Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book review: Walk on Part

I know that when you see the title of this blog, regular readers, two questions will immediately spring to mind. Firstly, how do I have time to knit a pretty awesome jumper for a baby, read a trashy crime novel and read a volume of political diaries all while training for the Brighton Marathon. Secondly, if the training is going incredibly well, am I still able to sponsor him.  Well the answer to the first question is having two books on the go at once, one fiction and one not, which means you can read regardless of your mood. The answer to the second question is very much you can. In fact many of my friends and family are proving themselves to be nothing short of fantastically tight, so any spare cash would be gratefully received at   

Anyway, on to the matter in hand. The third volume of Chris Mullins’ diaries curiously published out of order (chronologically it should have been vol 3, 1 then 2) which doesn't detract too much from the reading as we obviously know what happens anyway. For me though it would have been much nicer to have had them published in order, as this one felt slightly like a tag on to try and make the last few quid out of the series. The fact that so much time has passed between the events described in the book which starts on the day John Smith dies and finishes in July 1999 also make it seem somewhat distant, though that may simply be down to my age at the time.

There are aspects of the early days of the diary which seem completely foreign to us these days, including trips to visit security workers being paid less than £3 an hour and mass sackings days before the entire workforce is rehired on a much lower salary. It's just a shame that we don't get to see the introduction of the minimum wage in this volume.

There are times when it seems to me that Mullins is slightly overplaying his own role in many things, but then it is a certain type of person who keeps a diary. The constant health fears, some of which are well founded in fairness, do become slightly tiresome. Those who are not greatly interested in political detail won't necessarily find the heavy detail on Labour Party meetings in Parliament, and even for those of us for are so inclined there isn't anything in here we didn't already know. As with all diaries the real gold is in the human elements of life, and the short section describing the period immediately before the death of Joan Maynard did bring a tear to my eye.

I like the Mullins as a writer, and greatly enjoyed the other two volumes of his diaries and A Very British Coup which I've read a couple of times, but this one just didn't have the same spark for me. It's hard to explain why, but it felt a little like those prequels to the Star Wars films which came out after the original films. Important texts for students of political history they may end up being, but for now it seems to be the final breath of the 'franchise'.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Knitting a child's jumper

This has probably been the most ambitious project which I have undertaken (and finished) for a woman in the office who is due to have a baby. The whole jumper is knitted with basic double knitting wool and size 8 (4mm) needles for the main body and size 10 (3.5mm) for the initial ribbing.

Starting with the ribbing on the back it then moves into a basic four row pattern which is repeated throughout the back (and sleeves). The pattern is set on 9 stitches repeated along the row, with rows 1 and 3 different and rows 2 and 4 plain purl. It gives a pretty effect and is fairly forgiving if you make small errors in following the pattern. Just don't do what I did and miss a pattern row out and end up having to  pull out a good 3 inches of work.
The patterning on the back, same on the sleeves

The front was a bit daunting to start with, being made up of four different patterns in the same row, each one lasting a different number of rows before repeating. The biggest problem was the pattern being incorrect for the basic cable which begins the cable work. I won't bore you with the details (something about slipping stitches and putting the wool behind or in front for the next two) but it meant that I had to pull the work out three times before finally getting it right, purely by trial and error. Even for a free pattern that's a bit lame.

The cable work on the front of the jumper
The other aspect of interest was the fact that sleeves are knitted straight onto the jumper, rather than being done separately and sewn on later. I was concerned initially that the weight of the body would make the sleeves a little loose and pull too much, but alas it wasn't to be.

There's also only one side sewn up on the neck line, not that you can see it very well in these pics. The right hand side is secured by two buttons. I guess either because it makes it easier to fit over baby's head or because the person who designed the pattern hated sewing up and wanted any way round doing it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book review: Buckingham Palace Blues

This is the third Inspector Carlyle book from James Craig in the last two years, and not for the first time the rush in writing is beginning to show in the end product. The main character remains incredibly likable and believable, but the plot is starting to lose some of the latter.

For those of you who haven't read the first two you can read my Amazon reviews of London Calling (warning: definitely not for the squeamish) and NeverApologise, Never Explain. This book largely follows the same formula of loveable cynic policeman John Carlyle discovering a case which would ordinarily be well out of his league, running into all sorts of madness along the way before everything settles nicely in the end as he walks away to fight other day (the next novel is being released later this month so I hope he’s ready!)

As with the other two books the issues tackled are both topical and push the boundaries of acceptability. 
The tone is set pretty early on when Carlyle finds a child wandering in Green Park and quickly suspects that there might be a link to Buckingham Palace. This takes him on a whistle stop tour of the corrupt workings of the upper echelons of British institutions which most people would imagine are infallible, or at least very good at not getting caught.

Another similarity with the other book is the clearly transparent disguise given to those in the book to hide their real-life equivalents. While the first book had the brothers vying for political dominance the second featured the ‘accidental Mayor’ with no political nous but good PR skills and this one has a young Prince doing things behind closed doors he shouldn't be (obviously when you read the book they are much more extreme things than any real-life Prince might be indulging in).

New characters are brought into the book and then disappear almost as quickly, sometimes only to reappear 50 pages later which means you can spend some time flicking back and forth trying to remember where it all fits together. The end also seems incredibly rushed, the way that everything ties up together is just too convenient (one loose end is tied up with the conversation “What happened to him” “Oh, he died of a heart attack” “Oh good”)

The best aspect of the book, as with the others is the attention to detail given to describing London. That said the number and nature of comments about everything from the Mayor to the transport system leaves me with the impression that the author is just as cynical as his creation. I’ll still be reading the next offering when it appears on my Kindle, but I’d be happy to wait a couple more months if it meant the end product was even better.