Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January ticking over

I don't seem to have checked in here for a bit. An agreeable number of small, fairly constructive projects and events have been occupying me, here are one or two.

My first week or so of recording for Librivox. I've used them a lot over the last couple of years, and very much admire the aims and ethos of the project, an appreciation which has grown since actually becoming involved, it really is a work of patience and integrity. It struck to me as a worthwhile and useful outside activity to which I could commit some time and effort without in fact having to leave the house. It does demand, however, an early start - for quiet, solitude, concentration, lack of self-consciousness and free time on the big computer -  respecting external deadlines, learning some new technical stuff with the software which I find not intuitive and fairly challenging - they don't turn anyone away because of their reading skills or lack of them, but do insist on the recording quality being as good as possible and a level of self-editing with it. I also find that it's helping with the lack of focus I mentioned before; reading with a view to reading aloud demands an attention to detail and meaning, like making yourself chew small mouthfuls. I'm getting over my intense, if fairly normal, dislike of my own recorded voice, and possibly improving it a bit, trying, with care but not too much artifice, to smooth out the staccato crackle I always thought made me sound like a petulant six year old, and the occasional sliding into sloppy Estuary vowels (Hertfordshire isn't quite on the Thames estuary, it's true, but it's heading that way.).

All of which is doing me great good, and it's also rather fun.

Early morning recording session

As may be seen, my recording arrangements are rather makeshift. I very quickly realised that the flimsy cheap desktop microphone is unsatisfactory, or rather unsatisfying, since with a bit of fiddling with the software an adequate sound track can be achieved, but I find myself hankering for something better, more solid, more directed, which doesn't require balancing on a pile of books and total physical immobility other than moving one's lips, and, I admit it, which looks rather more the business. Another volunteer compared it to taking up tennis, at first you make do with your cousin's old cast-off racket, then when you start really enjoying the game you start wanting a good one of your own. So I've got a rather nice looking Samson on a little stand on order; it's cheaper than a tennis racket, honestly.

While with many of the more obscure texts one might be inclined to wonder why bother to record them and who will ever listen, I can see that that's not entirely the point, it's really more like archiving or even archaeology, a question of faithful and patient excavation and recording, in the broader sense of the word. Yet despite all the work that Librivox have put in over the last ten years (and they don't object to duplication anyway), there are plenty of interesting and delightful books still unrecorded.  So far, and it's been fairly slow going to get the hang of what I'm doing, I've recorded half a dozen Alice Meynell poems, one of a collection of Irish folk and fairly tales, collected by Yeats and Lady Wilde and others, about a smartarse atheist priest who gets his comeuppance, and I'm working on two chapters of the second book of William Morris's The Well at the World's End, of which I'm also listening to the first book. Odd to be immersing so in Victoriana, much of it so heavy, ornate, ponderous and melancholy, like some of the furniture I grew up with. Yet beyond the distracting noise of the language, Meynell's 'thees' and 'thous' and aura of religiosity, and Morris's sometimes quite impenetrable emblazoned mediaeval pastiche, sometimes some true and fresh psychological awareness or sweet originality of observation shines through. Good to be renewing my fondness for Morris too, apart from anything else, I think, despite the historical image he has sadly inherited of Rosetti's put-upon cuckold, consoling himself with beardy, romantic Utopianism and pretty curtains, he honestly liked and wanted to understand women in a spirit of real generosity, friendship and admiration.


Still knitting plenty, of course, amongst which my first foray into Icelandic wool, which was in fact three balls of the standard (ie pretty heavy) weight Lopi which I bought not in Iceland but Amsterdam back in September. I felted a sample of it, and went on to make a felt hat. Long ago I had a Nepalese round hat, a kind of pill box shape with a gold-yellow crown and a coloured patterned band around it, which fitted perfectly and always made me feel good. Don't know what happened to it, but I've often thought I'd like to re-create something like it. On this occasion I did not succeed.

The combination of the felting and the depth of the crown looked kind of nice off but wearing it feels like my head is being squeezed inward and upward (can't bring myself to enlarge this photo).  I made the design myself, tulips from Amsterdam, I'm fond of yellow tulips and like ochre shades but can't wear any great expanse of them. However, I have found another use for it as a receptacle for other knitting.


Trouble is the tulips are upside down, I should have stuck with an abstract pattern. It would work quite well as a busker's hat for collecting money in.

I've been on a mitten-making binge too, here are a couple of mitten still lifes.

I find homes for them or keep them.

Even more totally frivolous playing about with colour, I discovered this site, where you can make those kind of colour palettes I see all the time on Pinterest and elsewhere. You simply upload a photo URL, or use one they randomy generate, to pick out colours and make a palette selection, either by clicking directly on an area of the photo or using the grid of shades which the software automatically extracts for you. Here's one from a photo I took of the lake in Reykjavik in the twilight:

and another of a Reykjavik street view, I loved having mountains at the end of the street

and another of darling Molly in the garden on a summer day, not long before she left us

People use them supposedly for decorating schemes, or quilts, or their next season's wardrobe, or whatever, but while I like to imagine knitting handsome Icelandic wool pullovers from the colours of the townscapes, I probably won't get around to it, really it's just a way of pleasantly idling a few minutes when I doubtless ought to be doing something more useful.

Like pulling the school bus out of the ditch just up the road, where it finished up on a morning of scarcely visible black ice which took everyone by surprise:

Not having access to the heavy plant required for this task, I couldn't have done this, though I did go up and offer the lady driver shelter and a cup of coffee, and to commiserate with her on her vehicle's de-roaded state, sharing with her the memory of the time when a full cement mixer truck had done the same thing and had to be left there overnight, no longer turning so presumably the concrete within must have solidified and had to be extracted by heaven knows what process. She declined the coffee as she was waiting for her boss to come and sort things out, the children having been already transferred to another bus. Indeed, a surprising number of people appeared as from nowhere, offering their help and company and curiosity, including Victor of course, next to whose patch the event occurred:

Then Ludovic from next door-but-one who works for the municipality  in some capacity with gear and tackle and some other blokes with a van and the shiny blue commune tractor arrived and the consequent confab lasted a good hour or so, by which time I, like Victor, had retired back to the house, taking photos from the upstairs window. Finally the bus was removed from the ditch and driven off, and life in the village resumed its habitual January quiet.

Which quiet I am greatly enjoying, with some worthwhile projects and agreeable home-based activities, a few other plans still untroublingly small on the horizon. The ice on the road was exceptional, the winter is generally mild and manageable. I walk often, dance sometimes, scarcely visit the garden, mull but don't mope. Sic transit January. Time to go make postcards of my sister's quilts.


Avus said...

Interesting and varied post, Lucy.

Black ice is a coach driver's nightmare (says he who used to drive them).The rear wheel drive added to the length of the vehicle gives very great "leverage". Once her back starts to slide there is no stopping her!

the polish chick said...

missed you. i miss my blog, too, but am not quite ready to transcribe our big changes within its pages. sometimes it's good to go do something different, and that, it seems, you have accomplished very thoroughly and very well.

marja-leena said...

As always, I enjoy your posts, rather like conversations over a cup of coffee, about your varied creative activities. I chuckled over the upside down felt hat cum receptacle. Waste not...etc. Yeeps re the school bus so close to home.

Catalyst said...

I have just gone to the Librivox web site, discovering it for the first time. What a wonder! You must tell me when you have completed something so I can find it and listen.

'Twould be a wonder to hear your voice for the first time, unless you are Lucy Perry, whom I have just discovered on that site, reading a very old book of recipes for each day of the year.

Lesley said...

I do think it's intelligent of Librivox to allow duplicates: sometimes I just give up on a recording because the voice just sounds wrong. This often happens with RL Stevenson read by over-ripe fruity American baritones.

Crafty Green Poet said...

The recording project sounds very interesting and worthwhile. I like your knitting projects too, i can't knit at all

Zhoen said...

I like your hat/bowl. The flowers look happy enough mirrored, seeing life from a different angle.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Yes, wonderful post and projects. I didn't know anything about Librivox but am very impressed with your joining it and your patient attention to technical and aesthetic professionalism, But that's you, innit? And I love the hat-who-became-a-bowl.

Roderick Robinson said...

So we both find ourselves among alien corn albeit with a difference: I am guided by V with her soaring soprano voice, and you are alone, paddling your own canoe. I am fascinated by the technicalities of what you are doing, although I realise that too many can be a reader's turn-off. Years ago I set out to record myself and passed through several of the stages you experienced (The sudden need for new and - one hopes - shinier technology re. the microphone.) How many false starts? How many readings spoiled (in your mind anyway) by some aural fluff? What degree of alienation with the outside world - a world unsympathetic with your move towards hermeticism?

I was going to talk about leaving a new sort of legacy but then I remembered you have been there before with your spoken tour of the French church for that website beginning with Q. And yes you have described co-existence with that strange other form of yourself, the one where all spoken paths over decades meet to create this imperfect aura that is you but not you. But without the prospect, I suspect, of true redemption as happened to me when V told me I had a baritone voice. Ah, thank God, I was finally categorisable.

And then - the re-asserted Autolycus that you are - becomes embrangled with the school bus, at odds in the ditch. A world of small yet vital detail that announces, through the politest of foghorns, that those who allow their writing to fall in desuetude because "there's nothing to write about" should take time off and reflect.

In the best Lucyian (Lucullan?) tradition.

Pam said...

More prosaically, I do like your knitting. I'm awed at someone who can invent a tulip pattern. Very clever.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

Avus - I can imagine. I don't think there was probably anything very dramatic about the coaches slide into the ditch, in fact she said she had slowed right down and edged over to let a car pass, the car drivers on these back roads are not always reasonable and there was no reason for her to have to take that risk in that spot if the car had been more sensible.

PC - thanks we miss you on your blog too, but think of you often and hope the move is going as well as possible.

ML - well, that's rather how blogging has become, I think, an occasional chat and update over coffee, but that's fine. As I said to Avus, the coach wasn't really posing a danger to anyone - they don't pass directly be the house anyway - and I think it was better for her to be closer to the houses, more people to offer help. Receptacles for knitting are always welcome!

Cat - thanks, I don't know when the collaborative things I'm involved with will be complete. It is a great resource, unfortunately some of the readers are quite difficult to listen to, I tend to find that if you find a voice you like it's better to follow up their readings than try to slog with texts you want to hear read badly.

Lesley - see my comments to Catalyst just above. In fact there was a volume of poems by and obscure male American poet of the Civil War era, I think, which I thought of volunteering for but decided my quite youthful sounding female British voice would simply be unsuitable. They do keep a voluntary accents database for volunteers, but it's not extensive, and as you opt for what you want to read, you aren't searched for, it's not very useful really. As you say, the potential to duplicate is sensible, and more popular texts often are.

CGP - thanks. Knitting has to grab you really, it would be time consuming and very boring otherwise! The recording seems to me quite a low impact form of preserving of stuff, and I don't have to travel anywhere to do it!

Zhoen - cheers, maybe I could say they were hellebores!

Natalie - thank you for the compliment. I sometimes like to learn something new, good for the synapses!

Robbie - thanks dear heart, you make me smile as ever. New microphone arrived during the week, it really is tasty, heavy and solid and the sound is so much better, hardly any background noise - 'aural fluff' - at all. When it comes to repairing mistakes, for short poems etc I tend to just do them again still, for longer passages it's needs cut, copy, patch and paste with the software which is still challenging. I did one or two recordings for Q, as well as some of Heather D reading too, but Dave used to do most of the polishing with those, even including stripping audio from video files, compacting them into MP3s etc and I didn't have much idea what I was doing, I understand now just how much work this was. The software (Audacity) has come on quite a bit mind, and there are plenty of video tutorials to help. I do like 'embrangled'!

Pam - thank you! In fact tulips are quite a classic in knitting motif in lace and colourwork, and there were plenty to draw on, but one needs to get them the right size, the right number of stitches to fit into the round. I might yet redesign a more satisfactory model, but I don't really like doing the same thing twice, and I'm onto other things now.

susan said...

Hi Lucy,
Since I know you're also a fan of Patrick O'Brian's series about Aubrey and Maturin I thought I'd mention to you some books you may find equally enthralling. I've just re-read two Amitav Ghosh books ('Sea of Poppies' and 'River of Smoke'), the first in his 'Ibis' trilogy. After nearly five years the third one 'Flood of Fire' was released late last year and, since it's a magnificently complex saga, I thought it best to start over from the beginning. The gist of the series is that before the British Empire took over running a large part of India, the East India Company insinuated itself over the course of about one hundred years. Among other things, they forced farmers in northeast India to grow opium poppies rather than their usual crops. The opium was then transported by ship to China where the British used addiction to undermine the Manchu government - well, in reality it was to establish 'free trade'; the Chinese had lots of stuff that was desirable to Europeans (ie, tea, silk, porcelain, fine furniture etc.) but the opposite wasn't true, there was almost nothing the Europeans had that appealed to the Chinese. Sound familiar? Anyway, fascinating and disturbing as the overall story is, after all, it's the beginning of the Opium Wars, what sets Ghosh apart as a writer is his skillful descriptions of his characters lives and interactions. It's a marvelous tale with an absolutely wonderful cast. I think you might like it too.
All the best,

Lucy said...

Susan - I'm sorry I've probably left it rather late to reply to you, but thanks so much for the thoughtful recommendation, I do appreciate when people are aware of what I like and put me onto other things. The books sound fascinating, I'll put them in my to-read queue. I'm not currently reading any Po'B, since I've rather a lot of other stories going on one way and another and my brain's getting a bit scrambled! But I am missing Aubrey and Maturin. I like historical fiction in general, when it's good.

HKatz said...

The mittens are beautiful; my favorite blend of colors is the one next to the 'winter landscapes' book, but I love how you laid out the walnuts with the more fiery pair.

I also hadn't heard of either Librivox or the Photocopa site, so I appreciate you pointing those out; they're great.