Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Brief Hiatus

You may have noticed that I've been a little silent here recently.

There's nothing wrong. I've just been busy. And tired.

Two weeks ago my Mum and step-dad came for a visit and we had a pretty non-stop weekend. I have blog posts planned to tell you all about what we got up to. I've got loads of photos to share.

Shortly after that I had another hospital appointment and started on a new medication. It's a different version of one I've been on for the last two transfers and tiredness is a side effect. I'm getting on much better with this medication than the last one, but by the same token, it seems to be hitting my system a little quicker because ever since I started it I've been dreaming of my bed (apart from when I'm in bed, that's when insomnia kicks in and I'm wide awake).

I'm also finally getting my broadband set up at home. Or at least, I will be as soon as BT get their act together and set up our phone line. So hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be posting my blog posts from home instead of saving them all up and posting them all at once on a Sunday.

Rather than promising blog posts and then not delivering, I'm just going to have a wee hiatus until I'm less busy, tired, and broadbandless.

I'm going to put my feet up and get on with knitting this (not so) little fellow:

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Books 49 & 50 of 2015: Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King & The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood

Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King is the third book in the Mary Russell series; a series of books which look at Sherlock Holmes's life after he retires to Sussex. The previous two books saw Mary meeting and falling for Sherlock, then marrying him and along the way they become embroiled in solving crimes. This book sees Mary and Sherlock heading to San Francisco and trying to unravel some of Mary's mysterious past.

I have to admit that I liked this book a lot more than the first two in the series. I felt as though the first book could've been a lot shorter and the second one, while better, again took a very long time for things to happen. I got into this book a lot quicker and then whizzed through it in less than a week.

There was a mix of point-of-views in this book. Parts of it were written in first-person point-of-view which focused on Mary Russell but others were written from third-person perspective. The third-person sections were my favourite, perhaps because, despite liking this book more than the previous two, I still don't like Mary Russell as much as I'm probably supposed to.

One thing that I did really like about this book was the setting. I liked seeing Sherlock Holmes in a new setting. The San Francisco earthquake had cropped up in something else I'd read or watched about the time I read this so it prompted me to look up the quake and subsequent fire online after I'd read it. I liked how the mystery gradually unravelled in this one as well.

I'm not sure I'll be picking up the next one in this series any time soon, but this one did make me feel slightly more inclined to pick up the next one than the last two did.

I followed up Locked Rooms with another Reading Challenge book, this Week 28: A book with antonyms in the title. In an effort to read books on my bookshelf that I hadn't read before, I selected The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood. It's one which I picked up in a book giveaway at work and yet never actually managed to get around to reading.

It's the story of Charlie St. Cloud, a guy who died for a short time as a teenager in the car accident which killed his brother. Since then he's been unable to move on, not least because he can now see the dead people inhabiting the local cemetery where he works. And one of those dead people is his little brother. Meanwhile, Tess is getting ready for a sailing trip but after some unexpected bad weather, suddenly Charlie seems to be the only one who can see her.

Warning: here be spoilers!

I really wasn't sure what to expect from this one but I did really enjoy it. In a way it kind of reminded me of The Frighteners but without all the scary stuff. Where I can, I try to go into a book without any expectations, so that everything is a surprise. I was really grateful that I went into the book without any expectations. In this case it was the magic realism aspect which came as a pleasant surprise; I love magic realism.

I guessed pretty early on that Tess would be near death when she met Charlie. I couldn't help but think that it was fairly obvious which direction the story was going to go in, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the journey along the way. It had a nice framing device as well, with the narration from Florio at both the beginning and end.

And it had a happy ending which made me happy too.

Since then I've not seen anything else by Ben Sherwood, but if I happen across any more of his books, I'll be sure to pick one up.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Mount Stuart

Last Monday we took advantage of the Bank Holiday to go do the tourist thing at Mount Stuart.

Mount Stuart House is the house we can see from our living room and kitchen windows. Living in the grounds means that we have free roam of the estate but we don't often go to the Big House.The last time I went was last year when I took my Mum and step-dad round.

Since last year they've opened up more of the house so you can see rooms which until recently weren't open to the general public and, best of all, they've removed the barriers enabling you to stroll around the rooms uninhibited. You are allowed to get up close and even sit on some of the furniture. It gives you an entirely different experience of the house and is a massive improvement.

An even bigger improvement is the fact that they allow you to take photos now. You're not allowed to use a flash inside the house, but otherwise you can go wild. I'm really pleased about this because there are parts of the house I've been wanting to share for years.

Here are some of my favourite bits of the house:

In the past you were only able to go a few feet into the Chapel which meant that you missed out on all of the beautiful architecture and decoration. I've never been able to get as close to the altar as this before and it was amazing to stand beneath the centre of the tower and look up and all the patterns in the ceiling.

We also got to the see the Shakespeare First Folio. Above is one of the three books which Mount Stuart holds in their collection, just recently authenticated. It felt incredible to just be in the room with such an important piece of literary history.

I also learned that although Mount Stuart are happy to let people wander around far more freely than they used to, they do get rather antsy if you cross over to the other side of the room filled with expensive and priceless books!

Above are one of my favourite things in Mount Stuart House. There's a hot hot/conservatory off of the Marquis of Bute's bedroom, this room was actually used as an operating theatre during the First World War when the house was used as a hospital for injured servicemen.

The story goes that when the fireplace in this room was being carved, the cat, Truffles, kept stealing the meat out of the stonemason's sandwiches. In order to get his revenge, the stonemason added Truffles to the carving on the fireplace and put a mouse on the other side; so the cat can always see, but never get to the mouse.

They've also opened up the balcony at the top of the house which offers spectacular views across the water and around the estate.

I'm definitely planning on going back to visit the house again, and will again go armed with my camera to take even more photos of my favourite things in Mount Stuart.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Weekly Rundown: New Drawers

When I got some money for my birthday I spent a while trying to work out what it was I should spend it on. Mr Click and I spent a while trying to come up with something I might have wanted to put it towards; I spent a while looking at books in Waterstones but there wasn't anything that I really needed and I got so many lovely things for my birthday that I'd wanted.

On the journey home from Glasgow I looked at Amazon and after skirting around DVDs and boxsets that I'd like to get I eventually settled on something that I've needed for a while. Storage space.

I wish I'd taken a before photo of what the area around my living room chair looked like. I had a little side table which was piled high with tubes of washi tape, magazines, books, writing paper, pens and all the other bits and pieces. That's not including my knitting supplies which lived in a bag beneath the table or the letter writing supplies which usually spread out across the windowsill (on the other side of the chair).

The problem was, I wanted to get it all organised, but I also wanted to have it all within reach; so it was no use stashing it away in cupboards or up in the spare bedroom. I'd been talking about getting some sort of storage drawers to go in the space where the little table stood. And this seemed like the perfect thing to spend my birthday money on.

So we got them ordered and then it was just a question of waiting for it to arrive, which it finally did on Friday. It was like my birthday all over again!

Friday was spent getting all of the things stacked up on the table stashed away in my new drawers. Of course, by the time they'd arrived I'd already figured out what was going in each drawer and it didn't take me long to get it set up. I'm hoping that since the drawers are clear, it'll be an incentive to keep it well organised in there. So far I have a drawer for stickers and washi tape, one for colouring books and colouring pencils, one for notepads and craft paper, and one for my knitting supplies.

Not only have I got the big plastic unit, but I got a great bargain in WH Smith on Thursday as well. We'd been in there the week before to pick up some brush pens and I got a £5 off £20 or more voucher, so while we were in Glasgow we popped back up there and to see if there was anything I needed.

I managed to resist the temptation of all the books, pens and other shiny stationery things. Meanwhile, as I was wandering the shop, Mr Click had spotted something he thought I would like. At the other end of the shop I found something which I thought was even better than whatever he'd found. Well, it turns out that we'd both found the same thing.

More drawers!

Little butterfly patterned desktop ones, just the right size to stand on top of my brand new drawers. They were £19.99 or buy one get one free, so I picked up some matching storage boxes (which I got for free) and some writing paper to take me over the £20 for the voucher. In the end I got over £42 worth of stuff for £16.88.

And my living room is way more organised than it was before. Mr Click is especially pleased because he's now got the side table back to use his radio stuff on.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Bertie Bloomer: Feeling Stuffed

When I started out knitting Bertie Bloomer I knew he was going to be one of Jean Greenhowe's taller toys, but I don't think I was prepared for just how large he was going to be!

I don't know why I was so surprised. I mean, I've seen other completed Red Nose Gang members in real life and they're not exactly small, but when it came to stuffing Bertie I just couldn't get over how much he grew.

Of course, I put off sewing him up for as long as was humanly possible. Because that's what I do when I knit. I knit and then I avoid all the finishing up until there's no escape, then I find that it doesn't take as long as I thought it would, or that it's not as bad as I was expecting.

So once he was all seamed, invisibly (I hasten to add) with all his stripes lined up perfectly (just because I put off sewing up, doesn't mean that I'm not good at it). It was time to stuff him. Boy did that seem like a job that would never end!

I used the remains of a bag of stuffing and didn't even make a dent to stuffing his head, then I used around half a bag for the rest of him, trying to get that perfect balance of firm enough to stand up and soft enough to squish. Luckily his recipient is an adult so he'll mostly be standing with very little squishing going on.

So now I'm onto his feet, and even those are looking to be rather large. He should look spectacular when he's done though, and that's the main thing!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Books 47 & 48 of 2015: Vet Behind The Ears by Christopher Timothy & How a Ghastly Story Was Brought to Light... by Johann Peter Hebel

This week I'm review two pretty short books, both of which I was able to read in a single day and both of which were selected for the 2015 Reading Challenge.

First up is Vet Behind The Ears by Christopher Timothy, the star of TV series 'All Creatures Great and Small'. This book was selected for Week 26: A memoir; it recounts his time in the TV series beginning with getting the role and going through some of the ups and downs of filming.

As I mentioned above, this wasn't a long read (I'll admit, this was part of my reason for choosing it, I'd fallen a little behind on my challenge reads and was keen to find a few books to get me back on track). It clocks in at about 128 pages and I happened upon it by chance in a charity shop some time ago.

This was an interesting book and I enjoyed learning more about Christopher Timothy, who is pretty much the person that I picture when I think of James Herriot, thanks to the TV series. When I was reading the James Herriot books, it was Timothy who I was picturing in my head as I read. It was also nice to hear about the making of All Creatures Great and Small, especially as I've been to the James Herriot Experience in Thirsk and been able to see the sets described in the book.

I did find that the narrative jumped around a little, so you'd be reading about one thing and then the next minute it had moved on to something else before going back again. It was a little jarring at times but didn't make the book unreadable.

Personally, I would have liked a few more anecdotes about the making of the TV series. It began going right back to Timothy's childhood and then hurried forward to the series. I'd have liked to read the usual things you get in these books; funny stories from set, near disasters, changes which had to be made and the like. It's not that you didn't get them, there just weren't quite enough for my liking.

I'd definitely recommend this one to anyone who's a fan of the TV series. If you've only ever read the James Herriot books, wait to read this one until you've seen the show.

I followed up Vet Behind the Ears with one of the books from the Penguin Little Black Classics collection, the rather lengthily titled How a Ghastly Story Was Brought to Light by a Common or Garden Butcher's Dog (which certainly qualifies as the longest titled book I read last year). This is by Johann Peter Hebel and was originally published in 1811.

This was my selection for Week 27 of the Reading Challenge: A book you can finish in a day. It's not one I'd read before but I knew that at 55 pages, I'd not have any trouble steaming through it. If I'd had a chance to pick up a copy I probably would've gone for Esio Tror by Roald Dahl, which I used to read in one go any night that I couldn't get to sleep as a child.

It's a little collection of very short stories which deal mostly with criminals, fraudsters, murder and disaster and honestly I think it is probably my favourite 'little black classic' so far. Of the whole book I had two favourites 'One Word Leads To Another' and 'The Lightest Death Sentence' though I won't elaborate on them here because they're really not long and I don't want to spoil them for future readers.

I felt like this was the perfect format for these short books; they seem really well suited to these little collections of short stories. And some of them were very short, not more than a page or two. But it worked well and you felt like you were getting a nice mix of stories in a compact little book.

My one complaint with this book, which I understand is entirely due to its age and the time when it was originally written, is the anti-Jewish sentiment in several of the stories. On the whole the stories are enjoyable and they usually come bundled with some sort of moral lesson for the reader.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Day Out In Dunoon

Yesterday I mentioned that part of my birthday included a day out to Dunoon. It's a favourite spot for us to visit because it's close to home, but far enough away that you feel like you're getting an adventure. To get there we drive through some pretty spectacular scenery and when we arrive there are plenty of little shops to keep me entertained.

Amazingly enough, not long after we arrived it started snowing! It continued to snow on and off all day; at one point on the way home it turned into a proper blizzard! According to Facebook this wasn't actually that unusual either, we had snow on my birthday last year as well.

Once we'd refuelled in a cafe we got down to the serious business of charity shopping. There was a time when each visit to Dunoon resulted in me bringing home a new coat. Not this time! Mr Click got himself a nice new jacket and I was well laden down with books and new (to us) DVDs.

Mr Click and I have a pretty good film collection; there are a few that we revisit regularly and some which we don't watch so often, but recently we've been turning to the same old films in our collection so I took this opportunity to add some new ones. One of the charity shops we went into had a 10 DVDs for £4.90 (or £1.99 each) and as soon as we started looking we found two we wanted. It was a bit tricky to find another eight but we managed and have already started watching our new films on a Saturday afternoon. That'll keep us going for another few months.

But perhaps the biggest highlight of the day out was our trip to Oxfam.

In the past I've had great success in getting books from this particular shop (on my last visit I got three new Kathy Reichs books, which are still sitting patiently on my bookcase waiting to be read; the time before that it was Terry Pratchett books). I didn't score any books on this trip, but I did get a different treat.

Every shop we went into, Mr Click made a point of telling the staff there that it was my birthday (resulting in a lot more birthday wishes) and Oxfam was no different. One of the women in the shop wished me Happy Birthday then produced a box of Milk Tray for me to help myself to a chocolate, Mr Click bought his jacket and we left.

Just outside the shop we paused to rearrange the bags we were carrying and we'd barely started to move on when the woman from the shop dashed out and asked us to come back into the shop. We did and no sooner had I stepped foot inside did they all start singing Happy Birthday!

Not only that, but one of the guys in the shop brought out a Jaffa Cake with a little candle stuck in the top for me to blow out!

And that's me looking very stylish, blowing out my Jaffa Cake.

It was such a lovely thing to do that on Saturday I had to post on the Oxfam Facebook page, asking them to pass on my thanks to the staff in the shop. It made our day.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Weekly Rundown: Birthday Funtimes

Thank you for all the lovely birthday wishes on the blog during the week.

I had a fantastic day and I was completely and utterly spoiled rotten.

Mr Click has been presenting me with little treats for the last few weeks. We've been calling it thirty days of treats but I suspect I may have had a few more than just thirty. The big day itself was on Wednesday and I marked it in my Bullet Journal:

And I'm pleased to say that I checked off all of those things (the third one was actually my breakfast!), those were also the only tasks I assigned myself on Wednesday so all in all, it was a very successful day.

I'd taken some time the night before to put up some decorations (read: two of the garlands that came in my Flow book) so it seemed like the best place to hang my cards was next to the star garland. And you can see, I did pretty well for cards:

The balloons, by the way, left over from my surprise party. I hated to think of them going to waste.

I did pretty well for presents as well, not even counting the little treats Mr Click had given me (like washi tape and stickers) on some of our recent outings.

The day before my birthday my new welly boots and walking boots arrived. I'm hoping these walking boots last for a long time because they are just amazing. I told Mr Click that he should've wrapped them up and given them to me as a birthday present but we have a tradition of exchanging three gifts and it would've messed up his numbers, but they definitely count as one of my main presents.

There was a bit of a Star Wars theme going on for the day. Mr Click got me this Star Wars colouring book (which features some brilliant Star Wars themed mandalas and patterns; there's a couple you have to look at for a moment to realise it's made of a droid head or an X-Wing fighter) which went nicely with the colouring pencils from my Mum. My in-laws got me The Force Awakens on blu-ray (and the replacement copy of Return of the Jedi which we had to order since our copy was cracked also arrived on my birthday, necessitating a mini-movie marathon).

My Mum sent me a box filled with goodies, scattered through with little foil 30s which I'm still finding in the bed nearly a week later! It wasn't until I was about halfway through unwrapping it all that I cottoned on to what she had been doing; there were thirty gifts!

The above are two of my favourites. The fairy, who I have christened with the imaginative name of 'Birthday Fairy' was knitted by my Mum. She's quite the whizz at making fairies now and they each have their own little character. I'm thrilled to finally have one of my own. And beside Birthday is a little perfume bottle (which I am scared to look at for too long in case I break it), it's so beautiful.

There was also a substantial number of crafty things as well. Including this little case full of washi tape (and a new pencil sharpener):

I was given some money for my birthday as well and instead of buying something I just wanted, I was very practical (I am thirty now after all) so I bought a set of plastic storage drawers for all my craft supplies in the living room. Hopefully they'll be here this week so I can share a photo of them being all organised in a future blog post.

And then we had a day out to Dunoon as well as part of the treat. But I think I've shared enough here for today so more about that tomorrow.

Thanks again for all the birthday wishes.