And so the days are filled...

21 March 2008

End of summer

It was a long summer for cricket tragics. The test series was marred with controversy, and the positively memorable moments were scattered very few and far between. (I will always be proud to say I witnessed Sachin's century at the SCG; I will be less proud to say I jumped to my feet and cheered at the fall of Ishant Sharma's wicket two days later.) The 12-match one-day series that followed the test series seemed to drag on and on, and continued to be marred by whinging, mudslinging from both Australia and India, and too much cricket in the headlines. It got to the point where I rejoiced when the footballers started getting into the papers for all the wrong reasons, yet again.

Such is the ebb and flow of the seasons. For sports fans the onset of autumn is more than just the extra hour of darkness at the beginning of the day and the extra chill in the air (at least in the shade) - it's the thrill of seeing the four big sticks erected at the local oval, and the excitement of the *whump!* sound made when a boot connects with the pointy ball. AFL is finally back and, thanks to the annoying antics of the Australian cricket team, I couldn't be happier. (Though I must put on record that my faith in cricket was somewhat restored by attending Day 1 of the Sheffield Shield final between NSW and Victoria. A bunch of mostly unknowns, quietly going about their business and doing a good job of it. That's what cricket should be about.)


The impending beginning of autumn and the AFL season this weekend caused me to realise with some alarm that I had not yet finished my Geelong Memorial Witterings Hat. Cast on during last September's grand final match between Geelong and Port Adelaide in what happened to be Geelong colours (by accident, not intention). I finished the knitting in a fit of summer-heat inspiration on a visit to Queensland in early December with visions of a new summer hat to wear to the cricket dancing in my head.


The instructions for finishing Witterings were clearly to be followed to the letter. This is an interesting design in that the detail of it, mainly the finishing, result in a knit that is worthy of High Street more so than most of the knits I attempt (which, well-finished though they may be, rarely result in something looking anything but hand made). I wanted to pay special attention to the tubular cast off and go about the final processes of blocking, applying millinery petersham to the crown, and inserting a cord into the tubular cast off in order to strengthen the brim. A sunny day presented itself, perfect for blocking. I didn't have a form to roughly match the size of my head, so my blocking efforts concentrated on evening out the brim, which had a somewhat segmented look, due to the regular, rapid increases which formed the brim.


People seem to have had trouble sourcing millinery petersham for this project. I simply salvaged some from a vintage hat I'd had sitting around in the 'donate-to-Vinnie's' area of the spare room for about 18 months now. The hat wasn't in good condition and it had served its purpose with me long ago as part of a costume to a fancy dress event. The petersham was easily smipped out, handwashed, dried in the sun, and ironed - ready for insertion.


More difficult was finding an appropriate cord to thread through the brim. The designer recommends cotton laundry line. In the end I opted for a length of elasticised cord I'd had hanging around in the craft box, salvaged from an old mosquito net which had been thrown out years ago. The cord was the right diameter, but its construction - a number of smaller elastic cords held together by a nylon casing - made it very difficult to thread through the narrow tube which forms the brim. The threading through took me several attempts until I found a method which worked. Because of the cord's construction, I couldn't simply put a safety pin through the end and guide it through the tube, because the safety pin kept pulling out of the cord. Finally I settled on wrapping some strong thread round and round and round the leading few centimeters of the cord, attaching that thread to a safety pin, and then pulling the cord through. Even once I'd settled on this method, the pulling through took a few evenings in front of the telly.


Exhausted by these efforts, the hat was then cast aside for later joining of the cord, closing of the last remaining opening in the cast off brim edge, and finally application of the petersham. Fast forward about 3 months to earlier this week when I suddenly learned that Geelong would, once again, be playing Port Adelaide, nearly 6 months since the grand final, in round 1 of the 2008 AFL season.


The two ends of the elastic cord, of course, refused to be sewn together - again, due to the construction of the cord. In the end, I dipped the two ends in Elmer's glue (my old craft glue favourite, brought back to Australia from my last trip to America several years ago and only used for special occasions) and let them dry. I thought I would then be able to sew the two ends together but in the end found that they overlapped by only a centimeter or so and just left the ends free inside the tubular cast off to do what they want.

I then used a rough approximation of mattress stitch to close the gap in the tubular cast off and wove in a very long end, threading a good 10cm of the tail into the tube of the brim in case I need to reopen this gap and adjust the cord situation in future.


Trying on the hat, I was pleasantly surprised that the negative ease at the crown promised to keep the hat firmly on my head in any windy conditions, because if there's anything that gives my heart a sudden panic it's a hat threatening to blow off. Because the actual diameter of my crown and the actual diameter of the hat were so disparate, I decided not to sew in the millinery petersham. I may one day, if the hat stretches to the point where it requires something to stabilise it on the crown, but for now the petersham is quietly rolled up back in the craft box.


Now that autumn has begun (and Geelong, again, has beaten Port Adelaide), this very summery hat has had one ceremonial walk in the dog park before it will be gently folded up and put in the summer clothing box to await what will hopefully be a splendid summer of cricket. By then, I'm sure, all the footballers in the paper for all the wrong reasons will have turned me right off AFL.

For more:
Ravelry link
Pattern link

29 February 2008

On the booker - another rant

Maybe this happens to you - I resist blogging until I feel I have something to say. A post bubbles around in my head for a while until I decide it really needs to be said. There is no timetable to the process, or even any clear rationale. Lately I've been meaning to close off my 2007 Booker Prize discussions with a review (or rather non-review) of the final title on the shortlist - Darkmans by Nicola Barker. But I didn't really feel the need to write about it until those crazy Booker people went and did something irritating again... (at least they are reliable in their behaviour)

Fifteen years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the prize, the Booker mob announced that they would have a 'Booker of Bookers' prize in order to honour the so-called best Booker prize winning book since the beginning of the prize in 1969. A panel of judges selected Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (which won in 1981).

Now, call me a cretin, but I just cannot stand Salman Rushdie's books. I know there are stacks of people out there who do love him and I am not making any kind of comment about those people, their literary taste, or their intelligence. All I am saying is that for me, Rushdie just doesn't cut it. I have read Midnight's Children and cannot think of many experiences which were more excrutiating. I have even read others of his books in a vain attempt to discover what it is that make people rave about his writing so much - all to no avail. Life is short, so I'm cutting Rusdie off the life reading list. There are plenty of fish in the sea and I don't need to torture myself trying to fathom Rushdie.

Now, fast forward a mere fifteen years and the Booker mob have come up with (for the 2nd) time - a startling idea! A 'Best of the Booker'! Quelle surprise! How novel! This is in aid of their 40th anniversary. Again, all previous winners of the Booker Prize are eligible to win. (I am not sure whether there is actually a prize, other than the acclaim and publicity.) Again, most of the pundits are saying that Rushdie's Midnight's Children should win. (Though, hearteningly, Life of Pi is the bookies' favourite at 4:1.)

What does this mean exactly? That in the past 15 years there are no books which have won the Booker which can hold a candle to Midnight's Children? Wouldn't the judges and their idiotic choices (for many of those 15 years) be somewhat accountable for this dire situation? When will contemporary literature be able to move on from this supposed high water mark of Midnight's Children? I suppose I just want to scream from the rooftops: Get over it people! Go and read one of Rohinton Mistry's three shortlisted books! (one of which at least should by all rights have won - in 1996)

But leaving aside personal preference for a moment - the real innovation that the Booker mob have thought up this time is not to have a panel of judges to determine the winner of the 'Best of the Booker' prize - rather, this time it's open to public vote. That's right, public vote. The Booker people have finally caved in to all the complaints that their judging panels are out of touch with the world's readers (as demonstrated by their pitiful choices in past years), and have put the Best of Booker up to the person who can click for their favourite the most number of times. (Though a panel of judges will select a shortlist of 6 books for punters to vote on. And I wonder if the judges will be reading all 41 of the previous years' winners before choosing that shortlist...)

As much as I disagree with the judging panels from year to year, I hate to see the Best of the Booker determined by popular vote. The whole point of the Booker Prize, love it or loathe it, is that it is not decided by popular choice. If it is now opened to popular vote for this once-off prize, why not let us vote for a People's Choice award each year?

All in all, the Best of the Booker prize seems to me to be a pathetic grab for media attention in the dark half of the year when the Booker is inconveniently out of the limelight. Last year's prize has been decided and the furore has died down... it's too early to pick this year's shortlist and even the longlist announcement is months away. So in a desperate bid to get some headlines, the Booker people think 15 years is enough time to have elapsed between the 'best of' prize and launch it again. I for one will not be voting.

Of course I will keep pursuing my life goal of reading all the Booker Prize winning books and maybe the short and longlists too. Here is a handy little reference sheet for those of you have have similar inclinations.

Now, about Darkmans. This is the last book from the 2007 shortlist which I have still not read - however, I have a review of sorts for you. My father has been visiting lately. He is semi-retired and has been on holidays in Australia for a couple of months. So he can very easily be identifed as Someone With A Lot Of Spare Time. So I gave him a copy of Darkmans. I figured he could read it first and if he liked it, then I would finish it. (I got about 100 pages in last year before having to put it down because I was disliking it so much.)

In summary, my father's reactions in the course of reading amounted to a great deal of eyeball rolling, snorting, and exasperated sighing. As he was getting close to finishing the book, I asked him occasionally to read out a passage to me. The selections nearly always seemed inane - an episode where a bird shat on a fellow's head, that sort of thing. I was looking at this 800+ page book thinking perhaps the bird poo could have been edited out, if it didn't contribute to the story. That's the thing. I now have it on reliable advice, from someone who has actually read and finished the book - IT IS NOT ACTUALLY ABOUT ANYTHING.

Sure, there are plenty of highbrow reviewers out there who will tell you it's about this that or the other thing. But in actual fact, nothing happens. There are a bunch of characters. New characters get introduced a few dozen pages from the end. There is no resolution, nor is there anything to be resolved. It is just a big fat book about nothing.

Suffice to say, I will not be reading it. I will be marching straight down to the 2nd hand book shop with my copy of Darkmans and freeing myself from the burden of even looking at it on the bookshelf. I have considered just putting it in the recycling bin so I do not inadvertently cause someone else to waste the precious hours in their life by reading it. But somehow that seems a bit harsh.

So there we have it. 2007 Booker Prize consideration closed. Reading for 2008 will commence shortly. Peter Carey has a new book out, called His Illegal Self. As I read somewhere, Peter Carey + New Book = Booker Prize, so we shall see. (His last book was shortlisted but did not win, though I thought it would have made a credible winner.) Other possibles include Tim Winton's soon-to-be released Breath, and another favourite of mine, Murray Bail, is due to come out with a new book early this year. Geraldine Brooks, a previous shortlister, has a new book out which has received mixed reviews. I am not a huge fan of Brooks, so I think I will wait and see if her latest is shortlisted before reading it.

In the meantime, I admit I have not knit a stitch since mid-January. There are myriad reasons for this, chief among them that I just don't feel like it. I'll be sure to get back to you when I have something more to say. Until then, possums...

31 December 2007

What's next then

My mum tells me that among the first 'coherent' syllables I uttered as a babe in arms sounded something like "wet mouse". She liked to think I was asking "What next?" It does seem to be a question I love more than many other of life's imponderables.

While the 'what next' question hardly ever gives me pause when thinking about books, I find that with knitting, it is something I can ponder until the cows come home and still enjoy pondering some more the next day. I know I'm not alone - last month Theresa asked what project her readers were enjoying most right now, and many of them said 'The one that's still in my head'.

For me, the project in my head is often the most enjoyable because
1. I haven't had a chance to stuff it up yet
2. I haven't had to put in any hard work with a calculator rejigging numbers
3. It fits perfectly while it's still in my head
4. It doesn't take any time or commitment
5. It doesn't cost any money

The past week I've been trying to consciously look at what factors influence my knitting what-next questions. Here's what I've been considering.

Season & climate
Is it better to knit in advance of the current season? Should I cast on now for something I'll wear in early autumn? Or should I knit for the current season because chances are the current season knits require materials which I can cope with in the current climate? Or should I knit for the climate which dominates my wardrobe? If this is the case I might knit 1 wool sweater a year and no more, in favour of cool cotton summer tanks, light tops or wraps for chilly evenings.

As the old saying goes, knitting loves company. Sometimes it's compelling to cast on for something just because there's a KAL, or because your friend wants some company during the journey of a particular pattern. Sometimes it seems like everybody's knitting something so I should either a) get cracking on it now before I'm left behind or b) leave that pattern well enough alone because everybody and their dog has made it. I hardly ever succeed in completing KAL commitments (Forest Path Stole knitters keep quiet! And I'm sure the Hanami KAL people have blacklisted me forevermore. I never even cast that one on.)

Should the knitting basket have a consistently balanced series of projects representing all the relevant categories? Just when it seems I've come up with reasonable categories, they shift. And categorising knitting tends to keep me from trying new things outside the categories. Should there always be a sock, a sweater, a lace project, and a colourwork project on the go? Or should the categories run along the lines of mindless, some attention required, and atten-SHUN!

Mental space
I'm far less likely to be able to successfully and mindfully start a project if it's been a busy week at work or after 7pm. That said, some of my spur-of-the-moment decisions have turned out well. Projects that seem a little daunting tend to get put off until I am in a relaxed mental space. For example, I bought the pattern and yarn for Morrigan back in July. I swatched for it during a long weekend in October. And I had mentally always been setting aside this Christmas holiday to properly cast on. When I looked at it again this week, I changed my mind about needle size and that just seemed to put everything on hold for me. If I'm constantly putting off things that seem a little bit hard or challenging, when will I face up to the hard stuff which ultimately is the most rewarding?

Upcoming travel plans
I am planning on spending January 2nd - 7th at the cricket ground and it is a truth universally acknowledged that one must have a sock to work on at the cricket. Luckily I have Nutkin on the needles - but it'd be good to finish Nutkin #1 before the cricket starts so I can re-wind the remaining yarn and have less to carry around with me during my daily cricket ground triathlon. So maybe I should just forget about starting anything new and just focus on Nutkin?

Obligations, real and perceived
With Christmas out of the way I thought I was in the clear with gift knitting. But then there was a friend's pregnancy announcement last week so I really 'should' get going with that baby knit and have it out of the way early so it's not a last minute rush...

The stash
Should I approach what-to-knit-next on the basis of the most 'mature' items in my stash? But what about that stuff I just bought? It's way more pretty and exciting...

The 'hankering'
There is that little feeling deep down which seems to set the course. Last year there was a hankering for lace, colourwork, and a Hex Coat. Nowadays the hankering seems to be directing me toward things like blankets and cushion covers and cozy home like things. Cables keep drawing my attention. Knitting Nature still calls my name.

In the end what I usually do is cast on for everything that takes my fancy in any given moment and set each object loose in the Darwinian order of my knitting bag where the fittest, or most interesting, survive and the weakest end up keeping the Forest Path Stole company.

What about you? What's coming up on your plate and how do you come to a decision?

28 December 2007

Gifts finished, given, frogged, and postponed

I thought you might like a little run-down on the gift projects I mentioned last time.

The Icarus shawl was made for my mum's birthday with yarn left over from my wedding stole (Jaggerspun Zephyr). She really liked it.

This Montego Bay Scarf was made, as mentioned previously, with a skein of Knitpicks Gossamer I won in a contest and I am really pleased with how it came out. I have a few more single skeins of variegated lace weight Knitpicks yarn I've received from various places and would not hesitate to make another similar Montego Bay Scarf as another gift or for myself. It's easy to make and looks much more complex than it really is.


I don't have a good photo of the Montego Bay Scarf I made for my family gift exchange this year but here it is draped on our Christmas tree. I think it was appreciated by the recipient, who promptly put on the scarf (it was unseasonably cool for Christmas this year and the recipient tends to feel the cold) and she wore it the entire day.

I also finished and dispatched prior to Christmas a pair of Log Cabin Socks for a friend's birthday in early January. The yarn is Naturally Sensation which has a blend of angora and merino, and it was something I just had to buy one day when I happened to wander past the LYS in a shopping mood. I had nothing in mind for the yarn, and was very pleased how it worked for the Log Cabin Socks. Each sock in the women's size used just under one skein, and I have another 2 skeins left over to make some more socks for myself. Or something else. Who knows. I love it when you buy something on a whim and then find something good to make with it, most unexpectedly.


And finally, the frogged & postponed mentioned in the post title - some mittens intended for my father have been frogged once and re-started and now I think must be re-frogged. I have thus postponed the intended occasion for gifting these mittens to late February, the recipient's birthday. The problems with the first incarnation was my fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants design approach, and the problem with the second incarnation is size.

v.2 - a bit too small
v.1 - the corrugated ribbing was too pretty to rip out entirely

The yarn is custom-dyed for me by The Knittery in Fremantle Dockers colours - what a fabulous service!

Now that all these gifts are off my plate I've managed to face casting off the Witterings Hat (it took 3 sessions of cricket to finish it) and will now being searching for the millinery Petersham and cotton laundry cord required for the finishing. Here it is looking a little ruffled around the edges, an effect which I will hopefully be able to block out in due course.

Also I'm enjoying the Nutkin sock in some STR 'Jingle Bell Rock' (how seasonal of me) and am mulling over what comes next. Until then!

27 November 2007

Daysfull Digest November volume 1

You know those photocopied inserts you get (or send) in your Christmas cards telling you what fabulous things your friends have been up to in the past year and promising that we should all get together soon and happy holidays and so on? I thought something like that was in order here. So here's the skivvy on the latest goings-on.

I have been playing around in the big ol' Ravelry and it is heaps of fun and admittedly the fun of maintaining a blog has been a little lost amongst the sand castles, pails, and shovels of the Ravelry sandbox. But I think I'll try to stick with this here blog for a while, if intermittently. Where else will you get reviews of Sydney's finest lavatories? Where else could I publish said reviews?

That's what you're here for, I won't pretend otherwise. There have been a few
projects simmering along with all good intentions, most of them are of hush-hush status. However, I do have one thing to show you, my Geelong Memorial Witterings Hat, so called because I coincidentally cast on for it during the 2007 AFL Grand Final in September(which Geelong won) and it is in colours which convincingly approximate Geelong's team colours. I'm not a Geelong supporter (and I was even barracking for the underdog, Port Adelaide, in the Grand Final. Nevertheless, their season was an amazing one and so I'm happy to honour them with a hat (even if the hat is more likely to be worn to the cricket than the footy.)

I didn't bother counting how many stitches I ended up with when the brim was a satisfactory width but it sure is a bl**dy lot of them. The tubular/sewn cast off was frankly demoralising after only 1/8 of the stitches were done. So I cast it aside (rather than off) where it patiently awaits a more patient finisher. Curses batman! And I so wanted to finish that hat in time for Melbourne Cup!

As much casting off as I could handle...
Melbourne Cup.
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting this fine horse recently, so there's even a horsey photo for you! This year in my office sweep I drew Railings who, at $201, was the bookies' least favourite to win. I wasn't too upset because at least my office sweep pays $2 for the wooden spoon, aka last place - which means you get your money back and you get some bragging rights. But my dumb horse came in second last. Last place was the early leader, Tungsten Strike, who obviously could not sustain his early pace. Oh well, at least Fiver drew the 2nd place winner so we haven't lost the farm yet.

Christmas knitting.
You're doing it, I'm doing it, everybody's doing it. This year we have four projects on the boil. I'm fairly sure none of the recipients can get past the gatekeeper at Ravelry yet, so here's links to the goods for the initiated:
1. Secret project #1. Finished.
2. Secret project #2. Finished 50%.
3. Secret project #3. Only just started.
4. A Montego Bay scarf for my brother-in-law's girlfriend (who definitely does not read the lavatory reviews, book rants, and occasional knitting updates chez Daysfull). Recently started and going quickly. Here 'tis:

The yarn is Knitpicks Gossamer in the Sunrise colourway, which I won as a prize in the Knitty Professor's 'Name This Puking Animal Creamer' contest. In addition to this skein, plus another skein of yarn, my prize included my very own Puking Animal Creamer, which you can see above. Who knew such a thing existed?! Certainly not me. Now I am enlightened. Thanks Michaele!

It's my favourite time of year, the cricket season. In honour of this, I have started up a group on Ravelry for cricket tragics, Knit Before Wicket. Please come join us! There's no sledging allowed and even fans of England may join.

I recently finished another 2007 Booker shortlisted book, Animal's People by Indra Sinha. It was a challenging read and very enjoyable. I thought narrative voice (a fellow called "Animal") was a literary achievement unrivalled by the other contenders this year. I had the opportunity to purchase a copy of this book prior to the shortlist being announced and turned it down because of the cover image and the short quotation featured on the back cover, which made it sound like a human-child-raised-by-wolves kind of story. In fact, this is far from the case and just goes to show (everybody together) "You can't judge a book by its cover." However, you can probably sell more books if you have an appealing cover.

I have just started Darkmans, the last one of the shortlisted books from 2007 I have yet to read. It is a hefty tome of over 800 pages I don't expect to finish it anytime soon. First impression? The length is gratuitous. But I'm giving it a red hot go.

A new Australian film called September is in advance release. I had the opportunity to see it last week. It is fantastic and I recommend it highly.

Fiver and I took our gorgeous Guinness to a dog-friendly guest house in the Snowy Mountains for a week last month. It was Guinness's first trip to the bush and it is with some consternation that I report his new-found love of all things wombat, particularly wombat poo. We had a very stinky dog for most of the holiday.

Here's HRH Guinness admiring his identical twin in the window of the Criterion Hotel in Gundagai, where we also took in the Dog on the Tucker Box.

There really is snow in the Snowy Mountains. It was heaps of fun to reacquaint myself with the flurry stuff after about a decade of snowless existence! Here is Australia's highest peak:
Clearly no sherpas were required to reach this peak.

In Jindabyne, one of the main towns in the mountains, we were thrilled to discover this local landmark -
Leo Barry Park?!

If you can't see the sign, it says Leo Barry Park. We could only conclude that the park was named in honour of the Sydney Swan. I took about 10 photos of Fiver trying to re-enact "The Mark" with no success. Other than about 10 hilarious photos.

The Garden.
Through very little effort of my own (and a lot of effort by Fiver), we actually have some things flourishing in the garden! The miracle of life occurs in the front garden, where we have a real live capsicum growing!! This is just a total marvel to me!
Don't tell it we're going to eat it...

And in the back garden, I don't think it's too early to get excited about this little bud (and promise of several more) on the passionfruit vine.

What did the big flower say to the little flower?
What's up bud!

I think the technical term for what our garden, and particularly this vine, has been doing the past month is 'going berzerko', thanks to healthy rainfalls and of course Fiver's careful ministrations.

Hey! We should really catch up again before the silly season sets in!

17 October 2007

Shock / horror

Anne Enright's The Gathering has won the 2007 Booker Prize.

True to form in recent years, the judges picked my least favourite (scroll down) from the shortlist.

I'm off to go try and remember why I bother with the Booker!

28 September 2007

Two more shortlisted book reviews...

Finally after several disappointing reads, I hit some paydirt with the last two Booker Prize shortlisted books to cross my path. I highly recommend both of them.

Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones is narrated by a girl in 1990s Bougainville who is introduced to the Charles Dickens book Great Expectations by a whitefella living on the island who becomes the local schoolteacher. At first this book travels merrily along and all seems right with the world despite the backdrop of civil unrest and social fracture which is hinted at but not detailed. I began to think that this book would be taught in Year 8 schools in the near future as a companion piece to the teaching of Great Expectations. I guess I should have known that things would get more dark and foreboding (it is the Booker prize after all), and it quickly does, when the civil unrest arrives in the village of our heroine.

It is a book written with great clarity on the scale of the individual. I am tempted to talk about the setting of the book as a microcosm, but I think I prefer to think of it as a place unto its own, not symbolic or allegorical. But despite its remoteness from my life or anything I have ever experienced, I found lots of ways to empathise with the main characters which I suppose reading and finding a love of reading is all about.

Likewise, I loved how the narrator in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid) asserts his understanding of and empathy for the ‘listener’ [reader] right from the first sentence. The entire book is carried on as a monologue, with the narrator addressing an American visitor to Pakistan over the course of tea and a meal in a tea house in Lahore. Although this narrative construct fell flat for me a bit (interruptions of the narrator’s tale to ask his visitor why he’s looking worried, or would he like to eat now came off a bit like “What’s that Skip? There’s a fire in the old mill?”) I thought it was an admirable experiment and for the most part worked for me. I had a good friend at uni who came from Pakistan, so I applied his face and personality to the narrator, and as a result, found a way to identify with some of the experiences the narrator goes through as a Pakistani student at Princeton and in the early months of his finance career in NYC.

Some of the reviews I’ve read on line of this book seem to get tied up with the depiction of 9/11 in this book and some seem to see it as yet another offering to the fundamentalism vs secularism debate. These reviews frankly put me right off reading this book until of course I had to because it was shortlisted. I am pleased that I did read it in the end. I found it a really engaging book, which has given me lots to consider in the days since finishing it. Not really having spent any time in America since prior to The W taking office, I understand there have been many changes to daily life there which I have trouble reconciling with my memories of the place. In a way, I think reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist as an outsider (albeit with a bit of inside information) made it a little more enjoyable for me than those readers who might be a bit closer to the action. It’s hard for me to explain and it’s probably best discussed in person over a coffee – but in any case I recommend this book highly.

Unfortunately, it looks like that’s all of the shortlisted books I’ll get to read before the winner is announced on 6th October. What few copies of the two remaining books on the list, Darkmans (Nicola Barker) and Animal’s People (Indra Sinha), were available in Australia got snapped up the minute the shortlist was announced, and no – the library was a bit too slow on the uptake. They ordered the books at the end of August and no sign of their arrival yet.

This weekend… the AFL Grand Final (nothing to see for the Swans fans but I’ll still watch anyway.) And a new project… not knitting, Bollywood ! I'll fill you in soon!

21 September 2007

Knitting for weddings and then some

My immediate group of friends have all recently been bitten by the betrothal bug. I like to think Fiver and I started the trend! I have three weddings to attend in three months. What's a girl to do for outfits? Certainly I'm too cheap to buy a new frock for each one. So I knitted, naturally.

Wedding number one:
We have already been introduced to Butterfly. She debuted at a wedding in August. The auto focus on the camera didn't seem to want to co-operate so I have no in-focus photos of this dress yet, but when I get gussied up in it again, I'll be sure to get some more shots. All I have to show you at the moment is the bottom hem, which is quite lovely if I do say so myself:

Butterfly hem.JPG

I wore it over a chocolate brown slip with brown boots, as you can see. Although I was worried that the dress would sag once I sat down in it, I luckily had blocked it over the slip I intended to wear it with. As the slip fit well and was an unstretchable fabric, this meant that the frock was blocked to a size and shape where it wouldn't have to stretch no matter what. I only realised this in the taxi on the way to the wedding, and let me tell you it was a huge relief.

Over the course of the day, I noticed that the straps (which I made in i-cord instead of the called-for garter stitch) lengthened just a bit, even though I thought I'd stretched them right out when attaching them - so the top of the dress ended up somewhat lower on my body than initially intended. Of course as I was wearing a slip this did not present any fashion faux pas, but I will probably make adjustments before I wear Butterfly again.

All in all, I managed to wear this dress for several hours straight, and even dance in it, and no disasters occurred. I must admit, I was a little bit worried that disaster might strike - what if I'd dropped a stitch and hadn't noticed and the whole thing unravelled? what if I snagged myself on a passerby? what if someone tried to put their shopping in me because of my resemblance to a string bag??? And I was a big hit with the mother of the groom, who had also made (sewn) her own very stunning outfit. Otherwise I don't think anyone even noticed that I might have made my own frock. Ho hum.

Wedding Number Two

For this wedding, I picked up a great skirt of shot silk at an op shop for a Very Good Price. The skirt showed a myriad of colours in different lights ranging from dark rose through to gold and pink. I figured I'd just wear it with a simple black top and be done with it. But such a crazy skirt needed an accessory, and I suddenly remembered that I'd picked up some Kaalund Enchante 2ply silk recently, in the colourway 'Nectarine' which perfectly picked up the colours of the skirt. So I made a Sarcelle to go with the skirt.

This was a great pattern - easy to memorise and quick to execute. The whole thing took about 3 weeks start to finish. I made it only 5 pattern repeats wide because I was worried about yarn quantites. I had just 2 balls of nectarine, measuring about 600 metres. The original pattern used just over that amount with 7 pattern repeats of width. As it turned out, I had enough yarn - almost. Luckily I had also picked up some of the same yarn in a 'Silky Oak' colourway which was basically gold and matched one of the colours of the Nectarine quite satisfactorily. I only needed to use the Silky Oak skein right at the very end, for the last 20 or so rows. It's hardly noticeable at all.

I hate to do this to you but I am going to refer you to Ravelry to see the project details for Butterfly and Sarcelle. I have never done very well at keeping track of details in my blog and I think that's because I'd rather just show the pictures and ramble on a bit. If you aren't on ravelry and are really keen to know what size needles or how much yarn, please drop me a comment or an email and I'll give you all the nitty-gritty and then some.

Oh yea! I'm finally on Ravelry! My username is Daysfull. Please come and find me. In my first flurry of excitement, I managed to find and 'friend' several bloggers I follow - but I haven't found everyone yet so any help is much appreciated! And although previously I simply did not understand everyone talking about taking photos of their stash to put on Ravelry, I now find myself irresistibly drawn toward just such an activity. It's true I do not have a perfect mental catalogue of the stash so I think I'm going to take photos and organise it all on the big R. Goodbye weekend! (Luckily the weather forecast is bad, Fiver has a home brew to put on, and - unluckily - the Swans are not playing. So I've got plenty of free time for pottering around on the computer...)

And now for something completely different - remember the contest?

I don't want to give away too much but, there's a toe...

And there's a cuff...

And there's two of each! Your socks are on the way Polly...I hope you like them! And maybe they'll fit?! (But I don't want to push my luck too much.) More details on these once the surprise has landed at its home.

11 September 2007

Booker prize rant 2007 #1

Breaking radio silence to say

  • Hello
  • How are you?
  • I'm sorry I have not been commenting on your blogs. You all are making and doing such amazing things!
  • I have mainly just been reading.
  • Unfortunately, at this stage, I have no books to recommend.
Yes it's sad but true. I have spent the entirety of the past month working on the Booker Prize long list only to be completely disappointed by each and every title so far. If you want to know more, see my rants below. If you're here for the knitting, come back for the next post. I have finished a Sarcelle stole (yeah, you haven't ever even heard me mention that one before!) and it is blocking as we speak.

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Looking back, it was the excitement of the Booker long list announcement which made me choose this one, one of the longest selections on the long list, as the first cab off the rank. It's a first novel and dear reader it shows. The beginning of the story is set in the immediate pre-WWII era in Penang, an island off the town of Butterworth in Malaysia. I spent several happy days there on holiday a few years ago, so I enjoyed reading a historical novel set in a place I already had a mental picture of. However, the main character at the start of the novel is only 16 years of age. By the time war breaks out and Penang is occupied by the Japanese, he has 'grown into' the voice of the character at age 18. The thing that really bugged me was that there was no growing up evident. This 16 year old was quite confident representing his father, an important business man, at parties and functions, and just so happened to know which houses on Penang Hill had telephone service. I thought it was a bit odd.

I also initially took a great dislike to the book because I had read in the author's biography that he was interested in aikido and the preservation of historic buildings. Aikaido plays a big part in the story. And, unsurprisingly, the main character is, in his later life, involved in the preservation of historic buildings. The historic buildings interest negatively affected the author's descriptions of places. Most of the scene-setting descriptive text could have come out of a National Trust listing card for these buildings. I work in this field so I read and write these descriptions every day. Let me tell you, they do not make good literature. So the place descriptions fell a bit flat.

The above problems aside, I have to tell you that this is my favourite of all the Booker prize long list books I have read so far. The short list has now been announced and I was not surprised to find that this book was not shortlisted - it doesn't come across as a Booker Prize winner - however it is the book my mind keeps returning to. I've been enjoying revisiting the characters in my mind. I also enjoyed the perspective on WWII events in present-day Malaysia, and how the various ethnic groups were affected by the British abandonment of the colony and the Japanese occupation.

The Welsh Girl Peter Ho Davies

Another book set during WWII. (Was it all the anniversary stuff of the past 2 years which directed writers' minds to the war as a good setting?) Another first novel. I found the style of writing in this book to be more to my taste than The Gift of Rain, however, the plot line was infuriatingly contrived. Several stories which happened to mingle by virtue of a connection to one Welsh town. Like The Gift of Rain, I enjoyed the perspective of the nationalist Welsh and their views on the 'occupation' of their land by the English. But I found the main story line, and the actions of the Welsh girl for whom the book is named, to be flippant and frustratingly predictable. In short, I was not convinced. I love historical fiction, but I think the author failed to transport me fully to another time and place.

Consolation Michal Redhill

Finally, a book not set during WWII! Although the premise of this book - the widow of a dead academic takes steps to verify her husband's theory that a cache of historically important photographs is about to be uncovered by a major excavation for a new building - appeals to me, the book failed to delight in even the tiniest way. The narrative was split between the present day search for the photographs and the 1870s story of the making of the photographs. I found the modern day characters to be ill-developed, they were always angry and there wasn't enough explanation of their deep-seeded anger to make me feel in the least way sympathetic toward them. Although the 1870s characters were a bit more likable, I thought the historical content of the book did not take us very far beyond the basic facts which the author (or his researcher) collected in the preparation of the book. In other words, I didn't feel as if I was reading a story set within and amongst an imaginatively painted historical backdrop but rather a story that was weakly propped up by a few meagre historical facts. Like The Welsh Girl, Consolation failed to convince me.

Just to prove that I'm not always whingeing about historical fiction and its failures - I do heartily recommend two selections from last years shortlist. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (my review is here) is a WWII period fiction which evokes the era so well you can almost taste it. And The Secret River by Kate Grenville (my review is here), set in the earliest days of the New South Wales colony brilliantly pulls together historical research and imagination in a completely captivating novel.

The Booker Prize shortlist was announced late last week, so I have now turned my attention to those books.

The Gathering Anne Enright

While this is a very finely written book, it was all a bit too introspective for my taste. A typically harrowing modern Irish story (remember Carry Me Down? It's not quite as harrowing as that), I can't really fault this book for its structure, the narrative, the development of characters (all the things I normally find fault in!) - but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I just don't really care to know all the details of the first-person narrator's life and loves.

I've now moved on to Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones (the current favourite of the bookmakers) but I will reserve comment until I've finished it.

Please let me know what your thoughts have been on the books you've been reading lately!

13 August 2007

It's that time of year again - get reading!

I'm not sure how this news passed me by, but nearly a week ago, the 2007 Man Booker Prize long list was announced! My annual raison de lire!

In case you've just joined us, the back story to my obsession with the Booker Prize can be found here .

August and September normally find me all a-flutter trying to read at least all the shortlisted books before the announcement of the prize in early October. If I can get a good head start with the longlisted books, chances are I might be able to get through the shortlist. (Though I still have not attained the Holy Grail - to have read all of the 5 or 6 shortlisted books in time to place an educated bet!) At least in the end I've read some good books and have something to talk about at dinner parties for the rest of the year.

This year's long list contains thirteen books, almost all of which are by new-to-me authors. Here goes:
  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • Self Help by Edward Docx
  • The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • Gifted by Nikita Lalwani
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
  • Consolation by Michael Redhill
  • Animal's People by Indra Sinha
  • Winnie & Wolf by AN Wilson
The only one I have read already is On Chesil Beach, which is an eminently beautiful composition, but which is garnering some media attention over the question of whether it's a novella (which would make it ineligible to win) or a "short novel" (as the publisher describes it). Currently the bookies are giving it 3-to-1 odds to win.

For the record, last year I managed to read 4 out of 6 shortlisted books prior to the announcement of the prize (a tie with my previous best record in 2005), and have now read 12 of the 19 longlisted books (including all 5 of the shortlisted books) and am currently reading my 13th from the 2006 longlist.

Time to look forward to some Booker prize book reviews to come, and why not check out your local library or bookshop to see if you can't get your hands on one of these titles this week! (But not if your local library is the City of Sydney, I bags all those books for myself first.)