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Tidying up and moving on [Feb. 6th, 2016|10:50 pm]
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I've been posting about last summer's holiday in France all out of order, as it suited me. Time to pick up the threads, and progress a little. Where were we?

We spent two very happy days in Bordeaux, Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday we set off to our rendezvous with Helen, and ran into the transhumance in Saint Justin en route. Wednesday was the day we spent as guests of the Producteurs de Plaimont, learning about the wines of southwest France.

Thursday morning was fresh, bright and clear, and we could see the Pyrenees in the distance as we set off from the Relais du Bastidou. We weren't going that way, yet. Our schedule had brought us further south faster than we would otherwise have travelled; now we wanted to double back, to visit the wines of the Côtes de Brulhois, and maybe of Cahors, too. But first, we wanted to shop for some of the wines we had tasted the previous day. The Cave de Plaisance didn't stock Moonseng, but they did have, newly arrived, partly fermented grape juice from the current harvest ('bourrel?', say my notes, but I can't verify that name), pale and slightly cloudy, sweet but not cloying.

We drove along a ridge road between two green valleys, seeing no vines - but as we rose higher, so did the distant mountains. A signpost pointed to Bassoues reminded us that we had passed this way several times the previous day, so we detoured up to the hilltop village and admired its timber market hall, its quince trees, its 'donjon':


At the time it was a delightful morning's break, one last pleasure offered by a region we were about to leave. In retrospect, it was only the first of a series of beautiful old villages, any one of which would have been an extraordinary survival.

After the previous day's excesses, I wasn't expecting to want much for lunch, but the Routard guide recommended a restaurant, Le Florida in Verduzan, which was pretty much on our way. That recommendation alone was worth the price of the guide book.

Lunch breakCollapse )

And onwards, through the sunflower aftermath, the single plants self-seeded after the harvest, multiple flowers branching exuberant from the stalk, unconstrained by whatever limits the main crop to a single flat disk per tall stem. A brief stop at the Cave de Donzac, and on to La Borde Grande for the night.
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Sometimes pink is good [Feb. 4th, 2016|10:11 am]
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Martin Parr has been photographing rhubarb.
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Five things make an LJ post [Feb. 3rd, 2016|08:33 pm]
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  • I breakfasted this morning on the last corner of a loaf of thr rye / cornmeal bread. The dough had been very wet - too wet, really, I misjudged it, and as a result it was very sticky and hard to handle. But it had risen - and spread - spectacularly, which supports the hypothesis that the wetter the dough, the better the rise. If this were the only change from the usual I'd say "proves" rather than "supports", but I also forgot to add any salt. And yes, I could taste the difference. It was still good enough that I served it with cream cheese and smoked salmon as first course when J. came to dinner on Saturday.

  • The problem with being so enamoured of my own baking is that going out to breakfast, as we did on Monday, isn't the treat it should be. durham_rambler had been looking for a reason to breakfast at Broom House Farm, and he always enjoys the traditional cooked breakfast. I quite enjoy it, but not at breakfast time, even if I've swum a thousand metres first, so I chose 'eggy bread' from the children's menu. It was excellent, but a massive helping: two thick doorsteps of fluffy wholemeal bread. Afterwards we came home to a pot of our own coffee - and I would have made toasr, too, out of sheer greed, if I thought I could possibly have eaten it!

  • The snowdrops were blooming along the lane that leads to the farm.

  • The reason we chose to breakfast out on Monday was that it was going to be difficult to fit lunch in, as I was due at the Eye Infirmary at 1.30 for laser treatment to clear the clouding in my left eye (a not uncommon sequel to the cataract operation, apparently). This went very smoothly. I had expected to be aware of the laser beam, but didn't feel a thing - other than the lens which they put in the eye to help target the laser, which felt huge and angular, especially when I had to look up, down, left, tight... Anyway, I am beginning to see an improvement in my vision, which is encouraging.

  • STAnza, the St Andrews Poetry Festival, have been compiling a poetry map of Scotland. Almost all the poems seem very recent: so far I've only found one I already knew (attached to Sule Skerry) but I liked this Egilsay Calendar.
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Klezmer with the White Queen [Jan. 31st, 2016|06:19 pm]
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Newcastle has a new festival, the Brundibar Arts Festival, rooted in classical music but reaching beyond, moving from Holocaust Remembrance Day to a "positive affirmation of creativity in adversity" - of which tofay's offering was a sequence of four pop-up klezmer concerts by Horovod.

We took the train to Newcastle, and were at the Lit & Phil bright and early for a splendid performance upstairs in the library. A bonus pleasure was the appearance of an old friend who we don't see often enough, scurrying in a couple of items into the performance, into on of the few free seats (middle of the front row, inevitably): later she explained that she had reached the metro station before realising that she didn't have her purse with her, so her journey had been more flustered than it should have been. We took her off for coffee, and enjoyed catching up on the news.

We'd all enjoyed the performance enough that we were ready to hear it again, at its final venue, the City Farm in the Ouseburn, so M. went home to collect her car and her purse while durham_rambler and I set out to walk along the Quayside. The Sunday market was still going. I don't know when I was last there, but it has changed: it used to be all cheap plastic and shiny things, and there were still one or two stalls selling these, but most of the stalls were food and coffee, like a much extended Farmers' Market (bearing in mins that much of what appears at our Farmers' Market is not farmed locally). We resisted all temptations, though, navigated our way into the Ouseburn (I would not have taken the right turning had it not been where we parked for a recent concert at the Cluny) and reached the Farm Café in time for a bowl of soup before the band arrived - and a cup of coffee after.

I'm glad we went back for a second helping of Horovod: this was their fourth concert of the day, and I think they were more relaxed, if also wearier. I wish they had more small-talk: individually, after the performance, all four members of the band were very approachable, and willing to talk about the music, but during the show they didn't have much to say to the audience. Still, that left more time for the music, which isn't a bad thing!
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Damp [Jan. 28th, 2016|10:16 pm]

In the war on entropy, we win small battles, but that is never enough.

In December, the boiler died, and we had it replaced. This was disruptive, but it was hopeful, too, because it made us start talking to builders about a whole lot of work that needs doing to the house. With that goal in mind I had made a start on taking things to charity shops, and moving stuff to give access to the radiators helped with that clearing process. Not fun, but a win, nonetheless.

Having the car off the road for a month has been tedious, but at least we only had a few days with no wheels - and it was returned to us this morning, repaired and shiny at both ends.

While breaking the coffee pot may not seem to be of the same order of hardshipm it has been a daily irritant. But I have found a new one (at the same charity shop as I found its predecessor). It is slightly smaller, about a litre capacity, but it will do us no harm to reduce our caffeine intake slightly.

So I may have felt that we were, if not winning, at least holding our position. This was foolish of me. We have just discovered that a downpipe has become detached from the guttering, and as a result damp has soaked through the wall on three floors of the house. Putting it right will involve scaffolding the back of the house, and extensive building work inside. We are talking to the insurance company, we are talking to builders. We are doing all the right things, but it is not going to be fun. We are lucky that it isn't disastrous financially: we are insured, and we have savings which were earmarked for home maintenance, though this means prioritising things we had not intended to prioritise.

I'm closing comments on this, because I don't feel like talking about it. I'm sure there'll be plenty more on this topic in the coming months, but right now, let's move on. The next post will be more cheerful.

Monday in Bordeaux [Jan. 24th, 2016|10:23 pm]

Since our first day in Bordeaux was a Sunday, it follows that our second day was a Monday. This was not something we had planned; it was a consequence of an assignation in the Gers a couple of days later. Even if we had known that Bordeaux is closed on Monday, we couldn't have rescheduled, and we had a splendid time notwithstanding.

Details. And pictures.Collapse )

Could there be a more perfect ending to our first visit to the city of Bordeaux than dinner with friends in their eyrie above the Quais? Good food (the best meal of our holiday so far), good wine, good company, what more could we ask? Fireworks, perhaps? Well, as it happens there were fireworks too, a magnificent display down along the river. The internet claimed that there was a fireworks symposium in town, but we knew that it was really laid on just for us.
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Triple-decker Wednesday [Jan. 23rd, 2016|06:25 pm]
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Since we were going to Newcastle on Wednesday for an early-evening poetry event, we took the opportunity to visit the 'The Arts & Crafts House: Then and Now' exhibition at the Laing. I'd heard good things about it, but was underwhelmed: blame some of this on my eyesight, which is currently making it difficult to see detailed books in glass cases, or architectural prints on walls. Also my resistance to shows which bring together classic instances of something and modern examples in the same tradition: I am always liable to respond that the original is better, by a mile. Some examples of modern craft tools and artisan ceramics were attractive enough, but I completely failed to see the point of Rosa Nguyen's contribution. What I learned from this exhibition: there are a number of Arts & Crafts houses in the care of the National Trust which I have not seen, and I should plan a holiday in England to remedy this.

The poetry reading - the launch of Lisa Matthews's The Eternally Packed Suitcase was just across the road at the City Library, and our plan was to fill the time between the Laing closing and the event starting with a cup of tea and the crossword at the library café. This wasn't quite as neat as I'd thought, because the event wasn't, as I had (mis)remembered it, 6 o' clock for 6.30, but 6.30 for 7.00; still, I was less inconvenienced by misjudged timing than the organisers, who had apparently planned a reading to run from 7 until 9 o' clock, not realising that the library closed at 8, and we'd have to be out by then.

So the reading was short, but good. Lisa's poems are deceptive, they look as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, no fancy vocabulary, simple narratives (she did this, I saw that) that drop you into something unexpected. She doesn't use elaborate forms, but then you open the book at a prose poem, a little block of text looking across the gutter at a page of short-lines, singly or in pairs or longer stanzas. I can't quote examples, I want to quote whole poems. Here's one I prepared earlier (which is included in the new collection).

We'd assumed that the reading would drift on into the evening, and we'd linger and talk to people, then wander off and find something to eat - and that would be Wednesday evening gone, we'd just have to miss the pub quiz at which we have become regulars. But given the 8 o' clock curfew, we decided that rather than join the general move to the Tyneside Cinema Café, we had time to go home and go to the quiz after all. So we did.

It's not so much that we have a busy social life (though things are beginning to wake up after the midwinter break, there's that, I suppose) ao much as that the things that do happen, happen at the same time. As if to prove a point, while I took a break from writing this to make a pot of tea, durham_rambler took a phone call - as a result of which he has driven off to Tyneside to collect a friend from hospital (they were willing to send her home, but didn't have an ambulance free). He is confident that there will be time to do this and still be in time for our dinner date in Sunderland (with my cousins who are making their annual visit to the Stadium of Light). I'm less confident, but it can't be helped, we'll get there when we get there.
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Damn few, and they're a' deid. [Jan. 18th, 2016|10:27 pm]

On Saturday we went to the first concert of the year, Tim Dalling and his Bonie Squad (pronounced 'bonny') at the Cluny - or rather Cluny2, a venue new to us, out of the back door of the pub and in again, down stairs and down more stairs to a little theatre space which must surely be below the level of the Ouseburn.

"We're going to fill the theatre with dead people!" said Tim. That has been the theme of this winter - and besides, the last time I had an evening out the room was full of phantoms. Tim's dead people weren't ghosts, though, just people who weren't alive any more. He sang songs about dead people: his grandparents, his brother, Michael Marra (and, more cheerfully, Michael Marra's song about Frida Kahlo's Visit to the Taybridge Bar). And he sang his own settings of the work of dead poets: Ernest Jones, Louis MacNeice, Julia Darling. Sometimes accompanied by Neil Harland on double bass, Ian Carr on elegant guitar and stand-up comedy, Rhona Dalling on violin, vocal and support (her own songs and banjo), sometimes solo - including a lovely a capella version of Julia Darling's Indelible, miraculous ... A good evening.
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Peter Dickinson [Jan. 17th, 2016|12:52 pm]

Peter Dickinson died on 16 December 2015, on his 88th birthday. His website lists all of his books1, nearly sixty of them. One of my favourite authors has died, and I am entitled to feel a sense of loss, but a sense of deprivation, that it isn't time yet, I want more? That's ridiculous, but I do.

I have my reasons...Collapse )
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Overheard at the pool [Jan. 15th, 2016|01:03 pm]

Navigating my way past / round / through the group of ladies who chat this morning, I heard a well-modulated voice say "That dreadful man from the Council - got an MBE or something - ought to be shot!"

I think I was intended to hear; she checked later in the changing area, to make sure I'd got the message.
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