A little more reality…

March came racing around (the usual pace of 2016, it seems), but enabled me to spend time with my mother and grandmother, who will be 100 next week! I always enjoy the opportunity to spend some time in England and this time, had the best of both worlds – first some quiet time with my ladies at home, where the mild climate meant that the garden was way ahead of our own, with blooming camellias (something that doesn’t survive our winters and is only seen south of the Alps in Switzerland for the most part).IMG_1114It was wonderful to have a special day out for my friend’s birthday that turned out to be spectacularly blue and sunny. Since it was probably the first time we’d spent her birthday together since our teens (!) it was extra nice and a day out in the English countryside can hardly be beaten. We headed for the extraordinarily pretty, without being sugary, little town of Alcester in Warwickshire, wandering the charming streets and perusing the interesting little shops, even a well-stocked wool and sewing shop, Harry and Floss, much to our delight (and we may have spent rather a long time oohing and aahing over it! It’s decorated with vintage children’s toys and clothing and books…). Spoilt for choice with an array of delicious-looking cafés, we plumped for one with an arty, eclectic decor and had a delicious salad and sandwich accompanied by big pots of tea and old-fashioned lemonade – mmh! Alcester managed to be calm and unflurried without being deserted or unloved and I was really impressed with the unspoilt atmosphere. The church has an unusual clockface set on the corner of the square tower and faces southwest, sitting comfortably at the top of the high street overlooking goings-on in the market town,  a reassuring presence to the mediaeval houses round about it, like a mother hen clucking busily over her chicks. It turned out that my friend’s ancestors came from here – how delightful is that?! IMG_5852It was actually almost too sunny to get good pictures but this is an example of Alcester!

Our next stop was Coughton Court, a stately home I hadn’t visited since I was a very small child. I have no memory of that visit save a souvenir teatowel that hung in my parent’s home for many years and which I almost knew off by heart – throckmorton-challenge-0021Impressive!

However, I didn’t know what to expect, certainly not this handsome Tudor house with lovely gardens set in rolling countryside… IMG_5862IMG_5859 IMG_5855As this was only mid-March, the gardens weren’t yet open to the public but it was just as nice to wander down through the little wood to the river and enjoy the spring sunshine. The house itself has a fascinating history, having belonged to the Throckmorton family – Catholic (never easy in ye olde England in the past), and instrumental in the famous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, where several members lost their lives around the scandal. As this is one of the very first events in history that I was taught at school, aged 6, it was of particular interest to me – somewhere there is an old exercise book with proof of this. As it happens, another Throckmorton, Elizabeth or Bess, married the famous Sir Walter Raleigh and was a favourite lady-in-waiting to  Queen Elizabeth I but incurred that lady’s wrath by marrying Walter without her permission and was sent to the Tower! Although eventually released, Sir Walter, as we know, lost his head in 1618 (also after plotting…) and distraught Bess is said to have carried his head around with her in a red velvet bag… Pretty gruesome. Still, these old stories are what make history so very fascinating and hold our attention. The house itself is of course not only Tudor but has a core and various later additions, depending on the fortunes of the family at different times, but we were thrilled to be allowed up on the tower roof to see a fantastic panorama of the Warwickshire countryside on a perfect day – IMG_5866 IMG_5871 IMG_1119And to end our excursion, the exterior of Coughton Court IMG_1123My gallivanting was not yet done. As the daughter who has been acting as envoy to England for the past 4 years was in the midst of packing up to move to France, this was our last opportunity to visit her and her husband in the Oxford area. The weather wasn’t quite up to scratch, but my husband and I made full use of a long weekend to explore Oxford, where I was happy to meet up with another of my school friends (how amazing to still be friends with people we meet as mere children!) on the top floor of the Ashmolean but where we also had time to look at some of the exhibits, especially enjoying the still life room (oh, the lemons!)…

Kick, Cornelis; Still Life with a Lemon and pink Roses; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/still-life-with-a-lemon-and-pink-roses-142233

Kick, Cornelis; Still Life with a Lemon and pink Roses; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/still-life-with-a-lemon-and-pink-roses-142233

And can you believe it, we went to a wool shop? Surprise surprise:) (The Oxford Yarn Store on the North Parade) My excuse to buy was that I have never worked with exclusively British wool, so I came away with some pretty pink Bluefaced Leicester by West Yorkshire Spinners and two skeins of Exmoor alpaca, incredibly soft and squishy. One happy bunny here. As there was a great foodie shop next door, (2 North Parade Produce Store) which was of more interest to the rest of the party, I had no guilty conscience whatsoever. The yarn shop is lovely and has lots of more unusual yarn brands I have never seen anywhere else, which in my view, gives it 5 stars! The food shop is no less lovely and we came out with a bag full of goodies there, too…

The Thames is generally associated with London and considered a mighty river – but remember that it also has to spring from somewhere and before it grows up to become so important, even regal, it is just a pretty little stream and flows through places like Kelmscott, the tiny Oxfordsire village where Arts and Crafts cultural figure William Morris had his favourite house… IMG_1128This was the 2nd time I have found my way to Kelmscott, only to find the house closed to the public – the first time there was a private tour going on and this time, I found it didn’t open until April, so if you ever go, make sure it’s open before going to the trouble! The day was so chilly and dreary that we escaped into a quintessentially English pub, The Plough, with a roaring fire going, so the expedition wasn’t completely wasted. IMG_1129 We also took in Bath for a long and hilarious lunch with one of my mother’s friends, notably consuming great quantities of French lemonade – I can highly recommend the Côte Brasserie in Milsom Place! The food was excellent and the staff friendly. We spent several very entertaining hours there… Again, the weather wasn’t terribly conducive to wandering, though it improved later in the day when we saw the more typical sights like the Royal Crescent. IMG_6059IMG_6081Finally on the way back to the Midlands, we took a detour to see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, near Stratford-on-Avon – another place I hadn’t visited since I was a young child. Our advantage was that we were so early in the year, so that although the cottage is always “chocolate-boxy”, there weren’t too many people milling around and yet the gardens were beginning to take shape. Having said that, we ourselves live in a fairytale house, so we have no cause to criticise! I have since read Germaine Greer’s “Shakespeare’s Wife” and can recommend it to anyone interested in this celebratory year of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, or otherwise.IMG_6096This took us back into familiar territory – we had to pass Alcester to get back towards the M5 and enjoyed countryside we’ve visited several times between southwest Birmingham and Worcester. For me, this is what English countryside is all about!

Our final good deed this trip was to save an armchair my daughter and her husband are fond of yet not planning to take with them – it seemed a shame to get rid of it and my mother and grandmother would enjoy something new but which suits their interior decor. This does indeed appear to have been a success… IMG_1150

Where does reality go?

Well, in my case, it seems to be on the road a lot of the time. To my surprise, when I look back at February, I was (theoretically) at home all the time – not that I noticed!

We were lucky enough to be invited on a “real” Swiss outing, a wagon ride locally culminating in fondue in a hut in the woods. The weather forecast was dismal, we met in drizzle and later on, the rain poured down effusively – but during the wagon ride, the sun shone brightly and lit up the late winter landscape so that all 12 of us were peeling off hats, scarves and jackets as we rumbled along country lanes and through local woods, well supplied with hot tea and lardy bread. On arriving at our destination, we were met by a lone alphorn player, as natural as can be (could it be otherwise?!) – Image 07.04.16 at 10.08 (7)and the quintessential glass of white wine as an apéritif. The children immediately began exploring the woods around about, including a lovely deep muddy water hole – fortunately, they were all well-dressed for the occasion! Image 07.04.16 at 10.08 (6) After getting suitably grubby, they too were peeled of their outer layers and permitted to come inside, where a woodburning stove made for a very cosy atmosphere for our fondue, with some of the extended family enjoying their first-ever cheesy wonder ;) Image 07.04.16 at 10.08 (4)Of course, for the children, the main attraction were the horses, two feisty Swiss ladies who worked very hard for us and were rewarded by shelter and a nosebag… IMG_5977

At home, we also had some miserable weather (even though we haven’t had a nice snowy winter) so resorted to our own wood-burning stove, which doesn’t get a lot of use since our central heating is generally sufficient to keep everything toasty – IMG_1088I actually had time to fulfil my grandmotherly duties and this little chap, just turned one last week, continues to entertain with his sunny nature. Here, he was doing a little St. George imitation (riding the dragon with the cat lying just out of shot!): IMG_5800And of course, lest I forget, there was knitting:) How could there not be knitting?!

I love this one – it’s called Creature Comforts Cardi by MadelineTosh and I had the good fortune to buy some Malabrigo Rios (colourway Niebla) on sale. It had barely got inside the door before I was winding and knitting. Essentially, it’s a large square with ribbing at either end that is folded and sewn, and then sleeve ribbing is added to make a slouchy shrug. The 100% merino wool is wonderfully soft and smooth, knits itself and is pure pleasure. (And http://www.strickcafé.ch are having a whopping 25% sale on it in April, if any Swiss readers are interested – I might have bought some more, just might… :o). Yum. IMG_5815I hope you can see the oak-leaf detail that runs up the back – it’s really not difficult to follow the chart, though I wasn’t hugely impressed with the pattern instructions overall, which were confusing to the uninitiated.

And may I say, those trousers were made for me, to measure, by the fair hands of my seamstress daughter! I should have done them justice with proper socks and shoes, but goodness, my life is as real as the next person’s, so this is what you get!!

Baby things are always highly bloggable and there have been a convenient number of babies being produced to keep me on my toes – little Frankie gets this set IMG_5830which consists of a shrug called Vertrebra, which takes into consideration that babies dribble, and therefore doesn’t have a front, as such, which I thought was quite clever. It’s MadelineTosh Sock in Mala, if I’m not mistaken, and the little pink culottes are a lovely Drops pattern (Cosy and Cute – 21-36) that I made knee-length because I only had the one skein of Lang Baby Merino and spring is here – I love the waist shaping on them. They were quick despite the 2/2.5mm needles… Afterwards, I added a little bit of elastic to the knees. I hope they like this set – the baby was shown to us dolled up to the nines in a Minnie Mouse outfit, very cute!

I may have shown this last summer when I made it, but am pleased to say that it has gone to little Olivia, born in January. Coincidentally, this is also one of my daughters’ middle name, so that was a nice touch (the parents didn’t know this!). Another MadelineTosh pattern, Tiny Tea Leaves (I left off the sleeves), by Melissa LaBarre in Katja Baby Merino.IMG_5102

There was more knitting, an Icelandic cardigan nearly finished but waiting for the finishing touches, so it will have to be blogged another time.

Inbetween times, there was finally an opportunity to see friends, catch up on chores and decluttering and generally have some structure and order! And of course, February being a short month, even in a leap year, seems to go by quicker than other months, even if it is an illusion. There were the beginnings of life in the garden, though – IMG_5956and a heron in the woods IMG_6008

Next time, more travels!😮

…when there were knitted gifts…

I hope everyone has been having a lovely relaxing time with family and friends over the last few days, as we have been fortunate enough to do! Lots of good food – both a goose AND a turkey (not on the same day!) – and companionable time spent together has done everyone good. Particularly with all the sniffy colds going around, it’s nice to be able to sit back and not have to do anything urgent except rescue a wine glass from being tipped over:)

This means I have knitting time, but also that I can now reveal what else was knit as gifts, and report that all was met with enthusiasm and gratitude!
Firstly, there were handwarmers for the chilly days that have now arrived (it was 10°C and sunny all over the holidays, yes, in Switzerland :o):

But wait… they’re bigger on the inside… (he’s a very tall young man!)IMG_5589Naturally, these were for my son-in-law, a big Dr. Who fan! They are in merino wool and I made the pattern up as I went along.

My daughter also likes Dr. Who, but I think she likes history even more, sharing with me a fascination for early mediaeval history, so when I saw the pattern for Saxon Braid mitts by Kimberley Porter, I was pretty sure they would appeal… IMG_5568More merino, soft and warm around the wrists and making up for shorter sleeves with their length. 

Next on the list were my two older grandchildren, who hadn’t had anything knitted from me for a while. Firstly my grandson, a very active 7-year old, seemed to have had this pattern designed for him, it’s a great one and I love the construction of the kangaroo-pocket, as well as the funnel neck – this is the Brochan Sweater by Kate Oates, made up in Drops Merino and on this picture, missing the green i-cord drawstring on the funnel neck, which I added before wrapping it up! Sevi loves green.IMG_5549

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The wool for this rugged little hooded waistcoat, Mini Cardi Vest, also by Kate Oates, was a special gift I received from New Mexico last year. It’s thick, pure, homespun wool in vibrant shades of pinky lilac, which is just right for a vivacious little dark-haired girl who likes bright colours!  The embroidery is some remnants of Malabrigo Worsted (blue) and Icelandic Lèttlopi (yellow), while the buttons in exactly the right colour were a lucky department store find. I was delighted that both garments are a perfect fit and the children appear to be happy with them, with 4-yr old Mireille doing a little twirl for our benefit to show hers off. Or just to show off!

Finally, the last knitted gift of the holidays was for my eldest daughter, mother of the grandchildren, who also appreciates the wonderful rich colours of hand-dyed wool, and as a knitter herself, appreciates the work that goes into each piece (not that other recipients don’t, especially since daughter no. 2 started knitting lol!). This is The Age of Brass and Steam, (a free Ravelry pattern, incidentally!) by Orange Flower Yarn, described as a kerchief, but my approx. 400 metres of Malabrigo Sock yarn purchased at L’il Weasel’s gorgeous Paris shop in the Passage du Grand Cerf has definitely made a shawl-sized “kerchief”! IMG_5592IMG_5594Phew, glad I managed to get all that done and dusted in time for our Christmas festivities!

Once that was all wrapped up, I felt my halo shining and was therefore justified in starting a new project (I thought!). This one has been hanging around beckoning at me for months, since last winter, if truth be told. It is Jökull by Kate Davies from her wonderful book, “Yokes” and the wool for it is Àlafoss Lèttlopi in wonderful sea tones – it’s a sort of capelet and very warm (though the recommended yarn would have been bulkier still!). Yum. The knitting is done, just the finishing and the i-cord armholes to deal with… :) IMG_5645

That time of year again

It’s been a busy time with a lot going on, most of it good – and it’s just not left much time or inclination for blogging! But there has been some knitting I can show… IMG_5567The owner of the stables where Sturuss used to live has had twins! Since this was always an Iceland horse farm, it simply HAD to be a couple of Icelandic sweaters… the pattern is Gilipeysa by Hélène Magnùsson, knitted in Malabrigo Lace yarn, very fine, very soft, incredibly tiny (the two little girls were premature and one had some problems but all good now!:) ). I’m not 100% happy with the very variegated grey in the cream cardigan, but there wasn’t much I could do about it, so it stayed.

This year’s masterpiece was a present for my dad’s 70th birthday – the epitome of the man who has everything! So I did what I do, knew he likes bright colours and Ireland and hates tight necklines and found this to knit – Janet Szabo’s pattern for a cosy Aran shawl-collared jumper in a bright red by Drops (merino)… it took a while but worked out very well and I think he liked it!! IMG_5542The sunshine has been bright this autumn/winter, and temperatures mild… but we had a frosty morning walk, too. IMG_5572 IMG_5573 IMG_5575 IMG_5577Next week I’ll show you some of the things I made as gifts, but for now – IMG_5556Happy Christmas from The Little Washhouse!

A little story

Remember him? SturiFor the uninitiated, this was Sturuss, the Haflinger pony I had for 25 years. I’ve written quite a bit about  him in the past…

So. Sturuss was quite a character and as I had him from a 3-year old, the age that you begin to train a horse or pony in the arts of carrying a rider and learning to behave while doing so, we had a number of adventures in the local countryside.

Flash forward to this November. My eldest daughter now lives bang in the middle of what, for nearly 10 years, was my riding territory in those early days. Young Mael needed a nap and wouldn’t settle, so last week, I set off for a nice walk on a beautifully sunny day, hoping he would drop off in the pram as I went. IMG_5400 (funny how that picture reminds me of this – IMG_2559– that was in December 2011, our last winter together!)

Anyway. We set off and of course, I know most of the local paths from all those years riding around them and so decided to head off across the little river and for the first time since about 1987, to follow the path along past the tobacco barn and fields and through a couple of hamlets I’d not seen since way back. In fact, seeing this not only reminded me to show the “bend” in the roofline around here that I’ve mentioned before, but I could swear the last time I passed through here, there was a baby slumbering peacefully in its pram in the sunshine, now probably a strapping 6′ carpenter or something, with a gaggle of kids of his own! (I know the Norwegians practice this “baby napping outdoors in all seasons” thing that leaves English-speakers aghast, but the Swiss do – did – it, too!)IMG_5401 The further I went along this road and then off to the right along a track leading to a small footbridge, the broader my grin became. One dull, grey, damp November day, I had trotted along here on Sturuss, heading for a spot just to the right of the bridge where other riders had established a spot where you can ford the river. IMG_5405 In those days, there were a lot of rushes and tall grasses on the bank between the bridge and the ford, where now there are several large firewood stores. We would have the tips of them brushing Sturuss’ sides as we carefully picked our way down the bank and through the river. The river is only a couple of feet deep here and Sturuss was happy to pause and splash for a while, pawing the water with his front legs and having a nice long drink (how glad I was that he didn’t try to lie down in the river, as my friend’s Haflinger did, necessitating a nimble jump off!). On the other side of the river (on the left of this picture), there was quite a thick wood surrounding the pathway and the bank is fairly steep to climb back onto it. As we began to head up the  bank, seemingly from nowhere, a moped came whizzing along and across our exit. Normally pretty traffic-proof (Sturuss had been driven for 6 months before I got him), this was simply asking too much and, already on the uphill, he wheeled around and plunged back down into the river in a split-second. This also asked rather too much of his rider, and I was unseated, catapulted into the river, where I stood for a moment in disbelief. Alarmed by this unexpected result and unnerved by the moped’s whirring, Sturuss charged past me – and in the process, knocked me straight over backwards. Flat into the river. Under water. Gulp.

Dripping and gasping, I pulled myself to my feet. Sturuss, by now no longer alarmed and simply somewhat bemused, had not dashed off in a mad rush but had gone back up the right bank and was standing in the field beyond, watching to see what I would do. Bless him, despite his temperament, he was never the sort to waste energy on a mad gallop when there was grass around… I was left with no choice but to wade to the closer, left, bank and haul myself up to the path, squelching my way to the footbridge to get back to the other side where Sturuss stood grazing. He didn’t bat an eyelid as I remounted and headed back across the river – best to tackle the “problem” immediately.

To my surprise, there was no trouble about crossing through the river, though he was a little anxious about the possibility of another moped coming along the path on the other side. Due to the distinctly chilly temperatures, I urged him to a trot along to the next village, where a friend’s husband had his workshop – luckily, she was there and lent me a spare fleece jacket to get me out of my wet jumper… We trotted hastily back through the village and up the hill to the farm where Sturuss was living. In those days, Sturuss was young and fit and the long trot did no more than warm him up, too, especially since he was going home and there was always the possibility of food in his own stable!

We clattered into the yard, still dripping somewhat and to find the farmer doubled over with laughter at the sight of us – in fact, I will never forget how he held his stomach in mirth as tears poured down his rosy cheeks at the vision of a comically furry, steaming Haflinger pony with a very wet and soggy rider dismounting… Being a kindly man, he lent me a pair of his wife’s jeans and socks and gave me a hot toddy, while Sturuss happily munched on the hay in his box. Those were the days! IMG_5406 Now there’s a woodpile on the other side where the rushes were, and on this side, a rail has been put up to divert riders to the right when fording the river and before hitting the pathway, probably to prevent them charging up in front of walkers, bikers – and mopeds! Sturuss remained unafraid of rivers – but hated mopeds and motorbikes coming up behind him for ever afterwards. 

Back for a bit

IMG_5370Just for a quick stay, we were back in Lucerne last week and able to enjoy a beautiful autumn afternoon and evening there. It made a change to see over town from the other side, even though the mountains were quite ghostly in the bright sunshine!

On the following morning, everything was plain pale grey and not a view to be had…

Some variety

I found it quite mind-boggling when I totted up the books I’d read or listened to this summer (20ish), plus the films I watched (12) – what with knitting and all this entertainment, it must seem as if I do nothing else (which isn’t true!). And I’ve been keeping it up pretty well since I came home – perhaps that’s why I’ve not been blogging quite as much, since less screen time = more reading time! So here are some of the more remarkable…IMG_3339

On my mother’s recommendation https://catterel.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/must-read/ I read all three of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s early travel memoirs, “A Time of Gifts”, “Between the Woods” and (posthumous) “The Broken Road”. I’ve been enthusing about them ever since. Such beautiful writing, a sort of gourmet meal to gorge on. That such a young man, only 18 at the time, should embark on such a journey (walking from Rotterdam to Istanbul) and be so perceptive and ultimately knowledgeable with it, utterly fascinated me. I know he didn’t write it until much later, but surely he must have had a good foundation in history, geography and literature in order to appreciate his surroundings as he did at the time. Your average modern gap-year lad seems so tame in comparison! Add to that the charm of the 1930s and the fact that pre-war eastern Europe, in particular, was an area that today, we know so very little about and yet is actually closely connected to our classics histories. I came away feeling there was a whole world of ethnic and cultural history, geography and language I have little clue about and which made me very curious – a good sign?! IMG_5399

Following on from this, how could I resist reading Nick Hunt’s 2011 re-creation of the adventurous hike? “Walking in the Woods” describes the far more down-to-earth walk taken by this 30-year old, hemmed in by pollution and traffic and sadly, faced with a much more difficult situation in those countries which for so long remained behind the “iron curtain” and were forced into some form of dulled-down homogenous existence. Interesting though it was to read this, I came down to earth with a bump and can’t say I really enjoyed it – I found it all quite depressing, I’m not keen on change at the best of times. But it didn’t lessen my pleasure in Leigh Fermor’s books!

Have you heard of The Austen Project? If you are an Austenite, I’m sure you have – six popular modern authors are taking it upon themselves to rewrite six of Jane Austen’s famous books in a modern style (the website is not updated, unfortunately). The idea worried me a little. And after reading three, I still am not convinced they translate well.         I couldn’t get on with Joanna Trollope’s “Sense and Sensibility” at all, and even the wonderful Alexander McCall-Smith managed to make “Emma” into a very long-winded and rather tedious story, to my dismay, though still “his” style. However, I must admit that I enjoyed Val McDermid’s “Northanger Abbey” much more – despite never having read anything else by her (too gory?!). Next up will be “Pride and Prejudice” by Curtis Sittenfeld, who I have never heard of, so I’m feeling more than a little anxious… northanger

Let’s get more tedium over with – we persevered with the audiobook of Elizabeth Berg’s “The Dream Lover”, a romanticised life of 19th century French classic author George Sand (actually Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin de Francueil) told in the first person. I’m sure she was a fascinating and eccentric person – she was famous for wearing men’s clothes and was an early visitor to Mallorca with Fréderic Chopin – who later developed important political interests and her books were certainly best-sellers, but this repetitive story with its pathetic and soppy overtones just dragged on. It piqued my interest enough to find out more real information about this author, though. Maybe it reflects the style she wrote in and I’m not qualified in that respect? dream lover

As far as best-sellers go, I finally got around to Sarah Waters’ “The Paying Guests” which I found to be a gripping historical detective story, something I’d not expected from the book blurb. Set in the 1920s, when my granny was growing up, it brings up daringly sapphic relationships, mixing class and politics around a desperate crime and I did find it a gripping and satisfying read. paying

I have neither seen nor read “Gone Girl”, so can’t compare, but the media does so – this one is “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins and I did enjoy it very much. A bit of Bridget Jones meets Agatha Christie – perhaps enjoyed all the more because I haven’t seen as much hype as with the above-mentioned book. It begins rather slowly in chick-lit style but when it gets going, you have to read on and it’s pretty unexpected. girl

Moving on, to another genre I would call “nordic”, and not the thriller kind, in the style of  the excellent “The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window” by Jonas Jonasson (another one which has been filmed, most successfully). A dry, witty, crisp way of writing that sticks in the throat a little, with protagonists who are not always nice, but is nevertheless very entertaining, I was delighted by “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backmann. Highly recommended! A story of neighbours and neighbourliness, and ultimately a very touching biography. Not Swedish but still in a similar vein, written by a Frenchman with strengths in English and Spanish, Romain Puértolas, “L’extraordinaire voyage du fakir qui était resté coincé dans une armoire Ikea” (The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe) is clever and funny, serious and very international, and somehow innocent – quite delightful. And fairly short. I can only hope the available translations do it justice. ove IMG_4905

Another character who is not all that pleasant and yet compels you to carry on reading is Martin Suter’s eccentric, Allmen – I’m sorry to see that this series is not translated into English so far, only available in German. But I will still include it. Martin Suter is a popular Swiss author of a number of prize-winning novels in German and now this series about a rather down-at-heel Swiss gentleman antique dealer (Johannes Friedrich von Allmen/Hans Fritz von Allmen…) who regularly gets into difficulties – and out of them again, with the help of his loyal valet-companion, Carlos. The one I read this summer was “Allmen und die Libellen”, and I will continue to read more of these as they appear (3 others waiting in line). allmen

After rereading the James Bond books by Ian Fleming in the last couple of years, I have to say that William Boyd has done a great job in picking up the story with “Solo”. This one is set in 1969 and has an older, more modern Bond but without losing the charm and style – or cold streak, somehow – of the original. It rings very true (and ahem, a little anti-American!) and in line with the older novels and should be a “must” for anyone who values the old-fashioned contained excitement of the classic series. Not to mention that the latest Bond film, “Spectre” has just come out… solo_james_bond

While we’re on crime, I would have to include the latest Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope, “The Moth Catcher”, spellbinding as ever if you love this awkward, no-nonsense detective as we do! Why is she so lovable, when she is so unlovable?! Ann Cleeves is excellent at bringing over the rough, northeastern English inspector and you “hear” her speaking as you read. I don’t even think that is because of the TV versions of these stories, starring Brenda Blethyn – who is very good but not quite as I imagine Vera! Also in my summer reading, “The Sleeping and the Dead”, another suspenseful detective story by the same auther. Ann Cleeves released “Offshore” only a year ago, too, which is a series of short stories that feature two of the popular detectives she’s created over the years, moving them on till the next bigger episodes appear. (This last is available as a very reasonably priced ebook.) vera

I read a couple of books that are hardly worth mentioning but then came across “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton (a first novel, I believe). I expected it to take me into a “Girl with a Pearl Earring” world, as it is set in 17th century Amsterdam, but it is darker, imaginative and a little bizarre. I found it quite a struggle in parts but all in all, the miniatures left a charming aftertaste. Perhaps that isn’t the right word, but it’s worth a try! minaturist

And finally, two more non-fiction works – the long and laborious “A Brief History of the Middle Ages” (Martyn Whittock), fascinating but so full of information you’d need to read or listen to it several times to keep up, similarly to “A Brief History of the Vikings” (Jonathan Clements) though I think we enjoyed the latter more – and yes, I’ve listened to it more than once!    The amazing mythology can be somewhat soporific… Jacky Colliss Harvey has written “Red”, a history of the redhead, of which we (my daughter and I listened together while knitting!) were quite critical, perhaps unfairly. It is certainly an extremely interesting topic that investigates the fascination with the redheaded, their famed tempers and how society sees them, as well as some scientific blurb, but not all the claims sounded completely founded on newest research! However, definitely entertaining. red

Have you read any of these or have I interested you in any of them?

(Most are also available as audiobooks if you like entertainment while you knit or drive or do the ironing!)