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Oh, to be a fly on the wall... [Sep. 3rd, 2015|11:50 am]
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Charlotte Church writes in The Guardian about her opposition to drilling for oil in the Arctic, and being attacked for using her 'celebrity' to promote her views.

This double focus, writing about the issue and about her right to write about the issue, gives the piece a slightly unfocussed feel, but the point at which I did a double take was her description of this drilling as "the stuff of nightmares, the sort of thing a 20th-century science-fiction writer would have posed as a trigger for the apocalypse." Did she really, I wonder, think: this is the stuff of science-fiction, but not modern science-fiction! no, it is the stuff of 20th-century science-fiction! I picture the scene in the Guardian office:
Editor:You say here, "the sort of thing John Wyndham would have posed as a trigger for the apocalypse" - but who is John Wyndham?
CC:Oh, he's a 20th-century science-fiction writer.
Editor: Really? Well, let's just say so, then...

I am constantly wrong-footed by what is, and what isn't, assumed to be common knowledge*.

*This general point stands, even if Charlotte Church was not, in fact, thinking of John Wyndham - but it is precisely his sort of scenario, isn't it?
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Excellent in parts [Sep. 2nd, 2015|08:48 pm]

I went shopping this morning: that is, I walked into town on my own so that I could drift around and look at things and take my time, all without feeling that I was keeping durham_rambler waiting. I wanted to buy fruit and veg, and things for lunch, and that was pretty much a success: I found the things I was looking for (and some I wasn't: greengages! I love greengages!) and we have already eaten several of them. But I also had a list of non-edibles, and drew a complete blank on all of them:
I failed to find a birthday present.

While I was in M&S buying (among other things) greengages, I thought I'd replenish my underwear supply: they had the style and fabric I wanted, and in my size, which I suppose is a good start, but only in a pack of mixed black and "flesh colour" (about the shade of the foundation my mother stopped using in the early '60s).

The remainder bookshop no longer has a road atlas of France (let me guess, the holidays are over).

My favourite computer shop couldn't supply me with screenwipes for my shiny smeary new toy. "I just use meths," said the proprietor, which is not so convenient if you're on holiday!


My search for a birthday present took me into the Oxfam bookshop. This isn't entirely random; they usually have a selection of general bits and pieces, though today they were in the process of moving everything to make room for their Christmas stock. Yes, really. Despite which, I managed to buy three books:

Sea Room, by Adam Nicolson
"the story of one man, three islands and half a million puffins" - how could I resist? The islands are the Shiants, off Lewis.

King Death's Garden, by Ann Halam
Yay! Ann Halam (who is also Gyneth Jones)!

AND - drum roll -

Ghastly Beyond Belief, by Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman
This is ridiculously collectable, and I never expected to find a copy at a price I'd be willing to pay. Oxfam appear not to have heard about it, and despite a sneaking feeling that I should have told them they had underpriced it, I just pounced.

I should feel that I have failed at shopping, but I can't bring myself to do so - too pleased with my books!
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Smile for the camera! [Sep. 1st, 2015|10:27 pm]

During the roadworks on Milburngate Bridge, the council put up webcams around the city, so motorists could have advance notice of traffic jams, and make other plans. In fact the traffic was no worse than usual, which is to say not very bad in this part of town, and the local camera showed mainly empty roads. Nonetheless, we told weegoddess about it, so that she could look at Durham and feel homesick. "Wouldn't it be cool," she said, "if I were looking when you were passing, and saw you!"

Well, these things can be arranged. The roadworks are complete, and soon the cameras will be removed, so we made a date, and this evening as we were walking to the residents' association meeting with a neighbour, we stopped and waved to the camera. And weegoddess was watching, and she took a screenshot, and here it is:


From the camera on the lamppost to the council's website to weegoddess's computer in Massachusetts and back to my computer in Durham. How's that for a selfie stick?
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Things that fall out of the sky [Aug. 31st, 2015|04:39 pm]
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One day, I asked my Finnish teacher if it was true that her language had 30 different words for snow. She fixed me with her big, blinky eyes.

"No, you poor deluded fool," she sighed. "We Finns only have one word for ‘snow’. The trouble is, you English think that everything white that falls out of the sky is ‘snow’."

Jonathan Clements, Schoolgirl Milky Crisis

Similarly that cold wet stuff falling out of the sky right now cannot be rain, because the forecast told us that it would not rain north of Middlesbrough.

(I think I'd have noticed if they'd moved Middlesbrough.)
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Two Whitby concerts [Aug. 29th, 2015|10:52 pm]

We piggy-backed on a day of the Bears' holiday, joining them in Whitby for a day of the Folk Week, a day being morning to morning, with an overnight B&B between. For the first time, we booked ourselves day tickets: this doesn't actually make any sort of sense financially, unless you view it as a donation to support the Festival - and actually, why not? It doesn't even avoid having to queue for popular concerts, though it does increase your chance of being in that part of the queue that actually gets into the concert.

BoyBear was feeling fragile when we arrived, so we abandoned him and set off with GirlBear in search of lunch and afternoon concert. The creperie which GirlBear had earmarked for lunch (sometimes it's open in the day, sometimes it's evenings only: the pattern appears to be that if we are looking for lunch it's closed, if we aren't it's open) but we had sandwiches and excellent pea soup at the Whitby Deli, and enjoyed our lunch enough that we misread the programme and turned up for the 'Family' concert (families on stage, not necessarily in the audience) when it had already started.
Afternoon concertCollapse )

Back to the flat, where BoyBear had perked up enough to take a little refreshment, and to plot the evening's entertainment over a picnic tea: there were a concert with Archie Fisher, that could be fun. Or here was one with John Tams, Alastair Anderson - no, Alastair Anderson & Dan Walsh: 'BoyBear, who's Dan Walsh?' 'Red-hot banjo player - get your coat!' So we went to that one.

Evening concertCollapse )

Bonus track:

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Another day, another word [Aug. 26th, 2015|10:01 am]
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I was beginning to suspect the Guardian of a stealth campaign to increase my vocabulary: words I do not recognise have been cropping up, unexplained. On Saturday, we had 'pancheon'; on Monday it was 'fulvic'.

This was in a 'Shortcuts' piece about ridiculous fads in the marketing of water (article not currently online: a search of the Guardian website tries to fob me off with an eccentric Shetlander and his republic of Forvik). There is, apparently, something called 'black water', a variety of mineral water which "gets its colour from fulvic minerals, for which there are broad health claims". This doesn't make me think that the water has any actual health benefits, but does make me wonder what fulvic minerals might be.

Chambers doesn't know. It offers me 'fulvous' and 'fulvid', both of which describe a tawny yellow - which I hadn't met in English, but recognise as the French 'fauve', tawny like a big cat, and hence a wild animal. So that's a Word of the Day.

The internet, on the other hand, is full of people who want to tell me about fulvic acid, and fulvic minerals, but only because they all want to sell me their dubious health products. (Oh, and it's mentioned in passing in a Wikipedia piece about 'humic acids', a term which describes rather than defines a group of components of soil).

Guardian, are you telling me that this water is black because it's muddy?
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Lunch in Teesdale [Aug. 25th, 2015|07:58 pm]

We had a lunch date with friends at the Bridgewater Arms in Winston in Teesdale - not just a pub we'd never eaten at before, but a village we'd never visited, reached by a road we'd never driven along (turn left at the t-junction in Staindrop where we'd turn right to visit our friends at home), late-summer with the sunshine gentle on the straw bales in the fields and lighting the downy heads of the thistles lining the verges. The south is another country, even when it's the south of the same county...

I haven't seen many pubs with 'In Memoriam' over the door - not the door through which we entered, but adjacent. The building was built in the nineteenth century as a school, and has kept that theme in its décor (and why not? We celebrated my 60th birthday in a pub converted from a nineteenth century school, though I don't seem to have written about that) though it now has serious pretensions as a gastropub. And very nearly lives up them: the short version would be 'pricy, food very nice but with some misfires, service so friendly and charming that you don't care'.

The longer version: the menu is quite long, and I was tempted this way and that before I finally made my choice. My starter of mussels in cream sauce would have made a perfectly acceptable main course: they were sweet and tender and heaped high in the soup plate. The roast turbot of my main course was unremarkable, but that's OK, I'd chosen it for the accompanying samphire risotto - which was delicious, but mainly because it contained a generous seasoning of bacon: I enjoyed every mouthful, but though I could see the samphire, I couldn't actually taste it. The little dish of vegetables didn't seem in any way relared to the dish - I certainly didn't need the potatoes!

Perhaps because we were drinking a New Zealand sauvignon blanc that was all light perfume and green fruit, I chose the Gooseberry and Elderflower Trio for my dessert:

Gooseberry and Elderflower Trio

and we all admired it, and wondered what the different components might be - well, durham_rambler had to make a second choice of dessert, as the panna cotta hadn't set, so there were no distractions. It is effectively three variations on gooseberry fool: a little heap of soft cream topped with fruit all sitting on a toasty, nutty meringue base; a tiny spoonfull of fruit fool floating on a glass of elderflower jelly (this would have been fine without the fool); and a heavier fool of almost clotted cream. Two months ago it would have been seasonal, spot-on with the promise of early summer; in late August it was still delicious.

It wasn't all about the food (and drink), but the conversation was mostly about family and friends and plans, so I won't record that. Also about books, and websites, and the Labour party - and this clip, which explains why Corbyn is ahead in the leadership poll.
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Word of the day [Aug. 24th, 2015|10:30 pm]
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Today's word is 'pancheon'.

Last Saturday's word, if you want to be picky, but I didn't meet it until this morning, because that's when I was reading the 'Cook' supplement of Saturday's Guardian. Asked what is her favourite kitchen tool, Regula Ysewijn replies "my pancheon". There's no explanation, though it's obvious from the context that it's a large earthenware bowl - an image search turns up plenty of them - straight-sided rather than round, used for making bread or cream.

The column doesn't seem to have made it into the online edition (or maybe just 'not yet') but Regula Ysewijn's website has some wonderful photographs, and photo essays on subjects like 'Eels, pie and mash and her blog mixes historical recipes with essays about food production.
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Shiny new toy! [Aug. 23rd, 2015|06:19 pm]
I am posting this - at least, I hope I am; we'll find out in a minute! - from my new convertible mini notebook.

The little notebook which we bought shortly before our trip to Iceland in 2009 is still functional, but it is getting cranky. In particular, it quite often declines to recognise wi-fi to which other people present have connected without effort - which is inconvenient in a device which I use mainly when away from home.

I may also have been slightly envious of the sheer portability of durham_rambler's tablet: he could use it in the bar or in bed, while I needed a table on which to place my notebook, otherwise it would overheat. On the other hand, my notebook could do things the tablet couldn't:we could use it to store photos, transferring files from the cameras' SD cards. Occasionally it was convenient to be able to load documents from a thumb drive, too, but it was the photos that were the deal-breaker.

Then clever durham_rambler found this Toshiba Satellite 2-in-1 - it's a notebook, but the screen detaches and acts as a tablet. I am very excited about this - though not as excited as the screen itself, which insists on starting up in tablet mode, even when connected to the keyboard. It has other funny little ways - which can probably be summarised as 'Windows 10' (no, durham_rambler had to install it - but it seemed a good idea to do so before I started filling the memory with my own stuff): it keeps hiding Firefox away and offering me Microsoft Edge instead (isn't that the guitarist with U2?).

All of which is why I'm spending time getting the hang of it now, so I'll be in control when we go on holiday in mid-September: whee! going on holiday! with shiny new toy...

It is quite shiny, by the way. The delivery note says it's 'satin gold'. You could have fooled me: I'd have called it 'metallic beige' (no, that doesn't sound very inviting, but it was this or white
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Those who do not remember history [Aug. 21st, 2015|06:53 pm]
Do you suppose that any of the Labour Party's current hierarchy and administrators remember that the party used to have something called 'members'?

Or that those members left - at first a trickle, then a flood - when they realised that New Labour was not the party they had joined, or worked for, and that Tony Blair's policies were not an elaborate smokescreen, which were necessary to get him elected but would then be dropped, and the party would return, maybe not to its socialist roots but at least to some kind of leftism? (Yes, people really used to tell me that).

Perhaps they (the current party) think that all those members ceased to exist once they had left the party, vanished in a puff of smoke?

Because now the party has declared that it thinks there should be a left-wing candidate in the leadership election, and that the leader should be chosen by people who broadly support the Labour Party, even if they aren't currently members -

- and they seem to be surprised at who is paying £3 to accept that invitation.

This thought brought to you by the Department of Definitely Not Liveblogging the Labour Leadership Election, Because Once You Start, Honestly, Where Would You Stop?
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