Book review: “Since Records Began” by Paul Simons

Yes, I am a stereotype.

I don’t have much to say about this book, but you can probably tell from the rating that I wasn’t too impressed. First, though, the positive aspects. There are a lot of interesting weather anecdotes in this book, most of which I wasn’t familiar with. It is an easy book to dip in and out of as each piece is relatively short. I also thought the author explained things well, making the book accessible to the average reader. My favourite parts were where he pointed out connections between British culture and its weather.

However, my main issue with this book is that is just isn’t written that well. There are a lot of grammatical and spelling errors – way too many for a professionally published book. I’m sure I noticed at least one factual error too. There are no sources cited, which is disappointing, especially because there are a number of (apparently) direct quotes included in the text. There is also no index and the stories are loosely organised by season rather than types of weather event or something similar, so you can’t look up any particular facts that you might want to know. That seems quite a significant omission in a book like this.

The concept of this book is very interesting, but its content and organisation let it down. My search for a really good popular science-type book about the weather continues…

My first five finished objects

Over the past year or so, I’ve been doing quite a bit of knitting. I originally started learning back in 2011, but made the mistake of using some really old yarn (originally purchased by my mum when she was pregnant with me!) that kept unravelling and wasn’t a colour that appealed to me. Rather than being sensible and getting myself some that could be made into a simple scarf, I gave up for about three years. Considering the situation I was in at that time (living at my parents’ house in deepest darkest Lincolnshire on an interruption of studies from university) I could probably have benefited from having it as a hobby, but we live and learn.

Since writing my 25 Before 25 list, which included a resolution to “knit one actual thing”, I’ve completed nine actual things in total. Most of my knitting gets done while watching TV in the evening, though this does mean I have to stick to relatively simple items. I do like to listen to podcasts while I work on the more complicated projects as well. I’ve decided that I’m going to blog about my finished items in batches of five, which will hopefully be a good way to track my progress (and, uh, bash out a few easy posts…). Without further ado, here are the first five things I knitted! Enjoy the incredibly imaginative names I gave them.

Blue ribbed scarf

As I had a specific pattern in mind for a scarf for myself, I decided that my first project should be a scarf for my lovely boyfriend Gordon (pictured right, doing his best “Blue Steel”). Since I was a newbie, I didn’t want to anything too complicated, but I also wanted something with a bit of texture. I decided on this horizontal ribbing, which I achieved by doing stockinette stitch for nine rows, starting with a knit row each time. Each rib has a little bit of a curl at the edge, which looks quite effective. The beginning end could do with some blocking, but Gord says he likes it how it is, so I’m happy to not spend be spending ages on that! I can’t remember what brand of yarn I used, but it was double knit and I picked it up from Linens Direct in Harrow.

Chunky garter rib scarf

Apparently Gord wasn’t available for this picture, so K-9 is acting as my model instead. This was another ribbed scarf, but vertical instead of horizontal (every row was knit two, purl two, and repeat). I wish I’d made it a bit longer and narrower, but it was nice and chunky and should hopefully keep someone warm. This was the first thing I sent to Knit for Peace, a charity that distributes hand-knitted garments to people in need. Again, I can’t remember what brand of yarn this was, but it was super chunky and came from Linens Direct.

Planner band

I love my Plum Planner, but didn’t love the idea of paying a huge amount of money for a band to go around it. The bands themselves tend to be cheap, but shipping is a nightmare, plus I didn’t really like the styles I found on Etsy. I decided to solve that by making my own! This was a very quick project and gave me my first taste of joining, since I knitted it as a flat strip rather than in the round. The yarn is lovely it is black double knit with silver running through it. The brand is King Cole Glitz in the shade “Starlight” and I bought it from Wool Warehouse.

Kindle Fire case

I’m in two minds about this project and whether it was successful. It was my first time using a pattern, though of course I couldn’t just follow it and instead sized up an iPod cover pattern by Grannies, Inc. I was aiming to make a cover for my Bluetooth keyboard, but even after a ton of blocking it didn’t fit properly (though I swear it did before I cast off!). My Kindle Fire fits in it, though not snugly unless it has a case on the back. I also got lazy with joining the project together because I’m so impatient, meaning the sides look pretty terrible. The buttonhole isn’t too bad, but it isn’t particularly neat.

Even though this project was a big step up in terms of complexity and I did okay with it, there were still lots of things that I could have done better. I really liked the yarn though, which is Drops Alpaca in the shade “Rust” and also from Wool Warehouse. The button I bought from there turned out to be too small, so this one is just a random one I had lying about.

Fingerless mittens

You’ll be seeing more of this yarn because my incredibly generous colleague, who is a fellow knitter, gave me five skeins of it! It is Cygnet Seriously Chunky in the colour “Candyfloss”. Chunky yarn knits up really quickly, so these mittens only took me an evening to complete. I used this pattern, though I increased it by a couple of stitches because the edges seemed a bit tight (possibly a mistake as they could be fitted a little tighter to my weird tiny child hands). This was my first time knitting in the round and I love it! I would definitely recommend this pattern as a first project on double pointed needles. I am wondering about giving them to Knit for Peace as well or, if not, doing something to make them a bit more fitted.

As I said, I’ve completed nine projects at the time of writing this, so another post should be along soon. My next goals are to knit a pair of mittens and a pair of socks, plus practise crocheting as I got some needles for Christmas and definitely haven’t got the hang of it. I’ve also got a fun project planned for Easter, so I’ll get that underway soon as well.

(If you’re really keen to follow my knitting progress, I’m also on Ravelry! I like seeing what other people get up to as well.)

Normal service will resume shortly

I hope it will, anyway.

I’m not sure how many people are reading this blog, particularly since I don’t tend to promote it on social media any more, but since I haven’t blogged properly in ages I thought I’d… awkwardly bring attention to it? I’ve started and subsequently deleted a number of posts because I lost interest or found the process of writing a draft cathartic enough that I didn’t need to make it into a full post. However, I’m setting myself the goal of finishing this one, so if you’re reading this either you’ve run out of decent sites to hack or I’ve actually got something done for once.

I’m currently doing some CBT, but it’s not having much of an effect on my mood, as indicated by my weekly questionnaire scores (the PHQ-9 and GAD-7) remaining pretty much level. The psychologist also tested me on the Impact of Events scale a few weeks ago. It’s essentially a test to see if you have PTSD, with scores above 24 being “meaningful”. I got 50, which indicates my reactions to past events are more than sufficient to be suppressing my immune system. I do like getting high marks, but that isn’t the sort of test you want to ace.

I have alluded to it in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly said on this blog that I’m a survivor of abuse. I didn’t really realise it myself until three and a bit years ago. I could probably write at length about all the complex emotions that have come up as a result of realising this, but I won’t. Honestly, I’m getting a bit bored of thinking about them at this point. This is a good sign, since those emotions have been at the forefront of my mind for quite a long time and being bored of them means it’s easier to not think about them. However, I’m still not back to functioning like a normal person, which is generally rather inconvenient.

My month-by-month resolutions are a good indication of how things are going. On paper, I actually did okay with them last month, completing ten out of fifteen. However, the ones I didn’t complete were really the more important – studying, writing, going to the gym and improving my WordPress skills. I also didn’t include important things like work, household chores and the New to Sci Comm site in my list, so my “success” wasn’t really that significant. At least I’ve been doing something, but I do think that, to an extent, you should earn doing fun things by helping others, bettering yourself and contributing something of worth. In my view, having self-care as your primary focus is just as unhealthy as neglecting it entirely because, amongst other reasons, it keeps your focus inward. [ETA: lots of people also seem to equate self-care with self-indulgence, which isn’t healthy in excess either.]

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I just thought I’d share a bit about how things have been recently and why I haven’t been blogging. I’m trying as hard as I can to get better, but it isn’t really working at the moment. I’ll keep doing what I can though, even if it’s frustrating that all this effort isn’t even bringing me up to the level of the average adult human being.

So, uh… how about them gravitational waves? (Sadly, that is the closest this blog has been to science communication in quite a while. I need to do something about that too.)

Book review: “Seeing Voices” by Oliver Sacks

I picked this book up in the library of the college where I studied British Sign Language. They have a small section dedicated to BSL and Deaf studies, which I’m sure I’ll work my way through while my library card still works. Anyway, I was interested to hear Oliver Sacks’ perspective on Deafness as a neurologist, so I decided to give “Seeing Voices” a go.

This book definitely shows its age, having been published 25 years ago (before the Americans with Disabilities Act – and, indeed, the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act – came in, as well as before cochlear implants became widespread). Some of the language shows this age, as well as the descriptions of contemporary attitudes. However, it’s still an interesting and valuable read for a number of reasons. My favourite part was learning about deaf people who didn’t have access to signing until later in life or not at all and how that affected their development. The historical context was well developed, particularly the discussions of different trends in the education of d/Deaf people. I also enjoyed reading about the “Deaf President Now” protest at Gallaudet University from a contemporary perspective, having first learned about it through the Stuff You Missed In History Class podcast.

Unfortunately, I had a number of significant issues with this book that prevented me from giving it a higher star rating. First of all, the book is only split into three long chapters. Though there are some breaks, this format makes the various threads more difficult to follow. (It also makes this a difficult book to dip in and out of.) There is also quite a bit of unnecessary repetition, which always bothers me. The biggest issue, however, is the footnotes. There are several that take up half-pages and at least one that took up more than a full page. This interrupted the flow of the narrative and made the book difficult to follow, particularly as some footnotes were more relevant than others. I feel like a lot of the information could have been incorporated into the main text in an effective manner and I’m not sure why it wasn’t.

As I said, this book is quite out-of-date, and has a few other points against it. However, it offers an interesting perspective and is worth reading for that reason, as well as the topics it covers and being a product of the time in which it was written. I wouldn’t recommend it as the first or only book you read on Deaf culture, but it’s probably worth a read for anyone interested in that topic.