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Objects of desire [Aug. 26th, 2016|06:57 pm]
I've doubtless said before that I am not a fan of the Today programme. It's main advantage as an early morning news broadcast is that soner or later it annoys me enough to get me out of bed.

To illustrate how far apart we are in our way of thinking, yesterday morning it trailed the items coming later in the programme with the words "Who would want to buy a dodo skeleton?" I was half asleep, but the response was automatic: "Who wouldn't?"

I shall draw a veil over the item as broadcast, in which interviewer John Humphrys revealed just how badly he had been briefed (but it appearently qualifies as the Best of Today). Instead, here's a better piece of BBC coverage, which answers the questions John Humphrys failed to ask, and gives a photograph of the skeleton.
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Activity in the bedroom [Aug. 23rd, 2016|10:02 pm]

I haven't reported on the progress of the great redecoration project, because progress is very slow. After all the rushing to move books and furniture, we seem to have entered a phase in which each advance involves placing an order and waiting for something to happen. It isn't very exciting. But, for the record:

  • The decoration, which a month ago, when I last wrote about it, was about to start, has been completed, and the wardrobes have been fitted.

  • The carpet has been ordered, and paid for. Now we are waiting three to four weeks fot it to be delivered. No doubt it is being woven, especially for us, in an oasis between Bokhara and Samarkand. Except that it isn't that kind of carpet.

  • Oh, well, this gives us time to get some remedial work done on the worst - i.e. most uneven - of the floorboards on which it will lie.

  • How much mess can this make? Surely I could hang some clothes in the new wardrobes, as long as the doors are kept closed: what could possibly go wrong? Anyway, I decided I'd risk it. There are now clothes hanging in wardrobes, which can be slid along the rail for easy access: no more wrestling with a thicket of shirts to find the one I want. Of course, I'm not yet sleeping in the room with my clothes in it, but it's a start.

  • I had been assuming that the existing wardrobe (or rather, the new wardrobe which replaced the existing one) would belong to durham_rambler, and the one nearer the window would be mine. There was no reason for this - except that when we moved in, we'd agreed that the present arrangement was purely temporary, and we would convert the other cupboard into a wardrobe for me. It wasn't until the work was complete that I realised this would put durham_rambler's wardrobe opposite my side of the bed, and vice versa. When I pointed this out, durham_rambler said he had known it all along, but said nothing, because he assumed I had my reasons. Fortunately, the only difference is that there is a full-length mirror inside the door of the wardrobe which was to have belonged to durham_rambler but is now mine. He'll just have to open my wardrobe to use it.

  • Yes, things really are exciting around here.

  • I think I have found a source of curtains in the same design as the wallpaper. I'm a little hesitant about ordering sight unseen from a company I found online, but disproportionately reassured by the fact that they are based in Saltaire. Anyway, we are in correspondence.
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Holiday PS [Aug. 21st, 2016|05:43 pm]
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One last post - a post-script post - to the last photo of the holiday.

Skirting Glasgow on the drive home, we passed through Port Glasgow, and the traffic whisked us past a piece of sculpture before I had time to say, "Wait, what was that?" It looked like the prow of a ship, composed of vertical poles. Luckily, someone else liked it enough to post some pictures, which enabled me to identify it as 'Endeavour', by Malcolm Robertson (who seems to specialise in this kind of public commission).

And that really is the last holiday report from our 2016 Scottish trip. Now to catch up on some earlier travels...
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Tarbert: two restaurants and a castle [Aug. 20th, 2016|10:22 pm]
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On our first evening in Tarbert, we ate at the Starfish. It's the obvious choice: well recommended, inviting white exterior with blue shutters, local artwork on the walls, good seafood... Not cheap, but I'd happily have gone back there.

After spending the day in Skipness, we were back in Tarbert quite early. durham_rambler had had enough, but I didn't want to waste a minute of the last day of the holidaym so I went for one last walk round the harbour, one last inspection of the shop windows - there was some sort of promotion going on which included a competition for the shop window which best illustrated the theme 'space': lots of Star Wars models, some very fine planets, but why had the ships' chandler chosen to put three monkeys in their window? I had hoped to find the gallery listed as along this street, but instead took the steps up to the castle, which gave me some fine views over the town, took me through a belt of midges - only the second time of the trip when I was seriously bothered by them, and no more than an incentive to climb that little bit higher:

Tarbert Castle

Steps led down the other side of the hill into woodland, and I was tempted, but it was time to return, and make plans for the evening. We decided to try the Anchorage Restaurant: the reviews were very mixed, but the positives were the sort of thing that appealed to us. The restaurant is next door to the Islay Frigate pub, and not as distinct from it visually as it should be: we had walked past without really noticing it.

Inside, it's a tiny space, with a bar at the back and the kitchen behind that. The décor is best described as 'quirky' and has too many fishing nets for my taste, but the general effect reminded me of a French family-run restaurant - except that it wasn't busy: in all the time we were there we saw three tables occupied, ourselves included. Yet it was reasonably priced - cheaper than the Starfish - and the food was terrific. My seabass with fennel risotto and smoked mussels had slices of fennel in a creamy golden sauce with telltale strands of saffron. The homemade soda bread was packed with flavour: I tasted cumin, caraway, seasame - the chef told us there were ten different seeds in it. The cheese plate (actually a cheese slate, set carefully on the slate table mat before me) held five Scottish cheeses: Highland Chief (cheddat-type with whisky), smoked cheddar, Dunsyre blue, a ripe and flavourful Brie and an organic goat's milk log, plus an assortment of oatcakes, chutney and a heap of walnuts. I complimented the chef on the walnuts: "Just lightly toasted." This attention to details made his cooking really special.

I had the opportunity to talk to the chef because as well as cooking he was waiting at table: he explained to us that the waitress had called in to let him know she couldn't make that evening, but he hadn't picked up the call until too late. Over breakfast the following morning we explained this to our host at the Knap Guest House: "Oh, he always says that. He hasn't got a waitress..."
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Swings and roundabouts [Aug. 19th, 2016|10:17 pm]
Yesterday was a funny sort of day, a mixture of things, some good, some - not so good, in a trivial sort of way.

It being the third Thursday of the month, we went to the Farmers' Market. We go if we can, whether we need anything or not - there's always something to buy, and if we don't support it, it will vanish. A couple of my regular stops weren't there: The pie stall wasn't there, and nor was the bread lady - because, Jane Gray (of Broom House Farm) told us, she has moved to Scotland. I will miss her, but it's a reason to try the new baker; and I also bought some croissants and some pains au chocolat from a French woman who was there for the first time.

For the first time in the week, I was free in the afternoon to watch Countdown and do some ironing - and it wasn't until I turned on the television that I realised Countdown had once again been cancelled to make way for the horseracing. As if two channels of wall-ro-wall Olympics weren't enough. The ironing will just have to wait.

At J.'s suggestion, the three of us went to Seaham for an event called From Out a Darker Sea involving East Durham Creates (community arts, by the look of it), So Percussion and Amber Films. It wasn't something I'd have picked out for myself - I'm wary of percussions, and know my limitations when it comes to experimental art - but I was happy to join J. for an excursion. First she came here for tea (we had the croissants and the pains au chocolat, which were excellent) and then we drove down to Seaham through a beautiful summer evening. I don't really have anything to say about the event itself - well, this: I'd anticipated that I would find the percussion heavy going, but that at least there would be things to look at, but as it turned out, the music, though loud, was interesting, while the visuals very much took second place (one section had no video at all). I don't know what the 'installation' aspect was about: painting colour onto sheets of newspaper and pegging them onto / unpegging them from a washing line: being a bad and inartistic person, I found myself distractd by trying to identify what the newspaper was (i, at a guess).

We drove home just as the moon was rising. At first, just a smudge of apricot in the sea mist on the horizon; then a semi-circle of orange behind the hillside, where J. was admiring the effect of the trees bordering the filds of stubble; finally, fully risen, huge and as round and golden as an egg yolk.
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Eating my greens [Aug. 17th, 2016|08:32 pm]

I spent much of yesterday afternoon in Newcastle, failing at shopping: I caught an early train ahead of the Graphic Novels Reading Group, intending to shop for a couple of impending birthdays, and a pair of gloves for myself. And came home with only a tube of toothpaste (and a library book).

Saturday's shopping was less ambitious - all I wanted was food for the first half of the week - and correspondingly more successful.

Marks & Spencers had the first of the season's greengages. Mostly I resist the temptation to buy fruit from M&S - I buy their unwaxed lemons and their fairtrade bananas, because I know that my favourite greengrocer does not stock these things. Everything else, I wait until I reach the greengrocer - and mostly, I'm rewarded by their having the same thing, cheaper. I wasn't going to risk missing the first greengages, though: I bought two boxes, and they were sweet and plump and ripe.

For once, this was the right decision. The greengrocer didn't have greengages - but they did have huge fleshy globe artichokes, and we had one each for our dinner on Saturday. They were so big, they barely fitted in the largest of the glass saucepans, and I had to keep turning them with a spoon, because I was nervous that otherwise the side that wasn't submerged would not be done. The first few petals are always hard work, but very soon they began to come away easily from the base, and to surrender the tender little fragments of goodness. This is slow food, and we enjoyed it all the way down to the last flimsy purple petals, and then the reward of the solid disk of heart.

When I came to wash up the saucepan next morning, the last drops of the cooking water were not green but pink.
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A grand day out [Aug. 15th, 2016|08:51 pm]
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It's August and it's a Bank Holiday (not in the UK, admittedly, but we're all Francophiles here): we went to the beach.


Admittedly, that wasn't the original plan: we had meant to go out yesterday, but durham_rambler spent much of the day rescuing one of our sites which had fallen over under attack from some bot in Ukraine. Going out today instead was no great hardship, but the museum we had planned to visit is closed on Mondays - so instead we went to Alnmouth.

We must have arrived when the tide was at its lowest. The beach was busy with families, and dogs, and one or two kites, but there was plenty of room for all of us. I pointed out to durham_rambler that two of the children were wearing actual wetsuits, and their mother, a large woman in an orange swimming costume, told me: "Liodl. £12.99. We're holidaying in England this year." Good for them! We paddled in the shallows round into the mouth of the Aln, then back, and headed into the village for lunch (generously filled crab sandwiches at the Tea Cosy Tea Shop) and shopping: a nose around the At Old School Gallery, actual purchases at a shop whose name I didn't notice (I coveted David Hall*'s cormorant, and actually bought a book of his puffin pictures, because puffins!)

By the time we returned to the car, the tide had risen substantially, and the beach was a fraction of its former self. We returned via Alnwick, where Barter Books accepted the entirety of the two boxes of books we had brought: this has never happened to us before. What's more, there's a garage behind the bookshop which dealt with the amber light warning us the the oil was low, by the simple expedient of putting some oil in the engine. On the way home, we were a bit slow turning off the radio after the news, and found Geoff Ryman talking to us about Herland. That was unexpected.

All in all, a good day out. We should get out more.

*Checking his website now, I think I've admired his work before - surely I recognise that frog?
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One hundred years ago [Aug. 13th, 2016|06:55 pm]
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Early on the morning of Sunday 13th August 1916, there was an explosion underground at Woodhorn Colliery in Northumberland. Because it was overnight on Sunday, only the maintenance shift was working, so only thirteen men - three stonemen, two putters and eight deputies - were killed. Only thirteen. It isn't one of the famous mining disasters: that "only" is more bearable when set alongside the 204 men and boys who died at Hartley, for example. Ir isn't immortalised in song, like Trimdon Grange, where 74 died. I wouldn't have known about it, had we not taken GirlBear to Woodhorn Musrum, and seen the memorial.

Still, thirteen men dead. There's so much commemoration going on at the moment about the appalling slaughter of the Somme, and the impact on local communities - and it deserves to be remembered. But something very similar was a permanent part of life in mining communities.

The Chronicle tells the story of Tamar Armstrong, who felt the earth tremble and was alarmed for her boyfriend, rather than for her father who was also underground - and how guilty she felt about that first reaction, especially when her boyfriend survived, later to be her husband, while her father was killed - and so was his brother. I had to fill in a mini questionnaire to read the article, but it was worth it.
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South of Tarbert [Aug. 12th, 2016|10:40 pm]

On our second day in Tarbert, we headed south, to Skipness: back into the top of the Kintyre peninsula. We seemed to have come a long way since our stay at Saddell, but we weren't really so very far away.

What is there to see at Skipness?Collapse )

And that was Skipness.
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Puffin quotation of the day [Aug. 12th, 2016|05:36 pm]

guppiecat says: Puffins can fly in both air and water. They’re working on being able to fly through land, but the evolutionary process seems to be taking a while.

He has a photo to prove it, too!

Thanks to desperance for pointing me to this post.
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