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The Pompeii of the North [Jul. 30th, 2014|10:27 pm]
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Two years ago, we visited Binchester Roman Fort , and admired the commandant's bathhouse with its underfloor heating, and the exhibition of finds from the site. I read the descriptions of the fort, and the claim that it was the largest between York and Edinburgh, and looked across the green field (with the suggestive bumps) and thought I'd take their word for it.

There'd probably have been more to see if we'd been there a week earlier, because to judge from the excavation blog, we must have arrived just after the short archaeological season had finished for the year. The 2014 season has just ended, and last Saturday was an open day, with an opportunity to look round before tarpauline covers the excavations for another season. They've been working at two trenches, one at the edge of the fort itself, and the fraction of the fort uncovered does make it possible to get some idea of the scale of place (scroll down this article for an illustration of the location. Everyone's favourite, of course, is the latrine block:



the handy sponge-on-a-stick provided by the archaeologists so that no-one would be in any doubt what they were looking at.

The second trench is event more impressive. It has opened up part of the vicus, the civilian settlement outside the fort, including the bathhouse - yes, another. The one we'd seen before - the one that was discovered in 1815 when a horse and cart almost fell into the hole that had opened up and revealed it - was for the use of the commandant and his guests; this one was for the garrison (and perhaps the townspeople too):



When it fell into disuse it was filled up with rubbish, which helped the walls to remain standing to a considerable height, and with some of their plaster surface intact - hence the press stories about the 'Pompeii of the North': and the archaeologist who thought of that one is pretty pleased with himself!

There was small display of treasures, including the sandstone stone head thought to be of a local god; though not the rather pretty ring (the design incised on the stone is being interpreted as an anchor and fishes, and therefore a Christian symbol, but I try not to let that spoil it for me).

There is funding for another digging season next year, but after that, no-one knows what will happen...
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Overheard at the pool [Jul. 29th, 2014|10:43 am]
In the showers, two men were discussing Howard Hughes and the Spruce Goose: "He was mad, like that Richard Branson... He was a visionary."
"Isambard, he was a visionary."

"The problem with him was, he wore a top hat."
And I didn't hear what came next, because I went for my swim.
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Hemlock and after [Jul. 23rd, 2014|02:42 pm]
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This post has been simmering nicely for over a week, while I nibbled at it; but on Sunday afternoon I found my way into it, and very nearly reached the end. I reached, in fact, an end, but not quite the end I wanted. So I took a step back, intending to read through from the beginning, hit the wrong key and - yes - deleted my entire afternoon's work. This was infuriating, but I can't claim it was inappropriate: I'm trying to write about Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, and I find myself like Polly, at the start of the book, trying to remember what it is I have forgotten.

It's a long time since I last read Fire and Hemlock. A rapid trawl through my book diary suggests that it's not since 1987, which must be when I first read it, because that's when it came out in paperback. But here too I feel I've forgotten something crucial - I can't believe that I've only read it once. It's one of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books - no, it's one of my favourite books full stop. One of the reasons I love it so much is that it is a book about growing up reading: it would be interesting to read it in parallel with Jo Walton's Among Others - and I'll put the spoiler cut here in case anyone is worried about spoilers. Anyway, this could be long.Collapse )

Which seems like the right place to stop. I finished reading Fire and Hemlock (in rather less time than it has taken me two write about it), picked up The Islands of Chaldea and gulped that down too. Then I registered for Newcastle University's Diana Wynne Jones conference, and forced myself to read something completely different.
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Meanwhile... [Jul. 18th, 2014|10:58 am]
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There is a substantial post on the simmer - not necessarily interesting, you know, but substantial - and it's creating a bit of a bottleneck. Sorry about that.

Meanwhile, have a cute baby photo.

Good, eh? Have another!
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The Big Meeting [Jul. 13th, 2014|10:27 pm]
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Our train eventually limped into Durham just before midnight: we were an hour and a half late on what should have been a three hour journey. There will be compensation, but it will be paid in the form of vouchers for more rail travel (because a seriously delayed journey leaves you eagerly anticipating the next one). I would rather have my hour-and-a-half refunded, but we settle for what we can get.

I may have been sleepier yesterday than I would otherwise have been; certainly, if it hadn't been Gala day I wouldn't have leaped out of bed at eight o' clock. But it was, and I did, and we headed into town and found samarcand and his family, and followed the NASUWT banner and brass band with them, then slipped round the back way to avoid the crush at the junction - though durham_rambler did it the hard way, and heard all the bands playing for the platform party.

It was a hot and heavy day. It didn't rain until much later, but it made me feel even lazier, so instead of making an effort to see the new banners which had paraded in front of us as we sat on the bank in Old Elvet, we made a gentle circuit of the stalls (rich pickings at the used book stall, including a shiny hardback of Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels) and back in time to hear Denis Skinner giving a fine rabble-rousing speech - I'd expect no less from him. Like all the other speakers I heard, he spoke with affection and regret of Tony Benn and Bob Crow, but he also did something I didn't come across anywhere else: he brought fraternal greetings from Scottish trades unionists, and a reminder that unity is strength.

By now it was mid-afternoon: we were ready for lunch, so we went to the Café Continental on Elvet Bridge, and sat upstairs and listened to the bands stopping to play below us. And then we came home: the party was far from over, but we'd had enough:

Jane Shaft


It was a good Gala, I think: there seemed to be a large number of new banners, and a big crowd on the racecourse.
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Heading into the sunset [Jul. 11th, 2014|09:56 pm]
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We are on the train, northbound, homeward bound, and the sun is low and red ahead of us. It is not a happy train: first it had to make a detour to avoid a trespasser on the line who refused to move, then it had to make an unscheduled stop to take on the passengers from a failed train. It was already quite full, and now it is very full, and we are sharing a table with some youn Americans who are getting more fun than I would have thought possible out of a pack of cards. But the train is moving, and there is the sunset ahead of us, and a full moon behind us.

We came south at short notice for the funeral of a cousin: we had known since earlier this year that she had cancer, and that things were bad, so this was not unexpected. She's been there all my life, and though geography never made us close, she brightened every event when we met: she had great warmth and charm - and it was a good funeral, because I came away from it feeling that personality through the reminiscences of her family and friends. A funeral's a bad thing, because it means that someone has died; but when someone has died, actually a funeral is what you want: a chance to say goodbye in the company of other people who are missing them.

As a bonus, we stayed with the Bears, who also came to the funeral. But first, last night, they took us to a Clean Cut Kids gig. The Kids are Keith Taylor and Richard Cryan, and they sing Dylan. I can't link to the YouTube video, because the train's wifi blocks the site, but scroll down their Twitter feed and there's a link there. If you recognise the name, you'll know that they range across the full Dylan repertoire: the earliest song they did (by a comfortable margin) was Blowing in the Wind (and the latest was probably Early Roman Kings, though I'm not reliable on the last decade or so). The best, I think, was also their least faithful: Highway 61. Disclaimer: Richard and Keith are friends of the Bears, and by now I have probably known them long enough to claim them as friends myself too. So I may be biased. But if you like Dylan (and I do) the Kids are alright.

Update: we are now in Newark Northgate, and the guard has announced that we are currently delayed by a balloon on the overhead wires.
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Drinking Phaedra [Jul. 9th, 2014|10:42 pm]
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Time was, the two of us would see off a bottle of wine over dinner - not every night, but on those occasions when we opened a bottle, we would finish it. Now quite often we don't. It's not a problem, and drinking the same wine with different meals can be quite revealing. There are people who try to combat wine snobbery by telling you that it doesn't matter what wine you drink with which food, drink what you like. I'm not one of them: I enjoy the game of working out what will go with what, and while there are no absolute rules, some pairings work much better for me than others.

This particular sequence probably starts on Friday evening: anyway, it starts with a stew of lamb and courgettes and chick peas, and a bottle of red wine - and since it was the end of the week, and I felt like it, it was quite a big red (a Costiès de Nîmes, I think). Both were good, though there wasn't any particular synergy between them.

This left me with a glass or so in the bottom of the bottle - hard to tell, since it was old enough that there was likely to be quite a deposit. Most of it went into a risotto the next day, with radiccio and dried porcini mushrooms. It was a hot day, and I wasn't in the mood to drink a heavy red (though my default would probably be to drink more of what I've cooked with) - in fact, I was half minded not to serve wine at all, and just drink water (yes, we do this too): then I spotted a bottle of French rosé... Which was fine, not remarkable in itself, and went surprisingly well with the risotto. And equally, though less surprisingly, well with spicy chicken kebabs the next night. Except that there wasn't enough of it left, so we moved on to a different rosé.

This one was different all right. Scroll down to the rosés and it's the one on the left: Phaedra Xinomavro from Waitrose (this is the URL on the label, but I can't find Phaedra there: the label also explains that 'Phaedra' means 'bright', so put other associations out of your mind). It's a darker rosé than I would usually buy, as my Platonic ideal of a rosé is the classic Provence style, pale and dry and perfumed, rather than the modern version, dark and fruity (and probably too sweet). Phaedra, it turned out, was not over sweet, and it had a curious edge - in retrospect I compared it to retsina (it didn't taste resinated, but it gave the same clean finish to the wine). I'd probably have marked it down as an interesting experiment. But we were out on Monday, and I put together a quick dinner of tagliatelli (spelt tagliatelli!) and what's-in-the-fridge? sauce - onion, the other half of the radiccio, cream and gorgonzola, plus some walnuts - and it was wonderful with the other half of the bottle. That edge cut through the richness of the sauce, and the fruit had enough character to balance it. That Observer review says it has "the crunch and tang of cranberries" and I see what they mean.

Which goes to show...
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Supplementary travels [Jul. 5th, 2014|10:30 pm]
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It's a sunny Saturday evening and I feel a little lazy, a little unfocussed - maybe I could tidy up the old travel supplements that are littering my desk: nothing as demanding as making travel plans, but dream a little of places we might go, sometime... And idleness has been rewarded, because underneath the newspapers I found a book I've been meaning to return to A. next time we see her - and we will see her on Monday, and I would have forgotten it was there. Does that in itself make the process worthwhile? No, on with the links:

The Centre de l'Art et du Paysage is on an island in a lake in the plateau de Millevaches, in the Corrèze (a thousand springs, etymologically, it seems, and not a thousand cows): you reach it by crossing a footbridge. Its website is uninviting, but if you read the Guardian article first, you have some idea what you are looking for, and the Bois des Sculptures soundslike my sort of place (there's an Andy Goldsworthy, which is always a good start).

I can't really see us taking a holiday to savour slow food in rural Turkey: but it does sound good...

Why do I have a copy of the books section here? And why do I not have last week's article about wine tourism in Sicily? (Never mind, I found it!)

This isn't much to show for several months worth of weekly supplements. Most of what they publish just isn't for me: skiing holidays, cycling holidays, how to amuse your children, city breaks... And sometimes I may be a bit dismissive of this material. "Hah!" I might say. "Who on earth plans a trip around recommendations for an outdoor cinema?" Let this be a lesson to me not to be so hasty - because the Cromarty Film Festival sounds rather wonderful: outdoor screenings in Scotland in December night be a challenge, but "Join the audience near the shoreline for mulled wine and watch the opening film as it is projected on to the lighthouse..." (mulled wine? the Festival's own website talks of Glen Ord...)

And one that's not from the Guardian: Britain's most northerly accommodation property (it's on Unst).
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Sous les pavés, la plage! [Jul. 3rd, 2014|12:16 pm]
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Seen on Framwelgate Bridge yesterday, a sand sculptor hard at work on a slightly cartoony dog: he had, of course, brought the sand with him (did he pack it up and take it away afterwards? I don't know).

And, also from the department of 'If it happens anywhere, it must happen everywhere', padlocks are beginning to appear on Pennyferry footbridge. The one tucked discreetly behind one of the struts may have been there a little while, but the garland dangling from the middle of the bridge is new. Not yet an epidemic on the scale of the Pont des Arts, fortunately.
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Experimentum Mundi [Jul. 2nd, 2014|10:27 pm]
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On her recent visit, helenraven, leafing through the newspapers on the kitchen table, stopped, did a double-take, checked the top of the page and said "This is a newspaper from 1995." This was true; slowly but surely I am working my way through the backlog. There's always something that makes it worthwhile - a Nancy Banks-Smith television review, Doonesbury (or sometimes a David Shenton strip) - and if mostly that's something quite small, well, mostly it doesn't take up much of my time.

Once in a while, though, there's something worth lingering over.

On Friday, July 7th 1995, the Guardian carried an article by Ian McDiarmid, artistic director of London's Almeida Theatre, about a piece which was about to be staged as part of an 'opera' season: Giorgio Battistelli's Experimentum Mundi, "an extraordinary scoring of work in progress, a scenic concerto for master artisans, percussion and the spoken word". The Guardian article isn't online, but here is the Independent's review, and another, more music-centred, review and better still, here is a taste of the thing itself (there is an Experimentum Mundi website, which links to a different and apparently more complete YouTube video, but one which I found inaudible):



What the video doesn't show is the part taken by Ian McDiarmid in that Almeida production. It was his task to read extracts from Diderot's Dictionnaire raisonné des arts et des métiers relating to the crafts being exercised by the orchestra. His article describes his visit to Albano, the village which is the home of the orchestra, to rehearse, and how he felt after the run-through: "A sudden wave of depression engulfs me. I am just not making anything. Not even progress. Surrounded by hand-made shoes, delicious pasta and a small wall, I am alone with a tired larynx and a crumpled script." Battistelli reassures him that 'we are all makig different kinds of magic', but he is more consoled by the meal that inevitably follows the music (Italy has a reputation to maintain). But I love that image: "surrounded by hand-made shoes, delicious pasta and a small wall..."
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