Just read, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

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This is a marvellous book and one that I’d been looking forward to reading for some time. Penelope Fitzgerald died in 2000 at the age of 83. She wrote The Blue Flower in her seventies. The first I heard of Penelope Fitzgerald was via The Guardian’s 1,000 novels list, I got a couple of her books, discovered they were not on the list, then put them on my ‘pile of shame’ to read at some point. Then I accidentally found out what The Blue Flower was about and thought I’d been an idiot not to have got it and not to have read the other books sooner. I read The Bookshop a couple of months ago as penance, asked for The Blue Flower for Christmas and finished it last night.

It is a historical novel about German Romantic poet and philosopher Novalis and his love for a 12 year old girl Sophie, who he called his Philosophy. I’d studied Novalis and his friends and contemporaries a little in a fabulous course I did a couple of years ago. They were a little difficult to grasp at first, it was all to do with metaphysics and the big questions, but I did grasp them eventually and have had a soft spot for them ever since. It was their vitality, the freshness of thought and their conviction that really appealed to me. The philosophy was wonderfully captured by Fitzgerald and woven into the narrative. Yet this is barely even noticeable, certainly not laboured. Fitzgerald’s style is simple and unassuming and the story is as much about the various relationships with family and friends, customs and traditions as it is about Novalis’s unexpected love. There is food and feasting, occasional comments on the French Revolution and funny moments too. I am very glad that I’ve finally read it – to be honest, I was a little scared at first that I’d built this book up in my mind into something it could never be but it was even better than I thought possible. Fitzgerald never published anything before she was sixty, there is hope for us all.

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Just read, The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

This book has been on the ‘get on with it’ pile for a while. ‘Get on with it’ pile of books is near my bed so I see it daily and every time I see it I think I am failing miserably at getting on with it. It has books that need to be read, books that have been with me for nearly a year (some) or over a year (most). Quite a few are in hardback and obviously, as I haven’t been getting on with it, they are now in paperback, much lighter and easier to carry around. Serves me right. ‘Getting on with it’ pile is not to be confused with the ‘oh, that book’ stack, which is actually on the bookshelf and comprises of books that I have bought or been given that I am not sure I even want to read. Most of those have been with me for years. And finally, there is a pile by the bed which I am currently ‘reading’ in bed and it is constantly growing, there are currently around 10 books in it but that’s OK. I will, eventually, get through some of them, I hope.

Anyway, The Good Soldier, obviously I’ve picked now to read it because of the fabulous recent BBC adaptation of Parade’s End and sudden interest in Ford Madox Ford although I’d like to think that I didn’t just get on the bandwagon since I’ve had the book for a year. A well read friend recommended it. The reason I didn’t think to read it before was the title – thought it took place in WWI and I’d come across the first sentence before, about it being the saddest story ever. So I was expecting something very depressing (depressing books live in the ‘oh, that book’ pile if there are any) about soldiers and The Good Soldier nearly went into ‘oh, that book pile’. But this is the most wonderful thing about the book, how it plays with assumptions. It does this throughout and it is so fabulously written, it’s intriguing, ambiguous and completely confounds your expectations. It is a short book but it is also a slow book and in that sense, it makes me think that this is the sort of thing Ian McEwan has been striving to write all his life. Only, I can’t seem to get on with McEwan sometimes, I see pretension and not as much beauty in writing as in Ford. As it happens I saw the friend who recommended The Good Soldier last week and told him I was reading it, he was about to go into it in detail and I had to stop him. I didn’t want to know, I wanted to discover for myself. I now really want to read Parade’s End as well. Once some of the current book piles have been cleared, of course.

Sugar-crusted pear turnovers

Small pastries this afternoon and a huge sense of achievement… I made rough puff pastry for the first time and then used it to make these marvellous Sugar-crusted pear turnovers. Very happy! Both the pastry recipe and the pear turnovers were from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet. I did ‘consult’ Leith’s Baking Bible on puff pastry as well but Dan’s recipes are just nicer to follow. Leith’s is somehow a bit militant I find.

I really wanted to do puff pastry before my new course starts and I have less time and although this isn’t the proper puff, it’s still got almost a whole butter and tastes delicious. Here’s another photo:

 

Now I also need to do some bagels and then some early Christmas puddings and I still want to do proper puff pastry as well…

Just made, petrol jersey tunic dress

A few weeks ago, I treated myself to a new sewing machine, Singer heavy duty and it’s proving to be brilliant, helping me to get through a big pile of jersey fabrics I’ve accumulated over the years. First little project, a red marl T-shirt is documented here and I’ve also made a similar blue marl one with a straight hem since. Now that I’ve done a couple of basics, thought I’d attempt something a little more tricky:

 This is a Helmut Lang dress that I looked at for several months and then eventually got in the sales last year. It doesn’t look that great on the dummy – the dummy is a size too big and the dress quite fitted at the shoulder/ neck so apologies for that.

Over the past year, I’ve worn it a lot as a tunic over jeans, it’s very comfortable and a good fit and I’ve been meaning to make a pattern of it for years. The front is cut on bias, which I am not hugely experienced with but I thought I’d try. Was actually a lot easier than I thought. The pattern itself didn’t take long and, because the petrol jersey I was going to make it in was cheap, I didn’t bother toiling, just cut it. I did baste the front and back first though (no sleeve at this point) to see if I’d gone completely mad and to my utter surprise, it actually worked. It then took around 2 hours to make up – I pinned it and basted first. Here’s the finished result:

I did a cowl neck because it was easier and I hemmed everything (Helmut Lang one is not hemmed at front neck, sleeves or hem, which is a bit of a piss take considering the cost). Really happy with the result, the cowl neck looks great on and it’s very comfortable. Good colour too.  Still have a little bit of petrol jersey left, not sure if quite enough for a top but enough if I combine another colour. I still have quite a few…

How much fun can you have with salad

Last night’s dinner: hot smoked salmon, tender steam broccoli, tomatoes, shallots with some good olive oil, lemon and salt. Would purists scream at broccoli being cut up? Probably. Did not fancy using a knife hence chopped. Could have added some capers too, I forgot but don’t think that would have contributed in any way to vibrancy of this photo. Love it!

It was a double pixl’r’omatic – or rather saved picture with one filter then applied another on top. Don’t know why I never thought of that before! You can have a lot of fun with that I think and intend to try. Certainly intend to try. I mean, if you can have this much fun with a simple salad, imagine the possibilities…

Dress finished, yay!

Sometimes my vintage dress pattern purchases from ebay are a bit questionable. I’ve built a nice little collection of them but some I am not sure that I’ll ever make. I wasn’t too sure about this late fifties (I think but could easily be wrong) shift dress with a fitted midriff but then I thought below the knee length is quite big for winter and then I had this very soft charcoal wool with a bit of stretch that I thought could work. Anyway, for the past two weeks I’ve been working on the dress – again decided to make entirely by hand, otherwise would have been done in a day or two and, I finished it this afternoon. Here is the result: 

Gathered front panel, fitted waist, pleated skirt (darts in the back) and a pocket on the right hand side too! Totally impressed with that. Also rather like the photograph – turned black and white and then applied lomo.

 

Side and back views.

Side front closer up.

The pattern also featured a cummerbund and a detachable collar. I originally really liked the idea of a cummerbund but now quite like the austerity of the dress so not sure if I’ll make one – should be in a different fabric anyway. Collar idea I really like. Beaded or sequinned so shall have a rummage through ‘crafty cupboard as am sure there are beads and sequins about.

The Guardian’s measure this weekend had a rather good idea of wearing below the knee skirts/ dresses with bare legs and ankle boots – it actually worked quite well when I tried it on. Beloved thinks it’s quite sophisticated, don’t you know.