature. Now, to me, The Testament of Jessie Lamb felt very much like young adult literature, and possibly young-ish young adult at that! Since I was expecting to read quite a different book than the one it turned out to be, this could have been why I didn't get on with it as well as I was expecting. Don't get me wrong - I love YA - but I had been looking forward to a really meaty adult book. YA can be meaty as well, but this didn't quite reach that for me.

Anyway, let me move on. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is another apocalyptic saga. It moves between two time periods in Jessie's life: her present and her recent past. In this dystopian future, a virus has been unleashed that effectively kills women who are pregnant. All of the women pregnant at the time died, along with their babies, and it seems as though human life is doomed to extinction.

But, no! There is an experimental solution: women can opt to be 'sleeping beauties.' They will be artificially inseminated, and put into a coma from which they will never give up, but the babies may survive. It is the ultimate sacrifice: giving your life for the human race, through a virgin birth. Of course, the parallels to Jessie Lamb are blindingly obvious (Jessie, Jesus; Lamb, lamb of God) and she volunteers to be one.

I won't give away any more of the story, but this is the central dilemna. There is also a lot of the 'normal' things that appear in dystopian novels: male supremacy, people believing that it is some sort of punishment, cults and sects appearing, children rejecting their parents, riots, looters, rape... That's quite a list!

I didn't quite warm to Jessie. As a narrator, she didn't feel quite real enough for me. I wanted to enjoy this book a lot more than I did, unfortunately. It has such an interesting premise, but has been sort of filed in my head as 'another dystopian futuristic novel.' The other characters seemed more rounded than she did, but essentially the novel was a little flat for me. Bit of a shame, but not the end of the world!

Thank you Mr B's and Emma for my latest installment!

Thursday 24 April 2014

And the final flutters - Easter Monday and beyond...

Monday was bright and sunny despite the rains of the evening before.
It heralded a lot more departures : J to see E in London, Hopkinshaws on to the road to avoid holiday traffic by 9 and finally T and H after lunch. However we did mange to pack a little more in...
Hurdle and trough moving from the old sheep field. - 3 years ago I borrowed both space and Suffolk sheep from two sets of friends and put them together to have sheep from Easter to October half term for a few years. In this process I acquired some equipment - hurdles and feeders.  These have kindly sat in what is now Barton orchard anticipating the moment when life might change for us and sheep return. They are heavy and awkward so having help to move them was great and took us an hour rather than all day by myself.

We then set up Crook Peak for egg rolling and a picnic of Italian Easter bread in the shape of a sugared dove, a wonderful selection of cheeses, olives and tomatoes. The storm kettle did its bit too and we had tea on the very steep slopes of the south side of the Mendips. As ever the slope's steepness did for the eggs and we lost much of them in the smashingly stony trip down the hillside! 

Some clearing up and octonauts watching finished the day...

Departure day for Little S, L and MB back to Cornhill terrace and genomics and nursery... However we fitted in a visit to see some Nubian goat kids and texel lambs and play in court farm park nearby.

And the final flag flutters of the weekend...
We managed to collect an enormous amount of lost property: three egg moulds, a pair of black shoes, a single large walking sock, a roll of glittery wrapping paper, a car key, a little French recipe book, a blue and maroon striped scarf, a computer charger, toothpaste... Much of this has an obvious home and has been posted or delivered back but if any if this is yours do get in touch. 

And Maidens' Piece is well and truly named - more to follow about the name! 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Easter Sunday celebrations and namings

As it had been forecast grey and wet we had moved the biggest of the bonfires to Saturday but we still hoped to burn the remaining bramble and hawthorn hedging from that side of the field at the end of the day. 
Many more visitors came in a steady stream - the Stallard clan with Mum Stallard, Dad Stallard, Grandma and Grandpa Stallard bringing H

Caroline Peter Jack and Rose, Sue and David our field architect, Huw an oak dragon officiando and men's group friend to help mastermind the naming ceremony, Tim and Margo in the evening bearing brownies, and neighbours Alysun and Tim too to help with the fire. 
Little B and B were dispatched off to sues emporium for a birthday treat rummage experience and returned with an antique blanket, liberty fabric and jumper! 
An Easter egg  hunt set by T and H and Easter egg making for Ryan, Arran and Sam with Ellen and Debbie completed the afternoon activities. 

And a wonderfully erudite and literary treasure hunt for the oldies by H and T too ... The best clue - this beautiful boetician and their redheaded companion's surname - pond! 

The naming ceremony followed in a gap In the rain. Huw smudged  us in with sage and we were a rather noisy and bedraggled procession but process we did with  a noisy beating of the bounds to ward off spirits. We welcomed  the good spirits of the East, North, South and West to bring air and light, regeneration and solidity, sunshine and wet fecundity and then officially named the land 'Maidens' Piece' with gifts of hope, peace, fertility, and sheep! 

A mega 'train game' was played while it rained. Sue, Huw and David hadn't played it before so we introduced them to the delights of stations and engines throughout Europe...

And another slightly soggy but brilliant bonfire ...

Easter Saturday at The first Coombe cottage field festival

A busy day:
As well as being our fields naming weekend it was also Belinda's birthday...
The morning was heralded by michael's special buns, present opening, and then cake with lots of candles to be blown all ably assisted by Sam... We did try and score the cakes appearance/texture/flavour but there were so many and they came so thick and fast that in the end this ginger cake was the only one we managed to officially evaluate! After a lot of scientific discussion about likeart scales and the like we did manage to agree on a 5 point scale and this cake managed a sound 4 point something...

Debbie and Jay arrived early afternoon with Ryan and Arran to make chocolate eggs. Debbie was amazing bringing all the equipment with her and the eggs got finally decorated on Sunday and made into fantastic monster faces.
Ryan and Arran were great at swinging and were also very well versed in tadpole management ... 

Swings in the garden and the start of the botanical and insect surveys with mark and Michael  went on through the afternoon. The tadpoles also suddenly developed legs so needed to be upgraded to the next size of tank with stones to crawl out on to - much excitement and a lot of water right in the middle of afternoon tea but all got safely transferred.

Early evening heralded a magnificent birthday and Easter feast from M and B with a wonderful bowl of Winterhead cherries and creamy yoghurt from Karin. More arrivals in the shape of Tam who dillligently organised the treasure hunts for Sunday and Joe arrived safely home from France with his merry men.

Then came the gathering of even more people as the sun set...

Frank and Elizabeth arrived bearing a wonderful field cake with a pigmy goat, a texel and Suffolk lambs. As Frank planted the existing boundary hedge with the field 17 years ago most of the prickly clippings were definitely his responsibility.
 And then many neighbours - Bob and Maureen the owners of the other big third, Anne and Peter through the hole in the hedge between our gardens, sue and Richard from around the corner, and  Sandra and Jim with Adam from the Lynch and Sally/Suma land.
And a huge bonfire with more tea and cake to thank all for their contributions to an amazing
achievement .

The beginning of the first Coombe Cottages Field Festival

One of the nicest thing about the weekend is that it seemed like a series of parties. No sooner had one group of people left than another arrived. So we had the chance to see absolutely everybody and spend a little time with them. It felt very special indeed to have so many people visit who'd been associated with the house over the 18 years we have lived here. And we now DO have a field and it DOES have a name - so keep following the blogs! 

And here is the invitation we sent out just to remind you all. I love playing about with bits of paper and colour so this was a great, if rather protracted project..

The Maundy Thursday beginnings:
Despite horrific traffic all the way from Croydon on the M25 and M4 A finally made it home to meet up with Little S, L and MB who had squeezey jetted from Edinburgh. Little S met Moo and Kosh' who were very surprised at meeting someone so small and squeaky, and re-met all the soft toys in E's room, and the evening set fair over an un-named field!  

Good Friday activities:
Hot cross buns for breakfast! 
Then off to the willow dome to cut long withies for flag poles via ice creams and chocolate bunnies in the village. It really was hugely sunny and despite the willow being sparce the entertainment of pooh sticks and dandelions on the bridge and the ghost trains on the Railway walk was great fun.. 

L and Little S then helped with the flag making - we used a mixture of old balloon fabric, Indian pink sparkly dressing-up  trousers and recycled a cream bridesmaids dress - all cut up into flags to sew on to the ash poles and withies.


Whilst MB single handedly built the first of the big bonfires with a clever heart of chairs stuffed with kindling and paper. We always knew he was a true arsonist.... 


And the first ex-woodcraft ink batik and tie dyed flags to welcome folk up the drive... The Hopkinshaws from  Berkshire and London via Lyme were the first up under the garlands bearing cake, eggs and botanical guide books ! 


Saturday 19 April 2014

A Trio of Debuts

For your reading delight, I have, not one, not two, but THREE debut novels to review! New authors on the horizon - let's see how they shape up!

I received this book free from NetGalley in return for an honest review. To be honest, the main thing that drew me to it was the wonderful cover - it looks so inviting! There may be a lesson in here for me about judging a book by its cover...

Tape is told through two dual plot lines running parallel but twenty years apart; thirteen year old Ameliah, recently orphaned and living with her nan in 2013, and Ryan living with his dad and stepmother, also having recently lost a parent.

Unfortunately, that's almost all there is to the story. Maybe that's unfair - there's the connection between the two storylines, although the twist was easy to see coming, and there is some minor character development. But, really? It was flat, banal, the characters were only just about three dimensional and there wasn't enough plot going on to make up for it.

I'm really sorry to give a negative review, particularly for a debut novel, but I have to be honest. I just didn't enjoy it. I hope other people get more out of it than I have.

Scarrow describes the life of 'Andy' through two parallel storylines: one in the present, and the other gradually leading up to her present from a small child. Victim of abuse, rape, neglect – Andy eventually finds her place in the world.

It's quite a strange feeling book. It reads almost like a memoir, so I rechecked that I was reading fiction, which I was. Through being memoir-like, it felt a little flat: the emotions were secondary to telling the story. Everything bad that can be possibly thought of is thrown at Andy, and she somehow comes out the other end.

I have to say that I didn't really engage with this story: it didn't seem believable. Not that such events do not happen, as I know they do, but the way in which her characters responded to them, did not convince me. It was mildly compelling because I did want to know how the story ended up, but Scarrow's style is not for me.

I received this ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest return on Scarrow's debut. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Throwaway Girl comes out later this year, in September.

Lastly, 'In a Cat's Eye' by Kevin Bergeron. Firstly, I'd like to say that it seems rather dangerous in the premise of a book to liken it to already well known and respected novels. This was billed as ‘Curious Incident’ meets ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in this crime-noir debut. It immediately heightens your expectations, and direct comparisons are dangerous in my opinion.

'In a Cat's Eye' starts with the death of Nancy, by a suspected heroin overdose. The central protagonist, Willy, tells the story through first person. Willy is a simple young man - possibly with some sort of autism? - and his innocent and at times unaware narration incites the parallel to 'Curious Incident.' He is instantly fairly likeable, although not terribly relatable to.

The story becomes quite convoluted as the novel progresses; there were moments where I felt as confused as Willy as the evidence mounts up! Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable novel, but not a favourite of mine. Promising for a debut, but maybe the genre is not for me? I haven't read very much crime, and I'm not even sure what crime-noir is! I would, however, be quite interested to see what Kevin Bergeron writes next.

So, there we have it - a trio of debuts! None of them my favourite books, but all an experience to read.

Stay tuned, lots of posts to come: celebrating the field, another sewing project, and my second Mr B's book review...

See you next time!

Sunday 13 April 2014

A Case for Tilly

Now, after ploughing through some difficult projects and travelling hundreds of miles up and down the country, I really felt that Tilly needed somewhere else to live other than the cardboard box and polystyrene which she came in. A sewing machine cover was in order - and it had to be patchwork of course.

J and I looked at a sort of pattern online for the basic idea (thanks very much to Debbie at her blog) but it wasn't quite right, so we had to make up our own pattern. I'll try and show you what we did, but it was all quite complicated (for me at least!) and took a LOT longer than I thought it would do. It took the whole week at home!

Right, here we go.

1) Measure out the sewing machine and construct a paper pattern from the measurements. You want two side panels with rounded edges (this was done by drawing round a mug), a panel for the bottom, and then a long thin piece reaching from either side of the base, in two halves. This will have a zip in the end. It's difficult to explain. Here were our pieces. Remember to leave seam allowances, as well as room to include pockets etc.

2) Now you have an idea of the size, you can start with the patchwork. The main structural part of the bag is from linen and this quite odd material that J found; it is fluffy on one side and very thick brown faux-leather type stuff on the other. The patchwork panels will be quilted to this and the linen.

Start with your materials. I had a beautiful Amy Butler charm pack, but you can do it properly and use old odds and sods.

Aren't they beautiful materials? I decided to do a simple square patchwork pattern, so cut each into four and started building a design.

It took a surprising amount of rearranging until I was happy. Then, in came to Tilly to stitch it all together. 

(Sorry about the light.)
My cutting is still not very precise so some of the corners didn't meet...

But the overall effect was fine.

3) Quilt your patchwork to the backing - in my case the very thick fluffy/hard brown material. This is quite a few layers of fabric, and Tilly needed a bit of help from J and A's machine to get through them. She made a valiant effort though!

I did very simple stitching lines ina bright blue thread, just following the seam lines, letting the fabrics shine through.

4) Make the bottom panel by stitching 2 pieces of canvas the same size together to make a pocket to slide a slightly smaller piece of your very thick material inside.

5) Prepare the lining ready to be included. I hemmed and stitched 4 squares of the fabric that hadn't been cut up to serve as pockets.

6) You can now start to see the bag coming together! Each side is to be sewed to the bottom panel, right sides to right sides.

7) Now consider your handle. I used webbing, which is good and strong. Pin it into place and stitch up to where you want the handles to fold. Make sure the straps aren't twisted when you sew. I used the same thread colour as for the quilting.

8) More complicated sewing (at least it felt like it to me!) Get your template for the long strip and create two pieces, folded in half so when they meet they will be the width of the panel you need. The folded edges will be at the middle, and these are used to conceal the zip a bit, which wasn't very pretty. Spray them with starch spray (which we just happened to have at home for some reason!) to give them a bit more strength.

9) Sew in the zip. There are lots of tutorials online for this, and I don't think mine is a very good example of this, so I won't try and teach it!

10) Add some patchwork to the top of the zip panels. I did triangles instead to add a bit of variety, and, to save time, stitched with a zig zag stitch rather than more hemming.

11) Stitch the two zip panels to the rest of the bag, right sides to right sides. Somehow, constructing this 3D shape is really difficult to get your head round. So, remember not only to 'measure twice, cut once,' but also to 'pin a million times, and sew once!'

12) Sew, by hand, the bottom of the zip panels together (the zip shouldn't go to the very bottom of the bag) and put a few strong stitches at either end of the zip so it can't unzip fully.

13) Now - neatening up on the inside! Oversew the linen so none of the brown material is showing. This has to be done by hand and may take longer than you think.

14) You should have a completed bag! (Unless I've missed out some steps, which wouldn't surprise me.) Turn it right ways round and admire.

Want to see?

TA DA! Pretty pleased with myself, I have to say, although a LOT of help was had by A and J. It's their project as much as mine really. A three way project - but that's quite nice really!

And Tilly fits nicely inside with lots of room for boxes of cotton, pins and needles etc.

Tilly has a bag fit for her now and she definitely deserves it for all her hard work!

Saturday 12 April 2014

M's anemomes

M is away working in Czech Republic but today we have been reminded of her as the anemomes  she and E planted 3 springs ago are finally happy and coming through. The jewel colours are quite fantastic in the sunshine under the Bramley. They are extraordinary in other ways too as we are all convinced that they are Summer anemomes and not meant to be up for at least 2 months... At the other end of the garden under the holm oak some white and blue wild anemomes have also finally decided to be happy too - my memory is that I planted them over 6 years ago and this is the first year they have actually flowered. The stars of the white anemomes  in church woods are heralding bluebells and then the wild garlic of E's naming day.