Archive for December, 2011

December 30, 2011

top books of 2011

Thanks to an English degree followed by several years of book reviewing and editing, over the past decade I completely fell out of the habit of reading for pleasure. Hence my new year’s resolution for 2011 was to read more.

I don’t think I had ever bothered making a new year’s resolution before, but this one worked out rather well for several months, until I started reviewing again and the fun-reading immediately dried up. (Currently all books are stuck in a queue behind one that is so bad I can’t bear to finish it.) Nonetheless, I hope to redouble my efforts in 2012, so please be so kind as to recommend me some good books in the comments and I’ll add them to my reading list.

Of the books that I did read this year, the following were my favourites, and I recommend them without reservation. In no significant order:

How I Escaped My Certain Fate – Stewart Lee
It is very difficult to write well about comedy, still more so to write about your own comedy; yet Stewart Lee succeeds with ingenuity and wisdom, and without disappearing up his own arse. Alongside his dissection of his own oeuvre, he provides a potted history of alternative comedy of the past few decades, plus affectionate/bitchy comment upon various contemporary stand-ups.

Mrs P’s Journey – Sarah Hartley
It seems I enjoyed this far more than the average Amazon user! What’s not to like, haters? The first half reads like a jaunty novel, as the titular Mrs P – Phyllis Pearsall, creator of the London A-Z – is born to histrionic parents who act like dicks fairly consistently until she skips off to live under a bridge in Paris. When she grows up, she takes the unprecedented step of compiling an exhaustive street map of London, which involves her walking every single street then drawing it up by hand. Google Maps make it so easy to take cartography for granted now, but it must have been a major ball-ache in the past. I mean, ‘labour of love’.

Lint – Chris Ware
I don’t have much appetite for graphic novels/comics (choose whichever term angers you least), but I do love Chris Ware. In many other graphicnovelcomics, I find the visual aspect is only illustrating the story, so not telling me much I didn’t already learn from the words and slowing down the book to boot; whereas in books like this, the visuals ingeniously convey the story of a man’s life from conception to death. Depressing, but that goes with the territory.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Anita Loos
I borrowed this from my friend Will, who had read it for his book group and emerged thoroughly perplexed by it. I’m not sure what baffled him so acutely; it’s quite straightforward, although a good deal different to the film. Originally a series of magazine columns in Harper’s Bazaar in the early 1920s, it’s the diary of the gold-digging blonde Lorelei – Marilyn Monroe’s faux-naive character in the film, but rather sharper here – as she seeks a wealthy husband. One thing I learnt from this book is that although I’m generally a massive pedant, I do enjoy a Character Spelling Mistake.

Sisters by a River – Barbara Comyns
More Character Spelling Mistakes here, although not deliberate ones in this fictionalised account of the author’s childhood, in a rambling country house overrun by siblings and rambunctious parents. That’s usually a good set-up for a book, isn’t it? As it proves here, and very charmingly so. Eccentric without trying.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson
A very sweet, cheering short novel, wherein a series of mistakes propels sad middle-aged spinster Miss Pettigrew into a joyous new Roaring 30s existence. I’ve never been disappointed by any book from Persephone Books, partly because they seem to favour the early-20th century period of literature of which I am very fond, and partly because the volumes are very pretty.

December 27, 2011


Yesterday I promised to post about the best Christmas gift I made this year. (Best in my own opinion. Opinion of the recipient: difficult to gauge.)

Here it is:


It came out nearly twice as big as I’d anticipated, at almost three feet long. A three-foot lobster is quite creepy-looking, even when made out of a material as innocent as red felt.




Beady eyes.

December 26, 2011

patchwork dog

Alas I only had time to make a couple of Christmas presents this year. I’ll post about my favourite one tomorrow. This patchwork Scottie dog, which I gave to my sister-in-law Kate, I do like well enough; but because I used a pattern and didn’t invent it myself, it didn’t involve the three-act drama I enjoy so much during my improvised crafting endeavours: first act, optimistic experimentalism; second act, panic; third act, relief/horror at the end product.

Anyway, if you want to make your own patchwork dog, you can find the pattern here. Behold my effort:


I’ve never done patchwork with small pieces before, but it was very quick to sew by hand. Plus it was pleasing to work in some of my sillier fabrics.


I deviated from the pattern by sewing a border strip out of 30 squares instead of one fabric, which meant the dog could have a rather apt piece for its mouth:


And, entirely by chance, it ended up having quite an apt little bit of pattern at its far end too.


UPDATE: here’s another for the litter. A gift for a Philly girl, hence the map patch.

Different colour scheme for the flipside:

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December 26, 2011

noises on

I assume that not all of you had particularly happy Christmases, given that there were more than zero visitors to this site yesterday. Today you’ve also been sending me some corking tweets about your worst presents – click here to read.

Halfway through building the Christmas pudding-substitute tower of profiteroles, I realised I was at that moment on BBC 5 Live, as a guest on their Radio Review of 2011 hosted by the magnificent Jane Garvey of Woman’s Hour (who happened to be the first ever voice on 5 Live, fact fans) and also featuring Mike Toolan, Miranda Sawyer, Emma Barnett, John Plunkett and Olly Mann. You can find the show here. Unusually, I really hope nobody was listening to it live yesterday evening…

Shortly before Christmas, Olly and I also piped up on Guardian Media Talk’s review of the year, and also polished off the podcast for the year with the Best of Answer Me This! 2011, part 2.

And now, the profiteroles:

Dad said they looked like a lion had done a shit on the plate.

December 16, 2011

Noises on

The editing binge continues, with the result being the Best of Answer Me This! 2011, part 1. Not much longer to go till the podcasting marathon ends, phew.

Also this week, I made an unexpected appearance on Guardian Media Talk.

Now I just need to find some time to make the Christmas presents…

December 16, 2011

Veronica Mars blanket

“Baby it’s cold outside…” and also inside my flat. Once the temperature dips below 10°C, it’s time to bring out the Veronica Mars Blanket.

A couple of summers ago, my friend Catherine Hirst taught me to crochet. Like most crochet novices, my first project was a granny square; finding this quite pleasant, I just kept going until it was 6 feet square, even though it was August and rather too warm to have half a ton of yarn in my lap.

The reason it is called the Veronica Mars blanket is because my husband and I were blowing through all three series of Veronica Mars at the time. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I wholeheartedly recommend adding it to your DVD box set binge-list (aside from the third series, which is a bit rubbish). It has everything: murder mystery, a feisty girl detective, high school drama, AND it even passes the Bechdel Test.

December 15, 2011

Gingerbread Day 2011: savoury

Yesterday, when recounting the gingery elements of Gingerbread Day 2011, I promised you epic pie. And lo, I present to you Christmas Pie:

Christmas Pie: 5 meats and counting

From bottom to top: gammon, turkey, sausagemeat and apple stuffing, more turkey, sausages wrapped in bacon. Gravy incorporated. If you’re vegetarian: apologies.

There was also a veggie Christmas Pie, of which I don’t have a picture: it involved layers of roast parsnip, thin slices roast sweet potato, and chestnut and cranberry stuffing, with onion gravy. The root vegetables were spiced with cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cumin. It was most tasty, and my fears that it would be overly sweet proved unfounded.

As ever, the meals one can concoct with Christmas leftovers are much better than the Christmas dinner itself.

December 14, 2011

Gingerbread Day 2011: sweet

Gingerbread Day is an annual institution in our household. It began a few years ago when we bought an unexpectedly massive Christmas tree, and had hardly any decorations to cover it; so we drafted in our friends to decorate gingerbread men to hang on it. It’s now a pretty hot ticket, let me tell you.

You should see what happens when a bunch of responsible adults get their hands on a piping bag and some jelly tots:

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Frankly I’m not particularly interested in gingerbread as a thing to eat, although this year’s was quite tasty because I doubled the quantities of spices in the recipe. However, I’ll be smashing up the breadbin-full I have left and making it into double-plus yum Rocky Road.

Stay tuned to hear about the epic pies that were Gingerbread Day 2011’s savoury course.

December 12, 2011

Noises on

Apologies to my own website for a fortnight of neglect. All waking hours have been monopolised by one thing: editing. Worse, editing my own voice, ugh ugh, albeit commingled with legion family members, as we prepared the mammoth podcast that was the 200th episode of Answer Me This!. I still can’t believe that we’ve notched up so many episodes, nor can I fathom why, but the special episode was a great way to celebrate the milestone.

On Friday I popped up for the last 15 minutes of MacAulay and Co on BBC Radio Scotland, and as every Saturday, Saturday Edition on BBC 5 Live around 20 minutes in.

And now it would be time to closet myself in a silent room for a good while, except I can’t because I have to plough through 20 hours of Answer Me This! to compile the end-of-year ‘Best Of’ episodes. If I haven’t stabbed myself in the ear by this time next week, it’ll be a Christmas miracle.