Archive for January, 2012

This is my contribution to the whole Christmas jumper and Sarah Lund craze. A cushion cover. Just waiting for its pad so that I can finish it off.

I’ve so enjoyed making it, although I’m out of practice at colourwork and stranding. The main difficulty for me with this type of knitting is that I have to change from the Continental way of knitting to the English in order to work with more than one colour.

Now if only more shops sold knitting needles I could start my next project.

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You know when you imagine what someone you’ve never seen looks like and then you meet them – and once you know what they actually look like, you can’t remember what you had imagined? It’s a bit like that with the dramatisation of novels.

Front cover of Birdsong as published by Vintag...

On Sunday, I decided not to watch the so-called ‘original’ BBC TV drama Birdsong, based on Sebastian Faulks’ book. It was a book that I’d very much enjoyed reading and from which I learned a lot about the First World War.

I didn’t watch the television adaptation because I didn’t want the places and characters that my imagination had conjured for me to be overlaid by memories of the screen version. I didn’t want it ‘spoilt’, in other words.

I know some people will feel that seeing a TV version would add to their enjoyment of a book but I find it hard to see how, if it’s something you’ve really enjoyed reading. As a reader you have such an intimate experience of the words on the page and your mind automatically goes off and dramatises what you are reading. A screen adaptation, on the other hand, does that for you and shows you how people look and where they live. When it’s done well, it can be marvellous but done badly it can damage something you loved forever.

A dramatisation also decides for you what will be emphasised. I haven’t read any critical reviews but from Twitter (and perhaps it says a lot about people who would tweet while watching a drama), it appeared that viewers thought Birdsong (or Birdsnog, as someone called it) was mainly about a young chap lusting after a girl. No-one seemed to be commenting on the experiences of young, frightened soldiers far from home or about the gruelling work of the men digging tunnels beneath the enemy trenches. Yet those are my memories of the book. I recall one very evocative sex scene but mainly as an isolated event in a much larger tale of loneliness, hardship and loss.

In a completely different context, I came across a feature about the home of blogger Alicia Paulson today. It was really interesting to see what her house is actually like from photographs that show much more than the closely cropped details that she usually uses in her posts. There was also a picture of her with her husband.

After seeing them, I found it really difficult to re-imagine the picture of Alicia that I had before. Her house was in many ways unlike what I expected and, of course, she looks totally different from what I had imagined. That’s not a value judgement – I’m not saying either is better or worse – they’re just undeniably different from what I’d imagined.

It made me wonder about dramatisations and my views on them. The house feature simply showed a different perspective; one that I felt slightly resistant to because I had become very comfortable with the ‘imaginary’ Alicia from her blog. Of course, unlike characters in a novel, there is a real Alicia. But it did make me feel I should be more open to screen adaptations than I sometimes am. They are, after all, just different perspectives on the same story – one that is imagined in the first place.

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The ‘winter’ banner picture at the top of the blog is completely inaccurate. It’s been neither cold nor snowy this year. Of the three winters I’ve known here, this has been the warmest, with scarcely a frost.

It’s almost exactly three years since I first saw Spring Cottage. It was snowy then. Now it’s balmy and the garden, although still bare, is getting on apace, even though we’re high in the hills.

The moss, for instance, has been galloping ahead and has now almost completely taken over one of the areas of what used to be lawn. I’m going to have to read up on what to do about this. Although I kind of think life’s too short. It’s green, isn’t it?

There’s one budding daffodil. Just one.

Loads of hellebores.

Masses of heather. In fact, I’ve never seen this looking so good.

This lovely thing that I can never remember the name of. I am going to look it up. [It’s lonicera fragrantissima or winter flowering honeysuckle – two very kind readers told what it was last year]

And a few primroses and snowdrops. All very timid still but they are out. It’s not even the end of January yet.

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Someone dropped in on me today. Someone from London on their way to Devon. Someone I wasn’t expecting. That never happens. So it was nice to have tea and toast with a friend.

It took my mind off what I found when I arrived today. It’s sort of my fault too, which makes it worse:

The chimney has been leaking for quite a long time now. I keep meaning to get it fixed but it’s tricky logistically. I meant to cover the hearth stones with plastic sheeting but forgot to do it when I left. Now I’m imagining getting housemaid’s knee scrubbing away this horrible sooty, sticky mess. But not today… I’m just sitting where it’s out of sight and enjoying a nice log fire.

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Bread is a complete staple for me. If there’s bread in the house, you’re not going to starve and, if there’s good bread in the house, you can eat it with just a bit of butter and be completely satisfied. No need for anything else, not even Marmite. Hence my battle: I find it very hard to find bread that I really like.

I’m not a food snob; I did my fair share of eating white sliced bread spread with tomato ketchup as a child and can still remember how much I loved it – probably as much for the novelty value as anything else – as I was brought up in a mittel-European household on dark rye bread and milky kolács. Damp, limp, sliced bread in plastic bags (or waxed paper in the sixties) never darkened our door, making “English” bread seem very appealing. But I’ve grown out of that now, apart from for toast.

I used to bake my own bread when I was a student, kneading away for ages instead of studying, turning out loaves so hard and chewy that neither of my housemates would share them, although they were free. Also, for over a year, at one of the busiest times of my life; working full-time and with two school-age children, I made bread every day. Admittedly in a bread machine but it was still a faff, compared to Ocado bringing it to your door.

In terms of shop-bought bread, life is complicated by the fact that there are only two possibles: Cranks organic wholemeal, which is properly dense like homemade bread, or Poilane’s sourdough, which is massively expensive, even for a quarter loaf. And, more to the point, neither of these is easy to come by as they’re generally only stocked at bigger branches of Waitrose. (OK, I am a food snob.)

So, when I found myself uncharacteristically watching a food programme on the television last week, all my senses pricked up when I saw this chap making soda bread in a mixer with a dough hook. “I’ve got one of those,” I thought. “I can do that.” So out I went to buy spelt flour from Sharpham Park, not far away in Somerset. (Five times the price of regular wholemeal but I wanted to know what the best tasted like before I started to get more realistic). I looked up how to make buttermilk – easy peasy – just add a tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk. And bingo, I’d made a loaf of bread and popped it in the oven in five minutes. Twenty minutes later it was baked and cooling.

If you’re interested, here’s the recipe from the TV programme. It’s light and delicious, although I didn’t add enough salt this time. I’m going to be doing this a lot, I think.

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Ok, so I’m obviously in that place where there’s nothing to blog about. The weather’s rubbish most of the time and it’s depressingly January. So, I’m going to recommend something. A book. Something that I’m very enthusiastic about in a way that I’m rarely enthusiastic these days. Go, Google reviews of it. Go, see the many awards the writer has won. Go, read it. Particularly, but not only, if you are a woman.

I’m giving this to my daughter and I highly recommend it. It’s rude, it’s sweary, it’s hilarious and/but it debunks a lot of crap. As a fairly lame feminist of the 1970s era, who finds the routine way that young women still change their names on marriage strange, I welcome this. It’s a memoir. It’s a tract. It’s a laugh. Whatever. I’m delighted that someone’s found a way to communicate feminism without the dungarees.

Go on, read it. It’s Caitlin Moran’s How to be a WomanLook at it on Amazon, and then go to a real bookshop to buy it.

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When I was writing my round-up of 2011, I noticed that most of the product reviews that I’d done were concentrated in January. It must be my reaction to the dreary greyness of winter days. Oddly enough, I came across something lovely via another blogger today.

These rather lovely note cards are from Rifle Paper Company, who make all manner of gorgeous illustrated stationery, as well as bespoke invitations and note cards.

They’re based in the US but are happy to take international orders. It’s certainly worth having a look if you like stationery and they have a very nice range of prints, mainly for kids, as well.

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