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Murder most Scottish [Dec. 1st, 2016|10:38 pm]
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I recently read two books which were burning a hole in my To Be Read pile. I read them end to end because they seemed to fit together: both quite new, both set in Scotland, and both novels about the crime of murder - and this post has been on the back burner so long that Mark Lawson has got in ahead of me, and included them both in his best crime books of the year. I liked the symmetry of bringing together that most literary of literary things, a novel shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and a crime novel with the impeccable genre credentials of the seventh mystery featuring a series detective as seen on TV. But such a very literary novel of a crime novel, and such a gore-spattered yarn of a Booker contender.

The literary novel is Graeme Macrae Burnet's His Bloody Project, and I'd like it on the record that I bought it before it was Booker shortlisted, because I was intrigued by the Guardian review, and pleased that a small press publication should have made it onto the Booker longlist. The crime novel is Ann Cleeves' Cold Earth, with the usual disclaimer: Ann is a client and a friend, and I wouldn't be writing about her book if I didn't like it. Warning: may (will) contain spoilers for earlier books in the series.

Graeme Macrae Burnet: His Bloody ProjectCollapse )

Ann Cleeves: Cold EarthCollapse )
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Sunday morning in Bristol [Nov. 27th, 2016|11:54 am]
A quick check-in while our hosts are at Quaker meeting.

We came south to dine with a group of childhood friends and their spouses, reunited by Friends Reunited and meeting once a year or so since then. Obviously this is most fun for the member of each couple who can play do-you-remember, but pleasant people, good food, an excellent minervois, plenty to like. An opportunity to see a part of the country I don't know, too, although much of that is wasted since much of the drive was in the dark.

Still, Friday morning was bright and sunny, and after a sociable breakfast we set off through the Cotswold landscape (I had not expected it to be so flat) to Avebury and then on to Stonehenge. I took many pictures of many, many standing stones, so thoughts on that had better wait. Our satnav then took very nearly two hours to bring us from Stonehenge to Bristol. Salisbury Plain was beautiful, and not at all flat, all genle folds and uplands, but after that it got darkBradford-on-Avon was wasted on us, as we could hardly see it...

But eventually we reached Bristol, where we are staying with cousins, our first visit since they moved here. We have not seen their children, nor their grandchildren, since childhood is a time for plans being derailed by ailments. Not-so-secretly, I prefer the company of adults, so I am less disappointed than I might have been. Another set of cousins called in for tea, and we discussed family, and memories, and Sunderland and university cities - as you do.

When J and F return from meeting, we will take them out to lunch. And then the long drive home. A quietly happy weekend.
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Dining at The Plough [Nov. 24th, 2016|05:46 pm]
We have come all the way to the Cotswolds for a Thanksgiving dinner that (we hope) can't be beat - it's a long story, but we are joining family and friends and this is where they have chosen to be. A long drive, and an area in which I have few local landmarks, but at the last minute we passed a signpost to Bampton, so now I have my bearings.

Time to put on a frock and meet the rest of the gang in the bar. Internet connection is dubious, but here goes...
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OK, the bridge, or someplace, later [Nov. 15th, 2016|10:24 pm]

Listening to the news the other morning, half asleep, and the tributes to Leonard Cohen, I heard the anouncer mention "his greatest hit" and automatically thought of Suzanne: I came up to university with a copy of 'Songs of Leonard Cohen' and found that half the college had their own copies - and quite a few people had 'Songs from a Room', too. Those are the songs that got under my skin, that throw up phrases when I'm thinking of something else.

Nothing that came later got as close to me - although when durham_rambler and I watched the Omnibus profile that appeared on the iPlayer, I was surprised how much of it I knew, and how well. But it was as if he'd vanished in the intervening years: he hadn't, of course, but I hadn't been paying attention. I know exactly when I did start to pay attention again: it was in 1994, when I saw Atom Egoyan's Exotica: Everybody Knows isn't quite the only thing I remember about the film (which I liked very much) but it stands out.

Looking for that date, I found this interesting article about Cohen's inadvertent brilliance in scoring film soundtracks - where I also learned some things I had not known about Leonard Cohen's greatest hit. Yes, of course it's Hallelujah. I knew that really (when I'm awake), though bear in mind that as I was saying, your greatest hit is likely not to be my favourite. Actually, I'd go further: some time ago, I wrote about 'those songs', big emotional anthems to which I also have an adverse reaction. I owe the word 'anthems' to commenters who took a more rounded, less irritable view of the phenomenon that I did. Now, I don't think that Hallelujah as we heard Leonard Cohen sing it in that Omnibus footage is one of those siongs - but by the time k.d. lang has finished with it, oh, yes, and brilliantly so, I wouldn't have it any other way. And apparently the transformation was effected by the unexpected alliance of John Cale and Shrek. I may need to go and lie down to think about that.

Meanwhile, courtesy of sovay, Hallelujah in Yiddish. Of course.
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Five leaves left [Nov. 15th, 2016|07:05 pm]
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  • I saw the moon last night as I was putting the milk bottles out on the doorstep: a big bright full moon, certainly, but no more super than many others. To be fair, that's all that was promised: the far point of the swing of the pendulum. durham_rambler, getting up in the night, opened the curtains and saw the moon low over the trees on the hillside. This was more impressive, he tells me, and that too is as promised: the moon always looks bigger when there's a point of reference. (I didn't get up to look).

  • To the Eye Infirmary this morning for the Come back in six months to make sure it's not getting worse. It's not getting worse, so they've discharged me. It's not getting better, either, though my right eye is better than expected. I'll settle for that. And a pleasant drive there and back, in autumn sunshine and plenty of golden foliage.

  • Pretty pictures in The Guardian of the extraordinary versions of traditional rugs by Azerbaijani artiat Faig Ahmed: I had to read the article twice to convince myself that these are real physical rugs, not digital manipulations. (More on the artist's website).

  • These book sculptures are all over the web, though the artists's own website seems to have gone missing. At times they veer further into cuteness and whimsy than works for me, but at their best they are delightful: and I like that each sculpure represents the book from which it is made.

  • Shopping triumph! I have bought a pair of slippers. Limited triumph, because given absolute choice, I would not necessarily have chosen lilac, with a snowflake design incorporating a sparkly center in each snowflake. I chose them because they fit me, and that in itself is triumph enough. I celebrated by throwing away their heelless and very grubby predecessors.
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Just made to be together [Nov. 13th, 2016|05:14 pm]

Yet again Flickr has a new look, a new way of selecting what I see when I log in, and how it is presented. I wish they'd leave well alone, and only fix things that are broken. But this version (on my screen, at any rate) opens on two columns of pictures, and I admit that it can produce some pretty juxtapositions:

Flickr screengrab

With apologies to abrinsky and lamentables who did all the work!
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The opium wars [Nov. 12th, 2016|07:31 pm]

There's a book post sitting on the back burner, failing to make progress, and another at the conceptual stage. But the cold is still hanging around, and the plantar fasciitis flared up again, and I'm sleeping badly. I felt well enough to go to Sainsbury's this morning, which is just as well, because supplies were low - but then slept through this afternoon, waking only to cough. It's a very annoying sort of cough, which responds to a tickle in the throat by scratching somewhere else entirely. Failing coherence, have a handful of the random thoughts which have been chasing each other round my mind.

We seem to have hit peak absurdity this Remembrance Season -

- what? Oh, yes, we now have a Remembrance Season. Once upon a time when I was little, there was Remembrance Sunday, which was a military event not observed by my family, in which generals and politicians gathered at the Cenotaph. Poppy sellers sold poppies in the streets, and you could buy one, in which case you were donating to a charity which looked after ex-service people because the government was failing in its responsabilities, and in return for your donation you got a paper flower which looked very much like a poppy. Or not. Your choice. Later the peace movement started to sell white poppies, but this was controversial, even if you wore one of each. Then - when was this? maybe around the turn of the century? - there was a shift to observing Armistice Day, with a minute's silence, a moment of personal reflection on the 11th itself. But at the moment we have, if not a season, Remembrance Weekend (an expression I certainly heard on the radio this morning), and it's all about the poppies.

This year, two matching absurdities have collided. On the one hand, two national football teams want to wear poppies during their match, but have been told by FIFA that this isn't permitted (no political emblems allowed). Cue outrage. My initial reaction was surprise that a match would be scheduled for Armistice Day, but they were playing in the evening, so no actual conflict. What this does illustrate, though, is that the poppy is not a sign of remembrance but a substitute for it: the act of remembrance has been completed when the poppy is added to the clothing, and the footballers are now free to concentrate on the game.

Further proof comes from the matching outrage at the Cookie Monster's appearance on the One Show: this time it's not the absence but the presence of the poppy that's wrong. Because apparently there are people who hadn't realised that the wall-to-wall, no exceptions, poppy wearing on our televisions is achieved not by national mindfulness but by the vigilance of the wardrobe department. Remembrance has been outsourced to the professionals.

The ubiquity of the poppy indicates not memory but oblivion: which is apt enough.
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Brexit plus, plus, plus [Nov. 9th, 2016|05:18 pm]

I hadn't heard the expression 'Brexit plus, plus, plus' until this morning. Seems it's something Donald Trump said a couple of days ago, but I missed it then. This morning, when it came true, it was all over the radio news, as well it might be. All the journalists who have been maintaining an illusion of balance were rushing about like headless chickens, revealing that they never really thought this would happen. Which is exactly what the UK went through in June, of course.

I won't say I knew better. But I am sufficiently pessimistic by nature never to be completely surprised when the worst happens.

Also, I have a cold. In some ways it's not a bad cold, I don't have the streaming nose or the stuffed up head. The main symptom is a really irritating dry cough: and 'brexit plus plus plus' is a pretty good transcription of the noise I make in one of those fits of coughing.
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Fireworks in Washington [Nov. 7th, 2016|05:48 pm]
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It's five years since we saw Martin Simpson at the Davy Lamp Folk Club, and on Saturday he was there again - and so were we. They don't sell tickets in advance, just encourage you to turn up early, so we drove to Washington between the fireworks, and settled down with the prize crossword, which was an alphabetical jigsaw.

It was entirely worth the wait: a magical evening, from the opening perfect pairing of St James Infirmary Blues with Dylan's Blind Willie McTell (bonus link: Dylan's version) to the encore, a new song about his mother to sit alongside Never Any Good With Money -

- OK, let's get this over with. I feel mean about this, but for the record. For a start, I'm sufficiently contrarian that if anyone, anyone at all, says "Now I'll sing you my greatest hit," my heart sinks. Your greatest hit is unlikely to be my favourite of your work, and that certainly applies to Never Any Good With Money. You couldn't grudge the man the pleasure it obviously gave him to sing about his father, and find that people responded to what he was telling them, but I think he's written better songs (Dark Swift, Bright Swallow, for example, which last night came with sound effects of exploding shells to accompany the story of what happened at Slapton Sands), and even so, in truth I think he's a good songwriter but a brilliant interpreter of other people's songs -

And having got that out of the way, last night's selection of songs made me very happy. I love that Martin Simpson's repertoire is constantly renewed, a perpetual work in progress, so that each time you see him there are new discoveries alongside the old favourites. Different flavours predominate at different times, pver the years, as you'd expect: there've been times when it was all about the blues, and times when the big ballads squeezed out everything except one or two tunes - come to think of it, that's what's missing at the moment, not enough tunes...

But there was as much great music as you could cram into one evening. I was particularly happy to hear Charles Causley's Katherine of Aragon, as set by Alex Atterson (I admit I still prefer the version I learned long ago from Alan Francis - which is of course not the version Alan Francis sings, but my misremembering of it, but still...). He ended the first set with a blistering version of Leon Rosselson's Palaces of Gold. And, for a big finale before that encore, entirely unexpected, Emily Portman's Rags and Bones.
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Redeveloping the bus station [Nov. 3rd, 2016|10:28 pm]
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The County Council is consulting about a grand scheme to move the bus station: this plan has been around for some time, and I thought I posted about it last time it surfaced, but can't find the post. The idea is that if they move the bus station, but not very far, then they can persuade businesses, prefereably shops, to move into the space created, and so regenerate the North Road. The council is apparently confident this will happen, but can't produce any evidence because it is commercially confidential. I have just filled in their online questionnaire about 'North Road Regeneration: Bus Station' and since I want a record of both questions and answers, I'm posting them here: under a cut, to protect the not-interested.Collapse )

As consultations go, this is perfunctory, even by DCC's standards. I suppose I should be grateful, because it makes it possible to answer in an evening.

ETA l'esprit de la piscine: It occurred to me this morning (and therefore too late to include in my response) that an even bigger unasked question is "Do you want us to do this?" Bear that in mind when the Council claim that the consultation demonstrated support for the scheme.
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