Saturday, January 31, 2009


Before I got sick, John and I rented WALL-E and Couscous from Blockbuster. I really liked WALL-E (I missed it when it was in theatres) but I think I fell victim to over-hyping. Yes, it was really clever, and super cute. And I found the lifestyle on the planet where the humans retreat to be bizarrely attractive. Does that make me a bad person? But I'd been told that it was the BEST. MOVIE. EVER. I'd put it in my top 50, anyway.
Couscous is a French movie about an immigrant family (subtitle alert!). John picked it up on the strength of the DVD promo - it was billed as "one of the best food scenes ever captured on film". The first half of the movie was brilliant - quick dialogue, yummy-looking food, great acting, and general enjoyableness. And then, at about the 90 minute mark, the plot just sort of stopped. And there was another hour to go. We kept waiting for something to happen (along with the characters in the movie, which in hindsight was quite clever). And then, after much fast-forwarding, there was an exceedingly abrupt ending and the credits rolled. John and I were really disappointed.
If you watch it, enjoy the first half, then turn it off when they get to the restaurant. Then email me and I'll tell you the ending. You'll save at least an hour of your life. The more I think back on it, the more it makes sense in terms of the 'artistry' of the film - you find yourself waiting impatiently (and bored) along with the characters. But it's like watching paint dry.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


While I was recuperating, I read The Mists of Avalon which is apparently the classic feminist Arthurian epic. Somewhat of a narrowly defined genre, but there we go. I liked it, although I started to lose steam somewhere around page 950. Of 1008 (at least in the edition I was reading). I considered giving up, but decided that abandoning at the 950 page mark would be like running a marathon to mile 25 and then stopping because I was bored. Overall, it was enjoyable, and it was much appreciated while I was too zonked to do anything besides sleep and read (couch...bed...couch...chair...bed...etc). I'm not sure I'm going to embark on the rest of the series, though.
When I checked in to the hospital, I was in the middle of the latest instalment of the 44 Scotland Street books by Alexander McCall Smith, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. It was PERFECT for reading in the hospital - short, choppy chapters, not too much to ponder, enough witty McCallSmithisims to make me chuckle. I even read it at 3am while having antibiotics delivered through an I.V. drip (I couldn't sleep). 
The only problem was that I finished it mid-morning and was left with nothing to read. I went down to the hospital bookstore and bought a Maeve Binchy Christmas Short Story Extravaganza (I didn't realize it was a Christmas-themed collection of short stories - I thought it was just a normal potboiler. It was syrupy and dreadful.) and a Kate Atkinson book. Before I realized that I HATED the last Kate Atkinson I read. EPIC FAIL. Blame my weakened state. Both books to the hospital when I left.

Since getting out of the hospital, I've done lots of ringing: last night I rang another quarter peal (my third - WOOT!) at Earl Stonham. On the treble again - I think I'm going to be 'blowing behind' for my next QP attempt and then after that I'll move to the great lands of Ringing Inside. I am also the proud owner of a Suffolk Guild of Ringer badge. I have to figure out where to pin it - I'm afraid if I put it on my coat that I'll lose it. Tonight there were only 8 of us at Old Newton, so I got to ring some Bob Doubles, have my first go at calling Bob Doubles, and have another stab at St. Simons. Two methods down, thousands more to go. Speaking of, a few bell ringers have reported that they've 'discovered' the blog, while googling for "Buxhall church" and "ringing". Yep, that'll bring you here...hi guys!!

My sweater is coming along - there was a bit of unravelling to be done after I realized I'd messed up part of the pattern. "Count stitches, place marker, purl, etc..." 

"Hmm, that's funny," I thought. "Wonder what that's for. Oh well, I'll just carry on." And then I looked at the picture. ::Lightbulb:: "Ooooohhh...that's what I was supposed to be doing. Bother!" ::Epic unwinding::  It's all sorted now, although the back panel which was finished is now not. Front left is sorted, though.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama and the NHS

I got to watch the inauguration, live on TV. But not quite from where I'd expected to be.

On Sunday night, I started feeling really achy and tired, and I stayed home from work on Monday and slept all day. I had fairly intense abdominal pain, and we called the doctor at around 8 on Monday night. They wanted to take a look at me, so John and I went to Bury Hospital, where I ended up spending the night. They were incredibly nice - everyone was welcoming and comforting and seemed eager to get me sorted out as quickly as possible.

They'd come to the conclusion that I had either appendicitis or gall stones, and so kept me on a clear-liquids diet with an antibiotic drip. When I went for my scan, my appendix (and gall bladder and liver and various other parts) were all showing as normal, so they gave me a bit of supper and we all waited to see what would happen. The docs then decided that whatever I'd had was on its way out (probably as a result of the nuclear antibiotics that I was on), and that I could go home.

I've been resting at home since then - I keep getting visions of adventures like walking around the block or making some soup, but I seem to still be at the stage where the only thing I need after my nap is another nap. I'm incredibly thankful for all the fab staff at the Bury hospital, especially all the doctors and nurses on the F6 ward - although I was definitely glad to come home. My experience with the much whinged-about NHS was entirely positive - I was in a room with 5 other women in a mixed ward and everything was clean and bright and well taken care of. The food food, but that's to be expected.

And, I had my own TV (with headphones), so I got to watch the inauguration from the comfort of my bed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Long lost Herd

We had lunch with F and T yesterday. They'd been to see some other relatives last weekend, who had been sorting through various family things. Among the items was this memorial for Robert Herd, who by his birth date would appear to have been John's great uncle. Not 100% sure - he's never been mentioned before. He's definitely family, though - the picture of him in his uniform could very easily be a picture of Travis. They also have the hat that he's wearing in the picture, which was returned to his parents with his dog tags.

As you can see, he was killed (at 21) in the Great War, but apparently did quite a bit of fighting before that point.

[There are actually 3 Herds in the picture - Robert, me (bottom left) and Travis (plaid shirt, bottom right).]

Here's a closeup of the inscription:

It's really thought-provoking - he looks so young. One of the other things in the packet was the newspaper page where his obituary was listed - everyone on the page was "son" or "brother" and most of them were around the same age as Robert.

I was going to write about some other stuff but it all sounds a bit trite - I'll post again tomorrow or later in the week.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Roasted Broccoli & Shrimp

The New York Times recipe for roasted broccoli with shrimp has been marinating in my brain since I read the article on Wednesday. I tackled it tonight - it was super easy and came out looking exactly like the picture. We didn't have coriander seeds so I used ground coriander, and I used more mild chili powder rather than a little bit of hot. I also made rice to go with it, rather than crusty bread.

And yes, I've stolen their picture. But mine looked almost exactly like that. And I've linked to the article. Except that I forgot to put lemon on it (we didn't have any). We didn't really miss the lemon, though.

It was really tasty - there were spicy bites and not so spicy bites, and while I normally leave salt & pepper out when I'm cooking, I think I'll put them in when I make this next time. And up the cumin seeds a tiny bit.


I've finished The Middle Window - it was fine but not particularly memorable. Some time-slipping, Scotland in the 19th and 17th centuries, and a 'you know what's going to happen because of flashbacks' kind of plot. Not my fave Elizabeth Goudge, but the first of hers that I haven't LOVED. Not a bad track record, really.

I had an email from the library today - my long awaited copy of Twilight is in. I can now join the legions of teenyboppers swooning over a vampire. Hot.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'm in a Guild now

When I think of guilds, I think of cobblers bent over workbenches in grimy, medieval London. Or maybe stonecutters or masons working on a Cathedral. Ok, maybe I've been reading too much Ken Follet.

So...drumroll, please...I'm now officially a member of the Suffolk Guild of Ringers. I get a newsletter and a shiny badge to pin on my pyjamas. WOOT!

I'm also sharing the tower's subscription to Ringing World, which is "the weekly journal for Church Bell Ringers since 1911." It's more entertaining than it sounds - this week's issue features some letters in response to a somewhat vitriolic article (which I didn't read) in last week's issue. This makes the NYT letters page look tame - this is not a group that holds back! In addition, there was an exceedingly pedantic letter correcting an article that had reported that a bell was stored in a "garden shed" when in fact it was stored in a "bicycle shed". C'mon people, get your sheds straightened out!

Ok, I'm a dork. Although if you've been reading this blog for more week, you knew that already!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pirates, Buttons, Cairns and Whos

After the fabulousness that was The Graveyard Book, I've had a few clunkers.
I attempted to read "The Pirate's Daughter", a fictional account of Errol Flynn's escapades in Jamaica in the middle of the 20th century, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson. I should have read the New York Times review first. The characters were flat and uninspiring, and while the story was mostly believable, I gave up a little over half-way through.
Basic plot summary: Flynn indulges himself and the girl who has had a crush on him for years by sleeping with her, and then ignores her once she becomes pregnant. The first part of the book is leading up to this, and then moves on to what happens to the girl (and the baby). By that point I'd stopped caring. Errol Flynn is a distinctly unsympathetic character, and the girl isn't really bright enough to make smart choices. It was a Richard and Judy Summer Read, which should have meant that it was a swashbuckling romance (which is what it said on the cover). My overall impression was 'mundane soap-opera', sadly. Feel free to correct me if you've read it and it improves in the second half!
On the recommendation of some interwebbies, I got another of Neil Gaiman's YA books from the library: Coraline. It's about a girl who gets fed up with her parents and ends up getting going into a parallel world, where she has to destroy the universe's 'Other Mother' and save her real parents. I didn't think it was as well thought-out as the Graveyard Book, and I'm not going to put it in James' "to read" queue (he loves Graveyard, btw), but it wasn't bad. [Update, after writing this I've found the trailer/website for the new Coraline movie (warning - sound) and it looks much better than the book!]
I'm reading Elizabeth Goudge's "Middle Window" and had a funny thing happen. About 10 pages into the book, "Sarah" is introduced as the main character's "black Cairn". Her introduction comes with the description that she had 'eloped with the butcher's boy for 4 days' and had only just been found and brought back. Somehow this caused me to assume that a Cairn was some kind of turn-of-the-century English word for a particular type of maid. There is a brief mention of how she'd spent a lot of time eating sausages and was feeling rather worse-off for it, which is followed by a scene where she snuggles up to the main character's fiance during a long and dull car journey, both of which I thought were a little odd.
And then, somewhere around page 60 (while I was wondering where this mysterious black servant had gone to), Sarah appears again, curled up in a ball on the foot of the main character's bed, dreaming of chasing rabbits and as a result, emitting muffled barks in her sleep. "Ok," I thought, "this is one weird servant...WAIT A MINUTE...(madly flipping pages)...she's a DOG!"
For those of you who don't know, this is a cairn terrier. I think it was the use of the word 'eloped' that got me.
To get my David Tennant fix while Dr. Who is on hiatus, I rented the 2005 BBC "Casanova", an exceedingly camp miniseries about the famous Italian. As it was written by Russell T. Davies (who has also written the latest series of Dr. Who), I think I was expecting Dr. Who minus the aliens and with a bit more romance. It that. I agree with some reviews on IMDB that the music was quite annoying - it seemed to be accentuating the camp-ness of the movie while not actually adding to it. And DT does NOT look hot with a mullet. REALLY not hot. Peter O'Toole was enjoyable as the Older Casanova, but I had trouble connecting the two Casanovas together. The miniseries was enjoyable, though, although I'm glad of several things:
1. I did not have to watch it with my parents (I love you Mom & Dad, but it would have been weird)
2. I did not have to watch it with commercials
3. I had my knitting (and am well on my way up the "left front" panel as a result of three extra hours of knitting)
4. I only had to pay £2 to rent it from the library (althoug this comes with the rider that BECAUSE it was a library DVD there was an epic scratch at the 4:30 mark that rendered it unwatchable and meant that I had to skip to "Chapter 2" and miss 5 minutes of backstory. As long as it was not Hot David Tennant Backstory, I'll be ok.)
5. I've now actually seen it and can move on to something else.
Oh, and Rupert Penry-Jones who I thought could slip into 'Ken-doll Evil Character' at any point during The 39 Steps, was the PERFECT Ken-doll Evil Character (as Casanova's nemesis). Muahaha.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Two Roast Chicken stories!

My parents bought us the two Simon Hopkinson books for Christmas:

Roast Chicken and Other Stories, and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken. It's a somewhat oddly designed cookbook - it's laid out by ingredient (and only the ones that Hopkinson likes. However, everything in it sounds incredibly tasty, so i'm going to give his version of Roast Chicken a try this weekend. We haven't roasted a chicken in AGES. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Thanks, Mom & Dad!

We had an extra bell practice at Stowmarket last night - I got to ring the Tenor (my long-held ambition) and the treble for Plain Bob Triples. I even got to 'blow behind' for PBT. I didn't do it well, but it was incredibly fun. I don't know what it is about the huge bells - your mistakes are magnified and they give me evil blisters, but the satisfaction of being the one making the big, loud, ::BONG:: that keeps everyone in the right place is unmatched. Well, maybe making an exceedingly tasty roast chicken for the inlaws will match it. I'll let you know!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Ok, "just finished" isn't exactly true. I finished it about 45 minutes ago, pondered it for 5 minutes, and turned back to the beginning and started again.

It is a dark but whimsical story about a boy named Nobody who lives in a graveyard and has been raised by the ghosts who live there.

Gaiman uses conventional mythology to root the story: a vampire and a werewolf are both involved, along with a witch, a sort of Cerberus creature, and some entertaining ghouls.

I *think* I may go out and buy a copy; John and James will both enjoy it and it's the kind of book I will happily reread.

Next on the list: a 'Richard and Judy' summer read which will prove to be forgettable, methinks. I can't sully my evening of reading with it, though - I'll just have to read some more Graveyard and then go to bed early.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Slippers

John and I went to Norwich yesterday and braved the masses to stock up on some more plates and cups.  We also bought some new slippers, since mine were getting REALLY smelly (poor Fred and George) and John's had holes in the soles.

Now we are both uber-cool with boiled wool. And our tootsies are toasty.

And John's:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year

James gave me the most adorable wallet for Christmas - apparently he thought that I kept losing things in my other one. This one has really cute blue lining and lots of pockets (so I won't lose anything).

I love the dog on the front, too. I think, in honor of Rrufus, I will name him Blue-fus. [John says, "Oh, kill me now.]

A closeup of the lining (and the pockets):

John has been baking: some pizzas but mostly cinnamon-raisin bread. We're on our second loaf of the year already. YUM. It makes the house smell SO good.

On New Year's Day, we decided to go for a walk. We went east, to Brandeston, and did a circular walk from Cretingham to Brandeston and back. Just as we were arriving in Cretingham, the New Year's Day Hunt was starting out. There were tons of people on horses and an apropriately barking pack of hounds. It looked like a LOT of fun. If we ever win the lottery, John and I have decided that we'll buy a big (but warm) country house where he can have a sprawling live-steam garden railway and I can have a stable with some horses (and someone to muck out the horses).

We came across this sign on our walk, at the entrance of a field that we'd been instructed to cross. We crossed at quite a clip, but didn't see the bull (thankfully). There had definitely been one recently, though - the water trough had an appropriate amount of mud around it and there was an empty food bucket nearby.
I think I'm going to call this picture "de-fence". It was definitely part of a gate at some point, but I think that may have been a while ago.

We then came home and watched the entire 4th season of Lost over the course of 3 nights. 7 episodes on New Year's Eve, 5 on New Year's Day, and 2 last night. All done! The upside is that the back section of my sweater is now almost finished. It's surpising how much knitting you can get done while watching TV for 10 hours. It had lots of backstory and some new characters, although neither John nor I are fans of the flash-forwards. I knew it had to happen at some point - one of the first things they teach you in the Improv class at Colby is "don't put yourself anywhere where your story is constricted by your location, like on a desert island. you'll run out of room."

I also finished reading Sepulchre, which was recommended by a friend with the caveat that "she spends the whole book trying to prove to you how smart she is". That part didn't bother me as much as the complete lack of editing - she gave descriptions of the most bizarre things (like what color 'scrunchy' the main character was wearing, and the fact that she was wearing some variation on jeans, sweater and sneakers in every scene). Why, Kate Mosse? It did nothing for the story. It was a forgettable book. If you have a long plane ride and need something to read and the person next to you offers to loan it to you, go for it. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother.

As there was some kind of blockage in the library book queue system, I'd run out of other books to read. So I started in on Brideshead Revisited. And I'm sorry to all the people who love it, but the movie was drivel. And the book was worse drivel. I stopped half-way through - even reading it on the couch under a blanket with a nice cup of tea couldn't redeem it. I made the mistake of buying it (on a recommendation), so if anyone wants it, tell me and I'll mail it to you. Otherwise, it's going to be left as a Book Crossing.

Thankfully, the library un-blocked itself on New Year's Eve and I picked up a Maeve Binchy (shh, don't tell the intellectuals) and the newish Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book). The others in my queue are coming...supposedly.

And finally, I was tipped off by some bell ringers that Lidl had great graph paper notebooks. 3 (of varying sizes) for 99p. WOOT! This one is perfect for writing out bell methods, and I've got one of the others on the go for making knitting patterns. The paper is surprisingly solid-feeling, and it's nice to write on with both pencils and pens.