Just read: Britain’s Rottenest Years

I haven’t finalised my list of goals for 2012 but one of them is going to be keeping a track of every book I read.

The first finish of the year was a pop history book: Britain’s Rottenest Years by Derek Wilson. It covers ten separate years from the past 2000 that that make 21st century recession and riots look like fairy stories of the over-enthusiastic media. It was a bit of a random pick-up from Shipley Library – I don’t usually like list books but it sounded more interesting than the others there.

Because it covers ten different time periods/situations, it’s inevitable that some are going to be more interesting to me/the reader than others. I’m usually considerably more interested in post-industrial revolution/20th century history but after reading the excellent Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (a horrible title but essentially just a fab social history of the 14th century) last month, I was more interested in the earlier chapters of Rottenest Years – Boudicca (who I haven’t read about since primary school), the harrowing of the North, the Black Death and the mysterious dry fog of 1783. The latter chapters – 1812, 1936-7 and 1981 – actually left me pretty cold (the latter especially as it felt a little … held back).

As expected, it was an easy read and like all these overview books should do, it’s inspired me to look further into the bits that did interest me. I am glad that I borrowed it from the library rather than bought it though – it’s not the type of thing I’d properly read a second time.

3BT – surrounded, distracted, rewarded

1. I wake up just before dawn to the sound of some low half-barks – Lily getting excited in her sleep. She’s still in her bed so I go to her to soothe her. Next time I wake up, perhaps an hour or so later, she’s lying in between us, on her back with her paws in the air, Carla is sat on my chest purring and Boron is fast asleep on my head. The best way to wake up.

2. On the bus, my ears and brain are distracted by a lecture on human pre-history, my hands and eyes by granny squares.

3. After a difficult rehearsal, I need cake. Lots of cake. Then I spot it – a fancy, expensive cake reduced to clear for just 99p.

3BT – dishwashing symphony, plans, new decade

1. The pots and pans peal sonorously in the ceramic sink.

2. The end of the year & decade encourages me to reflect, to plan. A number of friends are doing “101 goals in 1001 days” but I think that’s too many and too long for me – I’d either end up listing things I didn’t really want to do or lose momentum and fall short. I decide to come up with 10 for 2010 instead.

3. We don’t have TV (no one thinks of the radio) and all our watches & phones are out of sync so there is no countdown to midnight. When we guess it’s about the right time, we exchange ‘happy new year’s and when I open the balcony door, the cacophony of bangs & whoops tells us we’re about right. I step out onto the balcony alone but Dathan & Olli soon join me. While fireworks boom and Chinese lanterns rise in the distance, we discuss our thoughts on the overriding themes of recent decades*, Jordan Catalano & trench warfare/the Somme. The great silver moon watches us throughout.

* Negatively, I agree with the Hadley Freeman article in the Guardian about the Noughties (oh, how I hate that word) being a decade defined by fakery – fake reality (such as reality TV), fake reasons for going to war, fake science and of course, a fake election to start with – but more positively, I think it’s been a decade of reversing the planet (and people) abuse of the previous decades. It obviously started well before 2000 but it’s gone mainstream this decade – more people care about finding ethical and environmentally-friendly alternatives now than they did in the past. There is still a long way to go of course.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve been learning to drive, belly-dance and crochet. Not at the same time, mind you.

The driving thing came about because I’d said in, ooh, 2002 that I’d get around to driving one day. In July, Katherine thought six years was long enough for me to arrange my own “one day” and very nicely bought me some lessons with her driving instructor neighbour to force me into it.

Now the thing about driving lessons is this: it turns out it involves piloting a tonne of metal around the roads surrounded by other tonnes of metal. It’s SCARY. Speeds feel a helluva lot faster when I’m behind the wheel. 30mph feels like I’m about to break the sound barrier, which at least would distort the sound of my own screaming.

I’ve had four hours of lessons so far (got another one tomorrow morning) and about an hour going around in circles in an empty car park with John to practise my steering. It’s going … ok. I’m not a natural but given I had nothing except the vaguest idea about driving before (“a brake is for stopping, you say?”), I think it’s going ok. I’m looking forward to being a bit better on the roads so I can practise just tootling around with John instead of fannying around in a circle on an industrial estate.

Katherine is to blame for the belly dancing too. Well, partially to blame. We decided we were going to do a course together this year and after drawing up a spreadsheet listing all the possibilities (location/day/requirement of no fish involved), we ended up with belly dancing. It’s also going … ok. Again, we’re not naturals; in fact, we’re considerably less coordinated than we ever thought and it’s scary showing off that lack of coordination in front of a room full of people – but most important, to ourselves in giant mirrors. Gah. But it’s something new and it’s exercise, and my my, some of the pelvic circle and shifts feel nice on my rather stiff lower back.

Crochet is much easier than driving or belly dancing, and involved far less clutch control and jigging about. I wanted to learn how to do it after the wirework workshop in Liverpool last month – I thought it was a really nice technique for use with wire so thought I’d try it out on yarn first. In my first week, I made a large number of circles using the double crochet and triple crochet stitches (which instantly became cat hats) to practise but then found some dishcloth cotton in a great green colour at the wool place in the market for 70p a ball and that inspired me to stretch myself and make a cotton shopping bag.

I kinda improvised around a random pattern I found. I started off with a square base rather than a round one, had 28 stitches/holes rather than 36 and did more rows – but the handle and finishing off instructions were great – very neat. (I reinforced the spots where the handles join the bag though. It didn’t feel strong enough to me.)

I’m very happy with the finished bag – it’s very stretchy and feels strong – and I’m delighted to have figured out how to do the holey/net stuff too. Double and triple crochet didn’t produce something different enough from knitting for me to be interested pursuing it but I like the idea of being able to do different things with it, like that net or granny squares.

On the knitting front though, I knitted two super chunky scarves for me and John yesterday (John’s is the orangey thing at the bottom of the string bag). Both scarves would have been better with a third ball of wool (I like them extra long) but are both fine – neat – with just the two balls I used. Each scarf took about two hours to knit (while I was listening to Joanna Bourke’s ‘Eyewitness: A History of Twentieth Century Britain’ – some of the accounts are a bit waffly but otherwise bloody excellent stuff) and is super snuggy. Bring on the cold winter.