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Minstrels [Jan. 28th, 2015|10:17 pm]

I don't think I'd heard of Bensham Grove before last month, when we attended a lecture on William Morris's visits to the North East: someone asked where Morris would have stayed, and the answer was, with Robert Spence Watson at Bensham Grove. Watson was a Quaker, a radical, an anti-slavery campaigner, and Bensham Grove was the house that his grandfather has bought. So it isn't built in the Arts and Crafts style, it's too old for that, but the fireplaces carved with poetic mottoes and set with glazed tiles are pure Arts and Crafts, and the five stained glass panels showing 'minstrels' are Morris & Co.:

After the death of Robert Spence Watson and his wife Elizabeth, the family set up an educational trust, and in 1919 the house became a settlement: a base which offered everything from art classes to welfare clinics to the people of Gateshead, and was the site of the first nursery school in the north-east.

Bensham Grove is still a community centre, and continues to offer art classes. On Sunday they hwld an open day, to display the results of a recent renovations, in which members of the art classes participated. We went along to have a nose round, and were very impressed with what we saw, both the original features and the new work, the tiled floor of the conservatory, the new stained glass, the embroidery, the (lino-cut?) prints from the settlement days which someone had found at the back of a cupboard and rehung...

The best way to see more of my pictures is probably to click through the photo above, and then move up and down the photostream; and there are some more pictures in this press report, and an impressive list of people who visited Bensham Grove when it was a family house (including, I have just noticed, another of my heroes, though there is a mistake...)

Last night we went to a concert of 'English Lute Songs from the Golden Age' with Emma Kirkby and Jacob Heringman. S. joined us, and we met at Bill's restaurant for aomething to eat beforehand: it's new, and had had a great write-up in the local paper. It turns out that, as I suspected, Mark Tallentire is more easily pleased than we are. To be fair, we had certain restrictions. We said when we booked, and again when we ordered, that we needed to leave at seven, so when our main courses took half an hour to arrive, there was no question of dessert. Because we were in a hurry, and because S. observes dry January (which she extends to Easter), durham_rambler and I attempted to order beer. Our waitress was very sweet, but a little lost: she couldn't tell us anything about the 'Bill's Beer' - "I've only been in the job four days": - which is fair enough, but she had to be prodded into going and finding out. On the basis of her description durham_rambler decided to risk it, and I ordered the Adnams instead: she returned to tell us that they were out of the Sam Adams; no, I said, I'd asked for the Adnams. Oh, well, they were out of that, too. I drank water. I was surprised to be offered the choice of how well done I wanted my burger, but said 'rare'; naturally she returned to say that Health and Safety didn't permit this, and would I prefer medium or well done? The burger, when it arrived, was tasty, though the bun was dry (why do they toast the bun? this always makes it dry). The chips were good, but not fabulous (and, hang on, hadn't the menu promised skins? - ah, "skin on fries", whatever that means). It was OK, in other words, but not as good as it thought it was.

The concert, on the other hand, was lovely. They should probably have announced, somewhere in the advance publicity, that it was the culmination of work that Emma Kirkby and Jacob Heringman had been doing with the music students, and that there would be a fair amount of student participation. I wouldn't have been deterred by this, I have attended student recitals by choice, I'd just like to have been told. I had thought I was going primarily for Jacob Heringman's lute, because I mostly don't respond well to the classical music voice in general and the soprano voice in particular: but Emma Kirkby was wonderful, she sang with great clarity, and a sweetness that was not cloying. She had a rather charming manner of jumping into each verse as if she had thought of what she was about to say, as if it had come fresh into her mind. Lots of Dowland, and some Campion, and composers I hadn't heard of - not just one but two Alfonso Ferraboscos (father and son). Title of the evening: Captain Digorie Piper's Pavane.
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Am I the last person on LJ to discover StickGods? [Jan. 28th, 2015|08:24 pm]
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How to summon a Cat Goddess.
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For a' that [Jan. 25th, 2015|08:48 pm]
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If Jackie Kay, presenting Radio 4's Pick of the Week, had not mentioned it, I would not have known that today is also the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Ewan MacColl. I don't doubt that they would have been happy to share a celebration, and there'd be some fine songs sung at it. Here's just one of them:

ETA: durham_rambler points out that we also overlooked Bob Copper's centenary earlier this month...
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Another Thursday... [Jan. 24th, 2015|05:35 pm]
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...much the same as another Wednesday. But there was something about last Thursday that made me want to write about it, an actual 'this is what I did today' diary; no ent that wasn't entirely ordinary, but plenty of them.

We got up early, coaxed the boiler into life (time and past time to replace the boiler, and to do more extensive repairs on the house, and we are moving towards doing that - but in the interim, we press the reset button and the heating returns) and went to the pool. The morning was cold, but not frosty, we didn't have to scrape ice from the car, the pool was quieter than it had been on Monday, and all of these things were good.

Home to breakfast: best meal of the day - coffee strong as I like it, and plenty of it, and toast (usually my own bread, and if not, something interesting). And washing up and updating websites and doing odd jobs, all so ordinary that I can't remember what I did this particular day.

When I could, I sneaked time with my book. A fellow-member of the reading group had loaned me Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death, which was well-timed, since I had run out of book on the train into town, and needed something for the return journey. It - well, it deserves a post of its own, but it gave something of its own particular flavour to the days through which I was reading it.

We walked down to the Town Hall for an early evening public meeting, called by our MP to brief her about some half dozen planning applications, all for new, purpose-built accommodation for students: what should she say about them to the County Council? The meeting was packed, which is good, and many people spoke well, so I hope Roberta got from it what she needed. But it was frustrating to be going through the applications one at a time, and to know that the planning process will do likewise, when the only hope of rescuing the City from predatory development would be to draw up a strategic plan for student accommodation, and the test each application against it. On the way home, durham_rambler said "I know what was the one surprise of the evening for you..." He was right; it was when a speaker from behind me introduced her contribution with the words "I'm Rosemary Cramp..." Rosemary Cramp was a legendary figure in my undergraduate days (she was Durham's first woman professor, among other things).

Since the meeting ran straight through our dinner time, we had planned to eat out, but by the time it finished, all I wanted to do was go home, take my shoes off and open a bottle of wine. So I dashed into Tesco in the Market Place (if they ever close, I haven't caught them at it) and grabbed some soup and garlic bread. While the bread was in the oven, I picked a bottle, almost at random from the cellar. I'd been thinking 'big warming red', but what I got was a Turkish red called Kalecik Karasi, and it serves me right for being in too much of a hurry to read the notes (a bouquet of cherry and redcurrant... Enjoy cellar cool) which might have warned me that this was altogether a lighter, fruitier drink than I'd had in mind - I thought pomegranate, rather than cherry, if that isn't too unspeakably trendy, and we were indeed drinking it cellar cool, and enjoying. I'd buy it again, especially in the summer.

I thought that was a day well spent, and there was nothing now but to take my book and the remains of the bottle and sit on the sofa until bedtime, but Thursday had one more thing up its sleeve: a phone call from the BoyBear, who was about to go out and buy a new computer (hooray!) and wanted to brainstorm about it beforehand.
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Headdesk [Jan. 24th, 2015|10:30 am]

I don't know whose idea it was that the audience for Sounds of the 60s would not be attracted to a programme about Peggy Seeger promoted on her own merits, but the trailer they broadcast began by telling us that all her life she has been surrounded by remarkable men: Woody Guthrie was a visitor to her parents' house, her half-brother was Pete Seeger, her husband...

And so on. She was, in short, "inspirational" - which is code for "interesting only for her part in other people's work."

In the background I could hear a voice defiantly singing "I'm gonna be an engineer!"
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Don't say you weren't warned. [Jan. 22nd, 2015|05:00 pm]

There's a feature that appeared some little while ago on my 'user info' page on LJ: 'Place in user ratings' it says, and there's a number. I have no idea what it means. It's accompanied by a number, which varies. Right now that number is 666.
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Local excitements [Jan. 18th, 2015|09:59 pm]

There was a thin layer of snow on the ground when we got up yesterday morning. No, that wasn't the excitement: but it was the reason why durham_rambler volunteered to empty the compost and take the rubbish down the garden to the dustbin. And that's why he noticed, as I might not have done, that there was a bicycle in the shed at the bottom of the garden, which we had not put there.

There've been a number of bicycle thefts locally, so this wasn't entirely mysterious. durham_rambler phoned the local police, but didn't get beyond the switchboard. "You could leave it there, and perhaps the owner will come back and collect it," was the suggestion. Yes, and perhaps the person who left it there but is not the owner will come back and collect it. So we didn't do that, but decided instead to deliver it ti the police station and let them sort it out. It was only when durham_rambler removed the bike he had seen that he realised there was another one behind it in the shed. I am very impressed at the capacity of our Skoda Roomster.

Second, more sombre, excitement while we were in town yesterday, much activity on the river with police, mountain rescue, a yellow dinghy, searching for a student who had gone missing on Wednesday night. This is the third time in fifteen months that a student has set off homeward on his own after a night out drinking with friends, and never got there, and it seems likely that this story will have the same tragic end.

durham_rambler tells me he saw a report on the local television news in which a police officer briefing student volunteers in the search told them that there was no truth in the rumour that someone was going round pushing students into the river. Since he and I were both brought up never to believe any rumour until it has been officially denied, we didn't think this was a good strategy. More seriously, why would you need to believe such a thing, when you have a culture in which the major entertainment offered to young people seems to be going out and getting seriously - seriously - drunk? And, as the University repeatedly reminds us, they are adults, the University can't tell them what to do, or where to live...

Oh, dear.
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A walk by the Thames [Jan. 15th, 2015|09:58 pm]
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When I wrote about our day out in London, I said that our afternoon's walk needed a post of its own, with pictures. And now that I have sorted through the 108 photographs that I took in the course of that walk, I'm ready to write that post. Ready, too, after a dew days of snow and wind and rain, for a sunny afternoon's walk. Under a cut, because inordinately long, and many pictures. Not all 108 of them, but many...Collapse )
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Culinary notes [Jan. 11th, 2015|09:34 pm]
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  1. Nigel Slater fantasises about what he would do if someone left a box of quinces on his doorstep - and then gives two recipes, one of which is, effectively 'serve poaches quince with gorgonzola cream' (sounds good); the other is for Quince and panettone pudding, but the proportions seem off: the recipe specifies 1.2 kilos of quinces (peeled and cored weight) to 220g panettone (or brioche): that's a whole lot of quinces.

  2. Mistakes do happen. In yesterday's Cook supplement, Henry Dimbleby concludes his introduction to a digest of his 'Back to Basics' series with the words: "And, finally, we have not included baked potatoes in the contents because I was weong. I am so sorry to all of you who sent me photos of your ovens looking like a culinary crime scene. Baked potatoes really can explode if you don't prick them with a fork. Quite violently, it turns out." Oh, yes. Been there, done that, washed the T-shirt. I've typed out the text, because I can't find it on the Guardian's website (though the column in which he claims that the exploding spud is an urban myth is still there).

  3. We had haggis for dinner. Since we did a big supermarket shop rather than going in to Durham yesterday, it was some fancy brand, i.e. not MacSween's, and it was not as good. The casing was some dark thin plastic, and the contents dense and claggy - not unpleasant, but, as durham_rambler says, we'll be having the real thing on Burns Night.

  4. On the bright side, since I was cooking a haggis in the oven (in a bowl of water, because that's what you do), I was able to observe the effects of putting a bowl of water into the oven while the bread is baking. Today's chestnut loaf was rising very nicely even before it went into the oven, so this isn't conclusive, but it does seem to have helped.

  5. This is further support for the hypothesis that the wetter the dough, the better it rises - and the harder it is to get out of the tin.

ETA: some quince links, courtesy of cmcmck and browngirl: The NYT praises the quince, because there are quince trees at the Cloisters Museum. But there are more, at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon. Quinces seem to be having a moment, and there are several cookbooks (or cooking and growing) books devoted entirely to quinces. Barbara Ghazarian wrote one of them. She has a quince blog.
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Je suis Charlie (tendance mensuel) [Jan. 9th, 2015|12:29 pm]

The massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is one of those horrible events about which it feels wrong to remain silent, and yet about which I have nothing helpful to say. I've been trying and failing to put my thoughts in order. Then this morning brought the news that the Mayor of Paris had called a special council meeting to declare Charlie Hebdo an Honorary Citizen of Paris. I don't know what to say about this, either, but if Charlie Hebdo doesn't have something rude to say about this well-intentioned mark of respect from the establishment - well, then it isn't the magazine I thought it was!

It's true that when I think of Charlie Hebdo, I think first of all of its predecessor Hara-Kiri, whose masthead declared it a journal bête et méchant. The story goes that the editors received a letter from an disgruntled reader, saying in effect that "you are stupid, and what's more, you're nasty, too" and, delighted with the accuracy of this summary, they made it their rallying cry. This, surely, is the spirit in which Charlie Hebdo (re)published the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Salman Rushdie puts it in measured terms when he says: "I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. 'Respect for religion' has become a code phrase meaning 'fear of religion'. Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect."

On this basis I, too, stand with Charlie Hebdo; but I've never bought a copy, nor of Hara-Kiri, either. My disrespect is not as fearless as theirs, but I don't enjoy their satirical savagery either. I was, during the year I spent in France, in the early 70s, a regular purchaser of the monthly Charlie magazine (which didn't yet need to identify itself by adding the distinction 'mensuel' in the title, because the weekly magazine had not yet become Charlie Hebdo). This was a comics magazine, an eclectic mixture of strips in which translations of Andy Capp and Peanuts (from which it took its title) sat alongside the rather sleazy eroticism of Paulette, drawn by Georges Pichard and scripted by Wolinski, who was also at the time the editor in chief. I think there were also some of Wolinski's own cartoons - I have a vague memory of some rather scribbly little drawings with a cynical sense of humour, but they didn't appeal to me enough to stay clearly in my memory, and the internet is not being helpful. That's just my taste: Wolinski was well enough regarded in the comics world to be given the Grand prix de la ville d'Angoulême - a sort of lifetime achievement award - by the annual comics festival. He was enough part of my mental furniture that my first reaction on learning he was among the dead on Wednesday was that I hadn't realised he was still alive. He was 80.

The widely reposted affirmation Je suis Charlie has been echoing in my mind with the soixante-huitard slogan Je suis Marxiste (tendance Groucho), and that's the riff I've taken for my title. But the truth is that I am not really Charlie at all. Je suis Pilote: Pilote was my publication of choice, the magazine of Astérix and Obélix, among so many other great strips. And that's where I met Cabu, another of the victims of Wednesday's attack: which is why I was surprised to find him classified among the pitiless satirists, because I associate him with Le Grand Duduche, a gangling teenage schoolboy. I refer you, with apologies, to the Telegraph obituary, because I can't find anything in the Guardian.

In other words, someone else will have to write tributes to all those killed, and what great people they were, and what talented artists - and fortunately the internet is full of people doing just that. All I have is: wait, I know these people! These are comics people! File under No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind... except that perversely, humanly, I am the less because the manor that has been washed away is my friends'.
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