Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Desert Island Discs

And now I'm going to do this records, since I obviously couldn't resist! As I said before, I certainly have more of a connection to books, and found that task much more heart-rending to decide, but I still love these songs/pieces. (I made the decision not to include audiobooks, as otherwise... well, I'd just have chosen eight audiobooks.)

1. 6am Corner by Kathryn Williams and Neill MacColl
I discovered Kathryn Williams in 2004 and she's my favourite singer. This, a track from an album Two she recorded with MacColl, is simply beautiful - so gentle and lovely, and makes me think of spring mornings.

2. Aslan's Theme by Geoffrey Burgon
That is, the theme tune to the BBC series of The Chronicles of Narnia. This tune (besides being so much better than most TV theme tunes) will always remind me of my childhood and make me feel happy.

3. My Song is Love Unknown
As you saw in the previous post!

4. Be Still, For the Presence of the Lord
And this is my second favourite hymn. A moving and lovely hymn.

5. Both Sides Now
I don't really have a reason for this, other than that I love it. Doesn't Joni have a brilliant way with a song? I was a bit conflicted between this and A Case of You, but this won out. And you'll note that I've chosen her 2000 version, which I prefer to the original.

6. Breathe Me by Sia
And a similar reason for this song. I love Sia's voice, and how she communicates emotion so achingly.

7. Rachmaninov — Sonata for cello and piano Op 19 No.3 Andante
I wish I were more appreciative of classical music. It's not for want of trying on my parents' part. But I do love listening to the cello, and I love this. I have Linda Gillard's novel House of Silence to thank for finding out about it.

8. Beloved by Minnie Driver
Again, I just love her voice and the song. I could (and indeed, do) listen to this over and over again and not get tired of it.

You already know my luxury (tea), but which book would I pick? If I were only allowed one, along with Shakespeare and the Bible (as per the show), then it would the Provincial Lady 4-in-1.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Desert Island Books

As you know, I've been listening to a lot of Desert Island Discs recently (today: Beryl Bainbridge, who is bizarre in hers, and Joan Plowright's second recording) - and, of course, that got me thinking about Desert Island Books. I could put together a list of eight records (and I might still do that) but, unlike many of you, I am not an adept appreciator of music. I would certainly swap any number of records for an extra book, on my desert island.

I stole this sketch from a 2007 post... 

I can't believe I've been blogging for so long without doing one of these properly. Which probably means that I've made my list and forgotten about it, doesn't it?  But, following the same rules, I shall tell you the eight books I would take to a desert island, and my reasons for doing so. Because, of course, it isn't simply the most favourite books.

1. The Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
This book - which has all four of the series in, which isn't cheating since I own the book (I'm not just making up a non-existent collected version, as many castaways on the series do), would always be fresh to me, I think. So amusing, so witty, and I have already read it any number of times without getting tired of it.

2. The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne
I believe this is the two-in-one title. If I can only have one of the two, I'd pick The House at Pooh Corner, because that way I get Tigger, and that impossibly moving ending. I have to admit, I don't quite trust or respect people who don't 'get' Pooh et al. Sorry...

3. Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
We all knew this would be here, didn't we?

4. A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf
I ummed and ahhed over which of her novels I would take - and had written down To The Lighthouse - when I realised I could compromise and take the book that explores all of the rest of her writings. True, I wouldn't be able to indulge in the astonishing beauty of her fiction sentences, but it is a sacrifice I will have to make. (And unlike some, I don't really mind that Leonard was the editor. Someone had to be, and she trusted him.)

5. The Mitford Sisters: Letters Between Six Sisters ed. Charlotte Moseley
There is so much in this volume. So much social history, so much about what it is to be a family. And, practically speaking, it is enormously long, so I wouldn't race through it.

6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
There aren't many books I consider to be works of genius (although most of Woolf's would make that grade). But this one is.

7. Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield
I think this exists. Otherwise I'll picked a 'selected', or maybe just the collection Bliss. Her writing is so beautiful, precise, and observant - it would be like having people around, because she understood people so well. But her stories do tend to be rather melancholy, so I'd have to turn to Pooh or something afterwards.

8. My doctoral thesis
Is this monumentally arrogant? Probably, but I'd love to take this - not just as a reminder of years of hard work, and the most my mind will ever be stretched, but because I still find the topic so fascinating. And my memory is so bad that it will quickly feel like somebody else wrote it.

I'll swap the books and music around, allowing me one record (instead of one book) - and I choose My Song is Love Unknown. I think everybody who has a relationship with God marvels especially at one aspect of His nature, and - for me - that is His incredible love. "Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be" is a wonderful line, I think. And I would ideally choose a version that isn't by a fancy choir. I always prefer versions that sound sincere, i.e. I want it to sound like it would in a normal church service, more or less, rather than a cathedral choir. But that sort of thing isn't on YouTube, so I'll settle for this version, which is at least sung by grown ups...

And my luxury? Sorry to be boringly British, but it's an enormous supply of tea. I don't know if I can get milk alongside, but if not, I'll learn to like black tea. But a life without tea? Unthinkable.

Over to you! Pick your eight books, your song, and your luxury. Let me know in the comments if you have a go. And I might well do the more traditional version of Desert Island Discs soon...

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Song for a Sunday

Love this: Iron Sky by Paolo Nutini

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Episode Eight

Many thanks again for filling in for me last week, Elaine! This week I'm back - and what a week it was. I could write the whole thing about Nancy... but I'll try not to ignore everybody else...

It's 'advanced dough' week (whatever that means; no History of Cake this week to fill us in) and we're treated to a velociraptor impressions from Mel and Sue on the flimsiest of premises.

The bakers walk into the tent, and although we see a cursory shot from the undergrowth, the cameraman's heart isn't in it. He - or indeed she - needs fresh pastures and new adventures. He/she has apparently crammed their entire body and camera equipment into the corner of this shelf. It couldn't be said that the shot is effective, but at least it's confusing and unnecessary.

Unforeseen ramekins

Martha laughs cheerfully about having been haunted by eclairs, and hopes that this week things will be "more planned". Surely you know whether or not you've planned, Marth?

"It's important you go in and execute everything," says Nancy, followed by the longest pause known to man, before weakly adding " perfection." Remember her guillotine? Remember her passion for the paraphernalia of the death penalty? It's all back in play.

Guns don't kill people; bakers do

It wouldn't be a GBBO recap without Blazer Watch, would it? Paul is letting the side down (but, as ever, is ready for a line-dance). Sue's jacket looks like it's appeared before, only now it has shrunk in the wash. Mary obviously ran out of clothes, so cut up the jacket of a fortnight ago, repurposing it as a top, and has created her blazer by cutting the back off Paul's shirt.

The signature challenge is a sweet fruit loaf, using enriched dough. And it's a no-tin challenge; they have to be free-form loaves. Because... why not? The initial reactions from the bakers give us our first mention of proving of the episode. Good grief, I'm sick of people talking about proving. The whole series seems to have been one long debate about proving. They might as well call it Fermat's Great British Bake Off. Maths joke, y'all.

Chetters, of course, is running madly around the room.

Hurry! Ovens won't stare at themselves.

Luis explains that he'll be making a series of tear-off buns in the shape of a tree, and he gets an amazing couple of Mary Berry Reaction Faces. I would be thrilled if anybody could turn this sequence into a gif, because she switches from delighted grin into confused Pierrot so quickly that she seems to be modelling for a Janus theatre mask set.

We don't see her face when Luis presents her with the cherry brandy he'll be using, presumably because she was dribbling with anticipation. (Sorry Mary... love you.)

The King of Gilded Olives has discovered green cherries and is thrilled to pieces by it.

A product entirely wasted on the colour blind.

Chetna is inspired by a Croatian bread, which she tries - and repeatedly fails - to pronounce, while Mary looks on like a patient, albeit disappointed, grandmother.

"No threepenny bit for you, my girl."

Amusingly, Sue's voiceover immediately pronounces it entirely differently from Chetna's efforts, and the coloured pencils man calls it quits and just writes 'swirl bread'. It looks, let's face it, like a pile of sausage rolls.

Nancy is making Lincolnshire Plum Braid - a clever pun, as she laboriously explains, upon Lincolnshire Plum Bread. She actually says "it's a play on words" in case, lost in the intricacies of her accent, we miss the quip. Even before she was finished telling us this, you can see that she realises that she is sailing her ship of humour upon an unforgiving sea.

You'd think that this week's show was announcing the dawn of the microwave. It is, apparently, the first time that our Nance has seen one (and now she'll sell you a lovely one for £10, no questions asked). She gets over-excited, and is determined to microwave ALL THE THINGS. She has to be held back from flinging herself bodily into the thing. First of all, she decides to prove her dough in the microwave. Who knew that was a thing? And, Nancy, weren't you aware that you had a PROVING DRAWER?

"I beg your what now."

Since someone tried to prove their dough in a fridge a week or two ago, the microwave isn't a terrible idea - but it comes as no surprise that Paul is pretty suspicious about it. "It's a dangerous thing to do," he says - the Bake Off equivalent of having the emergency services on stand by, and a full step up from "That's brave", which is alarming enough - but Nancy is entirely uncowed by him. "It is!" she bellows, clearly having the time of her life.

Paul is always delighted when people don't do well at bread - the town isn't big enough for two bread bakers - so I'm longing for Nancy's controversial method to succeed. His comments are swiftly followed by two wonderful moments. One is Mary telling Paul that he has "learnt something today" - at which he is visibly angry - and the other is Mel spraying what she believes to be masala directly into her mouth, only to discover it is cooking oil. And, in Microwave Corner...

Luis is quick to witness the unprecedented act (calling her 'our Nance' in the process - love it). Meanwhile, Mezza and Paul are perched awkwardly on a table (blithely ignoring the dozens of chairs immediately available to them) while he explains that microwaves are death traps. If the show were broadcast in 1830 they couldn't be more alarmed about the microwave.

"Tell me more about this electricity, Future Man."
A clever bit of editing sees Paul's warning segue straight into a bowl of fruit spontaneously collapsing. What can't microwaves do??  Double bolt your doors tonight, readers.

Chetna defends her bread against Sue's accusations of messiness, saying "It's my bread!" I think she's missed the point of the show. Martha, meanwhile, advertises her bread by saying "It's like jam on toast, with the jam already inside!" The product nobody was asking for. Bless her heart.

And Luis? Well, he's forgotten to add any fruit to his fruit loaf. It's going well, folks.

We have a nice montage of people opening and shutting proving drawers - except Nance, of course; she's over by the microwave ("This could be my death knell," she announces, and it is to my lasting disappointment that the microwave didn't ping at that point) - and Chetters is the first to put her loaf in the oven. "See you in 50 minutes," she says, suggesting that she's going to climb in there with it.  The camera pans away, so perhaps she did.

It's been a while since we had an arbitrary shot of someone's feet, hasn't it?


Luis takes his beautiful bread tree out of the oven, and Paul starts his menacing amble (can an amble be menacing?) around the tent.

He;s quite rude. Basically he goes from station to station, prodding at finished loaves. Rude.

Sue says that Nancy's loaf is the "size of a labrador".

Richard says that "it's looking a bit wrinkly on the outside". That's quite enough about Mary. A-ha-ha. (Oh, Mary, I love you lots. I should stop being mean.)

Aaaand - they're done! Luis' and Richard's look amazing; Martha's looks rather bizarre. Nancy's is too big to look at in one go. Basically everyone does pretty well, particularly Richard. Mary confides to Chetna that she's not fond of dates, "between you and me". Does she realise that she's being filmed? She also immediately contradicts almost all of Paul's criticisms, for which I love her.

And what of Nancy's labrador loaf? Paul struggles to find something to criticise, but it seems pretty good. "It's not awful, is it?" Nancy squawks, and Paul has to admit that it is not.

What will the technical challenge be? First, Mel requests happy faces:

Remember Smiling Rob?

It's... something unpronounceable. The same unpronounceable thing Chetna was unable to pronounce in the first challenge! Considering they have to get all their recipes approved far in advance, it's a little surprising that they let this happen, but Chetna is giddy with excitement. Remember how much she shrieks with laughter at everyday non-events? Well, this coincidence has her waving her arms in the air, clutching her head, and generally putting on a three-act dumb show of delight.

"I'm really excited" she says, unnecessarily.

Richard says he will 'learn by watching', hastening to add that this is not the same as copying.

Mary, as usual, pretends to be amazed at what Paul says in the here's-one-I-made-earlier segment. His example is pretty neat.

Also a bit hypnotic.

Guess what? It's all about proving. OH, THE PROVING DECISIONS. Nance suggests she might turn to the microwave, in the manner of one discussing secret black market products.

They all stretch out their pastries, which would be my nightmare (since I'm disproportionately useless at the seemingly-simple task of rolling things). Nancy thinks "it probably needs to be the same size as this cloth", although what she's basing that on I can't imagine. The instructions say "as big as you can", not "as big as any arbitrarily-sized piece of fabric you happen to have on your person."

They then spend quite some time experimenting with the best way to spread the walnut filling on the dough...

This dough is NOT the same size as her cloth.
Everybody is finding it pretty much impossible (and this is the point at which I would have a destroyed mess of pastry mixed with walnut mush.) Guess what Nancy's solution is?

"The microwave is the only way forward." - thing she says

She does have the bright thought of using an icing bag, which is immediately copied by Richard (and openly; "what's she done, then?" he asks). Has he copied the microwaving too? We don't know; the good people of GBBO don't show us. More than one microwave shot per segment would raise the rating from PG to 15.

If I never see someone open a proving drawer again, it'll be too soon.

Chetna bakes her dough long before everyone else, which startles Sue immensely. However, Chetna knows what's up. People are too busy being beguiled by piping bags, and don't copy her. Martha, instead, takes her coiled-up dough out of the tin and makes it longer. Ooooh dear.

Nancy, apropos of nothing, makes royal icing. Diana wanders across the background with a tray of pastry triangles.

They start to come out of the ovens. "It's a funny looking thing," says Nancy, and it's hard to argue with her.

Cue lots of fanning with baking sheets, and Nancy using her royal icing with some sense that it's all gone horribly wrong for her.

And the results? Well, they're all raw except for Chetna's. Martha's is the rawest of all, and she comes last. Chetna, of course, comes first. Mary calls Richard's loaf drunk. Takes a beetle to know a beetle... The best thing, of course, is Nancy's ecstatic reaction to coming third. Apparently, had she come last, she wouldn't have admitted to it.

What a woman.

This, in turn, is nothing compared to Chetna's adorable glee at coming first. She's such a sweetie.

We move onto the final challenge, and it becomes clear that Martha and Nancy are in the bottom two. I don't know how to cope with that. And the final challenge is... doughnuts! As with eclairs last week, this doesn't seem super difficult. But I guess that gives more room for the showstopperiness to come through.

Paul brags about making 30,000 doughnuts in his life. If anything, it comes across as a little creepy.

Luis has grated hundreds of limes, but I have a theory that lime makes everything better. Test that theory if you dare. He tells Mary that he's making cocktail doughnuts, and this is her instant reaction:

That lady loves her alcs.
At this point Our Vicar's Wife, previously worried that I would be sued for slander, emails me to say that I can get away with my teasing. She's so excited about cocktail-themed doughnuts. I am a bit, too.

Nancy: "I've learned that if you say something's in something, you've got to be able to taste it." I have been annoyed time and again by Paul saying that he thinks orange (for instance) would be horrible in a baked product, and then complaining when he can't taste the orange. But that's what you wanted in the first place, Paul. Make up your doughnut-addled mind.

Chetna has apparently exhausted the world's supply of mangos, and is now putting potatoes (could it really have been potatoes??) in her doughnuts. And one of her doughnuts is braided. So not even doughnut-shaped.

Martha is making a cronut, but obviously isn't allowed to call it that.

And, inevitably, return of the flipping proving drawers.

Richard is making fair-inspired doughnuts: toffee apple (sure) and rhubarb-and-custard (what? Does Richard imagine that fairs are replete with people chomping on rhubarb? We all know fairs are filled with candy floss and crying children. Make crying children doughnuts, Rich, if anything.) He's making heart-shaped doughnuts, and says his wife loves them. Awwwwww. Shout out to Sarah Burr, who has been a very kind supporter of these recaps!

Also, general applause for 'doughnuts' rather than the insidious 'donuts'.

Nancy - as if she were not already queen of my heart - is making a bunch of doughnuts with Paul's face on. She talks about piercing blue eyes &c. &c. and he staunchly refuses to engage at all. He does reference her 'male judge' comment but, Paul, we've all moved on since then. And, lord knows, this programme would never repeat a joke. It's not in its nature.

Mel takes away the empties from Mary's coffee break.

Nancy tries to teach us the name for making the doughnuts into balls - 'key', apparently - but loses heart halfway through. She knows that her role is not bothering about anything. Like moments later when she's picking up her dough and saying "very very delicate" as the dough collapses out of any recognisable shape.

Richard (were you aware?) is a builder. Builders love doughnuts, apparently.

Marth has OVER-PROVED. She's pretty distraught. Mel gives the dubious advice just to put more filling in, and hope they get bigger that way.

"Mary will probably hate it," says Luis, of his Irish-cream-filled straws. Has he met this woman?

Nancy starts icing her Paul faces.

Uncanny, no?
Also: horrible flashbacks to Death Becomes Her.

Aaaand... it's over! Surprisingly little to say about this whole process. Only a bizarre close-up of a vocal duck separates us from the judging.

My favourites end up being almost all of them...

Richard does pretty well, and they certainly love the flavours - although not so much the presentation.

Nancy's doughnuts are a bit too dry and overdone, but otherwise ok - and Paul, again, refuses to acknowledge that his face is all over the tree. "They look all right to me," she says. Love her.

Martha's haven't risen, as she knew. Paul congratulates her chocolate icing for not falling off - as the chocolate shatters and falls.

Chetna's are complimented, except for having "more of a ganache than a mousse". The horrors.

Luis' gets this wonderful moment, when Mary takes a sip from the straw and realises that they're choc full of alcohol. "Oh-hoh!" she cries.

"How naughty!"

"Why are we bothering with the doughnuts?" she says, going in for more. And she likes them more than Paul does... quelle surprise.

Star baker could have been almost anybody, really, and I was a bit surprised that it was someone who came fourth in the technical challenge - but also delighted that it's my favourite, Richard!

But going home is...

Very sad to see Martha go, but I'd have been even more heartbroken if Nancy had gone. Still, I thought Martha would win. As Sue says, "You are 17, and you are brilliant. You are going to rule the world, my darling."

See you next week for the semi-finals! I can't wait to see what Nancy does with patisserie. I can only presume she'll just throw all the ingredients in the microwave and hope for the best.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Firstly - very sad to hear about the death of Debo Devonshire (Debo Mitford). She lived a long and busy life, but it is the end of an era - and the end of that faint hope I had of meeting her.

Secondly - my review of Sarah Waters' new novel The Paying Guests. I actually read this for Shiny New Books, but some miscommunication revealed that somebody else was actually reviewing it for our third issue (our in early October - eek, so many books to read by then) so, instead, I reviewed it over at Vulpes Libris!

I love Waters, but each of her novels always seems (to me) just to fall short of being truly great. So... what did I think of The Paying Guests? That tantalising question can lead you straight into my review...

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Literary Press

I had a fun coincidence waiting for me when I got back from holiday. Just before I went I had the excitement of one of my Abebooks 'wants' alerts coming into my inbox, and one I've been wanting for years: My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes. A click or two and it was on its way...

And you've already seen my Norfolk haul, including The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells - it was only when I returned from holiday and opened the parcel waiting for me that I saw that the two books came in the same series, from The Literary Press. And I'm pretty sure I don't own any others in this series - what a fun coincidence!

Does this series ring a bell with anyone? They might well appear in secondhand bookshops on those shelves filled with Everyman Classics etc. which, all too often, I overlook. Rows and rows of easily-findable (in the UK) books by Priestley, Kipling, Trollope etc. don't make for thrilling browsing, but I have found rare copies of E.H. Young and Elizabeth von Arnim titles on the everything-looks-the-same-shelves, and now this. I'll have to look even more carefully in future...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The books I bought in Norfolk...

I had a lovely week away in this beautiful cottage (it's the far right in a terrace of three, with lovely views of the church):

I did lots of reading, and a fair bit of visiting bookshops (although it would have been more if Colin hadn't intervened...) and bought quite a few books. Many of them came from a wonderful little bookshop in Watton. It wasn't huge, but it was super-filled with books - double-stacked, hidden under bookcases, piled in corners. In no particular order, and certainly not in the order in the photo, here is what I bought...

Time, Gentlemen, Time by Norah Hoult
I loved There Were No Windows, so I picked up this Hoult - and was excited to see that it was signed and a limited edition for her friends and family. What fun!

A Saturday Life by Radclyffe Hall
I've only read one short story by Hall, but I can't resist a lovely VMC.

No Place Like Home by Beverley Nichols
I must hold the record for the person with the most books by Nichols who hasn't actually read any.

On the Side of the Angels by Betty Miller
Oops, I think I already have this one.

Heritage by Vita Sackville-West
Oooo, and this one too... I just remember Thomas/My Porch snatching it out of my hands in a Virginia bookshop, and had forgotten that, since then, I'd been given a lovely Bello edition.

Caravan by Lady Eleanor Smith
Does anybody know anything about this book or this author? I picked it up in a charity shop, because I can't resist a cheap old hardback of a certain age.

Studies of Contemporary Poets by Mary C. Sturgeon
I didn't notice the 'poet' bit of the title until after I'd bought it, but I mostly picked it up for the chapter on Rose Macaulay.

Mrs Bindle by Herbert Jenkins
The Bindles on the Rocks by Herbert Jenkins
I haven't read Mr Bindle yet, but I loved Patricia Brent, Spinster so much that I'm keen to gather up more.

The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells
This was mentioned in some book I was reading, and it sounded intriguing - it's about a man who wakes up to find everyone else is dead (I think...)

Three Lives by Lettice Cooper
A Persephone author in an old hardback is not something I am likely to leave behind, is it?

An Interrupted Life: the Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43
And the same goes for an actual Persephone that I don't already own!

Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy
I thought I already had this, but it appears not - and it might come in handy for Margaret Kennedy Reading Week.

Better Bed Manners by Horton and Balliol
One of the more niche bookish interests I have is in fake etiquette guides. There aren't all that many around, that I know of (Virginia Graham wrote two gems) - this one will hopefully be as fun as the others!

The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley
And over to the less-niche books... after Crome Yellow, and discovering Huxley wasn't all dystopian futures, I thought I'd see what else wasout there.

The Understudy by David Nicholls
Another charity shop purchase - I've been meaning to read more Nicholls since enjoying One Day, like everyone else in the country.

Apple of My Eye by Helen Hanff
I thought I had all Hanff's books, but I hadn't heard of this one - which is about New York.

Stella Benson by Joy Grant
I'm currently reading my third Benson novel, and - having heard a great talk about her at a conference earlier in the year - I'm keen to read more about her life.

Another World Than This - ed. by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
SOMEONE is going to have to get me to like poetry, and it might as well be this poetry-loving pair and their anthology.

Many Furrows by Alpha of the Plough
More essays and thoughts by this writer, whose book I enjoyed last year.

William The Bad - Richmal Crompton
William The Outlaw - Richmal Crompton
William in Trouble - Richmal Crompton
I continue to pick these up when I find them cheaply, as you can't go wrong.

Right! As usual - which have you read, or would you like to read? Tell me all!