Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A month in books - April

To be read ... 
A surprisingly short list of books read this month. It's amazing the difference between at-home-me-with-broadband and travelling-me-with-rubbish-wifi. I blame Twitter!

I have got back into my audiobooks as I have being walking in and out of Eastbourne several times a week to get to work. At an hour's walk a day, it's a great opportunity to don my sparkly gold headphones. There's two audios in this month's list and I am currently just over half-way through A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki too so expect my review of that in May.

The Happy Hoofer by Celia Imrie
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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I downloaded Celia Imrie's autobiography from Audible. She reads the book herself and, despite bemoaning the sheer work involved in other audio narration within her story, she does a good job. There was a lot of Celia's life that I was completely unaware of and details of her early life were sadly shocking. The book did become a bit staid later on, more a list of acting roles with an anecdote about each. However, overall this is an interesting glimpse into the life of a strong and independent woman.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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I got this book on download from Audible too and it is read by Hadfield himself. Listening didn't feel like hearing someone read a book, more as though Hadfield was simply chatting about his life which was fascinating. I had not previously considered how much work is needed to become an astronaut and what a tiny percentage of the job is 'glory' so I now have a real understanding of what these people go through. I liked Hadfield's constant inclusion of his family and the effect of his career choice on their lives. Some topics are repeated too much for my liking - perhaps the book was initially overlapping essays - but the motivational and life lesson segments are inspiring, eminently practical and surprisingly down to earth!

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Interesting novel with many scenes and events that I recognised from my own childhood and adolescence. The descriptions of time and place are great and the relationship between Elly and her older brother Joe is utterly convincing. I wasn't so convinced by the talking rabbit - perhaps I'm too old and cynical to believe! However, I did buy in to the latter stages of the book which, while also magically believable, gave an emotional sense of hope.

Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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I liked the premise of this novel although having one of the narrators speaking from beyond the grave is an odd device. The continual switching between first-person narration and a third-person-explaining-first-person narration does make the story tricky to follow at times. The descriptions of the paupered lifestyles and eccentricities of the English aristocracy are amusing and much of the book's humour is provided by culture clashes and etiquette failure. This makes for good reading and it's a light tale that passes quickly. The characters, especially the film crew, are nicely portrayed but several of the cameo aristos came across as caricatures. Most convincing was the relationship between the brothers. The only part I didn't like was the unnecessary romance being shoehorned in. I didn't think it added to the story and actually showed the protagonists behaving completely against their characters, presumably just for the sake of a happy ending?

Railway to the Grave by Edward Marston
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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This is the seventh in the Railway Detective series of mysteries but it didn't seem to matter that I haven't read any of the others. Back stories are minimal and simple so easy to catch up on. The whole book is an easy, holiday-type read, firmly entrenched in the attitudes of its period and without excess soul-searching getting in the way of its story. I liked the characters of South Otterington, many are caricatures rather than rounded people but they are all distinct. By contrast, the three Detectives I thought let the story down. Tallis is unbelievably judgemental, Leeming far too easily led, and Colbeck is just too Good to be true. Still, the mystery wends it way to a satisfying conclusion. I'm not sure I would make a special effort to look out for other books in the series, but should one cross my path, I would take the time to read it.

Corrupted by Emmy Yoshida
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Corrupted has a pretty good story line of a young woman seduced by money and luxury who finds out that when something looks to good to be true, it usually IS too good to be true. The main characters are nicely drawn and I liked the switch from Ria's first person narrative to third person narrative for the other characters as this added interest to the tale. Unfortunately, the story is let down somewhat by the writing style. There is a lot of superfluous description and repetition, together with irritating errors - formerly for formally, cue for queue, etc. This could be resolved by a good editor to make a stronger novel overall. However, don't be put off! For its price - Corrupted was £1.02 on Kindle when I bought it - the book is good value and would be a good racy holiday beach read.

So that's it for March. Must try harder in April! The photo shows all the books I've still got queued up from travelling, the Lucifer Box trilogy by Mark Gatiss that I'm looking forward to reading again, and my latest Book Crossing swap, 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman which was a World Book Night book this year.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Childhood memories and baking a cake

Now to get it out of the tin in one piece ... 
I've been missing my Mum a lot over the past few days. She always loved big family gatherings, having grown up surrounded by dozens of aunts and uncles in London, so looked forward to times like Easter when we would all visit for the day. Plus her favourite bright springtime flowers are everywhere at this time of year - daffodils, primulas, crocuses. In a sudden flash of nostalgia this afternoon, I dug out my copy of an old recipe book we used to use together when I was a child - the wonderful brick that is the Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium. (The link goes to Amazon where there's a few copies available second-hand if this tome is on your memory lane too!) My party piece recipe was always the Farmhouse Fruit Cake and that is what's currently baking in the oven and delicately scenting the house. Even the raw cake mixture had an evocative taste.

1 lb plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
6 oz butter or margarine
6 oz sugar
9 oz dried fruit and peel
2 eggs
cup of black tea

Preheat the oven to about 200c. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with greased greaseproof paper if you have any. This is supposed to make the cake easier to remove from the tin. Sometimes it works.

Sieve the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl. I can rarely be bothered with sieving so just 'put' and stir together.

Rub in the butter or margarine until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar and dried fruit.

Beat the eggs together and whisk into the dry ingredients. Slowly add the tea and keep mixing until a soft dropping consistency is reached. (The original recipe calls for milk but we always used cold black tea. Today I used fairly warm tea as I wasn't prepared far enough ahead of time.)

Spoon mixture into the loaf tin and place in the centre of the preheated oven. Bake for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, lowering the temperature slightly towards the end of the cooking time. I use the metal kebab skewer method of checking - pierce the centre of the cake with the skewer and if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked.

Serve still warm in crumbly chunks or cold in slices.

While you're waiting for your cake to bake, you could take a listen to this +YouTube track that Dave discovered recently has been uploaded. It's from his John Peel session at the BBC, recorded live in the 1970s, and is the band Shoot with their beautiful song Ships And Sails. Dave is playing guitar and singing backing vocals. And if you want to know what he looked like back then, he is the guy on the left in the fab photo at about 30 seconds in!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Happy Easter!

Did you manage to catch some of the sunshine this week? It was even lovely this morning, despite being the start of a Bank Holiday weekend which normally means continuous rain! Dave dusted off our elegant garden table and chairs set for the decking. I love the blue colour against the green of the plants and especially the pinks of the crab apple blossom, but by the time I took this photo the sun had gone in so it doesn't quite have the full effect. If the cloud clears away later, I might take another picture. 

I've had two weeks of part-time work now and was pleasantly surprised to be paid today seeing that it is Good Friday. But the money arrived at +First Direct this morning so well done to Recruitment South East for that. I think I've only got two days work next week but hopefully something full time will be offered soon. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy the sun! By our standards, we've been in quite the social whirl since we got back and the pace shows no signs of easing up yet. Three 'engagements' this weekend alone so I'll be drained by Tuesday! 

We had managed to avoid all Easter spending until this morning when I was diverted from my search for octopus (In Hailsham. There wasn't any and we want to make the Italian Stewed Octopus we enjoyed while were away.) by bunny-eared crumpets at +Asda. So cute! And only a pound for four! I know I am far too easily influenced by seasonal food gimmicks. +Will Torrent tweeted a recipe for making a pudding with left-over hot cross buns yesterday. Looks delicious but I'm have trouble with the 'left-over' concept. Not in this house! I found the pictured Spring flower cupcakes last weekend where @Jillscupcakes had taken a stall at St John's in Polegate as part of a craft fayre for +St Wilfrids Hospice. Lovely cakes and eaten in aid of a great cause. Jilly is often to be seen selling cakes at various fairs around this area. The link goes to her twitter feed so you can find out where she'll be next!

A query to finish. Does anyone know of a cafe or coffee shop in Hailsham that has a book exchange shelf? There's Central Eating and Beanzz Coffee in Eastbourne but I could have done with one in Hailsham today and couldn't think of anywhere. Not that I've managed much reading this month. April's Month In Books post is going to be sparse.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

How time flies when you're not paying attention

Huss and chips at the Holiday Inn 
Back in the UK for two weeks already! We've been eating some of the meals that we missed while we were away and, in the case of Roast Chicken, discovering that they might not be as great in reality as we had remembered. Oh well! We did go for an excellent fish and chip supper at our favourite place in Eastbourne, the Holiday Inn Fish Restaurant in Carlisle Road. Dave baked a tasty steak and kidney pie last week too.

I've been back to the Devonshire Park Theatre for the first time since last year. My friend and I saw an interesting Talking Scarlet production of Terence Rattigan's In Praise Of Love (my review in the Comments) on Tuesday. George Telfer and Jo Castleton in particular put in very moving performances. Then today I found out that I've won a pair of tickets to see the Creative Cow production of She Stoops To Conquer at the end of the month. Very pleased about this as I was hoping to go anyway! 

It's not all wine and roses though. The full-time job that I was excited about in my last post has turned out to be very part-time and, as of today, I've only worked 10 hours - having walked 4 hours into Eastbourne back in order to do so. Grrr! Fortunately, apart from Monday morning, the weather has been good so at least the walks have been enjoyable. They've probably contributed to my now being able to fit into these size 14 jeans too! Yay me! I discovered Willingdon Post Office too which also houses a lovely small shop with local(ish) jams and a more unusual range of greetings cards. 

We're still doing a lot of sorting out and decluttering. This Spring cleaning bug is addictive if you avoid the actual cleaning part of it. I've been ousting more stuff via +Freegle. Dave has been mowing lawns and started on The Shed. I've put up some more +eBay auctions - I think the widget should still be showing at the end of this post. Most of the lots are DVDs, foreign language with a smattering of musicals amongst others, but I have also listed some Art. There's one lot of 15 ACEO art cards and a pair of Laura Milnor Iverson prints. Interested? Please click through! 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Settling in and sorting out

Shiny new slow cooker 
It's hard to believe that we've not yet been back in the UK a week and in our house for even less time than that. We've got so much done although it's not all been what you might call 'fun'.

In good news, I've replaced our slow cooker already. Do you remember it died while we were staying in Ourique? I was in Hailsham yesterday to visit my Dad while Dave was playing his first tennis of the year. I popped into Smythe & Barrie, a friendly and helpful electrical retailers on the High Street. They had exactly the 3.5L size cooker that I was looking for so we are now the proud owners of a Morphy Richards Accents 48703 Searing Slow Cooker in black. Dave has already used it to make the filling for one of his delicious steak and kidney pies. As well as having a choice of three heat settings and a light to show it is on, I was pleased to discover that the whole unit is much lighter than our previous one due to it's pot being aluminium. This will be perfect for the caravan where weight allowances are at such a premium.

However, there was bad news too because we had to call out a plumber. Something in the central heating had gone a bit screwy so it would either be full on or off but there was no way to have it clicking on and off with the thermostat as we used to do. Fortunately Chris from Graphite Plumbing was able to get to us very quickly and the problem now appears to be fixed. He thought the switching mechanism had probably seized up due to it having been in the same position for five months.

Red cloche! 
More good news yesterday. (This is starting to remind me of an exercise we tried at a Storytelling Group I was attending when I started this blog. We created a story in pairs, alternating to add an event that began either 'fortunately ....' or 'unfortunately ...' The photo is of me at the group wearing my red cloche hat from Austin, Texas. I can't remember why we wore hats that week?) Anyway! Yesterday two of the crowd-funded albums I pledged to came to fruition and we were able to download our digital copies for first listens. The albums are Silver Ladder by +Peter Mulvey which was on +Kickstarter and Flo by +Sunday Driver UK which was on +PledgeMusic. They are very different styles of music from each other and I am listening to Flo now as I type. It is beautifully chilled out and perfect to accompany blogging!

A second bad to finish unfortunately, but it (hopefully) will have a happier twist at the end. Dave is off to work today having been offered his hours back as soon as we got home. I, of course, didn't so I'm at home at the moment awaiting an opportunity. I've signed up with an agency and Catherine at Recruitment South East is encouragingly positive so fingers crossed. In the meantime, I'm having a big spring clean and sort out of STUFF. I seem to have lots of STUFF that I don't need. Today I have listed a few DVDs on eBay. If you like arthouse cinema, there's French, German, Spanish and New Zealand films on offer including a boxed set of Jean-Pierre Melville films. I think I've got a widget at the end of the post to show the listings but if it's not there, you can Click Here Too! Please share and bid! I'll be putting some unpostable bits on +Freegle too. Does anyone need a Stepper like this one or a large quantity of variously sized plastic flower pots?