Friday, 4 December 2009

Just a reminder...

...that I have a poor, neglected Etsy shop, which, if memory serves, is the reason this blog came into being in the first place. If you've been here before, you'll know that my skills of marketing and self-promotion are possibly the antithesis of a certain Miss Price. However, economic necessity and burgeoning creative impetus require me to remind you that I have a delicious range of life-affirming gifts that will not only balance your chakras but put you in alignment with the whole damn universe*.
My stock needs to go because:
  • they are desperate for pastures new, feeling stifled in their sumptuous box. A box full of gorgeous stuff is useless if it's contents are not used, loved or even seen: I may as well fill it with packing peanuts and shove it under the bed. (ooh, I wonder if I could do that and sell it on Etsy? strokes beard ponderously)
  • we have to repair (or more accurately, replace) our leaking roof. This is another reason why I need to sell my stock: not only is a new roof stupid-expensive, we may need the box to catch rain water and it would be better if it was empty, although I'm sure in some dark, questionably-stenched cave of the t'interweb, there is a market for rain-soiled sock monkeys and the like. shudders but doesn't totally dismiss the possibilities
  • I actually have some New Ideas (well, they're new to me - no doubt that once I have introduced them to the world, I will discover that I have extemporaneously plagiarised a favoured crafter, thereby consigning myself to Crafter's Hell - a cold, colourless place, bereft of forums, photos, tea and cake. Even Stephen Fry would hate me, and would encourage his Twitter army to 'go Jan Moir on her ass'.) and if I manage to keep the paranoid demons, and Stephen Fry**, at bay, it would be lovely to put them into a rejeuvenated shop - out with the old and in with the (hopefully not subconsciously ripped off) new.
Quite frankly, there's nothing like a financial emergency to really help one focus on  one's abandoned shop. Go and have a look and buy something, dammit!

Have you read the latest Xmas-tabulous edition of UK Handmade magazine yet? It's fresh off thang and is just perfect, and not just because my book reviews are in there (p31-35). It has a fabulous cover featuring a beautiful wreath made by the uber talented Anna Hull of Half an Acre. and is packed with useful, inspiring and entertaining gorgeousness. And, criminally, its free. Enjoy!

Don't forget to check out the UK Handmade blog too: I've been writing the 'Lifestyle' page on Sundays, although it's more food (let's be honest here: cake.) than anything else. I like the idea of being a 'Lifestyle' writer, though I feel I should have a huge pashmina that I hide a tiny dog in and call everyone 'Dahhhhling!' and describe things as being 'De-viiine!'  and never be seen out without bright red lips, a coiffured do, a dark mist of Mandragore and an air of superiority peppered with boredom. I won't ruin the illusion by telling you that I usually write it whilst snuggled in pyjamas, unaided by tiny, or any sized, dog.

What are you up to tomorrow (Saturday)? Well, if you're not trying to feign enthusiasm about another z-list celebrity's autobankbalance autobiography whilst subtley trying to guide them to Rich Fulcher's offering, you should be at Chelsea Town Hall for the fabulous festive WeMake .

I am jealous as hell, but it is a warm, vanilla-scented jealousy as I love them to bits. Go along and pick up some beautiful treasures from a very talented bunch and give them all a kiss from me.
If you're nearer Cambridge, get thee to Handm@de. Read all about it here. If you really love craft and wanted to support these fabulous people, you could attempt to go to both in a Phil Collins-does-Live-Aid kinda way. (well, you could have done had they not scrapped Concorde..)

Have a wonderful, expensive weekend!

*not scientifically proven. Model wears lash inserts.
** I love Stephen Fry, by the way, particularly for this:

Soupy Twist!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dahl-ling bread

I am trying very hard at the moment to temper my cookery book purchasing, in particular books on baking. I have discovered that a lot of the more celebrity-type chefs have a tendency towards repeating their recipes, justifying their inclusion in yet another perfectly produced more-style-than-food, 'buy this and you can live like me, and my life is FABULOUS!' book simply by altering the amount of vanilla, or swapping the flour or changing the icing to a frosting. With that in mind, and considering the hefty price tag on a lot of titles, it's worth remembering your trusty local library. I find it's a great way to try out a book for free: this works for crafting books as well. It is often easy to be seduced into thinking that you absolutely, positively have to have that book, but it is better to spend your hard earned cash on something that you'll have use for for years to come. Also, you need to save your cash in order to buy the ingredients / yarn / gluegun / studio as suggested in your newly-acquired piece of inspiration.

One of the books I'd seen at work, but wasn't sure I agreed with, was Sophie Dahl's book, 'Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights: The Art of Eating a Little of What You Fancy'. The reason I didn't 'agree' with it was down to cookery / lifestyle book saturation: there is a growing trend for cookbooks to be just as much about the author as the food. I'm sure she wasn't the first, but Tessa Kiros, with her glorious 'Falling Cloudberries', with its mix of biography, family history, culture, tradition and food, possibly inspired others to follow,  (and of course dear ol' Nigella can't resist a lustful pout over a robust dish of freshly-concocted edible sex between her recipes, despite her first and utterly fabulous book, 'How to Eat'  being completely devoid of any author posturing, aside from the 'I'm actually a serious writer but I can cook too' one on the inner cover.) As with any good idea, a raft of similar titles have followed, to the point of olive oil-based marination, hence me giving Miss Dahl's perfectly beautiful, perfectly stylish book a wide berth. That was until I came across a surprise copy at my local library...

It is indeed a beautiful book, with 101 recipes handily divided by the seasons and then again into breakfasts, lunches and suppers. Each season is heralded with autobiography, illustrating the author's emotional link, love and respect of food. She talks candidly about the weight gain that led to her initial fame (as a model with, shock horror! Squidgy-bits-like-what-real-women-have! She was all of a size 14 at her largest...) and then how she lost weight, (by the way, this isn't a diet book, as I clearly wouldn't have bothered with it) and also morsels about her life growing up, travelling and working. She has an lovely relaxed style, the type of prose you fall into, and of course having an interesting life so far helps too. As for the recipes, accompanied by calm, almost rustic photos, they are simple, practical and look positively eatable, a trait you would assume was a given in a cookery book but sadly isn't necessarily. A particular favourite that I've made a few times now (with the book a good distance away so as not to become soiled by my exuberant baking activities) is what we call in this house 'Jamie Cullum Bread', but Miss Dahl calls 'Musician's breakfast (home-made bread with Parma Ham). For the uninitiated amongst you, Sophie Dahl's 'beloved' is Jamie Cullum and, according to the recipe, 
'This, a strong cup of tea and Miles Davis on the stereo makes him a very happy fellow of a morning.'

I had a flash of Domestic Goddessy Madness the other morning and went all 'lifestyle' myself by making my own Jamie Cullum bread whilst the rest of the family got up properly, that is, shuffling through the morning ritual of wee, tea then food (and not in joined up writing: mornings are strictly printed in this house: we are not a morning family) 
Sadly, it wasn't ready before they all left the house, but I somehow managed not to snaffle down the whole loaf, leaving them some for their return. Yes, that is how much I love them.*dabs at tear with corner of pinny*

'This, a pint cup of coffee and 6Music on the stereo makes me a very happy fellow of a morning.'

As much as I love this bread, I fancied something with a bit more texture, so when I made a loaf today (out of hunger and the need to create: when all the tastiest things are born), I added a variety of seeds. Not only had I managed to gild the lily, I also made it healthier too, though its health benefits are possibly undone by my 'voluptuous' portions. So here is my recipe, based on Miss Dahl's. Give it a go, with or without the seeds, and do check out her book too - I have it on my wishlist as I suppose I should stop renewing this copy...

Who(l)em(eal)y seedy beeyatch, yo.*

450g wholemeal flour (either normal or bread flour: both work)
100g oats
packet of fast-action dried yeast
1 tsp salt (I used Maldon)
25g hemp seeds
50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
600ml warm (not hot) water
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp clear honey

  • Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, nay flexi trug should the whim take you (damn they're such a versatile beast!)
  • In a large jug, mix together the water, oil and honey.
  • Add wet to the dry and stir thoroughly.
  • Look at the porridgey gloop and think to yourself, 'How the hell am I going to knead that gelatinous blob?!'
  • Exclaim 'Ahhhh!' when you read: 'This bread does not need kneading.'
  • Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and place somewhere warm and out of the way (i.e. next to a sleeping relative answers only half of the problem, so don't put it there.) for about 20, 30, heck, perhaps as much as 40 minutes, until the dough has doubled in size (hence the need for the large bowl. You see?! It's all in the planning!)
  • Preheat the oven to 190oC / 170oF.
  • Once risen, do not mark the occassion by bastardising a Pagan tradition and eating your bodyweight in chocolate, but merely beat it back down to size with a wooden spoon.
  • Oil a loaf tin and pour the subjugated dough within its oily confines.
  • Pop in the oven and bake for 50-60 mins.
  • Allow to cool in the tin before turning it out and anointing each slice with a hearty slather of what you fancy.

My slather of choice is butter.

*there is a loaf we often buy called a 'seeded batch' that we call a 'seedy beeyatch'. 
I guess you had to be there... 

**Mum: I'm working on my punctuation: look what book I got last weekend!(though clearly I haven't read it yet...)

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

From Pixies to (knit and) Purl

(no eyeballs, or badges, were harmed in the making of this blog)

A couple of weeks ago, my wish for a more Carpe Diem attitude landed in my lap (well, Mr yumps) in the shape of two much-wanted-but-unable-to-attend tickets for an anniversary gig the next night, celebrating one of the finest albums known to my ears and the enlightened few. Pixies took up a four day residency at the glorious Brixton Academy (the perfect size in which to witness the miracle of Good Live Music) to play, in sequential order as God (Black Francis) intended, 'Doolittle',  their second studio album (apparently, 'Come on Pilgrim' was an EP, now tagged onto the kick ay-yass 'Surfer Rosa') They sandwiched this delight in between b-sides that I had never heard before, thereby rendering it a musical education of wonderment rather than witless nostalgia, and tracks from both 'CoP' and 'SR', though, sadly for our night at least, not 'Gigantic'. It was a fabulous gig: pre-band banter centered on tales of Pixies gigs past, shared around like toffee bonbons, and I wondered if this wasn't the first time so many of us had shared a gig together, that perhaps they too had seen them play back in 1990 one hot Saturday night in a sweaty field in Reading. I had practiced the line, just in case I met anyone that had been there, 'Oh I thought you looked familiar!' I got to use it 5 times: result!
It's always tricky when you go to see a band that previously performed your all-time favourite gig, because you know that they cannot live up to that impossible expectation. Surely it isn't possible to feel that same sense of excitement and belonging and sheer thrill from a band at 37 as you did when you saw them at 18: poppycock - it is! There was one moment, I can't remember which song they were playing, where I closed my eyes to completely lose myself in the sound, and I suddenly remembered standing at the Reading festival,  my hair longer and naturally dark, my girth 2 stone lighter, listening to the exact same song, with the same feeling of perfect joy and the same loopy smile on my face: two perfect moments of identical bliss, separated by 19 years. I opened my eyes and realised that this definitely wasn't about nostalgia: Pixies were, and still are, a phenomenal live band. Plus, their bass player is a Goddess, not a token bimbo eye candy, strategically placed to please the company execs. She is gorgeous, mind.
Hearing them live made me notice things I can't believe I'd never noticed before, in particular what a marvellously tight, crisp drummer David Lovering is!  It made me go back and listen to all their albums, which is never time wasted.
To be honest, I don't really know much about the Pixies themselves: it's all about the music, not the image, not the gossip. However, they did put on a visual feast too, playing 'Un Chien Andalou' before they came on stage, then using the small, multiple screens differently for different songs, my favourite being them all smiling and singing along to 'Here Comes your Man' (you'll have to imagine them playing underneath in the glow)

Which leads me neatly (:-/) onto the UK Handmade blog...
I've been writing the 'Lifestyle' section, although at present, its purely about food. If you hanker for some simple yet delicious morsels, chow down, but make sure you play the Godfathers (and Godmother) of Grunge damn loudly as you bake as this will help your cakes rise more evenly.

Now this blatant food / craft pornography (from  my last UK Handmade blog post) not only illustrates spiced apple and walnut muffins but the beginnings of my current obsession. Now no-one warned me that knitting is actually a drug: nowt to do with chemicals in the yarns or the sensual feel of the bamboo needles (or not...) but there's something about each row - "I'll just finish this row and then I'll make dinner / call my Mum / wake the gimp", but, haha! You can't just finish that row! "Oh, while I'm here, I might as well do the next row..." But you can't stop: "Oh...I don't like to finish with a knit row: I'll finish the next purl and then crack on." "Or perhaps I prefer to end on a knit row..." etc etc. It's not as if I'm a fast knitter, particularly as this is my first foray into the Land of Not Massive Needles. I feel like a giant drumming with toothpicks. Anyhoot, I'm having a go at knitting some fingerless gloves from this  pornography.

Ok, I gaffataped knitting onto a blog about music: surely there is no neat way of ending this post in a cohesive manner that effortlessly ties all the loose ends together? Haha! Oh yea of little faith! Behold:

Kim Deal's twin sister (and lead guitarist in their band, The Breeders) Kelley likes to knit. She's even written a rather fabulous book.

And thus, the circle is complete.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A slice of domestic tedium

Please, someone tell me: who the feck chained me to the kitchen sink?! Did some misogynistic ninja, for whom feminism is the real definition of the 'F' word, sneakily do it whilst I innocently made a cup of tea? I don't know when it happened, but it has and I'm not happy.

There is a point when washing up ceases to be fun and it is at the precise moment when the last morsel is swallowed down and the purveyor of said swallow declares themselves 'Stuffed'. When the meal ends, when all that is left is to praise the chef and request tea or coffee, that's when washing up ceases to be fun.  It's not so much the act of washing up that bother's me, more the never ending predictability of it. The knowledge that as soon as it is finished, more will be on it's way, and possibly within the hour. And it's not like other forms of domestic tedium: it's quite startling just how much dust one can live comfortably with without needing anti-parasitic creams, and unvacuumed floors can be strategically ignored just by keeping shoes on whilst in the house (or by utilising stilts in extreme cases). But unless you are rich enough to either have all your meals out, or laugh in the face of environmental apocalypse by using, and throwing away, paper plates (or you are rich enough to throw a complete dinner service away after each meal: oh how very Greek Tourist Trap of you), you will need to wash up.  I have heard people make mention of getting the children to do the washing up: "They love it!" they will cry, "Kids love playing with water!" and that's the problem: plates and pans do not get clean by lil' Bobby playing 'Das Boot' with a pint bottle. (Do kids play 'Das Boot'? They should.)

And I know what you're all thinking: "Get a dishwasher!" Well, apart from the logistics (i.e. we'd have to dangle it from the ceiling, space, or rather lack of, being of prime concern in Casa yumptatious), I suspect that the drudgery would remain: it would still need to be loaded, it would still need to be emptied. It would still need a periodic cleaning with some highly toxic and nasal-hair-singeing ablution. Just as washing machines have taken away the need for 'Wash day' by eradicating the need for excessive handwashing,  it is still depressingly inevitable that a wash needs to be put on. Machines don't erase the problem, they just give it a different shape.

Having said all that, there is a certain satisfaction when the job is done, a feeling akin, I would imagine, to the one felt by someone burying the man they've just killed.

It's your turn to dry.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Varium et mutabile semper femina*

I stomped off into town this afternoon, carrying a hormonal cloud of rage, unreasoneableness and general 'don't come near me'-ness,  despite the cheery hot and lazily low-slung sun, the delicious warmth accompanied by a gentle cool breeze (just to remind us that it is, after all, Autumn) as I had to get out of the house and pick up a couple of meaningless things, oh and chocolate, which could and should never be seen as pointless.
Anyhoots, whilst angrily skipping the load of crap my iPod in it's wisdom had decided I should listen to, I passed a local bookshop. Now this bookshop has fallen on hard times, which is a real shame because (she whispers so as not to upset her bosses) we need our bookshops, particularly our free-thinking independents. Certain elements were always a bit ramshackle, but that was part of its charm. It was pretty astounding the variety that they managed to shoehorn into such a small space. I never minded hunting for books in that place, but frequently had to bite my tongue when I couldn't find books that I personally deemed as 'classics'. (you would have thought, as a fellow bookseller, I'd have been more patient: Hell no!) Now, however, it is a shop preparing to die and getting its' affairs in order. The last pieces of stock are now alongside out of print/ end of stock items, uncorrected proofs, creased and yellow around the edges and an incredibly eclectic collection of second hand books. Despite this seemingly depressing end, what they have actually created is an amazing haven of the printed word. The sections still remain so its easy to rummage, but it is completely anti-ageist: brand new books sharing the same selling space as old duffers from the turn of the last century. And I found some gems that dispelled my foul mood quicker than you can say 'I really should start taking Evening Primrose again.' Look!

from left to right: Julia Cameron, 'The Right to Write' (publ: , Ronald Searle 'Back to the Slaughterhouse' (1951),  'Roget's Pocket Thesaurus' (1946, US ed)

'The Right to Write' is a book by the author of 'The Artist's Way', Julia Cameron, and according to the blurb, is about 'using writing to bring clarity and passion to the act of living.' Hmmm, sounds good - I like her thinking. I also liked the fact that it's broken up into teeny chapters that may help my easily-distracted brain to focus. I also loved this exercise, where the reader needs to list 50 things that they're proud of, and that in her example, 'My rapport with dogs' came higher than 'My relationship with my mother', although 'My pie crust' was an ever prouder moment! Genius! I may share my 50 things with you once I know you a little better.

Next up is actually the first book that I found today. Some of you may remember  that I've mentioned Ronald Searle before and therefore know that I think he is utterly tremendous. (and it's not just me that thinks as thus: looky!) Perhaps with that knowledge elbamed in your brain, you may have an idea of the joy that was beholden to me when I saw, faced out on the second set of shelves, this:

You can find a selection of the pages here.
Its a wonderful book, containing enough pictures that I hadn't seen before to make it worth me popping in the shop in the first place.
I loved the back too, with a rather wonderful self-portrait:


And lo: how fab is it without its dustjacket!

Gotta love a gymslip!

I've recently been meaning to find a small thesaurus to pop in my bag, for those times when I just can't find either the right, or at least vaguely more interesting word. The God of the Bookshop heeded my call and sent, all the way from the U.S, and the distant past, a beautiful (beauteous, handsome; pretty: lovely, graceful, elegant, exquisite, delicate, dainty) Roget's Thesaurus (lexicon, glossary, vocabulary, wordbook:  bored yet?! I can keep this up for hours!) As it's from the US, I'll have to keep an eye on the spelling (orthography) but other than that, I think it'll prove to be quite an inspiration (stir up, infuse life into, quicken, sharpen, revive) Besides all that, I think in this instance, it is only right that I should judge a book by its' cover and the perfectly preserved endpapers:

593. BOOK.- N. book, booklet; writing, work, volume, tome, tract, treatise, brochure......

I also found, but didn't buy, a book on living in Hampstead from the 50's, worth it for the line on the cover saying that the book would be suitable in a guest room or coffee table (or was it 'occasional' table? Or bedside table?) I think more books should give suggestions as to where they would best be stored: "Keep in the fridge during breaks between reading", "Must not be read on an infant's swing", "Warning: will explode if exposed to synthetic upholstery" etc.

May you derive as much hormonal-balancing pleasure from your books as I have!

*Varium et mutabile semper femina - according to my new / old thesaurus, it means 'Woman is ever a changeful and capricious thing.' Amen.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

A ponder on clothes

That Crafty Fish! said... I demand that you take photos of lots of your most colourful clothing / outfits in a 'teen style' wardrobe ramraid and talk about how great clothes are....

Ok, but let me just start by saying that I would never regard myself as any kind of style guru. My 'look', if you could name it so, is based on an inherent fear of beige, and the need to blend in and disappear that I personally associate with such an insipid hue. It is a shade that screams, or whispers or rather mutters under its breath "Please do not look at me. I do not wish to offend you by seeming to actually be happy with myself."  Beige is often termed as 'neutral'- it sits mawkishly on the fence, comfy in its middle ground, eager to not displease anyone.

My own haphazard sense of 'style' is a look born out of necessity (that is, to stay warm, to not be naked and to not let people know that my underwear doesn't match) (oops) and limited funds. This, coupled with an inane hatred of clothes shopping, means that my 'wardrobe' is pretty interchangeable. I do not have a winter and summer wardrobe: winter is the same as summer, just with more layers. I love Ebay, if only for the scroll down menus that are so less humiliating than wading through a rail of clothes looking for the hallowed size 16. Its got to the point now that if I should ever find myself in Topshop, and I happen upon an outsize (ha!) garment, I will purchase the fecker on principle. Luckily, for my bank account, this doesn't happen often. There's a lot of layering going on, with contrasting colours and patterns. I have learnt to never buy lambswool (I always shrink it) and that you can often wash dry-clean only clothes. I'm all about the comfort, baby, but even I know never to buy anything with an elasticated waist unless you are pregnant. I know that I am safe with Monsoon jeans and that I'm bound to find something wonderful, that fits, in Debenhams (their website has a fab feature where you can search for clothes by size: saves soooo much time and disappointment.) M+S is always a disappointment, but I have faith and so keep checking.

And then, of course, there is Etsy. I currently need this dress (actually, can I have all of Pamela Tang's womenswear range please?), with this top underneath (by some bird I may have mentioned a few times, but seeing as she's a bit stingy with the royalty cheques, I shan't this time :-P ) and this hat (from that Empress of Yarn, dollyknits) if its a bit perky-nips out. Socks would come from Sock Dreams, of course (or one of those sellers on Ebay that sells 15 pairs of stripey socks for £10.)

Life is short and we should have fun with the way we look. Dame Vivienne Westwood is credited as saying 'When in doubt, overdress.' Now, whilst I haven't yet achieved her level of bravada with attire, I aspire to it (clearly in a very beige way.) and I don't keep any items for 'best', preferring to mix different clothes in order to convey the depth of importance of the event. I find it hard to leave something plain: I am a keen proponent of  a well-placed badge or brooch. (particular favourites are summersville fabric badges, paperfish and, without the merest hint of arrogance, my own!) I do think that I dress, to coin Crafty Fish, if not like a 'teenage ramraid', then certainly as '30-something ramraid who'll wear what she damn well pleases', which is quite similar, just with nicer fabrics and better posture. I  certainly dress for comfort to the point that, when I do make 'an effort' (translation: I wear a dress, without trousers underneath, with heels and tights instead of stripey socks.) I am seranaded with a chorus of 'You scrub up well!', a phrase that has me scuttling back to my Birkies / Docs / Crocs (ahhh, bite me!) quicker than you can say 'mahoosive support knickers'.

Now I don't feel original and stylish enough to really dispense sartorial advice to you, but this is one of my favourite divine sources of inspiration.The Black Apple may be the Blessed Mother Mary of Etsy, but this is where it's at! I deeply love this girl's style.
Also worth a look is, of course, The Satorialist, showing time and time again that it's not what you wear, its how you wear it.
If I were braver, I would dress like this, or, braver still, this, although I think the nipple tassels may contravene many health  & safety regulations.

So, in answer to Kirsty's original brief, clothes can be great, wonderful, life-enhancing, mood-altering, warming, enticing, repelling wonders of fabric cacophony. If they're not, mix them up until they are. Like any good cake, the ingredients are often better chucked together than on their own (although let that metaphor end there: I don't want to be held responsible for the agony self-inflicted by you lot, setting your outfit in a 200oc oven for 20 mins)

What are you wearing today?

(by the way, you need to read this book. I know it's about men's fashion, but it is is utterly wonderful, as I have mentioned before. What do you mean you haven't read it yet?!)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Sporadic book adoration

Just wanted to pop in to tell you about some of the books that have grabbed my attention, made it tea and found a comfy chair (with optional snuggly blanket drapage) I think the only similarities between them are that they are printed onto paper and that you need to use your eyes to decipher the meanings therein, such is the erraticism of my tastes.

  • Firstly, a collection of  three autobiographies by the late jazzman / raconteur / writer / bon viveur, George Melly, 'Owning Up'.  I adored this trilogy, which features his first three autobiographies in chronological (rather than published) order: Scouse Mouse (pub 1984), Rum, Bum and Concertina (1977) and Owning Up (1965). His honesty (or, at least his skill for spinning a damn fine yarn) is certainly admirable and often breathtaking, and provides a snapshot of his life with a crisp, fresh clarity. Of all the books, I enjoyed 'Owning Up' the least, which is not to suggest that it was necessarily the weaker of the three, just that perhaps someone that appreciates Melly's particular milieu of jazz more than I would enjoy it even more.
He has a delicious turn of phrase that I found delightful:
"It would be absurd not to admit to the obsessive spirit in my remembering so minutely the contents and decoration of an unremarkable terrace house some fifty years ago, but I have always tended to understand people initially through the objects they accumulate and the manner in which they display or conceal them."
What really struck me was the author's absolute lust for life, twinned with the ability to look back without regret, making this book both inspiring and thoroughly entertaining. I'm looking forward to reading the final instalment, 'Slowing Down' to learn just how to milk every last drop from the flagon of life. Have a lil Boogie Woogie on his behalf!
  • Next up, a wonderful debut from Jane Elmor, 'My Vintage Summer'. This has two stories running alternately, one from the narrator's descent into teenage awakening and one from the present day, her life full of creature comforts but hollow inside. The two stories have as their central theme the adoration, worship and, ultimately, understanding of an older girl, Vonnie, and how Lizzie (the narrator) reacts to her defiant, magnetic  prescence. Whilst the detail certainly evokes life in the late 70' / early 80's, it isn't a syrupy nostalgia fest, and explores themes of family, friendship, marriage and music with an understanding touch that will be familiar and illuminating at the same time. It made me think of the best bits of 'Flashbacks of a Fool' in its attention to detail that seemed accurate rather than sepia-tinted longing, although I had far more empathy and warmth to the central character Lizzie than I did for Flashbacks' Joe Scott.I loved it and look forward to reading her most recent book. (you might also enjoy this interview.)

  • From the Cor Blimey, to the sublime and now onto the, umm, well, something different. Now, buying a book on thrift may seem to be a non-sequitur, but often it can be a case of 'speculating to accumulate'. I'm not entirely convinced by India Knight's concept of 'Thrift', but, if you consider it as a companion to the wonderful, often unashamedly glam 'The Shops', you shouldn't be disappointed. 'The Thrift Book' has a lovely section celebrating the current craft revolution (that is sadly rumbling over my head like a giant wave at the mo, rather than me harnessing its energy and riding a body board whilst laughing like a deranged hyena, but that's a whole other story for a whole other time...), in particular Etsy and the joy therein. This book is less about how to live cheaply, basically and beautifully, and more about 'If you have to spend money, you might as while spend a bit more on something decent', an idea I agree with on principle, but sometimes you just don't have the choice and have to make the most of what you have. I think the section on 'Camping' made me realise, once more, that Ms Knight and I move in very different circles: she recommends a Feather Down Farms holiday, I recommend you bag a tent of ebay (I recommend Outwell tents) or borrow one from a friend: we camped near Land's End, in the middle of August, for £16 a night for a family of four. That, my friend, is thrift. 

  • Whilst on said thrifty holiday, I devoured the first in Henning Mankell's 'Wallander' series, 'Faceless Killers'. This is the first crime book and I loved it. Admittedly, I was eased in into them through my adoration of both the english and swedish tv adaptations, and found that the books gave another dimension to an already interestingly complex character. Actually, is Kurt Wallander a complex character, or is he infact torn between duty to job and family, resulting in a man desperate to find a balance but failing miserably? I think he's a fascinating chararcter: you really feel for the poor sod, whilst simultaneously wishing he wasn't quite so his own worst enemy. But then, it wouldn't make such a delicious story. Wallander is called out to a horrific and seemingly motiveless murder whilst his private life is still in turmoil after a recent divorce. As layers are gradually peeled away, racism is revealed and Wallander must find the facts underneath the mask of fear. Its seemingly slowpace is misleading as, before you know it, you'll have read 10 pages without breathing.
I also loved my own juxtaposition, reading this dark, bleak tale set in wintry Sweden whilst sitting on a beautiful warm, sunny Cornish beach in the middle of August. There is a greyness that I find utterly absorbing and I can't wait to read the next book, 'The Dogs of Riga'.

What are you reading?

(ps: apologies for the bizarre layout: it wouldn't let me leave a space between books, thus creating a large bed of words that would have put me off, at least: Grrrr!)

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Self-imposed craft exile...

Regular readers (although, that's an oxymoron as I do not provide enough waffle for you to digest on a regular basis: I'm only thinking of those waistlines...) may have noticed that I have been uncharacteristically quiet on all creative fronts: the shop is still there but bereft of anything new, the blog has creaked to an emollient-free stop, and Flickr, once the place for wips, cakes and inspiration is saturated, regrettably, with my face, a self-portrait on a Thursday being my only creative outburst. Unfortunately, life has got in the way and yumptatious has taken second place to, at the moment, more important shenanigans. Last (school) year was an extremely hectic one and I am determined to redress the balance, but I need your help:

I need YOU!!!

(apologies that the crazy world of foreshortening makes it look as if I am brandishing a stump where my forefinger should be: nice.)

I need you to kick my butt, (in a creative, metaphorical sense only please: I've met a number of you and reckon that you could inflict serious damage if the need arose.) I need you to throw your creative briefs at me: tell me what to write about - be my editor (I won't expect payment...yet) Would you like me to write a review (book, music, film, exhibition etc), re-write a recipe, show you how to make something, tell you a story, give my opinion on a chosen topic etc? I will then post the results over on my spanking new blog. I struggled for ages to come up with a suitable name, fearing what pondlife Google would send my way. Therefore, I have decided against:
  • Please kick me up the arse
  • Give it to me (and make it hard as you like)
  • I need YOU to push me
  • Activate my creative juices
  • and, of course I need your briefs.
I have gone for an 'exactly what it says on the tin' approach: behold yumptatious waffle!
Just leave your suggestions over there and I'll get cracking.

In the meantime, a quickish precis of the last 9 months creativity:
I've learnt to knit, and, in doing so, created probably my most popular picture on Flickr (21 extremely wise people have added it to their favourites)

I bought some of the yarns seen here from Texere Yarns up in Bradford, the place that I, and the other weavers, bought the yarns for their final projects from back in 1993, so I was thrilled that they are still going. (I wonder if present textile students at Nottingham still go there...)
Ooh, speaking of my fellow weavers from back in the day, I recently got back in touch with an old chum of mine via Facebook, Sarah Allen, who happens to also have an Etsy shop! Go and behold her beautiful cloth: she's damn talented and a purchase from her will increase your lifejoy tenfold.

I made a couple of skirts, one from Clothkits and one made from a sneaky template:

The one on the right is made from upholstery fabric I picked up from my local flea market for £2. Check out my sofa's jealous demeanour (and rightly so.)
I heartily recommend Clothkits: the instructions are easy to follow and they provide everything: the lining, the zip, even the thread. The skirt I plumped for is designed by the wondrous Rob Ryan and comes in many tempting colourways.

I have, of course, been baking, thanks to this amazing book. Every recipe is a winner, although I do think using a food processor does help with the lightness of the frosting. (if anyone would like to buy me a KitchenAid, please feel free: I'm not proud.)

Pornography, pure and simple.

Here are a few of my current favourite things:

clockwise from top left:
my current read and I recommend it whole-heartedly! Funny, honest, informative and inspiring in a cheese-free kinda way. I swear I put on weight with her as she ate her way around Italy (something I would love to do!)
I can't stop playing this album! If you're a pedant, you'll be able to pick out all the 80's references, but that doesn't mean that this is yesterday's leftovers served up as retro. One of those album's that proves that decent dance music can have soul too. This brings me great joy!
Whilst I do indeed love this whisky, it's pictured here more in honour of my latest addiction, 'The Wire'. If you haven't seen it, I can only hope that the God of Karma rectifies the situation and brings you the best thing you can set your eyes on (other than kittens, cake, oh and I guess your children) in the form of the dvd boxed set. And if you don't believe me, listen to Charlie Brooker: he has no reason to lie to you (unlike me, who may at some point need you to lend me a fiver, or help lugging some furniture, or to hide a body)
Superhit jossticks: unleash your inner (or outer) hippy and make your world smell sweeter!
I love Lush products: they smell fabulous, they do a bloody good job and they do it all with a glint in their eye. I'd previously tried Liz Earle's facewash (after remortgaging the house in order to do so...) but my skin hated it. It loves Ultra Bland though, which seems to last forever! Hurrah!
Sainsbury's have introduced more coffee's into their Fairtrade range. Currently enjoying their Italian blend: very nice!

Summer has been and gone, but we managed to get away to Cornwall and had a fabulous time. I love it down there, the mix of raw, beautiful coastline and moors steeped in history and the ghosts of myths and people past. We had a surfing lesson which was a real epiphany, though not for the reasons I had hoped. I discovered that my body is every one of it 37 years: I have no physical strength, I have no flexibility and certainly no grace or elegance (but then I never had!) Ok, I've never been a completely fit person, but my body has often surprised me when called for. Not this time: it's gotten older, and is tired and needs help. At least the neoprene was forgiving! Me and the sea didn't get on too well this holiday: she chewed me up and spat me out as I tried to get over her hormonal waves. I took the hint and admired her from a distance.

I did, however, discover the coffee shop with the finest view:

They also do a good line in sandwiches, cakes and delicious coffee, and use Cornish ingredients where possible. We weren't in the mood for the actual gallery, though I urge you to go. Whilst in St Ives, make sure you go to Barbara Hepworth's Museum + Gallery. The garden is an oasis of space and calm, away from the cramped, yet picturesque, streets. I loved her studio: you can't go in, but you can peer through the windows at a tableaux of artistic industry: it looks like she's just popped out to make herself a cuppa.
We did pop into the shop to add to our collection of joyous inspiration:

clockwise from top left:
1) go to the Eden Project
2) pass out at the wonderment
3) after seeing her lil piggies in the Mediteranean Biome, purchase this utterly inspiring book and immerse yourself in her skillz via her website.
4) thank me later

A fabulous treasure hunt book from Alice Melvin

Postcard featuring 'St Ives Harbour (All Round)' by Bryan Pearce

This book makes me want to get the pencils and oil pastels (Sennelier, natch) out STAT! I love her work oh so very very much. Please buy me some.

Postcards featuring 'Restaurant View with Leach Jug'  and 'View from Pednolver Terrace' by Rachel Nicholson

Right, I'm off to lie in a darkened room in preparation for the arrival of my muse.
Let's not leave it so long next time.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Meet my monkeys!

Firstly, may I wish you all a very Happy New Year! How was it for you? Were you nestled under a hand-crocheted bedspread, sipping home-made sloe gin whilst tucking into home-made cake, snuggled up to your beautiful man (bedecked of hand-knitted jumper and needle-felted beard) and noticing how beautiful the stars twinkled onto the years first frost, wishing you had a macro lense powerful enough to capture such ephemeral beauty? Or were you dredging the abandoned glasses of a group of people who apparently are interesting, according to your now ex-friend, yet only succeeded in making you feel insignificant, thereby necessitating the need to get as drunk as humanly possible and thereby creating the table-dancing, bra-revealing snog-monster you ultimately morphed into?
I spent it with the in-laws near Penzance, drinking Guinness and arguing the importance of The Ting Tings whilst watching Jools' 'Hootenanny'. Its all good.

Anyhoots, at long last, I've listed the monkeys I made aeons ago, and took to Wemake (then brought home again...) I wanted to share my descriptions with you: I went off on lyrical flights of fancy. Ho hum: marketing is definitely not my strong point...
I still have Alan to list, but I'll post when he's on Etsy.

Meet Bunty!

Bunty has been a teacher of PE for 10 years at a well-respected girls school, just north of West Chesterfordingshire. Her vociferous opinions on subjects such as the wearing of earrings during lessons and dealing with period pain by getting the affected girl to run around a field has endeared her to the weaker-willed members of the staffing body, whilst causing much consternation in her young charges.

Bunty is ready for a new challenge, and, considering her victory at last years 'West Chesterfordingshire Orienteering Jamboree', soundly trouncing favourite Ernie Ernster into an uneventful 3rd place, she's not wrong.
Can you provide Bunty with the thrills and fresh air she so brazenly craves?

Meet Elspeth!

Elspeth was a model back in the 70's. She was a muse to such fashion luminaries as Ossie Clark and, later, Zandra Rhodes. A life of glamour, socialising, ill-advised tanning and string bikinis encapsulated our monkey friend, but that was all to shatter around her, when (in a similar fashion to the tv dropped from the window of the 2rd floor hotel apartment by her good friend, the late Keith Moon) she ruptured her tail during an exuberant round of Canasta.

Years of therapy followed, often punctuated by bouts of drink and drug abuse until, in the spring of 1989, she found herself in the doorway of master baker, Dave Inkles, and a love of creating yeast-engorged produce ensued.
Known for her fine cakes, crisp biscuits and majesterial scarf-wearing, Elspeth has risen to be a national treasure. Indeed, her programme, 'The Sound of Whisk on Egg' was voted 'Most Important Food-Based Programme' at last years Baftas.

Elspeth needs a new kitchen with live-in quarters:
Can you provide her with the bowls, whisks, vanilla, yeast and love she needs as she careers out of middle age? In return, she will regale you with stories of infinite glamour, plus tips on how to stop your custard from curdling.

So: what do you think?