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Memoirs of an infrequent flyer [Oct. 24th, 2014|10:27 pm]

When I completed the previous post about our American holiday, I thought I had said all I had to say about the joutney: I'm impatient to get on with the fun stuff. And yet...

Three things set me thinking again about flying and how I feel about it. In no particular order, these were: turning the page of my notebook and discovering that I had, in fact, written more on the subject; steepholm's post in which a jar of Marmite was confiscated by security; a conversation with J. who is about to set off for Italy by train, about the comparative merits of this form of transport.

The next page of notes begins: There are no Guardians at the airport. Such outrage: I grew up with the idea of flying as an expensive, glamourous way to travel, and although I know this is no longer the case, every now and then I stumble over something as trivial as this, that none of the (several) newsagents can provide me with my newspaper of choice, and my illusions shatter all over again. Implicit in this, I suppose, is that I don't fly very often.

As an infrequent flyer, I'm very aware of the rules without being all that familiar with what they actually say: I wouldn't dream of trying to carry a jar of Marmite in my hand luggage, but it took me a while to realise that I could make sandwiches and take a packed lunch. Indeed, the cup of coffee I bought once we were through security didn't have to be gulped down when it was time to board, I could, and did, carry it on board.

Quite late in the day I realised, too, that while hand luggage stashed in an overhead locker would never be accessible during the flight, the backpack which I use as hand luggage is small enough to qualify as a 'personal item' and be kept under the seat in front of me, so I could swap one book for another, or for my notebook computer, at any time. This makes the already restricted legroom even more cramped, but it's worth it. I'm slow, but I'm learning.

Some aspects of flying, though, are outside my control. I particularly dislike the whole security theatre palaver. I didn't realise how much I dislike it until we were given accelerated passes on our homeward journey: excused removal of shoes, belts, computers... None of these things is particularly onerous, yet I felt as if a weight had been lifted. On our outbound flight, though, I got the full treatment, body scan, pat down, the lot. (The scanner which was X-raying my hand luggage didn't seem perturbed by the roll of jewellery in the bottom of the bag, which has raised questions in the past, so that's something).

We were flying United, which seems to be a pretty 'no-frills' operation (which is fair enough, given that our tickets were pretty cheap) - hence the DIY catering on several flights. Given the quality of the catering that was on offer, DIY didn't seem like a bad option: durham_rambler's remark on tasting the coffee was "Oh, that's an interesting fluid, isn't it?" Every flight, until the very last one, was full to capacity.

For United, all roads lead to Newark, which they promounce N'ork, confusing me at first since I was pretty sure we weren't supposed to be going to New York (though we had some fine views of the city from Newark). On the very last stage of our trip, Newark to Edinburgh, we found ourselves on a plane which was somehow more generously designed, with seats in pairs rather than threes, and what felt like more space between rows as well. What's more, there were empty seats on it. If only it could be like this all the time.

In short: nothing you didn't already know. Flying: we do it when it's the only way to get to where we're going, there are ways to make it pleasanter, some of which we can't control, some of which we can. D'uh!
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Bejewelled [Oct. 23rd, 2014|10:19 pm]
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On Saturday, we were planning a trip to Middlesbrough for a poetry book launch at mima (there is much to be written about Middlesbrough, and why an Institute of Modern Art is at once an incongruous thing to find there and not incongruous at all, but for tonight let's just take it as read). Not only has mima recently opened a new jewellery gallery, it is enticing visitors in with an exhibition of the work of Wendy Ramshaw, whose ingenious sets of rings I have coveted for decades.

I'll confess right up front that I spent so long looking at the Wendy Ramshaw exhibition that I ran out of time and energy for the permanent collection: and the jewellery gallery demands both time and energy. Only a minority of the pieces are on display, above ranks of drawers waiting to be pulled open and the treasures within inspected. And the photo gallery on mima's website reveals that there are indeed treasures within, though I would have appreciated the help of their model in explaining how some of what I saw was to be worn (in the case of this Susanna Heron 'Wearable', for example, the object itself made less sense, was a less real piece of jewellery, than the photograph). In some extreme cases, I won't believe it until I see it.

The Wendy Ramshaw exhibition, at some length, with pictures:Collapse )

The poetry launch was of Joanna Boulter's Blue Horse, a fine collection but likely to be Joanna's last: she wasn't able to be at the launch, and the poems were read by members of the Vane Women collective of which Joanna was a founder member, and who had worked with her to make sure it was published. So it wasn't exactly a celebratory event. Opening the book at random, I was snagged by these opening lines of a poem called Lichen:
I am the unassuming
licker of stone
I call myself double-tongued
slow voiced...
(Here's more about Joanna and a whole poem).

There must be places to lunch in Middlesbrough, but we've never found them. So we took the slow road home, and discovered the Vane Arms in Thorpe Thewles: very gastropub (it had a gin menu) but perfectly satisfactory.
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Radio Times past [Oct. 18th, 2014|06:51 pm]

durham_rambler has been leafing through back copies of the Radio Times - copies further back than seems possible, even in this household. The BBC has put online its complete programme listings 1923 - 2009, and this includes the edition of Woman's Hour broadcast on 14th April 1960.

I remember listening to the broadcast, probably (because this was my place for listening) right next to the wireless, behind the armchair. My father, Tom Rogers, had travelled to the studio to read a story he had written, based on his experiences as a teacher. I would have told you it was called "Fourpence", but the RT says "Threepenny", and who am I to argue with the RT? It was about a small boy who couldn't pay all of his dinner money because, he said, he had swallowed part of it - presumably the three pennies of the title. The teacher narrator comments that he doesn't doubt the boy's claim to have swallowed the monry, but wonders whether he had first converted it into sweets. This is an unjust suspicion, but that's all I can tell you - it was a long time ago.
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A small birthday celebration [Oct. 17th, 2014|05:39 pm]
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Today is Alan Garner's 80th birthday.

I was beginning to think I had invented this fact, because everyone is keeping so quiet about it, but his unofficial website confirms his date of birth. Perhaps it's a surprise party?

Anyway, here's my contribution: a nice little story I found while I was poking around the web. "Forty years ago I 'won' Alan Garner in a Puffin Club competition..."

Happy birthday, Mr Garner!
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Looking for music in London tonight? [Oct. 17th, 2014|11:18 am]

Then may I recommend the Dorten Yonder CD launch, 8.00 o' clock, upstairs at the Exmouth Arms, Starcross Street, London NW1 2HR?

Dorten Yonder are: Richard Cryan, Maggie and Pete Eiseman-Renyard, Janette Lawrence and Neil Rogers. Plus sets from special guests Keith Beechey (harp) and Hannah Chutzpah (performance poet) - but the reason to go is that the band came together to record a set of songs by Maggie Eiseman-Renyard, and the songs really are something special.

I wish I could be there - I did quite seriously consider making the trip to London, but it really isn't a good time (we're not at the Lakes Comics Festival for the same reason). I shall, however, be listening to Resonance FM at two o' clock this afternoon, when Neil, Jan and Pete will be talking about the CD and playing some tracks (there's a repeat at 8.00 am on Monday morning).

Declaration of interest: my brother is in the band. That's how come I've heard them in rehearsal, and am so excited that the CD is finally launching.
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Back to the Bridge [Oct. 15th, 2014|09:13 pm]
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When I tried to post about our journey to the US, I was frustrated by a shortage of internets: by the time I was back online, things (and we) had moved on, and I was reduced to saying "But that's another post..." We have moved on again, and this is that post.

Our plan was to fly from Edinburgh, and to overnight there before our morning flight. We emerged from Waverley Station into a dazzle of sunshine, and found a taxi. This was disconcerting: firstly, the driver stowed our luggage with us in the passenger space - it was a bit of a squeeze, but it does appear to be the local style); secondly, he plunged straight into the traffic of Princes Street - again, this isn't as bizarre a route as I thought at first, and I sat back to enjoy a bonus view of the castle, and the drive out to the hotel.

We stayed at the Bridge Inn, Ratho which is as near as we could get without actually being at the airport. It is also on the Union Canal, and there was time before dinner for a walk in the golden September evening. The sun glittered on the water, the trees cast deep shade, the cyclists emerged suddenly from the darkness.

This description of the canal describes most of what we saw, as well as much that we didn't. But it doesn't mention the walled kitchen garden, which I was rather smug at identifying - and then delighted to learn that it belongs to the hotel, and produces many of the vegetables served in the restaurant. Time for dinner, then.

We had a very good dinner, and if it was a bit oddly shaped, that's our fault for some slightly eccentric ordering - but we were very pleased with the results. We both started with the scallops: three delicious, sweet little scallops, with rather pointless accompaniments. The crisped pancetta was good with the pea sauce, but neither had much to do with the scallops (indeed, to my taste the sweetness of the pea sauce killed the flavour of the scallops). durham_rambler chose a main course of bubble-and-squeak: it's unusual for him to take the vegetarian option, but he did help me out with the huge platter of smoked salmon which I had chosen as my main couse (technically, it's a starter to share). It was moist and tasty, and accompanied by a big heap of salad, but the star of the show was my side order of absolutely perfect chips: floury, crisp, hot and salted just right. We had a bottle of Touraine sauvignon (might have been les Mazelles, but I can't be certain), fresh and clean, which we agreed was almost as good as the one we have bought from the Caves de Haut Poitou... I resisted dessert, and was rewarded, because my decaff expresso came with a chunk of buttery tablet, which was exactly what I wanted - that and a glass of Scapa, to tell the truth.

After dinner I wrangled with the wi-fi (the frustration of having not quite enough connectivity to achieve anything, but enough to keep me trying) while the television above my head relayed quite an interesting programme, in Gaelic with subtitles, about living on islands.

And the next morning we were off to the airport, and all the fun that followed.
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One Canto short of an epic [Oct. 13th, 2014|07:34 pm]
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Our only foray into this year's Book Festival was on Sunday afternoon, to hear Andy Croft and his fellow conspirators talk about A Modern Don Juan, a collaborative updating two centuries after Byron's original. To be fair to the Book Festival, I'd have stayed on to hear Linda Grant, had we not been expecting our weekend guest to return from his day's outing (as it was, he was home shortly before us, which was fine).

Last time I heard Andy Croft read, he was talking about the Pushkin sonnet; but even then, he was plotting his next move, to the ottava rima. Now the collaborative attempt to match Byron canto for canto is complete - or almost, as one unnamed contributor escaped, hence the title of this post, which I have stolen from Andy - and the task of promoting it falls to the various members of "this fifteen-piece Lord Byron tribute band" (yes, I stole that, too).

Sunday's readers were Andy Croft himself (always an entertaining reader), Claudia Daventry and WN Herbert: Claudia Daventry was entirely new to me, arrived late and slightly breathless after driving down from St Andrews and hitting delays on the Forth Road Bridge. Her reading was less emphatic than Andy's, more narrative, and I look forward to reading what happened next to her version of DJ, whom she takes off in an unexpected but inevitable direction. Bill Herbert gave me a new perspective on the entire exercise when he said - and I paraphrase, but don't, I hope, distort - that he was less interested in saying anything about Don Juan than in the opportunity to play with a complex verse form (when I write it down, it's obvious, isn't it?). He also claimed that his canto was poetry to be read rather than heard, and its complexity and allusiveness made me feel this was likely to be true. We shall find out -

- Yes, of course I bought the book...
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Baking with Emily Dickinson [Oct. 11th, 2014|05:22 pm]
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While my back was turned, The Guardian has reorganised its Saturday magazine: as D. says, they have got rid of Lucy Mangan and replaced her with yet more cooking. By and large, this isn't a good thing.

However, a column headed 'Breakfast of Champions' (yes, I know) offered a recipe for Emily Dickinson's rye and cornmeal bread, and that seemed worth trying. I had to make quite a few changes to adapt it to my sourdough process, so what I made wasn't quite Emily Dickinson's version, and it isn't her fault if it came out dense and chewy (and the crust even more so, which made it difficult to slice). But in a good way, so worth further experiment, and here, for my future reference, is what I did:

I added 5 oz cornmeal (all that was left in the jar) to 240 g water and a teaspoonful of salt, brought it to the boil, stirred it for a minute or two, then added a (generous) tablespoonful of molasses - not molasses sugar, whatever that is, but molasses itself, which I find it difficult to spoon other than generously.

I left this mixture to stand while I re-started the sourdough, then scraped it into the big bread bowl and added the remains of the starter, and 5 ozs each white and rye flour. As I mixed in the flour, the dough felt very grainy at first, and it took maybe another ounce of water before all the flour was mixed it.

Thereafter, my usual sourdough process: left it for an hour or so, knocked it back, left it rather longer, knocked it back again, left it another couple of hours, kneaded it into a ball - and by now it was a whole lot easier and springier to handle, much to my relief - rolled it in rye flour and dusted a baking sheet with more flour, slashed the top of the loaf and let it rise on the tray until I was ready to bake it (400°F for maybe 40 minutes, and I didn't do the thing with the boiling water in the oven because I am a wimp).

Another time: well, I was deliberately mean with the water, because it's so easy to end up with a sticky mess. Another time I might use a bit more - though I note that using these quantities, the loaf made a nice round ball, with a smart open slash on the top. A wetter mix might not behave so well (decisions, decisions!). I might also try using this way of incorporating cornmeal into my usual loaf, regardless of the rest of the recipe. I note also that there is no oil in this recipe, and I might try adding the usual amount before kneading. I missed out the baking powder, but no doubt Ms. Dickinson had her reasons for including it, and I probably ought to give it a try before deciding against it.

And one of these days I ought to try that thing with the boiling water...
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A Fantastic Legacy: Day Two [Oct. 9th, 2014|08:56 pm]
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For the second day of the Diana Wynne Jones conference, we transferred to the University: this was a much easier journey, just train and metro, though the surroundings were less entertaining. My only real gripe about both venues was that neither seemed to have a cloakroom - literally, somewhere to leave your coat. There was evidently somewhere at the university for people who had stayed overnight to stash their luggage, but my notes say: "I am the White Queen. I have my bag, my notebook and my coffee - therefore, I have left my coat somewhere..."

Day Two: Saturday at Newcastle UniversityCollapse )

There was, sort of, a Day Three: I could have gone to the Tyneside Cinema at Sunday lunchtime for a screening of Howl's Moving Castle. But I had other things to do on Sunday - things like going on holiday.
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Live music: the hills: the sound [Oct. 6th, 2014|07:21 pm]
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Shortly before we went on holiday, I found out that Michelle Shocked would be playing Gateshead's Caedmon Hall the Saturday after our return. I didn't take time out to research it, I just booked the tickets: I've no idea what she's been doing for the last couple of decades (or so), but I have some of her early recordings (some of them in media I can no longer play) and I love Short, Sharp Shocked dearly. With luck she'd play some old favourites in among the new stuff...

Ha! I had no idea. What Michelle Shocked has been doing lately, it seems, is waging war on the internet, because it is the means by which copyright is being destroyed and artists deprived of their livelihood (I'm not disputing this, by the way). And the present tour, which has the title Bootleg This!, is one of her weapons. Its purpose is, at least in part. to promote a book of the same title, and its strategy is the performance, end to end ("soup to nuts" of her album Short, Sharp Shocked.

What could be better? A brilliant live performance of some great songs, with some joining in, and a little gratuitous singalong stuff, and some anecdotes (about learning to drive in East Texas, for example, in a car with a manual gearshift). I (almost) forgave her for turning up late, I forgave her her conviction that she was in Newcastle (Gateshead, damnit!). Next time, I wouldn't mind hearing something new (though I wouldn't insist on it).

To add insult to injury, the reason Michelle Shocked arrived late was the she had travelled up from Manchester via Allendale, where she had stopped by to see Martin Stephenson at his soundcheck. But hang on, if she was going to drop by in Allendale, couldn't she have waited until the following day, when we would be there for the Allen Valleys Folk Festival?

Next morning, we took the scenic route up to Allendale: up Weardale, to Rookhope and across the top down to Allenheads. It's a beautiful drive, but sometimes I just look and think "Pretty!", and sometimes - and this was one of those times - it's more emotionally charged. Perhaps it's because we've hardly been out on the hills at all this summer, or perhaps because the roadsides are coming into their autumn colours, the leaves turning to yellow in the sunshine and the fireweed below all shades of brown and orange, rust and apricot.

We arrived in Allendale town with just enough time to pick up our wristbands at the village hall, and lunch on soup (sweet potato and rosemary, thick and warming and discreetly seasoned) at the café there, then up the hill for some music.

There were two strands of concerts taking place in two venues, and choices had to be made, but we atarted at Deneholm with virtuoso Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston, followed by Stewart Hardy and George Welch. I'm a fan of Stewart Hardy's fiddle playing, but hadn't heard this duo before, and the publicity which stressed their humour and spontaneity (and may have used the word 'shambolic') didn't entirely appeal; we'd try it, we thought, and if we didn't like it we'd go down the hill and see whether we preferred what was on offer there. I could, it turned out, have done with less clowning, which kept threatening to take over, but the music was excellent: George Welch is a delicate guitarist and a competent singer of well-chosen songs (I particularly liked Archie Fisher's Men of Worth) and as a duo... Well, here's George Welch's website and here's what Stewart Hardy has to say on the subject.

We thought we were walking out on them earlier than was strictly necessary, when a break between songs fell at a quarter to the hour and we left, because the length of the preamble meant that the next break would come to late. But in fact we only just had time to walk down to the church for the start of Horizontal Sunday's set - which is to say that we would have caught the start of their set had we not been delayed by a cake stall in the lych gate. As it was, they were in full swing when we came in, and seemed to be enjoying the space and the light and the acoustics of the venue: it was a bright and lively set, and went by much too fast. Next up, after a break which gave me time to go out and find coffee, was guitarist Michael Chapman - and he was a fine guitarist but something about him just didn't click for me, so we left early and came home via Waitrose in Hexham (and beautiful evening light on the hills and the Tyne valley).
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