Friday, 21 December 2007


S sings in Manchester Cathedral choir, so last night we joined the other gentlemen and their partners for a Christmas meal. A table was booked for 9.30, due to a rehearsal earlier in the evening for the Nine Lessons and Carols service, which is happening tomorrow. When we eventually made it to dinner, we all had a great time. Unfortunately, I had to get up super-early today (too much work, too little time...), but now I don't think I'm going to get through as much as I had hoped, due to the severe bouts of yawning I'm experiencing.


Thursday, 20 December 2007

Christmas 'holiday'

Anyone who has ever been on a trip with me knows I always pack too many books (I don't know what mood I'll be in, so need to take a variety. Obviously!), and also usually have some kind of project to work on. My projects are often writing or knitting ones, but I'm also studying Italian, so the last few trips I've taken have included books in or about 2 languages, just to make my bags a little bit heavier. Over Christmas S and I are going away, first to his folks, then to mine, and I'm beginning to plan my holiday reading. I find planning which books to take more fun than packing clothes and stuff, so have found myself desperately stuffing pants and socks around the pile of 'essential' books in the middle of my suitcase, but I'm going to try to avoid that this year.

When I get to my parents', I think I'm going to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, having watched most of the wonderful BBC adaptation in my knitting circle over the last few weeks (we're up to episode 3 in 'The Silver Chair'). Narnia always makes me feel Christmassy, but my childhood copies are still in Sussex so I'll have to wait until next week. In the meantime, I've had some exciting packages from Amazon that have included a book or two for myself in with the Christmas presents for my family. These have included The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza, The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, The Alchemist's Daughter by Katherine McMahon and a book of easy Italian crosswords, which may very well end up in my bag. I'm also planning to take my copy of The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey in case I have any questions (my brother is a geologist). Obviously, I'll be taking my laptop so that I can do some writing, and if I need any inspiration I'll have Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein and The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker. There will also be a bag of wool somewhere in the car, because I've got to a rather complicated bit in the cardigan I'm making (yes, on top of the two scarves that are in progress for Christmas presents I'm also making a cardigan. And another scarf. But they aren't time-sensitive, so that's OK.) and I need a bit of help from Mum the Expert Knitter. In between all the reading, Italian, writing and knitting, I might spend some time with family and friends, and maybe even work on my sleep deficit.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

I'd just like to thank...

We had a company Christmas meeting this lunchtime, including a quiz, Secret Santa and awards. I am very pleased to annouce that I won the prestigious award for:

Ankle Injury of the Year!

I guess I really just need to thank the treadmill at my gym, which made it all possible.

Not that I'm grumbling - I'm going to enjoy the Lindt chocolate reindeer that accompanied my certificate...

The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson

Having read several other books by Neal Stephenson, I knew what to expect when I picked up 'The Diamond Age'. He creates a world, based on reality but somehow a little different, and every tiny detail has been carefully constructed. His prose is dense, but fascinating, and as a physics novice, even I can generally understand the complex concepts he introduces, due to the strength of his explanations. The central character in this book is Nell, a neglected girl growing up on the outside of accepted society, and it examines how her life is changed by a gift from her older brother. He gives her a book, 'The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer', he stole from John Percival Hackworth without realising it is actually an interactive life-guide. The Primer teaches Nell, and the other girls who receive copies, equipping them for a subversive life in a crumbling society.

The vast array of characters could become confusing, but the intense descriptions and diversity of personality Stephenson creates etch the characters firmly into one's consciousness. Each character has a a very definite aim throughout the story, and as these converge over the last few chapters, elements of the story from earlier in the book that may have seemed rather esoteric come into sharp focus. I particularly enjoyed the fairy-tales woven into the Primer, holding a mirror up to Nell's dysfunctional life while suggesting ways she can improve her lot. Every girl could do with one of these while growing up!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Art of Murder - Jose Carlos Somoza

When people are painted and displayed as canvases, where is the line drawn between humanity and art? In this novel, the art world sees the hyperdramatic models who are on display in galleries or up for sale to be shown privately as art first, and people second, but not everyone agrees with this rather simplistic view. The brutal murder of a child-canvas at the start of the book instigates an examination of the shady corners of this exploitative yet creative movement through they eyes of various characters, including several canvases, a detective investigating the murder and employees of the Master, Bruno van Tysch.

I did find some of the skips between characters a little distracting, as it took me a while to work out who they were in relation to everyone else (and I got two characters with names starting with the same letter muddled). Once I had sorted that out, the story felt a lot stronger, with more substance than a regular whodunnit. By the end, it seemed that hyperdramatism was less an artform but more of a cult, complete with brain-washing and sacrificial rites, and the choices made by the cast of converts showed how successfully they had been indoctrinated. Good science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) tends to take a simple 'what if' and run with it, and the ramifications of this plausible shift from current reality are chilling.

Christmas cheer

The week before Christmas is always a strange mix of excitement and worry, with too much to do but lots to look forward to if everything goes according to plan. This year is fairly typical, and while I'm way ahead of normal in terms of buying presents (I set a new record by buying a present in August) I still haven't tackled the mountain of Christmas cards we need to write and send. I also decided in the last week of November that it would be a really good idea to make a scarf for each of my brothers as part of their Christmas present. Hmm. Then I decided it would be really fun to try out a design I had concocted myself to make scarves with diagonal stripes. Double hmm. The first scarf is knitted, but I still need to sew in all the ends from the stripes and do the tassels. I've done about 10 inches of the second one, and can feel a couple of evenings with crampy fingers coming on...

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