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But there are compensations... [Dec. 15th, 2014|06:14 pm]
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D. is with us for a few days: there was a long-standing plan that he would attend a family party in Leeds, then come on to us, and take the opportunity to try to visit Richard. As it turned out, we went instead to Richard's funeral, but D. came north after his party anyway, and he and I spent this afternoon mooching around Durham. We dropped in on the new(ish) archaeology gallery on Palace Green, and by the time we came out it was dusk, and the sky beyond the Cathedral was blazing scarlet. Naturally I didn't have my camera with me.

Cathedral


So D. took this with his camera. You'll just have to imagine that it's much brighter and much redder.
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Richard Anthony Marshall Turner [Dec. 15th, 2014|11:28 am]
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On Friday we drove to Derbyshire for the funeral of our old friend Richard.

The forecast was for snow, and we were heading for the uplands, so we were a little apprehensive, but the journey went very smoothly. It was a good funeral, as funerals go. The church in Tideswell - "the Cathedral of the Peak" - was Richard's church: he rang its bells and played its organ, and if he sometimes disagreed with its teachings he was nonetheless a member of its congregation, and the people there knew him. This always helps.

Remembering RichardCollapse )

We had arrived in damp grey weather, and cutting cold, but during the service the sun came and went beyond the windows. The final piece of music was completely unknown to me, by Louis Vierne, possibly this one, but I'm going to have to update my Flash player before it'll let me watch, and it reminded me so strongly of Richard that I was smiling as I emerged from the church into brilliant sunshine and a fine blanket of snow covering the churchyard.

One final ceremony, the committal in Eyam Churchyard, where Richard's grave is next to that of his parents. We stood between the church and the hills that rise immediately beyond, as the handbell ringers played one last piece, chiming so sweetly that it took a moment to realise they were not playing a tune but ringing changes, and as the cold seeped in and the flurries of snow began to fall, I thought that this was one last authentic Richard moment.
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Five signs of approaching Christmas [Dec. 9th, 2014|10:18 pm]
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This year it's all about the 31 days of Christmas. You can be as festive as you like in November, and get nothing from me but "Bah, humbug!" I even went to the pantomime in November (there were reasons), and I enjoyed it, but it didn't make me feel Christmassy. Then December arrived, and as if a switch had been thrown, 'tis the season. And these are the signs:
  • December began with a series of heavy frosts. A week on, and we're seeing no two days alike, but we've had some frosty mornings, just to remind us what it's like.

  • It's all Christmas music, all the time - and I don't mind. Some of it's good, and some of it isn't, but that's true of background music in public places all the year round. The month is young, and I may yet tire of it, but just now, it makes me smile.

  • Perhaps because the lights are switched on in November, they don't have the same effect. The evenings are dark and there are lights in the street: so? Durham's illuminated reindeer have been brought out for yet another year, and are looking a bit bedraggled. But lights are just starting at house windows, Christmas trees decorated and lit for the benefit of the people inside the house, then set at the windows to cheers passers-by outside...

  • I not only felt the urge to bake a chestnut loaf, which happens at any season if I have a supply of chestnut flour, but also added dried cranberries to it, so my breakfast toast has been seasonal. It has also been crustier than intended, because for the second time in three loaves I forgot to remove it from the oven until it was a fair bit better done than intended. This confirms my suspicion that the better cooked the loaf, the easier to remove from the tin, but now let's see if I can wind back to the optimum point.

  • I had forgotten all about Fenwick's window, and as I approached from the side lane, past the chapel, it took me a moment to realise what the music was (why does it have to be so loud?). The theme this year is Alice in Wonderland, which made me happy. A couple were trying to photograph themselves staning in front of one of the windows.

Strange things appear in the shops. Marks & Spencers offer a box in the shape of a tree containing, according to the label, chocolate whips. But there's nothing seasonal about that...
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Eating out in SF: a challenge, and a mystery solved. [Dec. 9th, 2014|11:17 am]
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In Saturday's travel supplement, the Guardian's restaurant critic recommends where to eat in San Francisco. desperance, your mission is to try all of these before our next visit. Brunch at Verbena is currently top of my list (they have, and I quote, an illuminated wooden pickle wall), but I await your report...

Across the bottom of the page, readers contribute additional recommendations. One of these is for Hamburgers, in Sausalito - "just across the street from the ferry terminal. It’s a tiny place with a line of lunch customers along the sidewalk..." This explains something. My notes from Sausalito (which will be a post of their own when they grow up, but not yet...) remark that the big queue (much longer than the one in the Guardian's photograph) along the street was not for the nice Mexican restaurant where we lunched, but for the burger joint next door. Apparently it's a thing.
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Old friends: two new books by Chaz Brenchley [Dec. 7th, 2014|10:30 pm]
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This isn't a review. Fortunately, it doesn't need to be. If you want reviews, the New York Times Book Review called Being Small a "lovely short novel" Publishers' Weekly called Bitter Waters a "clever and subtle collection". But this isn't a review, it's something else.

A long post about some short storiesCollapse )
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Newcastle: Crafts, and Arts & Crafts, and eating out [Dec. 4th, 2014|10:13 pm]
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Last weekend was Open Studios time in Newcastle's Ouseburn, and S. invited us to join her for Sunday brunch and to visit some studios thereafter. So we didn't spend as much time for hitting the studios or walking around the Ouseburn as we have done in some previous years, but on the plus side we had a delicious brunch with S., with the full cooked breakfast and ricotta pancakes and blueberries, and bread - well, OK, the bread was of my baking, and I think I have finally cracked Emily Dickinson's rye/cornmeal loaf - and conversation. And durham_rambler and I managed to visit the Mushroom Works before breakfast, where I bought some Christmas presents. I was interested to chat with Jane Frazer: her website shows some of the pieces I liked, her woven mesh and photo pieces, but not the long, loosely knitted strips holding a sequence of tiny pebbles. You could do something similar with my collection of fragments of blue-and-white pottery, I said, and yes, she said, she could...



After breakfast we went back to the other end of the Ouseburn - the river runs in a culvert under the monument in the photograph - and wandered through the various studios, and it was all agreeable enough but nothing particularly exciting. The things I liked were by people whose work I already knew I liked, there were no new discoveries.

On Tuesday we went into Newcastle again, for the North East Labour History Society's 'First Tuesday' talk, because it was about William Morris's visit to the North East during the Northumberland Miners' Strike. The speaker said that Morris had only visited Newcastle upon two occasions, and I could nit-pick and say that he travelled through Newcastle on his way to Iceland. But I won't, because it was a good talk, setting one small event in context, in Morris's life and thought, and in the history of the North East, and opening up to lively discussion afterwards.

It took place at the Newcastle Irish Centre, which is on the border of Chinatown, so afterwards we went down Stowell Street in search of Chinese food. We chose the Royal Emperor very nearly at random, and were well pleased. The charming young waiters looked after us, and took pains to serve us quickly so that we could reclaim our car from the car park before it closed. We had both chosen the a stir fry of scallops and broccoli for the main course, and briefly I regretted this - but once I tasted it, I knew I wouldn't have wanted to share it: the broccoli green and crunchy, the scallops milky sweet, the fresh heat of the slivers of ginger.

And since it is now December, we had Christmas music throughout.
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We know who kicked up a fuss about this, don't we? [Dec. 3rd, 2014|03:45 pm]
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I am attempting to purchase tickets online (for the William Morris exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery) and have reached the point where I am required to enter details about myself. Why? Who knows, but this is what the system requires.

The drop-down menu offers me a choice of titles: I can be Miss, Mr, Mrs, Ms or Rear-Admiral.

I am *so* tempted...
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Sweet Visitors [Nov. 29th, 2014|10:37 pm]
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Last night's gig was Nancy Kerr and the Sweet Visitor band - that is, the band put together to play material from her album of songs she had written herself. We had booked on the basis that I had enjoyed her contribution to the 'Full English' project (including a song of her own composing), and anyway we hadn't been getting to many gigs lately.

In other words, I had no particular expectations - but I wasn't expecting the full folk-rock experience, the drums, the bass, the words lost in the music. We were sitting near the front, and the lights shining down onto the front of the stage dazzled my eyes, and that probably increased my grouchiness. At the intermission, durham_rambler talked to the sound-and-lights people at the back of the hall, and they very kindly killed the light that was causing the problem: I wonder whether anyone noticed that the lighting was more moody in the second half? I liked it better, quite apart from the fact that it didn't hurt my eyes. But I 'watched' much of the first half with my eyes closed, which can't have helped. A fragment of conversation expresses the problem:
durham_rambler: I could hardly hear the banjo on that one.
Me: I didn't realise she [Rowan Rheinghans] was playing banjo until I opened my eyes...

About three songs in, though, I was reminded what had brought me here:



Apollo on the Docks was written for a 'Radio Ballad' about the Olympics; later we also heard a second piece from the same commission, The Bunting and the Crown. I loved that, asked to write a song taking a positive view of the Olympic legacy, the best Nancy Kerr could come up with was 'won't it be lovely when it's over!'

There's a surprising absence of video of the band. We were at the last concert of their tour, but all I can find is tracks from the album accompanied by a cover shot. This doesn't come close to capturing the atmosphere of the live performance, even if the sound balance is very much more to my taste.

The other stand-out song for me was (I think) Broadside, which opened the second half. This was the number on which James Fagan got in touch with his inner rock god - and, as he explained later, this is why:



The music was written and originally performed by Martin Simpson and John Smith. His only option was to play it completely differently. (And I'd like a round of applause, please, for managing to search out a piee of folk music called 'Broadside' from among all the many broadsides).

The short version: not everything about the evening worked for me, but one ot two things I liked very much.
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My diary for the current week [Nov. 27th, 2014|05:20 pm]
Sunday: Kate Fox at the Gala Theatre
- a fun evening, with a tiny audience. Too popular for the poetry crowd, but still scaring off the popular crowd with the word 'poetry', perhaps? Next time call it 'stand-up' and see what happens...

Monday: lecture on the Old Newcastle project
- trying to recreate the New Castle from its elements, the Keep and the Black Gate (a railway runs through it)

Tuesday: Mr Turner
I enjoyed sitting back and letting the movie pass in front of my eyes, but I wish it had had footnotes.

Followed by the Graphic Novels Reading Group, which has really got into the swing of talking about the comics we've been reading.

Wednesday: weegoddess and J. arrived
Hooray!

Thursday (today): going to the panto
Oh, yes we are!

Friday: Nancy Kerr at Gateshead Old Town Hall
Time for some music...

Saturday: fall over
- also, bake a loaf of bread by special request to take to breakfast with S. on Sunday (and Open Studios in the Ouseburn thereafter).


The more there is to post about, the less time there is for posting.
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Puffin body language [Nov. 25th, 2014|11:54 am]
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A puffin also communicates information in its manner of walking. If the puffin is walking rapidly with its head lowered it is saying, "I am just passing through and don't mean any trouble." This is called a low profile walk and is useful because the colony is very crowded and a puffin is often crossing another puffin's territory as it walks. The puffins that are guarding burrows usually assume a pelican walk position that has the puffin stand stiffly erect with its beak next to its body and using slow exaggerated foot movements. This makes the puffin look like a soldier on guard duty, which is just what it is doing by guarding the burrow.

"The puffin may also stomp its foot in place to show its displeasure."

Puffin FAQs from Audubon's Project Puffin
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