Wednesday, 13 December 2017


I found this photo I snapped on our last day in Basel last May. I think it was a big motivator for finding a dressmaking class. Although I like fairly plain clothing, there is something special about a hidden detail - the collar band or under collar, a pocket or coat lining - that can make a garment feel really special. None of the pieces I've made so far has been anything but straightforward, but I can see a day when I indulge myself.

We (re) watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them last night. If J.K. Rowling's imagination, Eddie Redmayne's perfect awkwardness or the spectacular creatures weren't enough, consider that the film is set in 1926 in New York and the clothes are to die for. I fell in love with the leather collar band on Newt Scamander's coat in practically the first scene and was captivated by the costumes ever after. I'm not the only one taken with that coat. 

There are entire Pinterest groups based on just figuring out how to make this coat. I'm not telling Bill I found a place where you can buy them in 'adult' men's sizes...

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Hardwood Cuttings

Another gardening workshop that both Bill and I attended at Greenwolds Plant Centre was about hardwood cuttings. I'd always heard about being able to take cuttings of some plants but wasn't sure how that worked.

Adam had taken a large number of cuttings from various bushes in their nursery in Blyth. With these he shows us the portion to take, pretty much the growth that took place in the last year. He showed us how to look at the different colours of the branch from the darker, dryer part near the root to the lighter colour towards the bendy part at the end, the softwood. He told us to cut straight across on the bottom of the cutting and on the diagonal at the top, so we'd always know which was the top end when planting. Another tip he gave us was to look for the nodes, sort of like joints, and to always include three.

He gave us tall pots (he had a name for them, but I've forgotten it) with compost in and had us push in our cuttings to where the middle node was just above soil level. That way, if the bottom node didn't take root, the middle one might. He said generally about 60% of cuttings will grow. His description of propagating his stock at the nursery made me think perhaps money does grow on trees. 

For a fiver each, Bill and I came away with about 10 sticks each, including at least two potential willows, buddleias, rose hips and climbing roses plus several other I didn't catch the names of. I've no idea where we'll put them all, but it seemed a great adventure on the day and it was fun to have Bill along for a change.

As advised, we've just left them in the back garden for the winter and then we shall see what happens in the spring!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Grandmother's Birthday

I was wondering what else I might say about my Grandmother, born this day in 1898. She lived to the age of 91. Having been to the GP yesterday for my five-year check up (the NHS doesn't do annual check-ups for my age group), I learned that my blood pressure is once again its usual nice low range and so I have renewed hopes... pending any further news in a few weeks when the blood work comes back.

Anyhow, it occurred to me I'd not looked up any historical information on Booneville, Arkansas (Logan County) so I went to my trusted source for such things, . If you don't know about this amazing website you should familiarise yourself with it. I've found endless biographical details of ancestors in Virginia and elsewhere. I've found great historical texts on homemaking. When last month's issue of Threads magazine recommended a couple of books on pattern making, I found one of them on and downloaded it - completely free - instead of paying anywhere from $24-104, the prices I found elsewhere on the internet. So, when this website asked for money, like I do with Wikipedia, I paid up. It's a valuable resource I'd like to see continued.

Sure enough there was a book online called Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Western Arkansas. I didn't find any family names listed there, but then I've only had a brief scan of the relevant chapter. I was very excited to read that the Logan County Courthouse had burned down. This is something my Grandmother mentioned a number of times, laughing that no one knew when she was born so she could tell anyone she was any old age at all! She didn't take into account that the Census records of 1900 would have her pegged down. 

However, the story in the book about the courthouse burning reports that it happened in 1874! She wasn't born until 1898. Then again, the book was published in 1891, so perhaps it burned again since publication? And now I'm going to go back and see if her family was even in Arkansas yet at the time of publication. Maybe I should look for a book on Tennessee...

Sunday, 3 December 2017

False Memoirs?

I see I visited the library last spring - no surprise there. However I took photos of a display about a group of books, with the title 'False memoirs? Decide for yourself'. I'd only heard of a couple of them, but was intrigued by the titles and the idea they might be questioned. The collection included:

The Girl with No Name, by Marina Chapman. This lady describes the experience of having been raised by monkeys. 

Papillion, by Henri Charriere. You may have seen the film, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. A surprising number of these potentially false books have been made into movies.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. This is a man telling about building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Controversy follows. Sad that his co-author committed suicide.

Worlds Apart, by Azi Ahmed. Muslim girl trained to be a housewife joins the SAS instead. Not everyone agrees with her account of that experience.

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. Originally hailed as 'pioneering work in true crime genre', later there were some flaws uncovered.  

Sybil, by Flora Rheta Schreiber.   I remember the TV show starring Sally Field and I believe that many years ago I actually read the book. Turns out it was all a hoax.

Don't Ever Tell, by Kathy O'Beirne. About her experience of abuse at home and in Catholic institutions, and then being called a liar by family members. True or not true, it doesn't sound a very pleasant book to read. 

The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz, by Dennis Avey. Did he or didn't he?

Go Tell Alice, by Beatrice Sparks as Anonymous. Published in 1971 as an actual diary of a teenager on drugs, it is now thought to be anti-drug propaganda by Sparks, a Morman youth counsellor. I totally missed this book as a teenager and have only discovered it now - 46 years late to the party...

The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz. We're talking really long walk: 4000 miles from Siberia to India. Easy to dismiss as unfeasible but if he didn't, apparently it is thought someone did.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey, by Blain Harden. So there are some inaccuracies. 

If these weren't enough I found this article which lists a few of them, plus others, including It's Not About the Bike, by that man I pretend never existed.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Update on Narcissus

The bulbs I planted a few weeks ago have come along nicely, though the grey, rainy background doesn't do them justice.  One of the tricks Fiona passed along is to use twigs from tree branches to support the long spindly stems. She suggested white birch, but since I only had copper beech, that is what I used. No ribbon or string required, just let the branches embrace the flower stem and it all seems quite natural. I'm loving what I learn at Greenwolds Plant Centre.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Visiting a Mosque

Last spring one of the unusual things Bill and I did was to visit the Newcastle Central Mosque. We were invited to a community event by a lady with whom Bill used to work, Afru. They've stayed in touch on Facebook over the years. 

We had the impression that the Muslim community was trying to reach out to non-Muslim people in order to explain their religion and help people feel more comfortable with them. It was a fairly amazing experience. The Mosque was, to be fair, in the midst of some renovation but my first impression was that there was very little money in that 'congregation' (if that's an appropriate word). There was a variety of carpeting in different colours spread throughout the meandering halls and stairs, but no underlay, just a cover for the concrete floors. There were no luxurious furnishings at least not in the part we saw. 

That said, they fed us a delicious, more than generous meal. The starter of various Asian foods would have sufficed, but then the main course and side dishes and even two kinds of dessert came around. Before that we watched a bunch of men and boys file in and kneel for their evening worship. It was a bit surreal standing at the back of the room with a bunch of rear-ends sticking up, but the man singing the call to worship had a beautiful voice and I remember feeling I was suddenly standing somewhere in Arabia or Persia or somewhere exotic instead of chilly, damp Newcastle. The prayer ritual looked fairly demanding, physically  - lots of up and down and bending in half - though it didn't take very long. It made me think a bit of choreography, watching the unison movements. I wondered if they thought it odd we were watching, but no one seemed self-conscious; in fact it was as though we were invisible to them. Perhaps we were.

The back of the room was filled with large posters, each explaining an aspect of the Muslim faith. I was sure I had taken photos of these to read later on, but apparently not. I wasn't sure about the appropriateness of photos initially, though no one seemed to mind. I have somehow only the one. Perhaps because I was so fascinated by what I was seeing and hearing I didn't actually remember to use my camera more?

After that we went upstairs (taking off our shoes) and were served the meal. Bill's friend sat with us along with her sister and, funny enough, a friend I used to work with - name Faith (you couldn't make that up, could you?) was also there. Faith is a Quaker, an intelligent and intellectually curious woman, which makes her excellent company. It didn't seem very surprising that she would attend something like this, though I did admire her coming on her own.

After the meal we had a 'quiz' which frankly tackled some of the commoner myths and misunderstandings about the Muslim religion. I'm sorry that I'm writing this nine months later and can't remember more details. Faith got the top score on the quiz, I remember. Then we had a 'sermon' of sorts by the Imam, a young-ish man perhaps in his 30s or 40s. He explained about Mohammed the Prophet and about some of the harsher laws coming straight from the Old Testament, about their guidelines for tithing and all sorts of things. Then another man stood up and we were invited to ask questions. Faith asked the question most of us had in mind, to ask about the violence committed in the name of Islam. He said some people perverted the religion to serve their own ends, in much the way some so-called Christians do and have done. It didn't mean that their actions were representative of the Muslim community as a whole. I thought it was as reasonable an answer as any. 

I had the impression that they would let me join the Muslim faith if I wanted, but that wasn't their primary purpose for that evening. It was more about showing people who they were. Everyone I encountered was incredibly soft spoken and kind. Afru was very upbeat and fun while her sister was a bit more serious. I remember admiring the scarf the sister wore covering her hair; it was a beautiful, lush fabric. Bill pointed out to me that Afru had divorced her husband and had not been chastised by her religious community. She is a professional woman raising her two children on her own now, very much a part of the modern world.

When we left we were given gift bags containing a scented candle, some pamphlets and a copy of the Quran. I had good intentions at the time, but came to realise I was never actually going to read it. The last time I saw Faith, however, she had and reported that it did indeed have a lot in common with the Old Testament. Bill often points out the parallels between some evangelical Christian ideas and those of extremist Muslims and I can't disagree.

We were both very glad we went, even though it started out a bit uncomfortably - I was just nervous is all. Bill wanted to support his friend and I felt it was one of those things that didn't come along that often and that I would regret not going if I didn't.  If you are ever invited to visit a Mosque I would recommend you go. Take an open mind (like I take to any religious venue) and listen to their take on things. I think you might learn something interesting.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Dancing Like I Type

I've been going to a Zumba Gold (as in for old ladies) class for a couple of months now. It meets at noon on a Monday and even better than exercise, it makes me smile. The ladies there are quite friendly, always smiling and they often come over to chat. I've even run into people I already knew: a consultant microbiologist I used to work with and, once, Meriel's sister in law.

The class is run by a mother and daughter, Irene and Catherine. As much as dance leaders they are almost a comedy act. Irene expresses horror at some of Catherine's burlesque-type moves, then again, Irene shakes her booty pretty well too. The idea is that if you want a gentle workout, follow the Mom, if you want to work harder, Catherine is your leader. I tend to follow Catherine mainly because she wears very bright workout clothes that make her easy to see against the black background.

When Nutbush City Limits comes on, my heart sings along, but other than that I'm not really into most of the music, pop songs I don't know, strange Bollywood type stuff, or - I don't even know what it's called - I think of it as 'gangsta' music (and the choreography matches). I'm not sure what makes me smile more: the comedy act on stage, getting to shimmy and Charleston, or being a room full of women mostly over 60 doing gangsta moves or gyrating their hips.

There is a wide range of fitness and of dance abilities of course. Not everyone understands the way dance generally works (if we do it for 8 counts on the right I'll bet money we're going to repeat that move on the left). Some of the old dears end up just shuffling around and waving their arms, which is perfectly fine; better exercise than sitting in a chair all day. It's taken me several months to get several of the routines and there are still parts I haven't figured out since I can't always see Catherine's feet to follow. 

That's the part I was explaining to Bill about dancing and typing. When I learned to type I read every word but after several years of office work I discovered that sense of 'flow' where the letters enter your eyes and come out your fingers, without reading them at all. That's how people answer the phone and type at the same time. 

After 13 years (aged 3 to 16) of dance training, I've learned to watch someone's feet and to just follow, without much thought. I figure getting the feet right is the first priority, if only not to get stepped on when Catherine says 'travel'. The arms can come later. I can imagine that if you have to think about each step as it's done on the right and then figure out how to do that again on the other side, it can be frustrating. You can tell the ones who have dance experience, they just pick things up faster, and if I can't see the leader I try to follow them instead. 

If you haven't tried Zumba but you like to dance, I recommend you give it a go. I don't think of it as exercise at all, but playtime!