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Got my scanner working (redux) [Nov. 20th, 2014|09:01 pm]
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For some reason, my scanner had gone off the idea of OCR. I could scan images, as long as I allowed the machine to make all the decisions, in full auto mode, but I couldn't scan text to text. This evening durham_rambler gave it a good talking to, and we have reached an accommodation.

So, to celebrate, some text - from 'Notes & Queries', The Guardian, Friday 12 February 1993.
QUESTION: Is there any truth in the suggestion that sculptures of nude males in the British Museum had their sexual appendages diligently removed by the Victorians?

□ MR G JERMAN is not entirely cor­rect about the demise of the original fig leaf on the Achilles statue at Hyde Park Corner (Notes & Queries, Janu­ary 22). I can assure your readers that it was not apt to come loose, nor did it fall off in the frost. It required a great deal of hard work with a hack­saw, the blades of which snapped fre­quently, to get the fig leaf away. It was secured by three very solid brass bolts, and it was necessary to get a park chair in order to climb up on to the plinth of the statue and then to put a second chair between the feet of Achilles in order to reach up between his legs to get at the fig leaf. As I remember, it took us about six hours of sawing on different nights to get through the three bolts. We were for­tified by pints of beer from The Nag's Head in Kinnerton Street.
We had in mind attaching the fig leaf to the door of London Rowing Club at Putney as a spectacular door knob but it was so heavy it proved unsuitable.
Last year I spoke to the Ministry of Works officer in charge of the statues in Hyde Park and asked whether it would be acceptable if I were to return the fig leaf and pay for its reinstatement or whether she would take a serious view that we had been defacing a work of art. Happily, she thought the whole affair very amus­ing and I paid a substantial sum for its reinstatement. So, Achilles is now again wearing his original "under­wear" — a much more impressive figleaf than his temporary one in the 1960s. — Peter R C Coni, OBE, QC, London SW1.


And, from The Guardian of Wednesday 4 August 1993, a reprint from a still earlier edition:
The lasses at the pit-brow
August 4, 1911

"Well, I don't know!" I can almost hear the well-worn phrase, expressive alike of surprise, consterna­tion and indignation, going up from a hundred homes as it becomes real­ised that the younger daughters now at school are to be debarred from "working on the screens" and that the occupation of their elder sisters, their cousins and aunts, and even their mothers is to be officially scheduled as degrading and im­proper. The proposal is a perfect ex­ample of legislation which is prompted by the most admirable intentions and marred only by an ig­norance of the conditions with which it proposes to deal.
What is the pit-brow lass really like? In Lancashire, at all events, you may always tell her, if you meet her coming away from work, by the scarlet band of flannel across her forehead, which gives her a strangely foreign aspect. The ban­dage is worn to protect her hair from the coal dust while she is at work, and as she swings along homeward in her clogs you see but a triangle of it under the shawl which invariably covers her head and shoulders. It is a curiously becoming head-dress and one would not will­ingly miss from our monotonous streets the sight of these light-hearted home-coming girls. For their superior health and vigour is no fairy-tale. They work almost in the open air though sheltered from rain. Their work is arduous enough, but it is not high-pressure work and does not involve the kind of strain, either muscular or nervous, that is particularly injurious to the phy­sique of women. The coal as it leaves the screens passes slowly before them on an endless band, and as it travels along they remove the "dirt" and deftly handling large lumps and smaller ones send the mineral duly clarified to its proper destination.
Compare this with the strain on the "four-loom weaver" or the card-room girl. A good index of the com­parative healthiness of different oc­cupations is the incidence of phthisis among those engaged in them and judged by this standard there is no doubt as to the advan­tages of the pit-brow girl over her sister in the mill.
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A misty weekend. with Bears [Nov. 18th, 2014|10:21 pm]
It was a pleasant weekend, with no particular theme or pattern, just one thing after another, many of them good things and some not, but improved by the company of the Bears. Now that I try to write about it, I think: But there was this - and this - . Learning of Richard's death casts a shadow, and I see the dark as well as the light: the fact that durham_rambler spent much of Friday at a memorial service (for Margaret Dobson), that BoyBear's friend was unable to meet us for a walk because of family illness. So it goes.

It's all about the details, of course: the pause before dinner for a glass of wine and a bowl of spiced cashew nuts, the pleasure of hearing the CD which has been Work in (slow) Progress for the last two years, the colour of the fallen leaves in the gutter behind the cathedral with the green-and-yellow hosepipe like a snake curving through them, the extraordinary resonance of the bridges over the old Castle Eden railway:



Each one was different, but each had one particular spot which responded to its proper pitch with an enthusiastic and prolonged echo.

Lunch at the Vane Arms offered vegetarian spätzle, and an educational study of the gin menu (I had not realised that gin could be made from apples). Dinner at home, and J. joined us, by special request, bringing a carrot cake with her. Sunday was a lazy day, though we managed to polish off the prize crossword, and GirlBear and I went for a meander around Durham. After dining on a giant pizza, which we had bought at Sainsbury's the previous day (GirlBear said "Skip would approve of us buting the biggest pizza," but I said "No, she'd have bought two!") we spent a happy evening watching YouTube on the television, taking turns to suggest things to watch. We'd still have been there in the small hours, but the power went off just before midnight, just as durham_rambler was making his choice: the screen went dark, and the room went dark, and when we looked out of the front door, a whole stretch of the street was dark. We took the hint and went to bed.

The power was back on when we got up, and the morning's entertainment was resetting all the timers.
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Autumnal [Nov. 17th, 2014|09:53 pm]
I've been offline for a few days lately, as we have had visiting Bears. It's been a pleasant weekend, with walking and talking and music and such, and I hope to write more about it soon.

For the time being, though, all I have to say is that it was spoiled only by a phone call from D. to tell us of the death of an old friend. I'm not ready to write about that just yet, either.

Good reasons and bad, and that's why I haven't been posting lately.
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A day in Boston [Nov. 9th, 2014|06:37 pm]
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Previously: We flew out of Edinburgh, the journey was a journey, we started by exploring Woburn - and since we had a date to meet non-LJ friends for dinner in Boston, the next day was our day for being tourists in the city.

Our gracious hosts drove us to the end of the T, where we bought passes, and then it's an easy trip to Downtown Crossing, where a banjo player on the platform is just setting up for some travelling music, and out onto the Common. Now what? We hadn't made any particular plans, and though there was a tourist information place on the Common, it didn't offer us anything that really appealed: but we wandered across the Common, came out on Beacon Hill, and were very happy just to keep wandering there. Wandering, and taking pictures, so perhaps we'd better have a cut here:Collapse )

I'd call that a day well spent.
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...and five more: [Nov. 7th, 2014|09:59 pm]
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  • Driving in to Newcastle for Ann Cleeves' book launch on Tuesday, we were delayed by heavy traffic in Gateshead - a mixture, I think, of people avoiding the roadworks on the motorway, and people going to bonfire parties. But we had plenty of time, as we crawled down the hill to the Tyne, to admire the fireworks somewhere in Newcastle.


  • The party was for Thin Air, Ann's latest Shetland book, which I had enjoyed reading on the flight from Edinburgh to Boston. There was Shetland fiddle music, too, from Catherine Geldard, who loaned her surname to the book's child ghost - and since the story begins at a wedding on Unst, she played us the Unst Wedding March. It's very mournful; I can't imagine marching to it. (This is a bit different to what Catherine played solo, but I'm enjoying listening to it, anyway).


  • Afterwards, we went for a pizza at The Herb Garden, a hip, high-design (there's a full-size statue of a horse in the foorway) restaurant in one of the railway arches in the Westgate Road. "Last time I was here," said durham_rambler, "I got my exhaust fixed." Pizza was good, though.


  • When I read about Mark Thomas's play Cuckooed at the Edinburgh Festival, I thought it sounded worth seeing, and I thought it sounded like something that could very easily be toured around small venues. Right on both counts: last night it was in Durham, and an interesting and thought-provoking evening (with a 20-minute standup set, which we were invited to regard as the support act). We looked around the theatre, convinced that some of our old political contacts must be present, but didn't meet anyone we knew until the interval, when we discovered that the Graphic Novels Reading Group was out in force.


  • From The Guardian of twenty-odd years ago, the incomparable Nancy Banks-Smith describes Ricardo Belmont: "He is craggily good-looking... open-necked denim shirt... shining teeth hung from ear to ear like pillow slips on a washing line... all that."
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Five good things to start November [Nov. 2nd, 2014|12:22 pm]
A new page on the calendar that hangs by my desk:
Winter sunset shining through the passage into Maes Howe


The first entry in my 2015 diary:
Martin Simpson at the Old Cinema Launderette (strange but true...)


A quince poem:
Iain Galbraith's translation of Jan Wagner's Quittenpastete won the Stephen Spender Prize 2014 for poetry in translation. I like the 14 and under winner, too (from the French of Jean Dominique).


There are two kinds of physicists, the ones who are devoted to their blackboards and the ones who have to have a whiteboard -
according to Wendy James, project manager for Studio Daniel Liebeskind on the University's planned new Centre for Fundamental Physics. (She makes a good case for the building, too, and promises it will be "polite" and melt into the landscape. You might ask why the University has saved its polite and harmonious building for a site entirely within its own territory, and has built its domineering and impolite building on the main road into Durham - but that's not a fair question for Ms James).


An unexpected lunch date:
Talking of fundamental physics, we have a last-minute lunch date with a professor of chemistry and physics (one person). Better get ready to go!
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Diana Wynne Jones: Power of Three [Nov. 1st, 2014|10:53 pm]
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Had we but world enough and time, I would have prepared for the Diana Wynne Jones conference by re-reading everything she ever wrote in order of publication. In this imperfect world, my re-reading was much more random: a couple of particular favourites (Fire and Hemlock and The Homeward Bounders), a couple of books which featured prominently among the titles to be discussed, but of which I had only a hazy recollection (The Lives of Christopher Chant and Hexwood) and Power of Three, taken from the shelf, as I said, in a spirit of 'Oh, might as well re-read one of the early ones...' Power of Three was the only one of these which gave me any surprises: I continued to love the books I knew I loved, and to enjoy but not find exceptionally memorable the books I - well, you get the drift. And then there was Power of Three, so clever, so inventive, so - powerful. Where did that come from?

Cut for length and potential spoilersCollapse )
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Memoirs of an infrequent flyer [Oct. 24th, 2014|10:27 pm]
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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]
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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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