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shewhomust

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The past seems to echo with the sound of breaking crockery [May. 28th, 2017|09:29 pm]
shewhomust
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There is something evocative about sherds - the detritus of the past. Crucial archaeological evidence, of course, and, if you are not an archaeologist, this vivid, tangible reminder of people who have been here before, making things and using them and discarding them. The past seems to echo with the sound of breaking crockery.

Penelope Lively, Ammonites and Leaping Fish


This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Bank Holiday weather [May. 27th, 2017|08:17 pm]
shewhomust
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It was 2013 when we first visited the Amble Puffin Festival: time to return. The Festival stays much the same from year to year, but Amble has seen some changes: the town itself is still slightly down-at-heel, scruffier than its smart neighbour Alnmouth, but there is gentrification afoot at the harbour:

Coble Quay


This smart new development is Coble Quay (25 apartments, the Fat Mermaid deli and bistro and a "Private - Residents Only" sign): I wonder if it will still look as smart when it is no longer new? There's a shed which is a seafood centre, which is in the process of setting up a lobster hatchery, and in its shade a little cluster of shops in what look like a row of bathing huts, selling the sort of things people buy at the seaside - no, not buckets and spades, not these days, now is is all handmade cosmetics and seaglass jewellery, and some rather nice prints, drawings of seabirds printed on old maps. When we had checked out these bijou boutiques, we crossed to the other side of the harbour, and spent the rest of the morning at the car boot sale, which is unchanged, all glittering beads and odds and ends of china, cheap DVDs and discarded toys. We bought a book each, and enjoyed the view of the harbour at low tide:

Low tide


Note the heron, which seemed to be coexisting amicably with some eider ducks. Note also how hazy it is. It's even clearer if you look across the river to Warkworth Castle:

Castle in the mist


This wasn't entirely unexpected - in fact it was part of my plan: if the weather is too hot, head for the coast, where a sea fret is quite likely to cool things down. Which worked very well for us in the morning, enough sunshine, but not too much. Towards the end of lunch (we started out at the Fat Mermaid, which was pleasant enough, but felt the pull of Spurreli's, and headed there for ice cream) the sky began to cloud over, and as soon as we set off to explore the town, it started to rain on us, quite heavily. So we didn't stay for the naming of the new lifeboat, but headed for home. The rain stopped as we reached the car, of course, and the drive home was even quite bright, at times, but just as we turned off the main road there was a loud crash, and then another, and hailstones the size of sugar lumps started bouncing off the car. A couple of hundred yards further on, it turned to torrential rain, and the thunderstorm which had been forecast - and the rain has been stopping and starting ever since.

Bonus seaside poem: I'm not a big dan of John Cooper Clarke, but the collaborative process seems to suit him. I think this came out rather well.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Aestivating with Mary Russell [May. 26th, 2017|08:45 pm]
shewhomust
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Apologies for radio silence, lately. My desk is in the attic, and it gets very warm up here in the summer. Most years this creeps up on me, gradually getting harder to stay focused into the afternoon, but this year the sudden heat* has hit me like a brick, and I crawled away in search of cooler parts of the house where I might sleep until the summer weather has passed.

I grabbed a book from the heap to help me though this time of trial, and it turned out to be Laurie R. King's Dreaming Spies. Such a great title for what is, in part at least, an Oxford novel (and sufficiently loosely a tale of spies that I wonder whether she found the title first, and then had to write a book to fit it). You may deduce from this that nature of my relationship with Mary Russell: two parts suspicion to three parts 'I'm not going to put this book aside until I've finished it'.

*For values of heat as it understood in the northeast of England, obviously. Californians (and others who live with serious summer climates) feel free to laugh.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Next time I need a passport photo... [May. 23rd, 2017|09:05 am]
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Well, no, I probably won't go all the way to London to patronise Passport Photo Service, as described in the Guardian.

I could do worse, though. It was founded in 1953, and thanks to its speedy service and central location had many famous clients, often referred by the US Embassy. "The first famous person through the door was Errol Flynn. He stood with his hands on his hips and said: 'Yep! It's me!'" Mohammed Ali saw the gallery of passport photos, and told the firm that now they could replace them with a single big picture of him; Uri Geller bent their only spoon.

But their "most important" visitor? Too nice a story to spoil: go, read for yourself.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Bathroom regained [May. 21st, 2017|08:48 pm]
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The builders have gone, and the downstairs bathroom is ours, all ours. The final stage was completed on Friday morning, when the boss came to photograph the finished job, and the cleaner came to clean up. I don't know what the point of this was, as she only cleaned the bathroom, and given the amount of dust the builders had generated, and their commendable ability to clear as they went, the bathroom was probably the cleanest room in the house. The boss took his pictures before she cleaned, so that wasn't the purpose... But there's no point arguing with builders, so we left her to it, and once she'd finished we went out for the day.

It looks very smart - too smart, in fact, to belong to us, it feels like stepping through a spacewarp into a hotel bathroom somewhere. We have both tried out the shower, and [personal profile] durham_rambler pronounces himself satisfied, which is the important thing, as he is the primary showerer. I'm a little disappointed: I think I'm still hankering after that overhead power shower, which we couldn't have without rewiring and replumbing the entire house. It's fine, and it's certainly better than it was before, and if it doesn't make me prefer a shower to a bath, that was never really on the cards.

And while grey tiles would still not be my first choice, it is nowhere near as dreary as I feared.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Quilts at Belsay [May. 19th, 2017|08:22 pm]
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Belsay Hall


Belsay Hall is an English Heritage property in Northumberland: its most interesting feature is a Quarry Garden (a rock garden on an altogether grander scale), but the house itself is square and rather dull. Last time we visited there I described it as: "the shell of a stately home which uses the building and gardens as a setting in which to display contemporary art around a different theme each year." This memory gave me inflated expectations of the quilting exhibition which has been occupying the hall for the last couple of weeks - which was a perfectly pleasant exhibition of an awful lot of quilts, some of which I likd better than others, but none of which were particularly memorable.

So that was a bit of an anticlimax, but it was outweighed by this being a brilliant time to visit the gardens. Everything was in bloom, there were bluebells in the woods:

The path through the bluebell woods


That door at the far end of the path looks as if it ought to be the way out of the gardens: on the contrary, it leads back into the formal gardens. Have an iris (because I do love irises):

Iris


The route home leads through Ponteland, so we stopped at Waitrose and did the weekend shopping there.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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What the sleeping mind knows [May. 16th, 2017|08:31 pm]
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On Thursday I found a copy of Ben Aaronovitch's The Hanging Tree in a charity shop. I've been waiting for the paperback, and here was a copy of the hardback, missing its dust jacket but only slightly bent, at a fraction of the price and a couple of months early. I carried it home in triumph, and with an amazing effort of will managed not to start reading it for almost a day and a half. Then I caved in, and read it at every opportunity over the next couple of days. I love the 'Rivers of London' series, novels and comics both, and I enjoyed this sixth book as much as any of them.

So it wasn't until very early this morning, inexplicably wakeful and listening to the dawn chorus, that I started to think "Hang on, what happened to the plot?"

Contains spoilers, but of a very non-specific nature.Collapse ) But. The Hanging Tree has a sort of coda in which Peter reflects on what has happened, and draws some conclusions, and it felt like a promise: this is not just recycling the same characters, there is an overarching story going on here.

Aaronovitch goes to a lot of trouble to remind us of past volumes in the series. Characters, themes, locations, all reappear and are remarked on (it's a great candidate for a re-read). I feel he's earned my trust that the future is as solid as the past. If The Hanging Tree doesn't feel quite complete in itself, it's because it's one section of a single novel in multiple installments. "Oh," I thought, "it's a roman fleuve!"

Then I realised what I'd done, and was so pleased with myself that I fell asleep again.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Overthinking Eurovision [May. 15th, 2017|10:22 pm]
shewhomust
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We watched the Eurovision final on Saturday. If I were taking this seriously, I suppose we'd have watched both semi-finals, and then lived-blogged our way through the final. But to take Eurovision seriously is to miss the point.

I did consider live-blogging the final, but couldn't bring myself to do it. If I had, it might have kept me awake, at least until the end of the competition. As it was, I nodded off somewhere in the last few songs: looking at the running order, I don't remember anything after Belgium, so that must be when I fell asleep (sorry, Belgium) and woke up as we launched into the mid-way entertainment, wondering "When do we get to France?"

Since we are living in the future, I hadn't missed my chance forever, and caught up not only with France's entry as performed during the show, with spectacular lighting but also with the official video, a stronger performance of the song but with the distraction of a couple dancing - or appearing to dance - all over various Parisian landmarks. Usually you can count on France singing in French (or at a pinch, Breton, but in any case, not English) which always wins points from me. Requiem was half-French, half-English, despite which I rather liked the song; I could still remember phrases of it ten minutes later, and that's unusual for Eurovision. I don't know why it didn't score higher. Was it too blatant a bid for the sympathy vote, with the lyric:
On pleure mais on survit quand même
C'est la beauté du requiem
and the visuals playing on the idea of Paris, city of lights?

Another deep and meaningful entry was Italy's Occidentalis Karma - it seems there was a reason for the man in the gorilla suit. Only in Eurovision would you decide - quite late in the proceedings, apparently - to underline the serious message of your song by bringing on a man in a (not very good) gorilla suit. So perhaps there was a reason for Azerbaijan's staging: the blackboard with key words I sort of understand, because you'd need help to remember the lyrics, which seem to have been rendered from the Azeri by Google translate. But why is the man with the horse's head standing on a stepladder? Or, if you prefer, why is the man on the stepladder wearing a horse's head? You might as well ask why Belarus's duo, channeling the young Sonny and Cher (or perhaps Esther and Abi Ofarim) were in a small boat? Still, they sang in Belorussian, which is a first, so top marks for that!

The slogan of Eurovision 2017 was "Celebrate Diversity". This was achieved by having three presenters, all white men - all youngish, able-bodied white men - wearing dinner jackets each of which had a different design of sparkly decoration. You think I'm just being snarky? Here's the official video explanation of the brand: the image is based on a traditional Ukrainian necklace, a string of beads of different sizes. The European nations are like the beads of that necklace, all different but alike enough to make a harmonious whole - no, that's my interpretation.

And, to be fair, the winning entry was the one which was most unlike any of the others. By which I don't mean Hungary's operatic blend of Gypsy drama and rap (one man and his milkchurn, a woman in white to express adoration in dance and a woman in black to play the fiddle) though politically this was a remarkable piece of ethnic diversity. I don't mean Romania's blend of rap and yodelling, though musically that's pretty WTF even by Eurovision standards. No, I'm talking about Portugal's decision not to play the Eurovision game of bigger means better, more staging, more lights, more dancers and special effects, and to present instead what BBC commentator Graham Norton described as "just a boy in his bedroom singing a song written by his sister". Which, allowing for the lights which have transformed that bedroom into a magic forest, happens to be true, but it is a very pretty song - none of this is my kind of music, and this particular kind of 'LaLa Land' nostalgia less than most, but it was the bookies' favourite and it won, giving Portugal its first ever Eurovision victory.

It has happened before that the winning song has been a rejection of the razzmatazz and hype. I'm thinking of 1994, when Ireland won with Rock 'n' Roll Kids, a male fuo, two older-than-the-average-contestants singing about being middle aged, without a big band, accompanying themselves on piano and guitar. It was Ireland's third consecutive win, and there was a rumour (though Wikipedia denies it) that it was deliberately designed not to win, not to incur the expense of hosting the contest yet again. I'll end with a reminder of what Eurovision used to be like, back in a quieter age, with Terry Wogan in the commentary box:



This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Il n'est pas long, le temps des cerises [May. 12th, 2017|12:42 pm]
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Yesterday I believed in summer. I walked into town without a jacket, and I took my camera with me to photograph the bluebells down the road:

Bluebells


The first cherries had arrived at the greengrocer's, and there is still asparagus. And the long evenings seem to have arrived while I wasn't paying attention.

Today is cooler, grey and overcast. The radio warns me of heavy showers, thunderstorms, and Theresa May visiting the northeast.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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It's bigger on the inside [May. 9th, 2017|10:25 am]
shewhomust
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- or at least, I'm hoping it is. [personal profile] durham_rambler and I, looking at the piles of materials the builders are stacking all over the house (and I mean materials - cladding, tiles, bags of plaster - not including their collection of buckets, toolboxes and other paraphernalia) estimate that if you stacked it all in the bathroom, it would cover the entire floor to a depth of more than a metre.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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