Karie Bookish Dot Net

Category Archives: Popular Culture


April 2012Who knew that bouncing about on a lifesize inflatable Stonehenge would be that much fun?

The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts is well under way. We have been to see various exhibitions and installations through Glasgow – and most have been okay but not that thrilling. The highlight has definitely been Jeremy Deller’s ‘Sacrilege’ – the inflatable Stonehenge you see above. As an interactive piece of public art, it scores highly on the interactive scale, though I am not sure about the art aspect of it.

‘Sacrilege’ is moving down to London for the Olympics (I think it was actually commissioned for the Games?), so if you fancy a bounce in Glasgow, you only have a few days left.

Eurovision Knitwear

Earlier this week I was doing some Eurovision punditry for ESC Insight (the podcasts will be available soon). As a result I can bring you Eurovision knitwear. Iceland’s promotional video offers great knitwear alongside its top-tipped, but slightly dull song.


PS. I’ll have a proper Eurovision blog post up closer to the actual contest. However, I can already say that I am tipping Sweden, Italy and Azerbaijan as the biggest scoring countries on the night.

Friday Linkage

I came home from my holidays Monday. Apparently I cannot leave the UK for seven days before the place is going to hell in a handbag as I have been rushed off my feet ever since returning. I’d share details but nobody really needs to hear me whine about my mountain of work!

Denmark was lovely – absolutely lovely – and I want to share some of the highlights with you. There will be knitting involved (of course there will) but there will also be some tales of history and culture. Before I do so in a series of posts, let me just link some of the things I’ve read/seen/enjoyed on the internet over the past few days..

Cakes & Books

When I asked my Twitter and Facebook pals about their favourite cakes, I was not prepared for the deluge of replies. Everybody has an opinion on cake, apparently. Who knew?

I have a handful of go-to cakes – the classic pound cake, upside-down caramel & pear spiced cake, lemon & raspberry meringue, Danish ‘dream cake’, and (the latest addition) chocolate and beetroot cake – but am always interested in expanding my repertoire. My good friend Liz makes a stunning, but super-easy, ‘medieval’ apple tart as well as the best lemon drizzle cake I have ever tasted. I need to try making both of those cakes. I have also sampled a take on Nigella’s chocolate/guinness cake which I’d be interested in tweaking a tiny bit.

Here’s a recipe for Caramel/apple cakeone of my cakes. It is not vegan, it is not gluten-free, and it is not healthy – I’m not one of those bloggers (and I’m also not a food stylist as you can tell from the photo) – but it is really tasty.

Upside-down caramel & pear cake

60 g butter
100 g brown sugar (you can use either light or dark depending upon how you feel about strong flavours)
4 pears (or apples – you can use either)

125 g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cinnamon
75 g dark treacle (use honey or syrup if you don’t like strong flavours)
1 egg, beaten lightly
125 g brown sugar (you can use either light or dark depending upon how you feel about strong flavours)
60g butter
125 ml milk

butter for greasing the pan

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.

Prep the pears by pealing them, removing the grit and dividing them into quarters. Place them neatly in the greased cake tin. Melt sugar and butter in a saucepan. Watch the mixture closely as it’ll turn to sticky, HOT caramel and you don’t want to burn it (or yourself). Pour the caramel mixture on top of the pears.

Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl: flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Mix the wet ingredients in another bowl: beaten egg, treacle, sugar, butter, and milk. Combine the wet & dry ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth.

Pour the battern on top of the pears and bake for approx 45 minutes. Test the centre of the cake with a knitting needle or other sharp, pointy implement. The needle should come out of the cake without anything sticking to it.

This cake is extra good the next day. I’d usually serve it with honey-laced Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche, but it is also very good on its own.

My baking soundtrack was courtesy of local indie pop band, Belle & Sebastian. If you ever wonder about my neighbourhood, go watch all their videos as they like to film them here in Glasgow’s West End. This one, Wrapped Up in Books, was filmed in Caledonia Books just down the road from me. I sometimes worry that my life has become one long Belle & Sebastian video: bookish, arty girl wearing retro clothes around the West End and looking a bit twee in her handknits. Hmmm… worse things could happen.

The Week That Was

Last weekend I took part in a crochet workshop taught by designer and author Carol Meldrum. Carol was running a class called “Love Wool? Love Crochet!” to celebrate Wool Week 2011 and to promote her new book, Love Crochet. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire workshop, but I have been bitten by the crochet bug ever since.

Following Carol’s pattern (from an old Rowan magazine), I made a necklace from some mercerised cotton and a leather string. It was super-easy and very quick. I think it took me about an hour from the initial idea to the finished object. The leather string’s a bit too skinny, but I’m still quite pleased with the result.

My partner snapped a photo of me wearing the necklace that very evening. I do apologise for lack of make-up/styling and the crap indoors lightning, but you can clearly see how smug I am about my lovely new accessory.

In other crafting news, I have purchased some black corduroy and I am very excited about making another skirt. I have a very, very specific idea for this skirt. I’ll need to try my idea first, though, as it could be a complete disaster. I tried googling my idea but everything I find is twee crap. I am many things, but I am not twee.

This week I have been grabbling with Apple as someone in Canada has set up an account using my email address as her AppleID. Personally I would have thought that Apple have checked that her email was her own, but apparently not. I am currently on my fourth (rather terse) email to Customer Support. I am not impressed. Definitely not impressed.

This week Something Very Good happened. Denmark finally decided that they had had enough of xenophobic party Danish People’s Party being the kingmaker in Danish politics. Cue Denmark’s first female prime minister.  The DPP played a part in me deciding to leave Denmark and when I heard they were not longer the power behind the throne, I shed a small tear. I cannot begin to express my relief – although I think it will take a lot of time to undo their damage (Denmark has some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe and you encounter casual racism everywhere).

The Danish essayist Carsten Jensen wrote an excellent column (google translate + tweaked quickly by me). I do not agree with everything he wrote, but this passage really struck a nerve.

Something went terribly wrong in Denmark during the past decade. We did not just damage the foreigners who found themselves among us, whether they were refugees or immigrants and their descendants. We did not just damage the countries whose domestic problems became ours thanks to reckless wars.We also did moral damage to ourselves, and the marginal, ambiguous election victory of the Left shows a lack of willingness to confront ourselves – something which we must inevitably must do, if we are to forge ahead and not only think about growth, but also morality and humanity. We have toyed with callousness too long, and this has left an unhealthy cynicism within us.

Here is to better times.

Desert Island Discs: Day 1

I enjoy listening to Desert Island Discs on my iPod as I make my way to work. The people you think will be interesting rarely are; the people I don’t know or feel indifferent towards end up my favourites. Lady Caroline Cranbrook‘s episode was an absolute joy, for instance.

And so for my own pleasure (and indulgence), I decided to make my own Desert Island Disc iPod playlist. I added far more than eight records to my playlist, of course, but for your listening pleasure I shall stick to eight records (one per entry) and even add a few words.

I grew up in a very large family filled with people obsessed with (mostly American) pop culture circa 1940-1965. This recent Guardian article on so-called superfans rattled me because I had no idea that this sort of behaviour was in any way unusual. I grew up surrounded by pop culture memorabilia: big murals of Sinatra et al on the walls, concert tickets carefully curated, mountains of carefully sourced vinyls, autographs, signed photos, VHS tapes of 1940s musicals, and handwritten databases detailing when this or that song was recorded. What do you mean your childhood wasn’t like that?

Over dinner my uncles would toss out the first names of stars, as though they knew them personally: Frank, Dean, Bing .. Occasionally they did know the people they gossiped about. My dotty aunt T. briefly dated Gustav. My other dotty aunt A. semi-stalked Otto for four decades. Looking back, I can see that this approved pop culture was predominantly white pop culture. It was also two or three decades out of sync with contemporary pop culture.

My gran has always loved Fats Domino. I remember her playing Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame and I Hear You Knocking whenever my uncles weren’t around (“Fats is okay, but he’s no Frank, if you know what I mean” – oh, I can hear them). And for me Fats Domino is about happiness, about feeling loved and about a tiny glimpse of freedom: there is a world beyond my large, chaotic family and so many things to discover.

I am the product of my family, of course. I had a phase of obsessively hoarding bootlegs, travelling to foreign countries for concerts, subscribing to mailing lists and knowing the name of certain musicians’ dogs – but unlike my uncles it did not turn into a lifestyle. To this day, I have a thing for 1940s MGM musicals and I’m still on a first-name basis with Frank – but it is Fats Domino that I keep coming back to.

Knitting Woe-Woes

Today I was going to show you a photo of Norn and tell you about its progress, but the camera has gone to work with my Other Half.

Downtown Glasgow is currently being transformed into a slice of Philadelphia for a Brad Pitt film shoot and Dave wanted to take photos of Philly taxis, the JFK Boulevard street signs and whatnot. I had a look yesterday afternoon and it feels slightly surreal to see the American flag flying over the Glasgow City Chambers. Oh, and Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrived in Glasgow yesterday. Cue media madness.

Let’s keep things in perspective, though, and talk about much more important matters such as my Norn jumper. You may remember that I posted a photo on Monday:

Look at that! Beautiful, squishy jumper-in-progress. Lovely colours, just-enough-interest colourwork and heavenly soft. I look at that photo and I’m beaming like someone’s mum.

Monday evening I realised that four rows down the colourwork was off to by one stitch throughout half the back. Two of my knitting friends couldn’t see the flaw, but I knew a half-the-back’s worth of one-stitch-off-ness would bother me.

Tuesday afternoon, I gently pulled the jumper off the needles and started ripping out the four rows. Then I paused.

Off the needles Norn looked .. different. Norn looked very different. Norn looked .. big. I grabbed the tape measure and had a look. Then I measured myself (just to make doubly-sure).

Norn had eight inches of ease.

I checked my gauge. I had an acceptable gauge, though not bang on target. I did knitterly maths. Hmmm. And then I ripped out Norn.

So, while my own knitting is in time-out, let me mention something else. I am not a stitcher, but I recently came across a stunning sampler. I asked my very good friend, Paula (who is a marvellous stitcher) about these samplers and she pointed me in the direction of Ackworth Quaker Samplers. Then Paula mentioned there was a knitting connection: Quaker pinball knitting.

I found more details on Ravelry: the pinballs are knitted intarsia-style on 0.8mm needles using sewing thread (I feel faint just writing that!). They are gorgeous. The beyond-excellent Needleprint blog has an entry on makkin’ wires for the pinballs and just what makkin wires the girls at Ackworth would have had at their disposal.

That sort of thing really does add perspective to my present knitting woes. Norn is knitted in double-knitting on 4mm needles. Thick, thick wool on thick, thick needles and no intarsia in sight. Who am I to feel slightly blue and moan about “a mountain of knitting”? So, I’m going to grab my trustworthy 4mm needles and cast on for a size smaller – and that’s the silver-lining right there: fewer stitches!

Why the Overlap?

A good friend of mine, Emme, went to her knitting group the other day and noticed something (link in Danish): there is a huge overlap between knitters & people who read scifi/fantasy. She notes that Ravelry has at least 65 groups dedicated to fantasy but has just two groups for Copenhagen knitters. And Emme is really surprised by this overlap between scifi/fantasy-reading and knitting: “I don’t get it”.

My first thought? “It’s a geek thing.” Emme responded to say that my response was a cop-out, it had to be something a bit more profound.  And so I’d like to ask you, dear readers, why this overlap between scifi & fantasy geeks and knitters?

(From my own observations, there are also huge overlaps called “librarians & knitting” and “GLBT-orientation & knitting”, but we’ll have those discussions another day..)

I like reading books, full stop. I like imagination. I like books that take our mundane lives and turn them inside out; books that take our world and expand upon it. Many of my favourite books tend towards the speculative end of the spectrum with a healthy dollop of misanthropy and dystopia. And I’m horrifyingly entertained by dragons, airships, and ray guns (not necessarily in the same book).

And I knit.

And I think it has to do with imagination and creative space. Knitting is just a ball of string which you loop together in a manner which you find pleasing. You can have an entire jumper in a ball of wool: it’s bigger on the inside, if you like. You can knit optical illusions, crochet ray guns and buy steampunk-themed patterns. And make your own chainmail, of course. All these things that you can create yourself whilst playing with numbers and watching Game of Thrones – what’s not to like?

(Or could it just be that fantasy/scifi happen to be very, very popular genres?)

I Saw the Best Minds of the Rebellion Eaten by Sarlacc…

Who on earth likes both Star Wars and 20thC poetry? ME! And this is one of the funniest things I have seen on the internet this week:

so much depends

a scarred young

stitched with cyber

beneath the black

Or how about

For I have ordered them, ordered them all—
Have crewed the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have crewed my life with storm-troop goons;
I know clones dying with a dying fall,
And Alderaan, beneath the Death Star’s doom
The soundless, vacuum-muted boom.

Or indeed

There died Hunter Fugitive.
And the best of them, among them
For old Boba gone in the teeth
For a botched storyline.

There is just a smattering of Shakespeare in the linked post, which is fine by me, but I do think this cries out for some rock’n’roll 17th C poetry. A bit of Andrew Marvell – but sadly filking is beyond my abilities. I can but dream.

Lovely Things

This has to be my song of summer 2011. It’s so lovely in all its pomo pop glory.

Other lovely things right now:

  • I find this picture of David Tennant in the Fright Night remake strangely compelling. I always did have a weakness for almost-Glaswegian men wearing eyeliner.
  • “Not since Bowie before him had anyone been as responsible for raising awkward questions between parents and their sons as Brett Anderson.” Suede is back in fashion here in the UK – so the media say. Suede fell hard from grace when fey, lithe men wearing girls’ shirts were displaced by laddish beer lout music (i.e. Oasis). I particularly liked the quote: “Apparently it wasn’t just me who’d been sat at home in 1995 doused in glitter and eyeliner watching Performance on repeat” .. oh no, dear journalist, oh no.
  • I should rewatch Velvet Goldmine soon too.
  • Moving on from eyeliner and glitter, how about a Warhol Spock? Okay, so it’s Leonard Nimoy wearing makeup but it’s slightly different..
  • My beloved kiwi band The Phoenix Foundation is being championed by the mighty hipster godfather himself, Jarvis Cocker. Going Fishing is always on my iPod. Kiwi music is the best, honestly.

And with that, I am off to back my bag. Not-so-sunny Aberdeenshire awaits and I have books and knitting to pack.