Saturday, 6 February 2016

In praise of the library

In honour of National Libraries Day I thought I'd say a few words. Although happily I think I'm preaching to the converted.

I've been borrowing books from libraries for as long as I can remember. The library of my childhood was in a low brick building, not hugely attractive from the outside, but inside, oh, inside it was magical. It had a slippery parquet floor and that delicious wood and paper library smell. There were padded vinyl seats to sit and while you browsed. I knew which shelves were best,where to find exciting adventures, stories of friendship and tales of survival and derring-do.

Everyone had a handful of little green cardboard pockets for the tickets to go in. When you borrowed a book you took it to the counter and the librarian put the library ticket in the pocket and filed it alphabetically under your name in a long metal drawer. Then she stamped the front of the book so that you knew when to return it.

Back then if you wanted to find out about something, the library was where you went. I remember big hardback books about pirates and Elizabethan England and African animals borrowed for homework projects. And the reference section and copies of all of the local newspapers. Bristol Central Library, in many of the pictures above, still has ancient wooden drawers filled with records written in fountain pen and countless reels of newspapers on microfiche.

I used to go there to study when I was doing a law degree. I always managed much more work in the breathless quiet of the reading room, tucked into one of the old wooden cubbyholes than ever I did at home.

Things have changed at the library of course. Now you can log out your own books, spend the day on a computer or renew your books online from home. I often have a look through the library catalogue online to see what I might like to borrow. There's a charge of £1 for an adult to reserve a book, but children can reserve as many as they want for free. Everyone can borrow twenty items at a time. And unlike buying secondhand bookshops, a small sum goes to the writer every time a book is borrowed.

Over the years I've visited countless libraries. All of the ones in the vicinity of wherever I've been living. Here in the Libraries West area you can borrow a book from any library in the region and return it to any other library. I still remember how thrilled I was when I discovered that. Borrow a book from the big library in Bath and take it back to my local library. Brilliant.

For many people libraries have been life changing. Education is here, in every subject under the sun. If you want to make changes, this is the place to come. Inspiration is here. If you didn't know before you came in, you'll have some ideas by the time you leave. And motivation is here. All of these books, written by knowledgeable  and enthusiastic people. All of this information being shared. The whole world is there. Libraries are filled with possibilities.

That's before I even get to the therapeutic role of fiction in our lives. After a long day, or when things aren't going the way you wish they were, a book is an escape. Go somewhere completely different. Be someone else. Just for a while, have a rest from your cares. The fictional world will stay with you for a while as you battle the real one. It will help. Converted already, I know you are, but I didn't think it would hurt to say it out loud.

The children are big fans of the library as well now. Hopefully it's something that will stay with them. And hopefully the government will recognise the importance of libraries in everyone's lives. I won't bang on for too long about cuts and closures and shorter opening times and axing librarians to use volunteers instead. I just hope the powers that be understand the role of books in our lives and our futures.

I read something once that said, "People won't save what they don't know". That's why I'm always happy to see children visiting the library. If future generations have the same happy, exciting childhood library memories as me they won't let libraries fade away.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Yarn Along

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along.

I wouldn't normally read a book with a cover like this, but I found a reference book in the library about who to read next if you like a particular author, and when I looked up Barbara Kingsolver this was one of the recommended authors.

It's "The Collaborator" and it's by Margaret Leroy. Set in Guernsey during the German occupation of the Second World War, it tells the story of one woman's war years. I really enjoyed it, from the details of day to day life under occupation, the darker story of the prisoners kept on the island and also the personal relationships. People dug up their flowers to plant vegetable gardens. It made me think how hard it must be to grow things and know that if they fail you will go hungry. There was a great food shortage there during the war.

I was a bit embarrassed by the cover. Romance! Eek. I have something with lots of plain blue now. Much more comfortable with that. Wouldn't want people to think I'm some sort of soft nice person.

The knitting is a(nother) scarf. I like to knit things that will fit, and a scarf fits the bill nicely. Partway through I realised I'd need another skein. When it arrived it was a completely different colour. I'm not complaining, I like that the skeins are all individual. I'm knitting the middle section with two rows old colour followed by two rows new colour to blend it in a bit, and I'm pretending it's an intentional design feature. No doubt by the time I've finished it it will be spring at least.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Absent fish and speedy ducks

This is as close as we've come to a fish, despite another crack at the whole fishing malarkey. I think we might be happier just looking at the pictures right now to be honest. Or maybe that's just me. It's not hugely hospitable down at the canal. I did plant myself on a bench in the sunshine with a book for five blissful minutes, but then it was decided that the fish were further along so I was required to move. I want to do the sort of fishing that takes place in the summer on the riverbank with deckchairs and a picnic that is the sort of thing that Nigel Slater would pack and a good book and something to prop my feet up on. I could get on board with that.

Do you remember I had similar dreams about cricket? My first experience of it was a day-long tournament in horizontal driving rain. I ended up pressed against a hedge trying to keep the rain off my sandwich. This will be the year when all my deckchair related dreams come true, I'm certain of it.

The littlest boy picked me a Lenten rose/hellebore yesterday. I halfheartedly said, "You're not supposed to pick them", but I'm still a sucker for a slightly battered flower proffered by a hot little hand. It's in a jar on the kitchen windowsill now.

The duck is a common eider, a captive one in this case, although they are found around the UK coast where they feed on molluscs. They breed in the Arctic and line their nests with their famous eiderdown for snuggly warm chickies.

It's a pretty heavy duck, but astonishingly it's believed to be the fastest bird in steady flight, flying at up to 47mph. They have quite small wings but incredibly strong wing muscles. We always like to see them at the wetlands place. They make a surprised "Ooh" noise, a bit like Frankie Howerd. I like to imitate them. Don't think they're fooled though.

Anyone know what the fungus is? I've seen it in a couple of places lately. Wishing all a good week and hoping Storm Henry isn't too much of a problem.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Colour Collaborative: January: Warm

Just lately I've been thinking a lot about more environmentally friendly ways to keep warm. We try to use the central heating as little as possible. It occurs to me that I could get the chimney swept and have a wood fire, although the chimney hasn't been lined so I probably shouldn't.

I was visiting a farm the other day where they are lucky enough to grow their own wood. And of course it warms you twice then, once when you chop it and once when you burn it. Sometimes by the sea I see people collecting driftwood. I imagine that burns beautifully.

When I think about warmth, I tend towards extra jumpers, wool blankets, knitting, sheepskin, hot water bottles, hot drinks and the occasional candle. A cooler home is no bad thing in the winter, being in tune with the season, eating warming comfort foods and staying in bed a little longer.

And there's something aesthetically pleasing about the things that provide natural heat. The warm tones of wood, ranging from pale honey to rich tan, the creamy oatmeal of an old sheepskin and the mesmerising hot orange of flames.

I have plans to knit another blanket soon. One that I can keep over the end of the sofa for those chilly winter evenings. As time goes by I'm trying to use conventional energy less and less. Warmth is delicious, but I appreciate it even more when it's natural and green.

Do let me know if you have any tips or suggestions for eco warmth.

To visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

                 Annie at Annie Cholewa             Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

                 Jennifer at Thistlebear               Sarah at Mitenska

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

When the Queen comes to tea

A mixture of photos from the weekend. D'you like the art deco building above? I've walked past it many times, but on Saturday I approached it from a different angle and got a really good look at it. The Silver Rooms on the ground floor is a fantastic cafe with a high ceiling and walls lined with books. I'm dying to go in and have a little photo shoot there, but I'm not really brave enough to ask. Plus, who would take the photos? The biggest boy isn't very good at taking pictures of me, and then I start getting agitated and gesticulating wildly and then he takes some really ridiculous ones. But every time I go past I think how amazing it would look in photos. I'll do it one day.

I've been teaching the children nice table manners in case the Queen ever comes to tea. I like to say, "You won't be able to do that when the Queen comes". We've covered napkin sharing, eating things that other people have left and putting unwanted sprouts on someone else's plate. The middle boy wondered what we would be having for tea should the Queen come. He suggested halibut. The littlest boy wanted pizza. I think I might aim for something tea-like. Sandwiches with the crusts cut off, fruit cake and some sort of fancy delicate gateaux. The other half said if the Queen was coming to tea she could bring something with her. I suggested we get her to stop at the chippy on the way in. Do you think she's ever eaten pizza or fish and chips? I like to picture her kicking back in front of Luther with a quattro formaggio, slipping the corgis a bit of crust when no-one's looking.

I ordered two big bags of flour the other day. Locally milled, organic flour, substantially cheaper than a leading brand at the supermarket. And even better value if you bought it in 16kg bags. I was quite surprised at the size of a 16kg bag though. It's big. Big enough to fill the cupboard. I wrestled one onto the top of the freezer and ended up looking more than a little dusty. And the saucepans are temporarily unreachable behind the one in the cupboard. I may have to rethink the bulk ordering slightly. I can see disaster striking when I open the door and the open bag tips out. Imagine what big cloudy mess 16kg of flour will make. I'll try and remember to take a photo.

I'm leaving you with a word or two from the littlest boy.

Me: Right, off to bed now please.

Littlest boy: No.

Me: Come on, I let you use the laptop earlier, the least you can do is go to bed when I ask you.

Littlest boy: I played the guitar for you anyway, that's enough.

And you're a fatbum.

He speaks truth.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Five on Friday

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.

1. Photos from by the river last Sunday. Alas I didn't get to stay at home in the warm, I was dragged out to look at mud in the cold. You know I love it down by the river, but last week I had a bit of a cold and it reminded me of the sort of place the heroine of an ancient novel would go and contract a terrible fever from which she would barely survive. I may have been over dramatic about it all. I have higher hopes for this weekend. At least it should be warmer.

2. Lightbulbs. I do not understand them any more. Remember the days when you went to the shop and there were four different brightnesses and you picked the one you wanted and it was all terribly simple? Then there were eco lightbulbs and they cost about 10p. Now there are about a hundred to choose from, the numbers don't make any sense to me and some of them cost £10. And they are supposed to last for years, except they don't. Even making allowances for the flying diabolo that smashed one in spectacular fashion so that glass came sprinkling down all over the living room. I really just want a lightbulb that doesn't use too much energy and lasts a long time. But which one?

3. We've been enjoying the biggest boy's cookery lately. Once I get past the surprise of having to rustle up ingredients at thirteen minutes' notice it's good to have him coming home from school with various things to eat. He made a brilliant healthy crumble, and last night it was chilli. Honestly, I was thrilled to have a day off from making tea. I must encourage the whole cooking thing a lot more.

4. On the subject of food I hear that if I keep the heating off I will lose weight. I'm allowing myself a hot water bottle and extra snacks. Not sure how long it will take, I'll keep you posted.

5. I'm actually warming to Twitter a little. It's like a newspaper with things in about the subjects I like to hear about. I have gardeners and conservationists and writers in my feed. It has slightly been hijacked by the biggest boy who keeps making me follow birdwatchers of all descriptions. I just need to make sure it doesn't take up more than ten minutes a day...

Wishing you lovely people a top weekend. I hear it will be balmy so the hats and gloves can go back in the basket. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Frost at the allotment

I wandered down to the allotments on my way back from the school run this morning. Well, it was more of a march really to try and keep warm. They were pale and frostily beautiful. It was just me and a few hungry birds.

The water troughs were frozen solid. A small boy would probably have tried standing on them to see if they would bear his weight. As I didn't have one handy I made do with giving the ice a good shove. Solid. 

There's not much on the plot to harvest. A few leeks and roots. I'll dig some out after the thaw, which is due tomorrow I think. 

It's hard to imagine how different it will all be in six months' time. This is the season of rest, but soon it will be time to get the shoebox full of seeds down from the shelf. The wheelbarrows are all lined up waiting to ferry loads of manure down to the plots. For the time being though I'm enjoying the break and happily working my way through last season's harvest from the freezer. Gooseberry crumble, borlotti bean hotpot, roasted beetroot and a Nigel Slater damson cheesecake. I do so love this time of year.