Saturday, 6 October 2012

What I've been...


In Our Time - Gerald of Wales - as an errant medievalist, I can never resist when Melvin Bragg and guests speak on a medieval subject. Gerald of Wales was always a little late for my studies, but I did use him in essays as an example of  intermarriage between Welsh and Norman nobility, and the way that Gerald felt that his mixed parentage halted his rise to power within the church. This programme goes much further beyond my blinkered view of Gerald, with well-informed experts expounding about Gerald's background, travels, writings and struggles to climb the church hierarchy.

Never Not Knitting - Alana Dakos' gentle knitting podcast is back after a six month break. Alana's podcast was the first knitting podcast that I listened to, and it really opened up a new world to me - that there were smart, intelligent, funny people (mainly women but not all) talking about knitting in engaging ways. For a craft that is so visual and tactile, I was surprised to find that podcasts work so well. Alana gives an insight into the life of a knitting designer and mother, and her blog is full of her stunningly photographed knitted designs.

Kermode and Mayo's Film Review - Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo review films. It does what it says on the tin. And more. Running for over ten years, the pair have developed their own quirks that are well-appreciated by fans - Kermodian rants, 'hello to Jason Isaacs' and elaborate descriptions of listeners accomplishments accompany their comments on films.


The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie - a nuanced view of a single battle in a fairly realistic fantasy world. The book focuses on six characters over three days as they prepare to fight over an unimportant circle of stones on the border between two polities. I haven't read Abercrombie's other novels so it might be that more about the setting is explained in his First Law trilogy. Reading it as a stand-alone, I was caught up in his gritty depiction of a medievalish battle (cavalry, infantry as well as the first test of the cannon). Abercrombie uses his title well - the Heroes is the name of the stone circle that the armies are fighting over, but he also intelligently questions who and what is a hero.

The Number Mysteries by Marcus du Sautoy - Having studied humanities at university, I am trying to rectify the situation slightly by reading popular science books. Marcus du Sautoy is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a mathematician at the University of Oxford (obligatory boo, hiss), so is perfectly placed to try and help me. The Number Mysteries looks at five big questions in mathematics in  a user-friendly way, showing how mathematics can also help solve other problems. He looks at how our understanding of various problems has developed as well, which provides a narrative to a subject which is dependent on data rather than story. Although du Sautoy occasionally jumps a little further than I am able to follow, it is a very user-friendly book and helped me to remember how much fun maths can be.


The Great British Bake-Off - I must admit that I, along with millions of others in the UK, am glued to this reality show where bakers compete to show that they can make perfect pies, pastry and puddings. This show not only has a competitive element as bakers are eliminated each week, but is also didactic - I've learnt that strudel pastry has to be rolled until it is almost see-through, setting agents are integral to making a proper'American-style' pie and it's ok if your chocolate pudding falls on your shoe, so long as it tastes good. Mel and Sue are amusing, Paul and Mary are authoritative and the bakers are inspiring.

Vikings  - I have had a love-hate relationship with this documentary series. On one hand, it's exciting to see a documentary about my period and to see places I've only read about in books (Birka, Staraja Ladoga, Repton) on screen. On the other hand, I know too much about the period to be satisfied with the title or some of the explanations. 'Vikings' is a loaded term in medieval scholarship, and while I admire the team for sticking with it consistently, it doesn't adequately describe the Scandinavians who settled in Russia, Iceland, or stayed back in Scandinavian. I also felt that the first programme took too long a view on the prehistory of Scandinavia - I'd have preferred a little more thought about how much affect the Bronze Age Scandinavians had upon the medieval Scandinavians. Examples from 2000 years before the Vikings were used to try and explain their activities.

I would have liked to have seen more on the Roman and early medieval period Scandinavians - bog deposits, gullgubber and the Vendel ship burials could have filled half an hour easily. And, trying to avoid making this a long rant, a better survey of the Old Norse religion (not jumping straight to the late medieval Icelandic manuscripts) and a more nuanced assessment of the Alfred jewel (it says 'Alfred had me made', it doesn't say 'King Alfred had me made', there's a difference) would have been appreciated. Still, watch it - the Vikings are much more than  pillagers and raiders, and I think that this show managed to get that point across well.


Chocolate Brownies - I've made quite a few batches of chocolate brownies over the last few weeks. I was asked to do the catering for a getaway for a few college Christian Unions, and decided that I would make chocolate brownies for dessert one evening. Of course, I had to practice before I went so I made the recipe from the M&S Baking Day book (mine has a different cover, but I think that it's the same book). Having made this recipe, my Mum then asked me to make some brownies for a friend of hers so I made the Brooke's Best Bombshell Brownies recipes. Finally, I was asked to dinner at the home of my Bible study group leaders so I wanted to bring something that they and their kids would enjoy. Brownies! I only had one egg, however, so I looked through my various cookbooks for the recipe with the smallest egg requirement. That was in DK Chocolate book. These ones ended up quite thin and crunchy because my tin was a little too big, but the others were both delicious.

Snapdragon Tam - I love Ysolda Teague's whimsical designs and decided to embark on this tam as a present for my friend. The instructions were clear and well-laid out and the stitching varied between requiring little and intense concentration. Unfortunately, I was not successful. I didn't weigh my yarn (lovely, squishy Malabrigo Worsted in Lilac) beforehand, and ended up running out of a yarn before I reached the decreases. I considered ripping back and starting the decreases earlier, but instead chose to cut my losses and buy my friend a dinosaur cookie cutter and other baking bits. It's a great pattern, and one that I hope to revisit when I have the right amount of yarn.

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