Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Obligatory 2013 Mosaic

Here is approximately what I made in 2013.
Finishes 2013
Actually it was more than this - about another ten - but the Mosaic Maker will only let me have 36 pictures. There's been a lot of sewing but also enough knitting to keep it respectable. There has even been crochet, although I haven't had a chance to take a photo of the blanket I've currently got draped artistically over my pyjamas. Let's not mention all the projects I've started that either got ditched or await my renewed interest!

As Pooch remarked over dinner (consisting of crab's legs, pickles, rice, tempura and sashimi), if anyone had told us a year ago that as 2013 ended we'd be living together in Tokyo we both would have suggested they sod off. In fact if anyone had claimed to be sure we'd still be together now we probably would have told them to go and do it elsewhere. I've gained a niece, remarried Pooch, moved country, managed umpteen crises at work, left my job, become a housewife and eaten large quantities of chocolate along the way. If 2014 holds just half as much activity I'll be very happy with that.

I hope you all have the New Years Eve you want and the 2014 you deserve.

PS: I did finish the book I was reading, and thus end the year on an even number. Oompah!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Trip to Hakone and Mount Fuji

Pooch pondered and researched whether we should go away for a night before the new year week kicked off here for ten long days. He decided against on Thursday night then changed his mind at 8.30am on Friday and by 9.30am we were on our way. I am very happy he did! We headed for the Hakone area and stayed in the most amazing Hotel Fujiya. The whole area is interlaced with hot springs and is therefore absolutely packed when there are public holidays - like the new year week which most of the country gets off. That's why if we were going to go it really needed to be before the national getaway began. This is it.
You can't really see the hotel but if you click on the hotel link in the last paragraph you'll see how amazing it is. Very traditional and with its own public baths fed by the hot springs. There were bell hops inside who were actually dressed like this and bowed to greet you.
This is the view from our room, which was very old world luxurious with antique furniture and fittings.
One of the public lounges - called the 'Magic Room' - all velvet and leather.
And then there were the gardens which Pooch ventured out into while I was still asleep.
Hotel Fujika Garden in the Snow
Hotel Fujika Garden in the Snow
Hotel Fujika Garden in the Snow

Pooch and I made full use of the swimming pool which was heated by the hot springs and very warm. I then headed off to the women's public bath. Fortunately there was a bell hop changing the towels who was able to talk me through the process as I was the only non-Japanese there. Essentially you get undressed and leave your clothes in a basket in the changing room. Then, butt naked, you go into the spa and sit on a little stool while washing yourself thoroughly. There is also a small bucket for sluicing yourself. You can wash your hair too at this point or just put it up. Then once you are very clean you get into the public bath which is very hot and completely clear. If you get too hot you can stand up and perch on the side to cool off, then you get back in. When in the water you sit still and it comes up to about your shoulders. Once suitably relaxed you get out, have another wash and then go back out into the changing area, pick up a towel, and get dressed. I know not everyone is comfy being naked in front of strangers, but having been a life model I've never had a problem with it and everyone is very respectful. Having said that the 10-ish year old girl who was there with her Mum had obviously never seen such pale flesh in the flesh and did gawp a bit until her Mum prodded her! No photos from this bit, obviously, but this is me afterwards - amazingly relaxed and full of love for the world. 
Hotel Fujika Me Post Spa

As you can see from all the outdoor photos, it had snowed - starting the previous afternoon shortly after we arrived. We had planned to do what we did on Saturday on Friday afternoon but with the snow coming down, visibility was awful. Regretfully moving a visit to the Lalique Museum to some future point, we moved the Friday agenda to Saturday and I am really glad we did. After the local train...
...came a funicular and then two cable cars.
Cable Car mechanism
And a first view of Mount Fuji!
It's such a Japanese icon and I'd wanted to see it for decades so it was rather awe inspiring when I finally did. Once at the top, which was really cold, there was lots more gawping at it.
Then another cable car down to where the boat across the lake began.
Boat Approach
What was essentially a tour boat had been made to look so much better! Pooch spent most of his time out on the poop deck (pooch deck) imagining he was the Captain.
It was very beautiful.

We got back to Tokyo on Saturday in time for dinner and both felt like we'd been away much longer than one night. It was such a beautiful place. I am definitely going to be going back when the weather is warmer - as well as the Lalique Museum there are a number of art museums with impressionist and french art collections which I would love to take my time strolling through. Pooch also intends to climb Mount Fuji in the summer (crazy fool) and so we may be able to combine that and my visit with my birthday and another stay in the amazing hotel!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Final Books of 2013 #35 - #53

Click on the 'Book Review' label in the left menu for the other reviews. My others this year have been January, April and July so not exactly very frequent, but I have been reading the whole time so get ready for a motherload. Pictures are linked to am amazon affiliates account, but I just want them for illustrations so don't worry about the clicking through to buy thing.

#35 One Block Wonders Encore

An interesting way of making hexagonally tessellated quilts using triangles cut in strips based on the repeat of the fabric. You need a multiple of 6 repeats so depending on the length of the repeat and the size of your triangle this could eat up a lot of fabric. This is the technique used on one of my favourite quilts from this year's Festival. A la this one:
The technique being basically what I just said, this book adds a few curve balls with ways to create 3-d effects and then fills up the rest with patterns. Good read but not really needed if you're just looking for instructions. 

#36 Bruno, Chief of Police
by Martin Walker
#37 Dark Vineyard
#38 Black Diamond
#39 The Crowded Grave
#40 Bruno and the Pere Noel (A Kindle freebie short story)
A series recommended by Liz and something I am very glad I followed up on. Plus only £1.20 ish on Amazon as a kindle download. Bruno is the town policeman in a small french town with a history of wine, truffles and resistance fighting. This first book in the series introduces all the people you get to know during the series and the various relationships, good and bad, between them. It all reminds me of where my cousin lives in France and the stories she has told me about local politics and goings on. I really enjoy the books, as you can see from my having gobbled four of them in six months. The seasonal short story isn't great but is a nice gift to people who are already keen on the series. 

#41 The Moor 
by Laurie King
This is the latest in the series focusing on Sherlock Holmes' wife (hmph) with this one harking back to the hound of the baskervilles and the way the same house and area has developed some 20 (?) years later. I do find these books rather compelling, despite the whole nonsense of this woman being Holmes' wife. Mind you some aspects of their relationship do remind me of Pooch and I which makes me think the author has a rather trying partner in a background. Despite all this they are well written and if you are a Sherlock aficionado and know all the real stories backwards they do pick up on details within them rather cleverly. 

#42 Japanese Fairy Tales
by Yei Theodora Ozaki
My copy was a kindle freebie and had no illustrations but it looks like for 61p you now get a proper cover and drawings so that seems like a bargain. I downloaded this when the move to japan was first mooted and read it on the DLR over about 2 months. Each story is a few pages long and they vary from the "and then he died which was a good thing" type ending to "and they lived happily ever after". There were many serpents, dragons and centipedes. There was also a king who lived under the sea who came up quite a lot. A lot of people wanted children but couldn't have any and many others worked very hard and were kind to their neighbours even though they were mingers. Overall it gave a lovely insight into the traditional values of the japanese and was well worth a read if you are interested in their culture. 

#43 Death in Hyde Park
by Robin Paige 
Another in this never ending series of cosy mysteries. This one brings in anarchists and a bit of women's lib all against the background of the king's coronation. Naughty policeman and vanishing editors abound. These are really nice to read. Relaxing and enjoyable. 

#44 Cocaine Blues
by Kerry Greenwood
Although I am a big fan of the australian tv series (you get used to the accents) which is now at the end of the second series, I had not experienced any of the books until this one. This, the first in the series, was an unabridged audiobook and I listened very intently as it really was rather good. This isn't high art and probably falls quite nicely into the same category as the Paige series at #43 - these are books that aren't going to shock you despite the fact they have moderate sex and, in this case, drugs in. They hold your interest but you won;t be compelled to stay up all night to see what happens next. I'll definitely be putting the rest on my wishlist for the future. 

#45 Raising Steam
by Terry Pratchett
The fortieth Discworld book and as everyone says, surely one of the last to appear considering wonderful Sir Terry has Altzheimers. As I read the first few pages I almost groaned as this was not the quality I had grown to love in the previous 39 books. However, it quickly picked up and then it was like being on a rollercoaster as we sped through the story which brought in lots of favourite characters doing little cameos as well as lots of the Patrician and Moist Von Lipwig who, although he usually annoys me, was actually rather good in this. Clearly the railway has come to Ankh Morpork and it coincides with a dwarf civil war. Train spotters abound and it all comes down to an impressive chase and battle at the end. Like all the best books, I was saddened that it ended, but happy that I'd read it. 

#46 Beware of the Trains
by Edmund Crispin
#47 Fen Country
Two classics from the golden age of crime fiction. Short stories which can be read as diy puzzles or just as simple stories, which is the way I like to approach them. Gervase Fin appears throughout helping the police and being all intelligent and so on. Great stuff. 

#48 The Viaduct Murder
by Ronald Knox
This was an experiment for me since I don't know this series but thought I'd give it a whirl. Four friends find a member of the golf club dead on the course. The police call it an accident but they are sure it can't be. It was quite funny in places as they all try out their detective skills. 

#49 Operation Pax 
by Michael Innes
This was a very odd and unsettling book. A small time crook gets desperate and seems to try and rape a girl in the middle of the countryside. To his surprise she beats him up and when he seeks help from a local house he ends up really in the poo. You have absolutely zero empathy for this guy, but meanwhile we're introduced to war refugees, kidnapping, biological warfare, animal cruelty, human experimentation, star-crossed lovers, helicopters, fast cars and more. It was all together unlike any previous Inspector Appleby stories. Not one to start with if you want to try this series. 

#50 Lestrade and the Sawdust Ring
by M J Trow
These books are really quite bizarre. It is Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories but as a real man, not the idiot he is portrayed as in those stories. In all these books he picks up a large number of fairly serious and painful injuries in the course of his duty. Here he goes undercover with a circus for reasons I can't remember now but it is all highly unorthodox. I do love this series - another one Liz introduced me to - and look forward to the next. 

#51 Lonesome Road
by Patricia Wentworth
Good old Miss Silver. This is what Miss Marple would have been like had she had to work as a Governess for 30 years or so. Adorable stories - their only downside tending to be how the women want nothing more than to be crushed in a strong man's arms until it bruises them. Great cosy mysteries. In this one Miss Silver must prevent the murder of her hostess who, although lovely, is disliked by most of her relatives. 

#52 Bertie and the Tin Man
by Peter Lovesey
The premise of this series is very silly. King Edward is a secret detective, as well as a real legover merchant, and goes about solving crimes. In this one he is convinced a jockey friend was murdered although the police are happy that it is a natural death. To solve the crime he has to have sex with a number of women and put on various lowly outfits to disguise himself as a commoner. Silly but harmless. 

#53 Bryant and May and the Invisible Code
by Christopher Fowler
The tenth in the series and I swear they keep getting better. The plot turns in this one are fiendish. Bryant and May are two elderly detectives who head the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London which answers to the home office. In this story they get an SOS from their former arch nemesis, Oscar Cassavian, who is worried about his wife. There follows all sorts of ups and downs and wrong turns before the secret is finally revealed. As I have said before, I love the London settings of these books as well as the peculiar flights of fancy that end up bringing in witchcraft and clairvoyance. Brilliant, modern detective series. 

It seems sad to end the year on an odd number so I shall endeavor to finish my current read (another of the Robin Paige books) before the end of the year. For more intelligent book reviews do head over to Liz's blog as she reads a much wider selection of things than me, as well as being a demon knitter!

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