Wednesday, 17 January 2018

An Eames Celebration

For me, the working year has begun on the 8th of January. Both O.K. and I had the first week of this year off, and spent it together at his place.
On the Thursday, we drove a bit further South to the city of Weil am Rhein, where we visited the exhibition "An Eames Celebration". I had read about it months ago in my weekly paper.

Exhibition poster

The whole area of the Vitra Desgin Museum is worth seeing, even if you would not go into any exhibition - the architecture is unusual, quirky but functional at the same time, and in between the buildings along the connecting paths are sculptures and other works of art.

When we were there, though, we had limited time until the exhibition would close for the day, and the weather was not really in favour of a stroll across the area.

The exhibition was split into several parts, stretching across various buildings, the main part being about the life and work (actually inseperable) of Charles and Ray Eames.

So far, I had had the Eames' down mainly as designers of furniture. Everybody knows the famous Eames Lounge Chair, right? Also, most of their other chairs are well known and still very much in use all over the world.

I had had no idea, though, that the Eames' did so much more than design chairs: They built houses (for instance, their own house, which was very much a home filled with life, not a piece of architectural exhibition), made over a 100 films, designed toys, painted pictures and put together something called The Information Machine for IBM at the World Exhibition in New York in the 1960s. They worked with the government of India on educational projects and designed an exhibition about Nehru; they made covers of magazines and were good friends with Billy Wilder and his wife.

Ray and Charles Eames at home

In their approach to any of their many varied projects, they come across as open-minded, fun-loving and hard-working people; intensely interested in everything around them. I was truly impressed by the fullness of their lives and how much they foretook how we handle information nowadays, decades before the internet became reality.

Visiting the exhibition made me read up about the Eames', and I am definitely going to watch a few of their short films on youtube (the exhibition showed some, but we did not watch them all - not enough time!).

When I came across their "House of Cards" (a game designed for children and adults alike, with no winners and losers) in one of the rooms, I had a mini flashback; I am pretty sure that I saw those cards at some stage during my childhood. We probably did not have the game at home, but I might have seen it at someone else's home and maybe played with the cards there. Maybe my Mum knows? 

It was a mind-opening afternoon for me, and I am glad O.K. and I went there. You can read more about the exhibition(s) (in English) and see pictures here.

Read in 2017 - 44: The Virgin Mary's Got Nits

The Virgin Mary's Got Nits
A Christmas Anthology
Gervase Phinn

Although I finished the last few pages of this book at the start of 2018, I count it as "read in 2017", because that is when I read most of it.

Gervase Phinn is well known and very popular in England, mainly as the author of "The Little Village School" series. I'd not read anything from him before, but knew of the series and of him as an author and speaker. Have a look at his website to learn more about him; if you don't feel like it now, let me at least give you this quote from the website: "You can always tell a Yorkshireman but you can't tell him much."

This book is a collection of short stories, a few poems, and anecdotes from the many years Mr Phinn was first teaching and then working as an education advisor and school inspector. Some of the anecdotes are really funny and made me laugh - we all know how children can speak up and out when adults would rather say nothing (or put things in a more diplomatic manner), or how things can happen on and off stage at a nativity play at school or in church.

I must admit, though, that I did not always "get" the humour (or the point) of an anecdote. Maybe it was my set of mind at the time I was reading the chapter, or I simply didn't understand something correctly in terms of language, although I never had that impression myself.

Anyway, I did enjoy the short stories and like Gervase Phinn's unpretentious and clear writing style, allowing the reader to picture people and places easily. I may look into his other books, and will certainly be back to his website.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Read in 2018 - 1: Elmet

by Fiona Mozley

This was a Christmas present from my sister, who often despairs at my bad reading habits and tries to make sure I read a good book at least every now and then. This one certainly fits her requirements.

Told from the perspective of 14-year-old Daniel, the story is about a family on the fringe of society: John, a giant of a man and gentle father who makes his living mostly from illegal fights, moves with his children Daniel and Cathy to a small copse where he builds them a house with his own hands.
For one year, the three of them live there almost unbothered by human society, entirely satisfied with their own company, living off what their vegetable patch and chicken coop yield, hunting with bow and arrow for small animals in the copse and picking berries in the hedgerows.

Every now and then, Daniel tells the reader of their life before they moved to the copse. The children went to school (never really fitting in) and were cared for by their Grandma, with their father often being away, sometimes for days or weeks on end.
It takes until chapter 8 before the reader learns anything about their mother. Daniel never really knew what was the matter with her, and describes things from his perspective as a child, but she was never around for long before she disappeared again until one day a phone call informs them that she won't be coming back.

The copse and the house are not officially owned by the family, and it is only a question of time until the landowner turns up and suggests a way to settle things between them. 

The drama unfolds slowly, but the reader can see how it all leads to an inevitably terrible end. When that terrible end is finally there in the last chapter, it makes for hard reading - at least it did for me. Things turn brutal, but are still told in Daniel's style; he is matter-of-fact with an eye for poetic detail even in the most horrible scene. The final outcome is not made entirely clear; the reader doesn't know for sure whether Daniel is the lone surviving member of his family or not.

The setting of the book is rural Yorkshire, with farming and former mining villages dotting the countryside around the copse. I loved the descriptions of the woods and fields, and of the self-contained daily life of the unusual family. Like I said, the last chapter was tough, but not surprising, so I was mentally prepared for it.

Definitely a book I recommend; my sister has not yet read it, and I hope she will enjoy it, too. In parts, it reminded me of Claire Fuller's "Our Endless Numbered Days", which I read last year; you can find my review here. Both books centre around characters who live apart from "the rest of us", so to speak; either by choice or because they were made to. Both books have a young person as their narrator, and there is death and tragedy in them as well; they are both written in a language that is unpretentious and capturing.

"Elmet" is Fiona Mozley's first novel. Her home page is here; it contains a mini bio.  Click here for a more thorough review I found on the Guardian's website.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Questions About 2017

Yes, I know - 2017 is gone, dead and buried. 2018 is already 8 days "old". But I am still thinking about the past 12 months, and I guess I am not entirely alone in that. Of course, I am also looking ahead, not just back, but let me focus on 2017 just for a few more minutes.

We spent New Year's Eve at my sister's, a small party of six. It was a nice evening, quiet and lively at the same time. I had prepared a game for us all to play, based on something I had been reading the day before in my weekly paper: Several more or less well-known people from different walks of life were asked the same questions about 2017. I adapted these a bit and made a card game of it, where we asked each others those questions in turn. It meant not all of us got to answer each question, but I thought about what my answers would be while I was preparing the game.

Here they are:

1. What did you do for the first time in 2017?
Oh, many things! For instance, I was present at the setting up of a maypole for the first time. Also, I visited Zurich for the first time, and had a very posh afternoon tea with all the traditional parts for the first time. (These and several other "firsts" featured on my blog.) Some food and drink I also tasted for the first time.

2. Was 2017 better or worse than what you expected?
Both. It was much, much better in terms of work, but worse under some aspects to do with my health.

3. Who or what was "hope" for you in 2017?
That's a tough one. I rarely expect something from others, but more from myself. I did have some hopes regarding our government to DO SOMETHING about certain things going wrong in this country, but I won't go into detail on my blog when it comes to politics.

4. Who or what was disappointing in 2017?
See # 3 - those things did not come about. And I was disappointed with myself more than once. Also, it was somewhat disappointing that we did not manage a proper family gathering in Yorkshire the way we had done in previous years, and that Aunt J and Uncle B were away and we could not spend time with them as we had done before.

5. Your personal success in 2017?
I won a customer I'd been after (so to speak) for almost two years.

6. Your personal failure in 2017?
Mostly to do with running. Don't ask. Work-wise, I did not manage to make three people who were assigned to a project of mine (not by my choice) do what they were supposed to be doing, when they were supposed to be doing it. The nice approach didn't work.

7. What were you most happy about in 2017?
Another difficult one - there were so many happy moments and beautiful times in 2017! I went on three lovely holidays, saw wonderful places and met the nicest people. Again, a lot of it featured on my blog.

8. What made you most angry in 2017?
Maybe not most angry, but I often was angry about the inability of our rail services (both local and long distance) to provide what I paid for - a trip from A to B in time with the schedule THEY had set up.

9. What was the biggest surprise for you in 2017?
That Ripon introduced its first female Hornblower in the more than 1,000 year old tradition! :-)

10. What news in 2017 could you have done without?
Oh, nearly all of the ones that I saw daily on the main news on TV - too much bad stuff going on everywhere, all the time.

- - -

There were several more questions in the paper, but I think ten are enough. I wonder how my answers will differ after the next 12 months!
(If you feel like answering all or some of them in your comments, or use them on your own blogs, please feel free!)

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Between Christmas and New Year

View from my office window on 12.12.

The few days between Christmas and New Year usually find me in a strange mood, and this year is no exception. I am happy - Christmas was beautiful, with each of the three days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day) having its own character and activies; I do not have to work (and I really can do with some rest, much as I like my job), and everything is right in my little world. But I am also a bit sad to let go; similar to the way I feel when summer comes to an end and the leaves start to turn.

Our Christmas tree (at my parents'), with REAL candles, of course

The new red dress I bought earlier this month to wear on Christmas Eve
Singing Christmas carols at my parents' on Christmas Eve

Anyway, there is plenty to look forward to! Apart from not having to work until January 8th, there will be New Year's Eve to celebrate (the decision as to who will host the party this year has not yet been made), New Year's Day at O.K.'s parents, then a whole week off together. January also sees my sister's and my Dad's birthday, plus there will be a start-of-the-year celebration dinner with my boss (still the same RJ) and colleagues at a restaurant during our first week back at work.

Yesterday, I spent a very lazy day. No household work with the exception of doing some washing and of course making myself something to eat and washing up afterwards. I spoke to my Yorkshire family on the phone, which was very nice. Other than that, I spent the day reading, playing my favourite computer game, watching TV and relaxing. I ate up all the remaining Christmas cookies my Mum had made, looked at my beautiful presents and cards and thought of all the lovely people in my life who gave or sent them to me.
Not once did I step out of doors.

Can you detect the general theme? :-)

Today will be a bit different. I have no fresh food left in my fridge and need to do something about that. Also, there is ironing to do, maybe a walk to my parents' later, and/or a long overdue visit to the gym. But I'll do it all at my own leisurely pace; today and tomorrow, the emphasis is still on relaxing. I was very busy the last half year, working more and harder than I'd done in some years, and it is catching up with me now; my body tells me to REST, which is exactly what I'm doing.

On the weekend, O.K. will be here (he has to work this week) so that we can celebrate New Year's Eve together. It will be fun, and I am going to wear the beautiful new earrings he gave me for Christmas - they match my silk shirt perfectly, don't you think? They are made of Murano glass and to me look like tiny worlds with golden continents on light blue oceans.

I hope all of you have had a lovely Christmas and will bring in the New Year just the way you like - either with a big party or quietly -, and that 2018 has only good things in store for you and your loved ones.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Read in 2017 - 43: A Death at Fountains Abbey

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while all know that Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire is one of my favourite places in the world, and it features on my blog every year.
Therefore, you can imagine my sister's and my reaction when we were walking past the shop window of "The Little Ripon Bookshop" in the summer and saw this book in the window:

A Death at Fountains Abbey
by Antonia Hodgson

My sister bought it, and after she had read it, she lent it to me. I've had it on my to-be-read pile for many weeks before I finally got round to reading it, and it took me much longer than it should to finish it, mainly because most nights after work I was too tired and my eye sight too bad to do much (or any) reading.

The story is a combination of fact and fiction, and the author kindly has added a chapter at the end of the book where she tells the reader who of her characters and which of the events were real.

In the early 1700, John Aislabie was mainly responsible for a huge financial swindle, involving the highest levels of government, even the Queen and her family. Aislabie somehow managed not to be convicted to death or deportation, merely to be banned from all offices (he was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the big South Sea Bubble) and forced to live out the rest of his life in luxury on his large estate, Studley Royal, near Ripon in Yorkshire.

Those are the historical facts. Antonia Hodgson now adds Thomas Hawkins, a rogueish investigator in the services of the Queen, the hero of two earlier works of historical crime fiction. I'd known neither the author nor her Thomas-Hawkings-series before, and although in this book, it is often alluded to the previous stories, it can very well be read as standalone.

Hawkins is sent to Yorkshire, apparently to "help" Aislabie, but actually he (or, rather, the Queen who sent him) has a hidden agenda. With him are his girlfriend (presented to the high society at Studley as his wife) and his 14-year-old "brother", who is actually a member of one of London's most feared criminal clans.

The beautiful setting of Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey is the backdrop for some hideous crimes. Of course, Hawkins and his loved ones not only get into trouble, but serious danger. Some of the guests staying at Studley are not who or what they seem to be, and how much do John Aislabie and his wife really know?

To make matters more interesting, a young widow appears on the scene, pretending to be John's long-lost daughter... This part of the story really leaves the reader (= me) wondering for a long time.

I really enjoyed this book, and of course had no trouble picturing the scenes. Admittedly, though, I enjoyed it for its settings and not for Thomas Hawkins et al; I couldn't bring myself to like them much or care about what happened to them, and won't go looking for the rest of the series (which is not set in or around Fountains Abbey).
Oh, and it has map! I love books with maps :-) 

Antonia Hodgson writes the way I like it - offering detail where needed, but not over-indulging when it is not necessary for the story to develop. She does use some vulgar language where her characters speak or think that way, and if you do not care for the f-word in your books, then don't read this.
The author's website is here.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Read in 2017 - 42: Miss Kane's Christmas

Miss Kane's Christmas
by Caroline Mickelson

With this novella (meaning shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story), you get exactly what you expect by looking at the cover:
A light, entertaining read, just right for the last few days before Christmas for those train rides to and from work.

Carol Kane Claus is Santa's daughter - and she's on a mission: Her father wants her to give two children a very special Christmas. The kids' mother died of cancer, and their father wants to spare them more grief by making Christmas a totally everyday thing - no ornaments, no singing, no candles, and definitely NO SANTA. Because he "knows" Santa does not exist, and thinks it wrong to tell his children otherwise, which would inevitably lead to disappointment once they found out the truth.

What happens next is of course totally foreseeable, and therefore not necessary to mention; but still, the outcome is not a merry Christmas for the small family (or for Carol). Instead, things first seem to go in the wrong direction until the u-turn happens, and in the end, all's well that ends well.

I did like Carol and the other people in the book, because even with such a short book, the author managed to portray each character so that I was able to picture them in my mind. Some of the quirky ideas about how Santa and his family manage Christmas were rather funny. Editing was good - always a welcome surprise with a free ebook.

The author was unknown to me.  Her website is here if you want to know more.

It was not my last seasonal read of this year, but the last one I finished just before Christmas.