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The Book Thief

I bought this book in a rush. I often do that, try to do a very fast assessment of books that are going at a 3 for 2 offer, and then decide whether or not to buy on impulse. This means I often find little gems of creation that perhaps I would never have chosen had I heard the hype or studied the back and read reviews.

The reason I would not normally have bought this book is that it is set in Nazi Germany, and I would perhaps have thought "worthy subject, but I have read and read around that theme, and am not in the mood for it, and where is the joy?" See below the last time I read an in depth account of concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

How wrong could I be, of course wherever there is human life there is the scope of great cruelty and tragedy and beautiful joyful kindness side by side. Mark Zusak knew this, and his story carries us on a journey about individuals and their personal struggles and it is not essentially about a nation and its wartime politics of the day. However, it is about the small things that make a difference. The small things that have great significance in the storytelling tradition, especially when it is an oral history told by someone who experienced it (like the stories Zusack heard when he was growing up)

I loved this book. It was a surprisingly easy read for a subject of such depth, it flowed through me and it had many moments that made me laugh. It also made me sob in places, not from sadness but from its little spurs of emotion and the characters' touching gestures of kindness. It is also a book about words, their meaning and if any books inspires you to want to write, this one will. It confirms that we all have stories to tell. none of us has a lack of subject matter, all we need is the audience.

And one of the best aspects of all is that this book is narrated by Death. There are a couple of reasons why choosing Death to narrate can be very effective. Read the book and find out why!

My next book.....

I will be reading this book next. Strangely, you could also call the Book Thief Random Acts of Heroic Love, so perhaps I will find the same themes.

However, finding co-incindental themes in a selection of books is not unheard of when you read the consecutively. A good book will have the reader thinking about its themes subjectively and because how those themes is intepreted is up to the reader, you are bound to think of the same things and applying them to many books.

Man's Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl
Existential Philosophy as Pain Management?

When I was struggling to come to terms with the severe pain that I suffer from, I found it enormously difficult to accept the pain and wanted to fight it off, but this actually made me more aware of it and I felt worse. Feelings I went through were panic, anger, bitterness a sense of injustice and a sense of hopelessness.

My gastroenterologist, who was also a psychiatrist and part of a pain management theraphy recommended a book to me Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl who is an Auschwitz (and many other death camps survivor). As well as a memoir of Aushwitz it is also the message that despite a person's circumstances, and those can be out of your control (i.e. my illness) a human being has one essential freedom that cannot be touched, and that is the freedom to choose how they react, cope and survive a situation. This is a fairly existential type of philosophy, in that we are totally alone in this universe and as such the author of our own lives and in total control of how we deal with anything that is thrown at us.

"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how" Nietzche

At the moment I started reading this book, I was in the process of moving over to the acceptance of my pain, reject the attitude of fighting it and getting rid of it. That just did not work.

It just so happens, I had been given some psychology articles and pain management by my pain doctor which supported this view as well. In the article, it had said that those who expect to feel some pain, but will make an effort to treat as much of the pain as possible seemed to experience more tolerable levels of pain than those who try to deny its existence. Up until recently, unable to treat all forms of pain, those working in anaesthesia that held old fashioned beliefs would often put pressure on patients like me as their attitude would be that I was somehow weak in not 'putting up' with the pain that I could do nothing about. I can remember a time, when it felt like doctors were saying "Well done!" and pinning a medal on you if you went to them and said that stoically you were cutting back on your pain meds and fighting the illness like a soldier. There was an element of them feeling defensive and irritated if you complained of pain continuing, as this made them feel like a failure. However, modern pain doctors will not saw "How is the pain, what sort of level is it at" they are more likely to say "How are you coping with the pain, do you find your level of management and choice is adequate?"

This is the modern attitude to coping with pain, rather than stoically putting up and trying to deny it, you embrace it accept it and try as best you can with your drugs to treat it, but you don't panic or feel like a failure when it is really bad and breaks through. You can tell yourself "Oh well, so be it..." and make yourself as comfortable as possible and lie low, or like me lie in bed reading, and wait for those bad phases to pass. That is my choice and my own control over an uncontrollable medical condition.

Eerily, the acceptance of your own pain can be as much of an analgesic as any drug. I stopped struggling with it, stopped futile attitudes based on "It's not fair!..." type of thinking. I acknowledged, that other people made my pain worse because they so much wanted me to be well that when I was with them, I would try to deny that I was in pain, use mind over matter to try and please them and it DID NOT WORK!

When people care about you and want you to be well, or even if they don't care but feel irritation at you being ill, they put pressure on you to behave as if you are well to relieve their own symptoms of your pain, not yours. Of course I am never going to sit down and chant "I love my illness, I embrace my pain!" but I am going to think "Oh well, it is that time again, my body is going through one of those phases, I had better re-adjust my life and wait til it has passed". I do take every pain relieving method in the way of drugs I can, and I no longer feel guilty or see it as some sort of weakness in not coping with the pain, I see it as totally sensible, pragmatic and when the phase has passed, I can reduce the medication without any worries about not getting it back again the next time I am in a bad phase.

My life is probably really restricted compared with yours. I am often housebound, I rarely go shopping as I cannot carry anything I have bought and I spend a lot of time completely on my own with few friends that I actually socialise with. I don't go to gigs, clubs or pubs and I rarely go to the cinema. I can't really use public transport and can't go out with my dogs walking every day. However, my inner life is rich, I have freedom to choose what to do with my time and a freedom over the attitude I have towards my restrictions and this does not deserve sympathy but perhaps envy. So many people are stuck in jobs they hate, are not free to be creative and have personal ties that anchor them down. I don't have any of those, you could say I was lucky.

Actually, the way I view myself and my situation varies greatly from day to day, and I choose that view mostly, and so often do not communicate how I feel to other people for fear of a transient attitude defining me and anchoring me down.

Oops, this is a blog about knitting...........................Sorry!

And on a lighter note.....................

On TV, was the dramatisation of a novel called He Kills Coppers. I haven't yet seen this, but I enjoyed the previous dramatisation of this author's work The Long Firm.

I knew Jake Arnott who wrote this, well enough to have some 'romantic' involvement with him for a very short space of time in the 1980's. I had no idea then, what a talented writer he would be and I thought he would be better known for his acting which he was working at. I do remember that he had a fantastic way of describing his dreams, so good in fact that I thought he was making them up at the time or had read them somewhere.

There are things I read in his personal biography, that don't tie up with the Jake I knew. There was something about him that frightened me, or something he provoked within myself that made me scared of myself. I think he reminded me too much of someone who had hurt me before, so our little fling fizzled out.

And now, it is strange after all these years to have walked into a book shop and seen his name on the cover of a book I was going to buy anyway before I knew it was him! I have never read the book, perhaps worried about hearing his voice in my head when I read it and perhaps the fear of not being able to make the story my own entertainment in an objective way. He still owns it, and until I can distance myself a little, I feel like I don't want to read it.

I certainly would feel a little strange meeting him now. Apart from the fact I have changed so drastically physically, I can hear the conversation now

"Hey....Jake, urm so you're an author now.....a really good one.....well done" (sniggers and gabbles nervously)"

"Yeah, I ur decided not to continue with the urm acting. And you? You've changed! What are you doing then"

"Oh nothing really......erm......I'm writing too actually....and I am a published author"

"Wow, is that right? So where could I find one of your books"

"In the mumble mmmmmmmm"

"Sorry, what? In the where?"

"Um in the knitting section!"

"Oh, I see...." shuffles nervously "Well you must excuse me, got all these other books to sign, there's quite a queue behind you now!"

"Well, goodbye, good luck, I see that you're Gay now!" Inwardly kicking self, God why did I have to mention that!
Greyt Sweaters

These are some of the wonderful designs of sweaters made for both greyhounds and whippets by Laney who donates some of the proceeds to rescue organisations.

I have been far too busy, and slow of course, to get around to designing a hand knit for my own two, and I think that Lily would look good in this blue design. Or perhaps as she is our little spoiled princess, she should have something more pink and girlie like the jzzy little number below.

I know I really shouldn't be promoting someone else's knitwear design, but these are honestly the best fitting and most stylish knitted sweaters I have seen and a reasonable price too, go to their website to find out about ordering and measuring your hound.

Dizzy Rascal would look good in urban black as that would suit his name and his nature. It is our dream that our big blue brindle boy will be able to run around on the beach (off the lead) like this brindle dog one day.

Poor Dizzy Rascal, he still runs in a straight line to the entrance of an enclosure and his eyes are on the horizon. We would lose him if we let him off in an open space, and being a lover of people, he would just run to the nearest group of people or the nearest house and say "Hello hello I'm Dizzy, you love me, yes you do, everybody loves me!" etc, and he might flatten a few people with his sincere doggie love. Not a good idea, but one day........................

You can read more about Greyt sweaters, Laney and the Beastly Beasts greyhounds who she knits for on my greyhound blog.

Here are a couple of pics to add to some of the above that are not on that blog, just to avoid me cross posting identical information!

I am knitting...loads actually, but once again it is for a publisher. So totally confidential! In the meantime let me entertain you with another book review...

I have just finished a book called The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It is a Gothic thriller in the style of a Bronte novel, or the Turn of The Screw. Secrets of birth, hidden characters within a decaying building and a narrator with a secret of her own. I couldn't put this book down, and although at first I was worried that the author would be deliberately creating a modern novel that is a rip off of a Bronte, I have to say she did it very well with no excuses and there were many little pointers within this novel to all her influences. This book being of the 21st Century, was witty and cynical in a way you would not expect in a Ninteenth Century novel, and not all sub-plots have happy endings. My only criticism, is that there were one or two characters that to me felt empty, and also, I could not get a sense of the narrator. She too seemed to be empty, ageless and unemotional despite succumbing to an illness at some point that my other half likes to call "Non specific Victorian fever' which in a Nineteenth century is nearly always semi fatal but not quite so dramatic here. The narrator of this story is no Jane Eyre, she does not seem to be sentimental or romantic despite carrying her secret.

Do read this though, I loved the writing, here is a little snippet that drew me in just as I was about to put the book down to go to sleep at 1am, it kept me up until gone 3 am:

"Come Back!" she cried
"I am going to tell you a story - a marvellous story!"

I did not stop
"Once upon a time there was a haunted house...."
I reached the door. My fingers closed on the handle.

"Once upon a time there was a library...."

I opened the door and was about to step into its emptiness when in a voice hoarse with something like fear, she stopped me in my tracks.

"Once upon a time there were
twins -"
I waited until the words stopped ringing in the air and then despite myself, I looked back

The style in which the inner narrator tells a story to our narrator is very potent, it has all the brooding darkness of a Grimm's fairytale, it makes your skin prickle with its foreboding, and I can't explain why the fear of something being revealed is so much worse than the actual events.

This also reminded me of how much I was influenced by Jane Eyre as a child. I saw the film with Elizabeth Taylor as Jane a long time before I read the book, and was totally haunted myself with the mad woman hidden within the house. In fact, at the age of 6, I put on my mother's wig, my mother's dressing gown and came down the stairs and acted as a different but disturbed person to my poor little brother only aged about 3 or 4 at the time. He honestly believed that we had a secret mad sister living upstairs in our home in Cyprus! Years later, my mother shocked me by saying that she had given birth to a daughter before me, and that meant I had a secret older sister. She never told my brother. She died. I told my brother a couple of years ago, and had so little reaction from it, I am convinced that he thought I was inventing it again just as I did when we were children!
I don't normally talk of personal stuff on the blog, but that was so relevant to the book I could not help myself. We all have secrets, every one of us an our stories in the right hands could be penned as a Gothic horror!

And Skeinspotted!

We knitters always like a good spotting of a bit of knitting, whether it is worn knitwear or actual knitting activity within a film or a book. Often it annoys us, because it will be the quintessential old granny clicking her needles, or someone really nerdy and the knitting adds to their lack of appeal. We tut, we sigh, they just don't understand and have not caught up we think. Anyway, The Thirteenth Tale has a very good bit of knitting. One of the characters, who is a fairytale like grandmother or kindly with baking and knitting, finds her knitting takes on more significance than she would care to see:

"So it bothered me, that night of the pitch black sky, to find that I had [accidentally] knitted a second heel. Once I'd done it and lost my young man. Twice and I'd lost my sister. Now a third time. I had no-one left to lose. There was only me now. I looked at the sock. Grey wool. A plain thing. It was meant for me................................I set to unravelling the extra heel. What was the point of that you might wonder. Well I didn't want to be found with it....I imagined them saying 'They found her with her knitting in her lap and guess what? She'd turned the heel twice!' I didn't want them saying that and so undid it"

Thought that might amuse those of you who are book lovers and knitters!
The New needles...What are my impressions now I've used them?

I have just bought a set of Knitpicks Harmony Options interchangeable needles with beautifully dyed and laminated wood that is lacquered for smoothness, and precision joins that are tightened with a little key. The cables are soft and flexible and it all fits into a little bag, which I also put some Harmony matching sock needles (6 in each set, so you could lose 2 and still knit a sock!). There are some screw on stoppers/ends so that you can remove needle tips and leave project on the cables safely.

I noticed ever such slight snagging, on the gap in the join the first time I used them, but then discovered it was my fault as I had been so hasty I had not tightened the join using the key as instructed.

The tips are very pointed instead of blunt and round, and this aids the stitches to slip over the needles with ease. The sharpness, means they will be ideal for lace knitting.

The case is small and portable and has room for the extra over sized needle points that I bought as well as the sock needles and it means when I go away, as long as I pack the right yarns, I will always have the right equipment.

There is only one tiny tiny drawback, and that is if you use a very dark or variegated yarn close to the colour of the laminated wood, it might be difficult to see stitches for beginners. However, most people get used to knitting ‘by touch’ and can watch TV at the same time as knitting so that would not be a problem.

The only other problem is, they are such a beautiful thing to see, I just want to sit and look at them instead of using them. Especially the sock needles, as I can be quite violent with those and I am scared of breaking these beauties. Oh well, just like my clothes, I suppose I might save them for best or holidays!

Short Row Experiments

These are experiments I carried out using 5mm needles and some white yarn so I could examine each effect really carefully.

Over the past few weeks I had used a number of methods, all slightly different, and became very confused about which ones worked without leaving holes, which ones actually matched on both sides of the sock.

I realised that not only could you hide a wrap, but you could leave the wraps on the right side if you wanted, as a feature. Did you ever look at a photo of someone else’s short row heel and wonder why they got those neat little lines when all you got were holes or a criss-crossing of yarns?

Anyway, these are the ways in which I have picked up wraps and knitted them on the short row heel samples. Why am I interested in so many different ways of doing the same thing? I feel that as a designer and someone who writes patterns for publications, I should be able to use any method as a design choice, or as a tutorial within a pattern. You can try one or two of these and then when you are happy just stick to what works. Hopefully, my experiments will throw up slight variations that can make all the difference to your happiness with short rows. Without any method at all, a knitter will have to knit a reverse heel flap, and different way of making a toe.

I have not varied the method of wrapping and turning which is this:

Knit to just before stitch you wish to wrap
Bring Yarn fwd between needles
Slip stitch to be wrapped p-wise from L needle to R needle
Take yarn back between needles
Slip stitch to be wrapped p-wise back onto L needle

P back to the next stitch on the other side you wish to wrap
Take yarn back between needles
Slip stitch to be wrapped p-wise from L needle to R needle
Bring yarn fwd between needles
Slip stitch to be wrapped p-wise back onto L needle

I will take photos soon, but for the moment this is the description of the methods and the results.

A note on picking up wraps. In the following few methods, I have favoured slipping the wrap stitch and picking up wraps with the left needle and then slipping the wrapped stitch back. This can help those people who become confused by directions of putting the right needle through the wrap then through the stitch at the same time.

Remember, there is not really a right way of doing this, just different methods and as I am trying them all, I am explaining the differences between them and the results so you can make a choice.

Double wrap and Knit through the back loops

This is my favourite method, but it does leave those little dashes of horizontal bars along the diagonal where the wrap shows

Wrap and turn as normal. Then when all necessary stitches are wrapped:

1. On RS knit to first wrapped stitch

2. Slip stitch p-wise to R needle to hold out of the way

3. Put tip of L needle under wrap and pick up

4. Slip wrapped stitch back to L needle again

5. Knit wrap and slipped stitch together through the back of loops

6. Wrap next stitch (so now is wrapped twice) and turn

7. Now on WS P to first wrapped stitch

8. Slip stitch p-wise to R needle to hold out of the way

9. Put tip of L needle under wrap and pick up

10. Slip wrapped stitch back to L needle again

11. Purl wrap & slipped stitch together, as normal i.e WS of work

12. Wrap next stitch (so now is wrapped twice) and turn

Now repeat from 1, to pick up the next wrapped stitch, but remember this stitch is wrapped twice so pick up both wraps and knit together with the stitch. Same goes for picking up the next wrapped stitch on the other side, on the WS repeat from 7 but pick up 2 wraps and P tog with stitch.

This means that you have been securely knitting your wraps and stitches together, you won’t have visible holes not even decorative ones, but along the diagonal line you will have one dash/horizontal line at beg of toe, and then double dashes/horizontal lines along the whole diagonal of the toe. I like this, it is neat and decorative and works well with variegated yarns where hiding a wrap does not work because it might show through the gaps of a lighter yarn on top.

Single wrap and Knit through the back loops

If you repeated the above steps, but omitted to wrap stitches at all from the picking up stage, i.e. only wrap once, you will get some small single dashes but quite lacy holes where stitches are not held together. If you like the idea of having a slightly lacy effect, then what I did which looked quite nice, was to slip the first stitch of every row after turning when picking up at steps 1 and 7.

Double wrap and Knit through front loops

It is possible to go through all steps, but at step 5 you would knit through the front of the loops, and at step 11 you would need to Purl through back of loop, i.e you would be placing the tip of your R needle under the wraps and stitch at front of work and purling together instead of purling as normal. This did hide wraps, but there was a certain amount of criss-crossing of stitches that would look fine in a small gauge on a solid coloured yarn, but would not look quite so good on a variegated yarn.

There are more experiments to come; methods of picking up the wrap can vary from above as well as methods of knitting together. There is also the possibility of not wrapping at all, which means picking up stitches between the needles, or in some methods making a YO, then knitting those YO’s together. I will try these and list them here.

Watch this space.............................................

My New Pressie

I felt like spoiling myself, especially as I have been knitting the same toe of a toe up sock forever and still can't get it exactly the way I want it! Anyway, I was attracted to the Knitpicks Options needles and dpns, which I purchased together.
I know I
am not the first person to have brought these to the community's attention, many other knitters having spoiled themselves this way recently.

My first impression was ooooh the lovely feel of the slippery lacquered wood, and the prettiness of the laminates as the colours layers show like a grain in the wood. Also, I was pleasantly surprised that even with my hands I can handle screwing the needles points on and off. I purchased this with a set of dpns I am very pleased with the dpns which are a set of sock needles, but a little disappointed they only go up to size 3.25mm. I think perhaps they assume any higher than that is not a 'sock' needle and that means I will need to knit my hats either on the magic loop system, one long circular which I have not done before, or I will need to purchase extra needle tips.

Also, the needle tips only go up to 8mm, so I have purchased an extra 9mm, 10mm and 12mm. Overall, it was quite expensive, but looks less like a clinical piece of medical equipment than some of the other sets out there.
The biggest advantage of owning a set like this of course, is that I won't have to sit down and think really hard about which needles to take on holidays, nor will I have to worry about buying a yarn whilst away and having to wait til I come home to try it out.

In addition to that, the
extra cables and 'stoppers' to put on the ends of them means that I will be able to swap needles, or swipe them for another project and keep the current project safely on needles that won't have suicidal stitches jumping off the ends. Actually, I am ashamed to admit that my stash is so large I need an inventory to refer to now, and I have so many projects in bags, I just know I have needles hiding away in the cupboards. Hopefully this new set will make me much more organised.

I will write up a little review of my first attempt at the 'magic loop' as I usually use 2 circulars, but can't be quite so indulgent at this price!

I have used the dpns and circulars for a little test run, and I can confirm that the lacquer on the wood makes them as smooth and slippery as aluminium ones, with just a very slight hitch on the join when pulling stitches round, but that was because I had not tightened the join with the little key given for that purpose.

I know I have got a lack of knitting on this blog, that doesn't mean I am not doing any, it just means that what I am doing is confidential. I have a pattern coming up in The Inside Loop next issue (Spring/Summer), a couple of patterns in The AntiCraft but not until Samhain (October) and I am knitting some foot garments for a yarn company, and also have more accessories to do in the form of 4 projects for a book.

Next time I do a pattern where I have to provide the photography, I am going to be using the models who have contacted me and possibly some make up artists and the best freelance volunteer photographer I can find. I always panic about the pics, and don;t panic at all about knitting the garments or the patterns. Even if I have designed something on paper and don't yet know how the actual knit will turn out, I know that with good time management, I will come up with something that is better than I expected. However, although I know how I want photos to look, I am not exactly a good model and so have relied on friends in the past which is a bit hit and miss with availability.