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Bed and breakfast [Sep. 27th, 2016|10:12 pm]
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For the first time in over two months, we slept in our own bed last night.

We have been using the spare bedroom while our room was being redecorated, and yes, one way and another it really has taken that long: waiting for carpet to be delivered, then waiting for new mattress and for curtains, and finally buying some more curtain hooks... Even now, there are drawers full of clothes and bedding in the weong room, not to mention the books (don't mention the books!). But the room is ready to be slept in:

The newly decorated bedroom

and we were ready to sleep in it. I wish I could say I had a wonderful night's sleep, but I didn't (sometimes I don't). It took us a while to get used to the spare bed - it's narrower than our own bed, and the mattress is very bouncy - and now it's going to take a while to get unused to it again. And I miss having a bedside cabinet (there isn't really room for anything on my side of the bed). Nonetheless, it's good to be back.

There was saffron bread for breakfast. It's taken a while, after the disaster of my last attempt, for me to gather the nerve, but I've been thinking how nice saffron bread would be, so I tried again. And since I was disappointed not to find a better record of what I did last time, here are the numbersCollapse )

Considering how much higher it was risen after baking, I was surprised at how dense the crumb is - more like cake than bread. But it toasts well enough. Because we have been to IKEA (see lightshade in the picture) I have lingonberry jam. It would be better if it was less sweet, but it's not at all bad.
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Two concerts and a mountain [Sep. 25th, 2016|10:02 pm]
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Ten days ago we heard Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys at the Sage - Hall 2 of the Sage itself, this time, promoted from Gateshead Old Town Hall where we have previously seen them (more than once, I thought, though I can't find any record of that). As before, an immensely enjoyable live band - they deserved a larger audience than the Sage had managed to muster - who I'll happily see every time they play locally, without feeling any need to buy their CD and listen to it in their absence. Sorry about that, guys.

Last night's concert was about as different as it could be: the Durham Hymns in the chapel of Ushaw College. The Durham Hymns was commissioned as part of the First World War commemorations, with poems by Carol Ann Duffy inspired by contemporary texts, set to music for choir and brass band. Plenty there to be ambivalent about, but a friend had been immensely impressed by the premiere at the cathedral, so we agreed to join her for this small performance at Ushaw.

The setting, in the college's magnificent Gothic chapel, could have added so much atmosphere - but somehow it didn't work out that way. The choir and the band seemed immensely remote, below the altar at the end of the long high nave; and the readers seemed to be having problems with the acoustics - the more emotion they gave their words, the more the echo blurred what they were saying. As the performance went on, they seemed to get the hang of it, and by the end they were almost entirely intelligible, but the initial problems added to the distancing effect. Right at the end, after the last poem, which is called The Last Post, a single trumpet (I think - don't quote me) played the Last Post from the west end of the chapel, ringing clear and true down the nave - and when the choir and the band picked up the finale, it felt magically connected by this one strand, and the effect was electric. Which only made me more aware what had been missing. I wonder how it would have played in the lesser grandeur of Ushaw's Exhibition Hall, where we recently heard Alistair Anderson and co.

Somewhere between these two we watched a television documentary about early films of the ascent of Everest: the programme's argument was that huge resources were thrown at the ascent of the mountain, the race to be the first to the summit became a matter of propaganda and the role of film in that race doubly so. I don't dispute it, but I was more interested in the story of John Noel. I expect everyone but me already knew this, but it was new to me, and fascinating. As a young man in the army in India he became fascinated with the distant peaks of the Himalayas, and in 1913 disguised himself as a pilgrim to travel into Tibet and get closer. Then he came home and lectured to the Royal Geographic Society about it, and seems to have created, single-handed, the idea that Everest ought to be climbed. When an Everest expedition set out in 1922, he was its official photographer and cinematographer, developing his photographs in icy water in a darkroom-tent. The expedition failed, in the sense that it did not reach the summit, and no-one was willing to fund another. So Noel set up a company to make a film of the expedition, and by buying the rights, made the expedition possible. In 1924. This time he was able to film even higher than before: he filmed Mallory and Irvine setting off to attempt the summit, and he filmed the search party return without finding them. His film, The Epic of Everest is on YouTube. Some of Noel's photographs (I'd like to see more of these).

I'm pretty much immune to the romance of mountaineering: when I hear of people returning again and again to attempt climbs on which their friends have died, and on which soomer or later they will die themselves, what I think is not complimentary. I am if anything repelled by the rush to climb summits in order to take selfies, scattering the slopes with litter. Noel would seem to have a lot to answer for. Even so, what a story! And what pictures!
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Autumn in the garden [Sep. 20th, 2016|09:12 pm]

Garden waste is collected every other Wednesday, early. That gives me me two weeks to get my money's worth by filling my wheelie bin with garden waste (brambles, mostly). Sometimes I do this before Tuesday afternoon, but not this week. It was raining very, very slightly, so gently that it didn't even make me wet, but I could feel it.

durham_rambler complains that by cutting back the brambles I am depriving him of blackberries, but these are not the kind of brambles he has in mind. This afternoon I gathered less than two spoonsful of fruit from a yardage of vegetable barbed wire sufficient to fill a bin nearly as tall as I am - and maybe half of that, certainly the largest, ripest berries, came from reaching over the wall into the bottom of next door's garden.

The robin came to see what I was doing, but he didn't hang around to supervise.
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Heritage Open Days [Sep. 18th, 2016|01:11 pm]
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Another year, another Heritage Open Weekend: it was last weekend, and this post has been sitting here in an incomplete state ever since. Some years we plunge in and rush about madly, but this year we took things very gently, and visited only three sites.

Binchester Roman FortCollapse )

Westbrook VillasCollapse )

Lunch breakCollapse )

And on Sunday, since it was a lovely sunny day, we visited the Other Allotments. When we visited the St Margaret's Allotments open day, someone had mentioned Durham's other allotments, which I hadn't know. They are tucked in above Flass Vale, and slope down steeply to the nature reserve there. And apparently it is autumn:

Mellow fruitfulness
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The Witch of Agnesi and other tales of the unexpected [Sep. 16th, 2016|09:30 pm]

Earlier this week, durham_rambler asked me if I had prepared for this week's pub quiz by brushing up on the works of Roald Dahl. No, I said, we can safely rely on the rest of the team (who are younger than us, and some of whom have children) for that.

As it turned out, there wasn't a round - or even an individual question - which required familiarity with the works of Roald Dahl. But there was a hidden theme running through the entire quiz. This is a trick of which Frank, one of the two quiz-setters who alternate at the Elm Tree pub quiz, is fond (and so am I). We started, as ever, with the word round, which concerned words of Norwegian origin, round two was a set of questions about foxes, and so on.

A set of questions about witches included "In which area of study might you come across the Witch of Agnesi?" We didn't know. I thought it sounded ever so faintly familiar, and one or two of us thought it might be mathematics, but the mathematicians among us denied all knowledge of it, so we went for philosophy instead. Mathematics would have been the correct answer. Frank read out what the term meant: something to do with dropping a perpendicular to the radius of a circle? No, that can't be right. But I was sufficiently interested to go away and look it up, and the answer is surprisingly interesting, for two reasons.

The first is that "the Witch of Agnesi?" is a mistranslation: she isn't a witch at all, she's a sine curve (a 'versed sine curve', which means nothing to me).

The second, and I can't help wondering whether this factor influenced that mistranslation, is that this particular curve was studied by, and named for, Maria Agnesi in her book Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventú italiana (published in 1748, the first surviving mathematical work written by a woman).

I son't know which of these things delights me more.
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One Teacup short of a quartet [Sep. 9th, 2016|06:10 pm]

Having omitted to hear any music when we were in Whitby, we made an effort not to miss the Sedgefield Folk Festival completely - though this only amounted to going to one concert, on Saturday evening. Four acts at the Parish Hall (one of them the Teacups, of whom I have been a fan since they were students on the Folk Music degree course), no bar but bring your own (and I packed a picnic as well). Allocated seats at long tables, which placed us close to the front but far enough over to one side that we couldn't see all the performers: convenient to have a table, but these were large and made the hall uncomfortably crowded.

The opening act was / were Gilded Thieves, but I'm glad I hadn't seen this video before the event:

Because I would have been disappointed. The live performance was all verve and enthusiasm: they had gained a bass guitarist and a percussionist, and singer Laura had acquired a tambourine. The delicate charm of the video was lost in all this percussion (and from where we were sitting, the fiddler was too far left to be visible, though let's not overstate this, she was still audible). I caught myself thinking - and this is the opposite of my usual reaction - that their songs seemed quite interesting, and what they needed was a band who would do a more varied, less thrashy arrangement, in which it would be possible to hear the words. The people who made the video might just be that band.

Next up were the Teacups - or at least, three of them. Alex, it seems, is now living in the US (Boston area, apparently, that's all I know) with a wife and child: he returns each year for three months, into which the band contrive to arrange as many gigs as possible. They would not normally have agreed to perform as a trio, but had had a good time at Sedgefield in the past, and didnh't want to say no. So this time, have the trailer for their album, to hear what they can do when they are all present and correct:

But I was glad to have caught up with them, and to buy my copy of that album. How can you not love a group who, realising them that everyone in the fdolk world is preparing material on a First World War theme, devises a close harmony version of Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire?

After the break we had Alterego, a fun and lively ceilidh band. On stage, they were a bit overpowering, but they'd have been good to dance to.

Finally, after another break (and the inevitable raffle) the star of the show - Kieran Goss. I should have heard of him, I think. His name was vaguely familiar, but then, so many names are. He's clearly very big in Ireland - and indeed in Sedgefield: pleasant country-tinged songs and good chat, but just not my music.

I always hope that I'm going to be blown away by someone I haven't heard before, and sometimes it does happen. Not this time, though.
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The colour of hyacinths [Sep. 8th, 2016|02:51 pm]

The bedroom carpet was delivered and fitted this morning. I was very relieved to see that it was indeed the colour I had chosen - chosen in the sense of going round John Lewis's carpet department saying "Yes, but do you have a darker purple?" to the assistant until at last he conceded that they could, for a price, provide something suitable. I'd have liked at least to consider a shade darker yet, but this wasn't an oprion: carpets are mostly beige this year. So the delivery note which described it as "hyacinth" was making me nervous. It's more a share of plum, I think. Anyway, it looks fine.

We had scheduled delivery of our new mattress to be sure it would not arrive until the carpet was safely laid. Now we have the carpet, durham_rambler telephoned John Lewis to see whether delivery could be brought forward. He explained that he didn't have any documentation for the order. "It's durham_rambler, is it?" said the person he was speaking to.
"Yes - how did you know?"
"I'm psychic."
We agreed that he had presumably identified the caller phone number, but that this was a good answer.

He couldn't, however, expedite our mattress. But it will probably arrive before the curtains, anyway. And now we have to replace the glass shade from the wall light - and find a lampshade for the center light. We appear to have become people who buy home furnishing.
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Poorly foot unlocked [Sep. 3rd, 2016|06:19 pm]
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Like most people of my age, I have a number of low-level aches and pains which come and go, and which mostly I either ignore or suppress with painkillers. Sometimes if I'm tired, or if I've been sitting for too long, my back aches. So? Everyone over 40 gets backache. This is just context, not a plea for sympathy.

A recentish addition to my catalogue has been a pain in the sole of my left foot. It felt as if I'd trodden on a small stone, except that I hadn't, and it could be persistent. It's never been painful enough to be a problem, and it's always gone away as mysteriously as it appeared. Until Monday, when suddenly it was very painful indeed, can't put foot to floor painful, hobbling around the house painful, using a walking stick painful. "If it's no better tomorrow," said durham_rambler, "we'll make an appointment to see the doctor." And I agreed, because I was confident it would be better tomorrow. Only it wasn't, it was worse, and we rang the doctor and - to our surprise - got an appointment for that afternoon. It was one of the shortest sessions I've ever had with a doctor: he prodded my foot, observed that it hurt, prodded to either side of the same point and established that this hurt too, but not as much, and told me I had plantar fasciitis, and that it would get better, but not until it was good and ready.

In fact, as with all the best magic systems, naming the monster - better still naming it in Latin, because surely all that Latin name means is 'inflammation of something in the sole of the foot', which I knew - went a long way to defeating it. He also gave me the useful information that the pain is always worse after inactivity and first thing in the morning, so that's not the time to judge.

On Wednesday I was still hobbling, and wasn't ready to walk to the Elm Tree and back, but was fine for quizzing, with a lift there and back - just as well, because the quiz included a round about puffins, and I'd have been cross to miss it.

And on Thursday we spent a day on Hadrian's Wall, with J and J, who were holidaying (that should probably be 'short-breaking', but I don't like it as a verb) in Hexham precisely so that J could fulfil an ambition to see the Wall. Warned that I was not as mobile as I might be, he had spent the previous day using the shuttle bus (route number AD 122) to explore Housesteads (and that very spectacular stretch of wall over Cuddy's Crags) and Vindolanda. So we took them to the Mithraic temple at Brocolitia, lunch at the Twice Brewed (which is now a bright smart pub with blonde wood furniture and tartan carpets: I remember it as very dark, and full of peaty smoke), to the quarry at Cawfields and up to Milecastle 42. I was quite surprised to manage this last, and declared that I wasn't doing any more scrambling - besides, the afternoon was passing, and if we were going to visit a fort, we should do so now.

Pictures of Chesters fort and museumCollapse )

We drove home in the dark, which felt strange - and then puzzling: why did it feel so strange? It couldn't be as long as that, surely, since we were out in the evening? Then realising that we weren't late, it was the darkness that was early. Summer must be over.
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Three days out [Aug. 31st, 2016|07:27 pm]
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Annual visit to WhitbyCollapse )

Two ladies of RedcarCollapse )

Tall ships at BlythCollapse )

And we're going out again tomorrow, to visit J and J who are staying in Hexham and visiting the Wall.
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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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