Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Internet Access

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!

Well, this has been a busy week.
Being the end of the month, the deadline for the FWG short story contest came around (more on that); the monthly meeting in the Viborg story tellers’ guild was on Monday (and this time, I actually told a story to get feedback on it); I had to figure out how to get paid for my teaching (I could choose to report the number of working hours each month or have the complete number of hours for the semester divided equally between the five months of it – I chose the latter to have a more regular income).

This afternoon, it’s time for the monthly local crafting café – it’s actually been five months since I was there last, due to a spot of ill health (May), summer holidays (June & July), and the baby blessing in August.
Oh, and my parents are coming over for dinner tonight, as I won’t be here for coffee. If you are not Danish, let me tell you that afternoon coffee, including bread & cheese & jam and / or cake, is quite an institution around these parts. The appropriate time is 3 p.m., and any deviation from this needs to be spelled out, if you’re inviting. So, having a crafting group meeting from 2 till 4 p.m. on a Sunday can be somewhat disruptive.

In between, I have been devising a little written test for my students, to see how they are doing and to give them a chance of trying out the format for the exam in December. I’ll spring it on them on Tuesday and have them do it in one of the two lessons. (And I can knit while watching them!)

The weather has really turned towards autumn – the lovely, bright, crisp autumn weather, happily, not (yet) the grey and rainy kind. Leaves are yellowing and beginning to fall, there is a threat of frost in the nights; and I want to knit big, woolly jumpers.

As mentioned, the September stories for the FWG contest are in; the deadline for the votes is tomorrow, so nobody knows anything about the results yet – except that 32 writers have submitted stories, which is lovely. And as ever, it is quite difficult to narrow the votes down to three favourite stories ... I am going to have to work on that.

Anyway, the theme this month has been SEPTEMBER TRICKSTER, and the highlights: a trickster, devious or dishonest behaviour, and a bag containing something fraudulent or stolen.

So, I give you my story as the Apple of the Week; hope you like it:

Internet Access

Driving slowly down the street, they passed a young woman walking in the opposite direction, giving him ample time to watch her. She was striding along on strong legs in high-heeled boots, blonde ponytail swinging and a big, white, studded leather bag over one shoulder. What caught his attention, though, was the black, glass-like slab she was holding up in front of her face, thin white cords leading from it to her ears. The woman was obviously upset, yelling angrily at the slab, on the verge of tears. The wheeled glass cage he was sitting in muffled all sounds coming from outside it, but he could still hear her voice, if not the actual words.

He had seen several of these slabs before: everybody seemed to be carrying one, talking to it, peering at it, stroking it.
He wondered whether this was a new kind of magic or a new kind of pet.

 ‘As you know, I have been away for a long time,’ he said to the bulky man beside him. ‘What are those glassy black things that you all carry around and talk to?’
‘Smart phones, sir,’ the man – Erik, he had to remember that – answered. ‘They allow you to talk to people who are far away from you.’
‘Interesting,’ Loke said politely. Magic, then.
‘They also have games,’ the man went on, ‘and Internet access.’
He must have looked blank, for the man (Erik) got a pained expression, as if he didn’t quite know where to begin. ‘Um,’ he hesitated, ‘you can find and read information from all over the world, words and pictures, and sound.’
Now, this was interesting. ‘And can you send information, too?’ he asked innocently.
‘Sure, you can upload whatever you want – if your connection’s good enough.’
‘Sorry, sir. Send.’
‘Send to this net thing.’
‘Internet, yes, sir. It’s called the Web, as well.’
‘Web? Like a spider’s web?’
‘That’s right, sir.’
‘I see. Can you get me one of these things?’
‘Of course, sir. I expect there may be one waiting for you at the house, otherwise we will get one for you straightaway.’
‘Thank you,’ Loke said gravely.

He leaned back in the leather seat, stroking his beard while musing quietly. Now that he was back in the world, he would finally get his revenge for the centuries he had spent trapped, chained and poisoned, punished by the Asar for merely being himself.
He would become a spider in a web that encircled the world.

A few days later, a new video appeared on YouTube. It showed a strangely attractive, skinny man of indeterminate age, with shoulder-length black hair and an immaculate goatee.
The man told a freaky story about being a god and about how the people he thought were his friends, his family, had cheated him, blaming him for an entirely accidental death. He couldn’t have known that that arrow would kill young Balder, could he? After all, the guy was supposed to be immortal.
He told of how they had caught him, tied him to a rock and let a snake drip its venom like acid on his face. He told of the physical pain and the emotional pain, of his longing for revenge and his newfound freedom.

The video went viral, getting hundreds of thousands of hits in a day and soon millions. Korean rappers and Norwegian comedy duos were forgotten: now everybody watched, liked and shared the Loke story.
Of course, nobody took him seriously. Nobody, except maybe a few Hindus or modern Pagans, believed in random gods appearing on YouTube. Some thought it was a promotion for a new movie; most merely thought it was cool.

That is, somebody did take him seriously. Loke immediately recognised the grumpy, one-eyed man standing on his doorstep one evening.
‘Father Odin,’ he greeted him politely.
‘Don’t you father Odin me, you wretched half-breed,’ the ancient father of the gods growled. ‘You have been using my invention to further your own twisted agenda, spreading your incessant lies again. You really haven’t learned anything, have you?’
‘What exactly was I supposed to learn from being chained to a rock and poisoned?’
Odin glared at him. ‘Luckily, humans these days don’t give a fig – as long as they are entertained, they don’t care by whom or what. So there’s really no harm done. Nothing you can do.’

It never occurred to anyone to connect the popular YouTube video with the waves of aberrant behaviour sweeping over various parts of the world.
In Germany, Japanese style cosplay gained a hitherto unseen popularity, with night club-like cross-dressing spreading to daytime activities. Universities and businesses saw otherwise serious professionals decked out in school girl uniforms, wigs, and heavy makeup. Bank clerks wore clown masks and carried soft guns to work.
Tokyo night life already mastered the art of dressing up and instead developed a new trend of deliberately and consistently lying to your lover, demonstrating fidelity by flirting with others.
A shoplifting spree originating in Paris spread like an epidemic across most of Europe, causing near panic in shop owners, exhaustion in detectives and police, and intense worry in parents of teenagers. As a kind of internal signal or uniform, the shoplifters all carried white bags for their loot, from tiny shoulder strap purses to baskets to rucksacks.
Applications for sex change operations proliferated, along with a sudden market for not only the usual gender-specific enhancements, but additions as well – hermaphroditism became the new black.
In England, an animal research facility was burned to the ground by the ALF after it came out that an obscure line of research had reached new heights, so to speak: the successful grafting of wings onto mammals.

Meanwhile, in a large house somewhere in the Scandinavian countryside, Loke leaned back in a comfortable leather armchair, stroking his beard and smiling contentedly to himself.

© 2013 Dorthe Møller Christensen

The Knitting
I’ve started taking my knitting to work with me; the daily schedules have lessons starting at a quarter past the hour, so between each lesson are 15 minutes (give or take). This is just enough time to go to the bathroom or fetch a cup of coffee when needed, but often, I just stay in my classroom. Sometimes, a good portion of the break is taken up by questions from students, but if I am left to myself, what can I do?
So, I brought my stripy sock along to knit a few rows; this is good for my calm and centeredness. And the students like it, generally; many of them have come straight from school and living at home to a new life in a new city, and watching someone nearly old enough to be their mother knitting is familiar to most, either from home or from school.
A couple of the girls talk about knitting (and crochet) – and the next day, one of them brought her knitting, as well.

So, the socks are moving along – the multi-coloured yarn moved from a long stretch of green that made the beginning of the first sock look like a Christmas elf sock, into blues and then purple (yay!), which means that the toe of the second sock is three shades of purple.

My Leaf cardigan is at a tricky stage right now: I am working the garter edge all the way around the body. The tricky part is having 600+ stitches on an 80 cm circular needle; as I am working on 2½ mm needles, I am stuck with fixed circs instead of my favourite interchangeables that only come in 3 mm and upwards. With the interchangeables, I could switch to a longer wire; but I’ll manage. It’s only 7 rows, after all, and I’m on the 5th now.
And then come the sleeves on dpns, and I might finish this cotton cardigan before winter. Brilliant timing, right? Something tells me I miscalculated or forgot that my knitting rate would slow down when I started work. Oh, well, it may be spring again sometime.

With much better timing, I finally sank my teeth into the red cowl I have been wanting to make, inspired by The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (which I reviewed here two or three weeks ago – and on Goodreads).
The circus in the book is kept in black, white, grey, and silver, and the group of followers of the circus also dress in those colours to show that they adhere to it – but then add ‘a shock of red’ to show that they are not part of the circus, merely spectators. The items most mentioned in the book are scarves, but also hats, roses, ties, &c.
I decided to make a moebius cowl, to keep the magic feel of the circus and the sense of not quite knowing which side is which.
I am using the lusciously soft Sandnes Kashmir Alpakka that I bought at the craft fair (Husflidsmessen) three weeks ago – when I for once was drawn to the red yarn and not the purple. And when it is done, I will post the pattern for the Rêveur Cowl on Ravelry.

As ever, I have lots of plans for further knitting; right now, I have a bunch of wool stacked up in front of me: some Donegal Aran Tweed for another sleeveless o w l s, and two samples of Peruvian Highland wool for – well, I think I will use the moss green for the cabled hoodie that is nudging me, the adult version of the Samwise.
And I have patterns that need to be finished and handed over to the Free Pattern Testers group for test knitting.

The Books
All too soon, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ended – I have written about it here several times and a short review on Goodreads, so I won’t go into it again, only to remind you to look it up.
In an afterword, Ozeki mentions that the printed version of the book contains annotations, footnotes, and illustrations, so ideally, one should probably have both the audio book and the printed book; the audio has such immediacy and charm that I wouldn’t want to miss that, either.

I’ve managed to finish several books this week, actually: when Trespass by Rose Tremain ran out, I continued with At Home by Bill Bryson and finished that one, too.
Trespass tells of siblings, of ageing, of handling your past and attempting to secure your future; it is also a mystery with an interesting, though not unforeseeable, twist.
At Home walks you through a house, the old rectory in England where the Bryson family lives, regarding the provenance and fittings of the various rooms in a home; the walk turns into a world-wide journey to find spices for the kitchen, wood for furniture, and not least the challenges for the new inhabitants of North America to build and acquire all the things they saw as essential for a comfortable life.

And I made it through Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. I’m probably being unfair to this book, expecting it to be a novel (as I did at first) and then being disappointed when it didn’t meet my expectations.
So: this is a portrait of Savannah, Georgia, in the 1980s, and the protracted murder case against Jim Williams, a Gatsbyesque figure, for the shooting of his assistant and lover Danny Hansford. The book resembles a series of feature articles in the New Yorker where, indeed, the author had his day job at the time.

Recently, I listened to an interview with the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood on the Guardian Books podcast (from 28th August 2013), about her book The Blind Assassin – so I went to look for it and found it in the local library (they have shelves with literature in foreign languages, mostly English, but also German, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese, &c).
I haven’t got all that far into it yet, but I’m liking it.
And do go find that interview: Ms Atwood is a charming lady. One person in the audience remarked admiringly that she is very well read, and she replied: ‘I’m old. It accumulates.’

My current on-the-go audio book is Silver by Andrew Motion, a sequel to the classic Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson.
The sub-title of Motion’s book is Return to Treasure Island, so the silver in the title refers to both Long John Silver, the nefarious ship’s cook, and to the silver left on the island when Jim Hawkins was a boy. Now, his son, also named Jim, is approached by the lovely daughter of John Silver to go back to the Island and claim the remaining treasure.
Silver is read by David Tennant whom we all know and love as the Tenth Doctor. I have heard David Tennant read Doctor Who books before, very appropriately, and he does this one very well, too, with the occasional doctorial emphasis on a word.

That is all for this time – I need to tidy up a bit before I go knitting (parents coming over, remember?). I will be back next week with more knitting, more books, more chatter.
Until then: have a great week, take care of yourself and your loved ones, and happy knitting!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn Pastimes

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
It is the day of the Autumn Equinox: the sun is passing the Equator, and from now on, the nights will be longer than the days.
I have found my woollen gloves, for the mornings are chilly, and scarves and shawls are coming out of their summer hiding places. Socks are on the needles, as well. I am still working on a cotton cardigan, but the next one planned will have to wait while I make a few woollen ones.
Discussion threads on Ravelry have begun to chat about Christmas knitting – or Holiday knitting, if you want to be PC. I am not going to knit for everybody this year, as I have already stated: it did turn into a bit of frenzy during December, and anyway, my knitting time is severely curtailed compared to last year, so that’s that. I will probably do a few select pieces, but I am promising nothing.

So, this week is Viborg Festival Week (Festuge), and lots of arrangements have been made, starting off with the Viborg City Marathon last Sunday.
On Thursday, as I have mentioned previously, the Red Cross knitting & crochet group held a café to which the story tellers’ guild were invited. The crafty ladies from the group were there, offering help and guidance to any knitter or crocheter who wanted to come along and work on something for charity or of their own.
Three of us went along, two bringing our knitting as well as stories to tell.

I learned several things from the experience, including the existence of a detergent for cotton that can make old knitwear look new. I need to ask again about the name, and then I will let you know.
Anyway, as we crafters know, it is perfectly possible to listen attentively while staring at the work in your hands; anyone who enjoys audio books while knitting can attest to this. The only problem arises in a social context, particularly with non-crafters, who confuse a lack of eye contact with a lack of attention. Hence the repeated discussions on Ravelry on where and when it is appropriate – or not – to knit: work meetings, church, with friends, &c.

I had occasion to recall this while telling my story (the Cautionary Tale that I put up here a while ago) to this group of crafters: I am used to students staring at me or the board (black or white) behind me, when I speak. If they are looking down and not ostensibly at their books, they may be daydreaming or texting or checking the time to see when the lesson ends.
So at first, it was a little unsettling to be ‘ignored’ by the ladies, who were mostly looking down and not at me – until I reminded myself that, well, they were crafting and not at all ignoring me. Come to think of it, telling a story without being stared at may actually be quite pleasant, when you get used to it.

On a different note, GTA V has come out for Xbox, and as Victor bought it, our living room is once again, for the time being, intermittently exposed to violence, drug use, reckless driving, foul language and the like. This game is completely weird and pointless, but seems to be enjoyed by the boys; they get into discussions about the specifics of various cars and weapons used in the game. And the satire: everybody and everything is this fictionalised Los Angeles, dubbed Los Santos, is hyperbolised and ridiculed. It is quite funny, actually.
And no, I am not worried that they will want to drive like maniacs up and particularly down mountainous slopes, or steal any number of vehicles including garbage trucks, while on drugs, or rob jewellery shops, or argue with adulterous wives and their yoga teachers, or anything like that. It’s a game; they know the difference, and anyway, characters on drugs behave intensely irrationally, so it’s no advertisement.

As for cars in real life, the TARDIS has been making weird noises lately, when coming into a bend. I asked my dad about it; he started out by guessing at a worn front-wheel casing and recounting how many times he had had something like that fixed on various cars over the years. Yikes.
On further inspection, though, there was no creaking around the wheel; so we went for a little drive – and the problem was identified. The servo transmission turned out to be sorely lacking fluid; and of course, it would be complaining in bends, not driving along in a more or less straight line. It still works, so I hadn’t had any real problem with it, only the noises.
Anyway, this is a very fixable problem, and at a much lower cost than having a wheel casing replaced.

The Knitting
This week, I have pictures, as promised, of my knitting progress. The Leaf cardigan (I still have no fancy name for it) has reached the lace border at the bottom and is moving along nicely, with only a slight hitch when I was starting a RS row and realised that I had done the previous RS wrong. Sigh. I had to tink two rows of 225 stitches each and then re-knit.

Not a huge task in itself, but it put me off it for a day or two, during which I started a pair of striped socks in my quest to work out the perfect sizing on the arched short-row heel socks that will fit into shoes without any bulkiness or bunching.

These were my first attempt, and they are nice and pretty, but the heel behaved slightly differently than I had anticipated, so the foot is too long to fit comfortably into shoes. So, I have shortened the foot, moving the point at which one begins the heel, and I’m giving it another go. 
My sister is beta-knitting again – so we actually managed, during the weekend, to sit side by side, knitting socks from the same pattern. Very cosy.

The new sock fits perfectly – it is not the most beautiful of socks, but it will do as a test sock, and anyway, I can stuff it into a shoe, which was pretty much the whole point of it.

Also, I am fiddling with a cowl design, prompted by the circus aficionados in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, the rêveurs who follow the circus, dressed in black or white or grey, with a splash of red.
More on this in due course.

The Books
In paper version, I am reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. It took me quite a while to get into this book; it didn’t feel like a continuous novel, but more like a series of vignettes featuring various inhabitants of Savannah, Georgia. I resolved to plough on, though, to see how it progressed and whether it would turn into a proper story.
Then, when I was about two-thirds through, my eye caught the topmost line on the front cover: The Bestselling True Crime Classic. A classic doh! moment.
The main story in the book is the trial of Jim Williams for the 1981 shooting of his assistant Danny Hansford, who was also his lover; I looked up James Arthur Williams, 1930-1990, on Wikipedia – without reading the article, as I hadn’t finished the book yet and didn’t know the outcome of the trial.
So, well, that explained the newspaper feature quality of the writing. I am still not thrilled by the book, but I am going to finish it.

On the audio side of things, I have a lot going on.
On home alone-days (or rather, half days), I am still listening to A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the virtues of which I have already extolled on a couple of occasions. This is one of those books that you want to listen to for the pleasure of it and the pain of finding out what happens next; and yet, you don’t want it to finish.

At the library, I found a book on CD – I have previously listened to a bunch of those in the car, but having been away from work for three years and thus not driving much on a regular basis, I haven’t had much use for them. Now, though, I have just over an hour six times a week, so I will be visiting the library for audio books again.
Anyway, the one I am listening to now is Trespass by Rose Tremain. I picked it out without knowing what it’s about, merely on the strength of the author’s name; I read The Colour some years back and loved it.
Trespass tells of siblings beginning to grow old and trying to deal with their past, of how and where to feel at home, of the ability to love and be loved.
Anthony Verey is a London antiques dealer in his mid-sixties having to face the decline of his business as well as of himself. He goes to visit his older sister, Veronica, who lives in France with her lover, Kitty, and decides to move to France and begin a new life there, in the sun.
The other pair of brother and sister are Aramond and Audran Lunel, also ageing inhabitants of their ancestral home; though the brother has taken the big house for himself and pushed his sister to live in a small bungalow on the edge of the land. Now, Aramond wants to sell and retire – and you can see where this is going, right?
The points of view through the book are with a little girl right at the beginning, then mainly Anthony and Kitty, Aramond and Audran – and Veronica coming in too, later – giving varying and sometimes opposite perspectives on relationships and the at times maddening insight into unspoken feelings and regrets. It is very well done. And, of course, there are several questions to be answered and a dramatic event that I am not going to spoil for you, should you wish to read the book.

I managed to catch up with podcasts at the beginning of this week – not entirely, I still have several Shakespeare plays waiting on ChopBard and the current Forgotten Classic, but that’s another matter – so I dove into one of Bill Bryson’s Short Histories, this one called At Home: A Short History of Private Life, read by the author himself. It runs to 16 hours of audio, and I got it on sale at Audible, so that was nice. This book takes the old rectory that is the current residence of the Brysons, as its starting point in the examination of how homes have developed, chiefly in England in the past 400 years or so. The quest moves from room to room, presenting architecture, furniture, lighting, appliances, servants, food, and more. The chapter on salt and spices takes you around the globe on daring sea voyages and explorations, the painfully slow realisation of the importance of diet to maintain heath – scurvy plays a huge part here – and the exchange of foodstuffs and diseases with newly discovered lands.

All in all, very interesting; the other day, I had just been discussing slavery in ancient Rome with my students and later listened to the chapter on servants, in which Bryson says that ‘they had servants as we today have appliances’.
The same can be said about slaves in Antiquity – or some of them, anyway: they were there to do the heavy work, the washing and cleaning and threshing and grinding, all of which is mechanised nowadays. And Cicero’s secretary, Tiro, functioned as a dictaphone & typewriter in writing down his speeches.
Even in 1978, when my family moved to Malawi, we acquired a house boy who among other duties did the washing. This was cheaper and easier and more reliable than shipping in a washing machine, as some other Danes did, because they were uncomfortable with the whole having-a-servant situation. But a washing machine would stop working when the electricity failed – which it probably would do more often, because the machine itself would put a strain on the supply – whereas employing and paying a man (or a woman) put money and thus food out there to people who really needed it.

Well, that’s it for this time – I will be back next week, and until then: have a great time, enjoy, take care of yourself and your loved ones!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Basket of Apples

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
Autumn has arrived, featuring wind-driven rains interspersed with crisp sunlight, and a marked drop in temperature. It is time for sitting indoors, reading and knitting – and for the occasional bracing walk to feel the weather. It is time for scarves and woollen socks and gloves and mitts.

I went out picking apples yesterday (during a spot of sunshine) for a new batch of mashed apples; during August, we got a whole bunch of apples from my parents’ tree, and especially Victor became very fond of apple mash. So, when the supplies ran low, something had to be done. Around here are several apple trees that belong to no-one in particular, and I could just go and gather a basket full of apples to cook.
The process of preparing this treat is simple, if somewhat time-consuming, and the finished product sits nicely in the freezer until you want it, for a dessert, layer cake filling, or just with oatmeal.

Mashed apples
Step one: wash and peel apples.
Step two: slice apples and put them in a cooking pot.
Step three: add water, appx 250 ml, with juice of 1 lemon. This can conveniently be done at once, to minimise oxidation.
Step four: cook apples, with appx 80 grams of sugar (1 decilitre) per kilo of sliced apple. Stir and mash apples a bit, if they don’t go mushy by themselves.
Step five: cool and enjoy!

Easy, right? And you can stick a book in your ear – or a podcast – while doing the peeling & slicing.
I filled up my big pot with 2½ kilos of apples and still had quite a few left over from the basketful; so there is more apple mashing for me in the foreseeable future. Might as well stock up before winter.

Apart from the fruity frolics, I have been teaching my undergraduates; in one of my two classes are a couple of repeat offenders, who enjoy telling me what they learned last year and how it was done. So they need be shown – nicely, of course – that a different way of, say, explaining Latin grammar is not necessarily wrong. The language was there first, and all the rules of grammar are attempts to describe the language, not hard-and-fast rules like the laws of nature.
I’m hoping that at some point they will mature into appreciating that a different teacher, a different learner’s book, and a different grammar are an advantage to them, because they get a whole new experience and a chance to explore new facets of the models for language.
We’ll see.

The Knitting
I haven’t got nearly enough interesting knitting to report on this week; there has been a bit of sock knitting on a design that I hope to get into Defarge 3, and that, of course, is very interesting, but I can’t show you just yet.

And then some straight up – or rather, straight down – work on my Leaf cardigan.

This is the adult version of the Laura cardigan, made in black light fingering weight cotton on 2.5 mm needles, so it’s taking a while. I am currently on the stretch down from below the body-sleeve-divide towards the lace border, and it is merely back and forth in almost plain stocking stitch. But I am getting close to the lacy part – so next week, I should have a photo of something more exciting than this.
It feels like it’s taking forever, even though I know it isn’t; I’m feeling the reduction in knitting time due to work, and that, combined with slightly boring knitting, is making me a bit impatient.

I did get a good chunk done yesterday, though, while chatting; my friend Aviâja had the usual suspects over for her birthday celebration, so the five of us got a chance to catch up, which was lovely.
And now I can show you the last of my purchases from the fair last weekend, as it was a birthday present: lusciously soft worsted weight silk yarn from Karen Noe, named Sitara. It doesn’t appear in the Ravelry database, so I may have to go over and add it.
I even lured Aviâja over to the dark side and had her make a Rav profile – mwahahahaha!

The Books
As I have mentioned before, I am, intermittently, listening to A Tale for the Time Being by the Japanese-Canadian Ruth Ozeki, read by the author herself.
The story takes off with the Japanese-Canadian novelist Ruth finding on the beach near her home in British Columbia a washed-up freezer bag than turns out to contain, among other things, a diary written by a 16-year old Japanese girl, Naoko or Nao (no coincidence that it sounds like ‘now’).
Ruth is gripped by curiosity, starts reading the diary and tries to investigate the persons and events described or referred to in it; so the narrative is divided between Ruth (and her husband, Oliver) and Nao’s reflections in the diary.

Quite apart from the contents and language of the novel, which are fascinating for so many reasons, the reading itself is brilliant. The author of course knows her story, but not only that: she has separate voices for Ruth and for Nao, and her command of accents is impressive.
One example: Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu plays a part in the tale; the Japanese teenager Nao butchers the title, pronouncing temps as [tamps], while Ruth has a marked Canadian English accent, but knows to not pronounce the ending of the word. At some point, Ruth enlists the help of a French speaker – and the French part of his dialogue is spoken in proper French, while his English is accented.
Similarly (okay, then, two examples), Nao’s great-grandmother Jiko speaks English with a distinct Japanese accent, when she doesn’t speak Japanese. And the Buddhist prayers are chanted, not just spoken.
So, all in all, the audio version of this book is highly recommendable – I believe that the reading aloud adds to the immediacy and richness of the story.

Speaking of reading aloud, the flock of sheep who make up the main characters in Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, the September group read in the Ravelry group on Goodreads, love being read to. Their murdered shepherd, George – the finding of his dead body is what starts off the novel, so it is no spoiler – used to read to them, and a significant part of their knowledge of the human world comes from these books: the ‘Pamela’ novels (trashy romance), a detective story that was never finished, and a book about the diseases of sheep.
I greatly enjoyed this book – I always like seeing the world from a different perspective, and the way the sheep make up their own, internally coherent, explanations for everything they encounter, is brilliantly done.
A couple of intertextual references appear, nuggets for CraftLit listeners – among these a hugely fat, clever, cynical, grey ram named Fosco.
And once again: the reader of the Audible version, Hugh Lee, does a magnificent job.

Recently, I picked up on Amazon a QuickReads book, a novella by Conn Iggulden titled Quantum of Tweed. Iggulden is mainly known for historical novels, among these the Emperor series that is sitting neglected on my bookshelf; this is a bite-sized story of a middle-aged temporary career change from the sartorial to the mercenary. Fun and ironical, not too deep, but good enough.

That’s all, folks – short & sweet this time, but I will be back next week. Until then: have a great time, take care of yourselves and each other, and happy knitting!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A bit of this, a bit of that

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
This has been a full week – I started teaching my two classes at university, which meant getting up quite early on Tuesday and Wednesday, driving an hour (or more, depending on traffic) each way, coming home late on Friday, and meeting 40 new people all at once.
Needless to say, when I got home on Tuesday afternoon, I was knackered. There’s no other word for it. Happily, it is already getting better: gradually coming to know these new students is less taxing than meeting them for the first time, and I am easing back into teaching mode. Plus, the subject matter is, if not limited, then at least cohesive.

It’s all about Latin: grammar – very basic grammar, at first, as some of the students have no clue – words, the structure of the language and how it works to express all the variety of the natural, human, and divine world. This awareness of language is new to some of them and needs to be deepened for all of them.
I do enjoy expanding their horizons; someone once said that when he was a student in the late 60s, a lot of young people took mind-enhancing drugs – while he read Latin. Which can be somewhat safer.

The bits of text are, for now, construed by Latin teachers; later, we will read ‘real’ texts by actual Romans. So, there is content to deal with, as well, and I get lots of chances to digress into the history, culture, and mindset of the Romans; at least, I can introduce themes that they will be able to explore further later on.

With the job being part-time, I do have a life outside of it, including my writing. The FWG August Short Story votes were counted and came back last Sunday – and this time, my story achieved seventh place. So, it did get some critical acclaim :o)
And a reminder from the feedback group to use more dialogue; I’ll have to not only be aware of that, but actually do something about it in the September story.
Anyway, here it is:

The Countryman

I always knew that I should be king.
Even when we were boys, it was obvious to me that my brother’s claim to the throne was merely an accident of his being born first. He was meek, sweet, forever seeking approval and friendship, love. Too weak to rule.
Not even as king did he endeavour to impose fear and respect on others, mark his territory, so to speak. He sought alliances, preferred diplomacy to battle. Diplomacy can be useful, of course, honeyed words and gifts to lull the opponent; but never should it be the end, only the means to the true end.
This could not go on: our position was gradually weakened, others saw us as an easy target, land to be conquered. My brother would not listen to me.

So I had to prove my point. I am stronger, more fit to rule.
I did not kill him or have him killed. That would have brought down the wrath of the gods on my head; I merely placed him under house arrest end even let his wife follow him. They told me his brat was killed in the melee, though I never saw the corpse.

For fifteen years now, I have had it all. The power, the title, the riches. My wife and my daughters adorn their hair with ribbons of the finest Tyrian purple. They wear gold bracelets and pearl earrings. And Akastos is growing up to be a handsome heir. I did prove my point.

Lately, though, strange things have begun to happen.
Thunderclouds gathered out of nowhere. White-hot lightning flashed purple against the greenish grey clouds and struck the old olive tree in the courtyard, my favourite shady spot for resting in the hot afternoons. The dry wood caught flame, and the whole tree burned down in an instant. Nothing else was struck, and the clouds dissipated and blew away, leaving a clear blue sky. As if nothing had happened. Only my olive tree was gone, reduced to ashes dancing on the breeze.
It must be an omen. Something bad is coming for me.

I arranged sacrifices to all of the gods, though I have done nothing wrong. Even Hera, the old hag, must have her due. It will not do to be at odds with the immortals.

There is an old prophecy about me: a man from the country, wearing only one sandal, will bring me down. It was uttered long ago, before I had anything worth bringing down, and for many years, I have paid it no heed. But suddenly, it comes to my mind.
I have to watch those around me. But it is ridiculous: nobody walks around wearing a single sandal – those who are too poor simply go barefoot.

Next, a shepherd came back alone from the pasture, claiming that a lion had attacked the flock. Highly unusual for this time of year. Several sheep were indeed found dead or injured so badly that they had to be put down; and the shepherd’s boy had been mauled and killed, too. The shepherd was of course interrogated, but found to have done nothing wrong.
And he was wearing both his sandals.

I find myself waking in the nights, plagued by thoughts that have no meaning. Strange ideas come to me. What if my brother’s son, Jason, was not killed all those years ago? What if he was whisked away, like a boy in the stories, to grow up anonymously and return to avenge his father’s ignominious fate? To claim his inheritance and ruin all that I have worked for?
But no, this is ridiculous.

I can tell no-one about these thoughts. They would think I was going mad, would find me weak and vulnerable. Not even Akastos can be trusted with the secret: he was too young when it all happened, and knows nothing of his cousin. His dead cousin.


I have arranged a feast, a great sacrifice. A hundred heifers are to be slaughtered. This will show my generosity to all, gods and men alike.
For some reason, the great fire for the burn-offerings won’t catch. While the attendants struggle with the kindling, a murmur ripples through the crowd, and it parts. Everybody falls silent, as a young man approaches, dripping wet and wearing only one sandal.

The sky blackens, and the ocean roars in my ears.

The young man walks calmly through the crowd, straight towards me.
‘Greetings, uncle,’ he says.


The next day, I summoned Jason. I knew how to get rid of him without seeming to: I reminded him of the fleece of the golden ram, brought to faraway Aia by our uncle Frixos. This fleece, and its power to bring prosperity to the land, rightly belongs here, and the recent row of misfortunes plainly shows how we need it.
‘I am too old now for heroic journeys,’ I said. ‘Your country needs you.’
‘You are young and as yet unknown to the people,’ I told him. ‘But if you bring back the Fleece, you will have proved your worth, and they will welcome you as king.’

He acquiesced and immediately set about procuring a ship and gathering a crew.
This morning, they went away. My relief flowed into hearty emulations of wishes for their journey and safe return, as I watched them embark and set sail.

He will never return: the journey to the ends of the world is perilous, and the king of Aia has no love for strangers. If they make it there alive, he will see to it that they never leave.

I am safe, my position is once more secure. I call for Akastos; he is old enough now to be taken further into my confidence, to learn the intricacies of ruling.
But there is no answer – where is he?

© 2013 Dorthe Møller Christensen

The Knitting
Knitting for babies is always a bit of a gamble, size-wise: you want the garment to fit within the foreseeable future, but not be outgrown too quickly, either. And, say, a lacy cotton cardigan should preferably be useful while the weather is still warm enough.
So, the parents have been waiting for just the right moment to put little Kajsa into the Elanor cardigan, and this is what happened:
Adorable, isn't she?

This weekend, the big annual craft fair, Husflidsmessen, takes place in Viborg. They don’t allow photography, so imagine two big sports or concert arenas sitting across from one another, each filled to the brim with stands from a range of shops and clubs showing and selling yarns for knitting and crochet, buttons, tatting, weaving, felting, woodwork, amber, beads and jewellery making, paper cutting, patchwork sewing and quilting, glass blowing, Christmas decorations (including mead and mustard in stone jars), and more.

The ‘streets’ between the stands are thronged with people, the majority of whom are mature ladies – though the shoppers come in all ages, sizes, and shapes. You don’t see many children, which is a blessing for both the children and everybody else: the couple of kids I saw looked as if they had been dragged there by their mother and grandmother and couldn’t wait to escape.

My sister and I left our children at home, to browse in peace – or as much peace as you can get in the crowds. Each of us had plans, something we wanted to look for; I had more luck with mine, but we both managed to buy stuff.
My sister got connectors for the KnitPro interchangeable circular needle wires – those things make life so much easier when you need to try something on: instead of having to transfer all the stitches to a piece of yarn, try on your thing, and then put all the stitches back before knitting on, you can screw on another length of wire, and Bob’s your uncle. (I am feeling the lack of this option right now for the Leaf cardigan that still hasn’t got a better name and is worked on 2.5 mm needles, that don’t come as interchangeables.)

We both got beads for stitch markers – the elephants didn’t want to be stitch markers, though, so they became earrings instead.

And yarn, of course. I only bought yarn for planned projects, no questionable spur-of-the-moment spree-shopping.
So, variegated Kauni for a dress – and yes, they are all the same colourway, the EZ:

Gloriously soft cashmere alpaca from Sandnes for little warm things:

And something else that is a secret for now - I’ll show you later.
(Sorry about the pics, I don't know why they have tilted.) 

So much for this year’s craft outings: we did Saltum in May, and now this one in September.

As mentioned above, I am working diligently on my Leaf cardigan – all this running about, though, and going off to Aarhus several times a week, is cutting into my knitting time. Quite annoying. I’m still figuring out a new equilibrium on that front, as well as trying to work out how to fit in pattern writing at times when my brain isn’t threatening to go on strike.
Anyway, I am below the sleeve/body divide now and just ploughing on down towards the lace border; so it is a bit boring at times. It works for watching Lost, though, and even reading (I suppose so, at least, haven’t had a chance to try it out).

The Books
I have almost finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, the August group read in the Ravelry group on Goodreads. This is one of those books where you want to read on to see what happens – and at the same time, you don’t want to reach the end of the book, because then, well, it ends. The beauty of consuming books, though, is that they stay with you, once you’ve read them. So in that sense, a book never really ends, but becomes part of your inner landscape – and this particular feature of the landscape is one to be treasured.

At some point in the book, a shawl shows up – well, several shawls, actually, at several points, but there is one in particular that caught my attention. It is described as ‘a length of ivory lace’ and belongs to one of the protagonists, Miss Celia Bowen.
You have guessed it already, haven’t you: I am going to have to make this shawl. I don’t know when it will be, but the thought is simmering quietly in my mind ...
And, if you know the book, you can also guess why I was drawn to the red cashmere alpaca and not, say, purple, as I would usually be.
So watch this space :o)

All this driving gives me ample time to listen to books, and I have been compiling audio books via the Audible app on my Android smart phone. Too much detail? Well, I’ve been listening to From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know about the Internet by John Naughton. The book pretty much does what it says on the tin: it presents a history of the Internet, the Web (which are not the same), and a bunch of technologies relating to the Internet, as well as comparing the possible, as yet unknown, impact of all these new modes of communication with the advent of the printing press in the 15th century.
I had one quibble: when presenting one of the consequences of printing, the personal authorship as opposed to the scribal times’ copy-and-comment mode, Naughton gives the French essayist Montaigne the credit for inventing the personal essay – thereby completely ignoring Seneca and the whole antique epistula tradition.
That may be a minor point, though, and on the whole, I found the book both informative and useful.

My next and current listening adventure is the September group read in the Goodreads Ravelry group: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, read by Hugh Lee. (There is a point to mentioning this, as one US listener was unhappy with a female reader, and offers both versions. I haven’t heard the other one, so I can’t comment on it.)
This is a classic whodunit in the style of Agatha Christie – only with sheep as the main characters. The mystery opens with the discovery of the murdered shepherd, and the sheep, prompted by the cleverest of them, Miss Maple (sic), attempt to solve the murder.
Several readers in the group are unimpressed by talking sheep – but I love it: they are silly and yet wise, forming their own views of the world, of humans, and the events that unfold around them, all from a sheepy perspective. Is it morally defendable, for instance, for an Irish shepherd to choose Norwegian wool for his sweaters?
And the reader makes voices for the sheep and a convincing – to my ears, at least – Irish brogue for the humans. So, a completely different book from the August offering, but fun.

Well, that’s it for this week – thank you for stopping by!
I will be back next week; until then: take care, have a lovely week, and have fun!