Book review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I’m a bit of a book fiend. It used to be that if I didn’t have at least one book on the go, it was because I was choosing my next book. It set me up well for university, I can devour a book in no time, but by graduation my joy for books was slightly diminished. Doing anything you love to a deadline can tarnish it somewhat, and after three years of university that was how I felt. To put it into perspective for you, four Dickens novels in 10 weeks. That’s going to put anyone off picking up a new book.

Since moving to Bath I’m only on my fourth book. 4 books, in 8 months. That averages out at one book every 2 months or so and that is slow for me. But that time, pacing myself through a book, has been exactly what I’ve needed. It’s given me the distance to start appreciating reading again, and it helped that they’ve been fabulous books.

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(Beautiful Bath, with all those views it’s no wonder I couldn’t focus on books. Ahem…no excuses though…Photo by me)

First off, I was reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. This American classic was one of my Christmas presents from last year and it took me all the way up to May, The Great Gatsby and a week of forced relaxation to finish it. But that wasn’t the book’s fault. Funny, gripping and really rather emotional, this is a fantastic book.

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I think I’ve mentioned before that my kind of literature is character led. I don’t need all that much in a plot, so long as I really give a damn about the people. Hemingway is a master of that, and it’s the main reason he inspired my dissertation. Fitzgerald also masters it in The Great Gatsby (book the second of Bath, which I started and finished whilst reading One Flew Over). Kesey’s work is a great balance of people and plot. There’s plenty going on, but what you really care about is how it affects everyone. With action in every chapter you trot along very happily but the characters are right there with you. For me, the best characters in any book are the ones you think about when you aren’t reading. Pouring out your cereal and wondering what cereal Bob eats. Hopping in the car and imagining that they are in the back seat with you. That’s how I felt with One Flew Over. That counts as a success for me.

Although I was aware of the film adaptation, I still haven’t seen it, and I enjoy the rarity of reading a book that I know nothing about. Because of that, I’m not going to give away any details from the plot. However, I will give a bit of a warning, this book was written in the sixties. There is plenty of racism, sexism and narrow-mindedness. If you are likely to be offended by this, steer clear. I personally think it’s a sign of the times, and shows how far we’ve come, rather than anything else.

The focus on mental health, and how it was handled in 1960s America is quite shocking. Psychology and all things to do with the brain have come on so much, that it’s all too easy to forget just how recently it was still barbaric. And that’s the only word for it. Painful at times, and jarring throughout, it was fascinating to read. One Flew Over shies away from nothing and I have all the more respect for it because of that.

It’s not a short book, and it isn’t all fluffy bunnies and rainbows, but it’s definitely worth a read. Well done Ken.

The Bread Diaries

Isn’t bread wonderful? Wholesome and delicious, simple and scrummy, you really can’t go wrong with a bit of bread. Whenever I have a food craving it’s either chocolate or bread. But not that pappy stuff that’s mostly additives. I crave real bread with an actual crust and soft, fluffy crumb. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat shop-bought loaves. I have to, thanks to the restraints on my time and my purse. But they don’t come close to real yummy bread.

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Random photo, I know, it’s cinnamon and blackberry cake, it’s good…)

I’ve only made bread a couple of times in my life. The first time was at school, and it went surprisingly well. Especially when you compare it to my all-butter sponge cakes that lacked, um, butter and my boiled scones (that one was the teacher’s fault, she made me do it). The bread was pretty damn good. But I didn’t make any again for a good ten years. Until mum and I tackled a loaf together. Unfortunately we buggered off to the gym during the second prove, so it proved far, far too long. The goo monster we returned home to was less than pleased…though the bread itself was still yumtastic once baked.

So I decided to have another go. I couldn’t let bread defeat me! I thought I’d start simple with a cottage loaf, Mary Berry’s cottage loaf to be exact (seriously, if you don’t own her Baking Bible, go and buy it now. You can thank me later. Go. Shoo!)

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Here’s a photo of some bakewell tarts for you to come back to, yummy right? Good, I’m glad we agree)

As you may have learned by now, I am the Official Queen of the Slapdash and I didn’t check my recipe before going to the shop. My recipe asked for fast-action yeast. I bought dried active yeast. The recipe said shove it in ­- my kinda style. The tin said activate it in water first. I vacillated between recipe and tin for a few minutes before deciding activated yeast was better than inert yeast. So I soaked it in water, made all the beer-smelling froth and chucked in the extra wet ingredient.

My dough was soggy. I mean really soggy, I could have made prosthetic plague out of it. Add more flour, I thought. Accessing flour with dough-caked  fingers is an interesting exercise that involves lots of elbows, spoons and swearing, but I got there. I never achieved what Mary describes as “a fairly sticky, soft dough” though. I had a very sticky, sticky, dough. I shoved it in the oiled bowl anyway and covered it with cling film to prove. Then I had a chat with mum. Why do I always ask her AFTER I do silly things? She revealed to me that I needn’t have activated my yeast and could have saved myself all the bother. So…at least I learnt something there.

The first prove

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Mmm oily and gooey, how on earth did our ancestors work out this was a good thing?)

An hour and a half later I knocked back my dough. There were lots of little air bubbles, it had a smooth consistency and it was pliable to knead…things were looking up! I shaped it all up, plonked a little ball on top for that iconic cottage look and eventually managed to poke a wooden spoon through without completely mangling my work. Wrapped up once more for a second prove it looked all snuggly and cosy. It wasn’t the prettiest looking loaf when I peeled back the cling film. The top ball had migrated for a rather jaunty affect, but hey, people need to be sure I made the thing, right? Beaten egg was brushed on (any excuse to play with a pastry brush is fine by me) and into the preheated oven it went – with an unintentional good luck kiss from the wire rack above (of course) narrowly missing dough annihilation.

The second prove

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Mary says to put it in a bag, may I just ask, who has a bag that big?)

The recipe states that bread is done once golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the base. I don’t know if you have ever been faced with a freshly baked piping hot loaf of bread but it isn’t instantly clear how to access the bottom. I tapped the top, it sounded hollow, was that good enough?

Fresh from the oven

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Looks alright dunnit?)

For my first solo attempt at bread, it wasn’t bad. It smelled good, really good, even if it did look a bit deformed. It actually tasted alright as well, but as soon as I cut into it, I knew it hadn’t baked for long enough. Pressing on the crumb, it didn’t spring back and the crust had little strength or structure. It was pappy but tasty so I’d call that half a win. At any rate, it’s a start, and next time, I will do better. Focaccia’s here I come!

Let’s talk about KNIT baby!

It’s been a while, after all! And besides, I’ve got a Finished Object to show you…

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie) Jaunty angle, ‘cos I’m artistic, innit.

When we were on our honeymoon, I did a geeky thing. I dragged Steven to the wonderful, to the amazing, Purl Soho. Actually, I dragged him there twice; once when it was shut, and once when it wasn’t…oops. Purl Soho is a knitting mecca. It’s a warm, bright, lofty space, packed to the ceiling with yarn, needles, patterns and haberdashery. I spent far too much time and money in there, cooing over squashy things and enjoying an opportunity to be warm and dry. Steven was an oasis of calm and understanding. There’s a reason I married him.

Alongside some yummy merino and silk that became mittens right there on the honeymoon (more on that story later) I bought some Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in scrummy Nightbloom. It’s a sockweight yarn, which is my favourite to work with, but I didn’t want socks from this. No, no. This was to become a shawl. Something casual I could wear everyday, whether for work, a cuppa or a walk, and think of rainy NYC in May 2013 whenever I wore it. And that’s exactly what it has become.

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie) Shawl on a wall, go on say it…yeah, you’re welcome.

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie) Such pretty Feather and Fan details.

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie) Mandatory shawl on railing shot. Right outside work. ‘Cos I’m that kind of nutter 🙂

I love everything about this shawl, from the shape, colour and pattern to the nature of the yarn and the way it matches almost everything I own. The pattern is a freebie from Ravelry, called Multnomah. It was simple and easy to follow (once I’d read the whole thing, duh!) and didn’t actually take that long in knitting hours. One of the best things about this shawl is that it has left me with a whole skein to play with. Matching gloves? Slouchy beanie? Socks? Suggestions are welcome! But until then I am truly madly deeply in love with this shawl and everything it reminds me of.

The Hen Do that my Ladies Made

I’ve always liked the saying “Life is what you make of it”. Partly for the actual sentiment of seeing your life however you want to, but mostly for the crafty pun in there. Making stuff (food, knitwear, drawings) is how I make my life. When it came to my Hen Do, it wasn’t just what I made of it, it was what all my ladies made of it.

Now I wasn’t your typical Hen. I didn’t fancy a big night out with ‘L’ plates and willy-shaped paraphernalia. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I can see the funny side of a willy straw, I mean, who can’t? They’re funny from every angle!  I just wanted something else. Luckily I had the world’s best Maid of Honour ever in the history of life, weddings and bridesmaids, who got exactly what I wanted and planned the best Hen Do for me with all my ladies.

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(Photo taken by Lucie Nash)

We made fascinators! That’s right, I had a crafty Hen Do, boo-yah! A lady came to the house with all the things you need to make pretty little head adornments and we were on fire. It was great seeing my friends from all the different parts of my life all getting on so well. And we made some fantastic fascinators. But that’s not all, I spent the afternoon surrounded by all kinds of food, copious amounts of baked goods and my favourite girls. It was epic. It was a feat of co-ordination, communication and cake-ination. We had chocolate cake, mini cupcakes to dip in icing and toppings, shortbread, flapjack, madeleines, cupcakes, glittery scones, rice crispy cakes, blinis and posh sandwiches and a huge cake of light and creamy loveliness from Patisserie Valerie (and I’ve probably missed some bits along the way too).

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(Photo taken by Jan Smith)

That’s still not all. How do you decorate such an affair? How about giant paper pom poms (perfect to be used at the wedding as well), paper bunting, tiny crackers and tea caddies sporting white roses? Sounds perfect right? It was. It was exactly the mix of classy and cute that I’d had my heart set on, and it was what Anna and all my ladies made. So thank you, every last one of you, for baking, making and being involved in my wonderful Hen Do. It pays to think outside the box.

Of course it descended into drunken ramblings, but if the bride isn’t drunk on her Hen Do, something’s gone terribly wrong. The icing on the cake (see what I did there?) for me, was seeing the fascinators on the day itself, don’t they look stunning?

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(Photo taken by Amy Bride)

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(Photo courtesy of Louise Smith)

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(Photo taken by Amy Bride)

It really was the Hen Do that we made of it, and I loved it.