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The gasman cometh [Nov. 24th, 2015|09:50 pm]

The people who meter our gas use - who are not, in this fragmented modern world, the same people who supply our gas - wrote to durham_rambler saying that they wished to replace our meter with a newer shinier one, and what time today would be convenient?

The engineer turned up some time after nine - we were just finishing breakfast - which was fine: we'd said 'morning rather than afternoon'. We were his fourth call of the day, he said, but the others had all been student houses, and he hadn't been able to do the job. Then he had a look at our meter, which wasn't what he'd been expecting: it wasn't a prepayment meter. We confirmed that it wasn't a prepayment meter, and never had been. But his paperwork showed a prepayment meter, with a serial number which matched that of our meter; he couldn't replace the meter until the paperwork matched. Also, did we ever smell gas? Because his pressure guage showed a slight loss of pressure, so gas must be leaking somewhere.

He would now go away, and return when he had a new and correct job number. And by the way, did we know that the meter was held up by a single bracket, which did not meet modern standards, and some of the fittings were lead, which likewise? This would not be a straightforward job, and he would return with a colleague to help him.

They returned, naturally, as I was beginning to cook lunch (so there was a change of plan, and fried eggs for lunch). The two of them huddled into the coal hole, where they were joined by the man who turned up to read the water meter (word must have got round that there was a party). They confirmed that there was indeed a gas leak, and - after an anxious time in which we contemplated doing without gas until an engineer could be found to fix this (no gas means no heating, no hot water, no cooking) - that it was below the level at which they would be obliged to cut off the supply. They also traced it to the boiler, which we already know is overdue for replacement.

So it's been an exciting day. But we have a new gas meter.
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Lumiere: the good, the bad and the washed out [Nov. 23rd, 2015|10:32 pm]
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The Bears were with us for the weekend of Lumiere, so we made a serious effort to see things. This stopped short of getting the tickets which would give access to the central area in the early evening: tickets were free, but required us to decide which evening we wanted them.

Friday night in the ticketed areaCollapse )

Saturday night in the rainCollapse )

We didn't go back for more on Sunday: we discussed it, and tried to work out whether we could get to the riverbanks without going all the way through the city, but I don't think we would have tried. Then durham_rambler found the news reports that the pieces we were talking about had been removed because the river had flooded the footpath, so we had every excuse for a leisurely dinner en famille instead.

tl:dr version: I don't think there was anything I hated, though there was a lot I was unenthusiastic about. And I enjoyed being unenthusiastic about it in good company. Plus, there were maybe three things I liked very much. Whether the exercise is worth what the Council puts into it, I don't know. But I had a fun weekend.
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Sisters, sisters [Nov. 21st, 2015|03:44 pm]
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Tell me, oh internet, who are the Chase sisters? In what book do they appear? Am I being very ignorant / stupid in not recognising them?

Background: they appeared on the Wall in Monday's Only Connect -

Background to this background: the most fiendishly difficult round of quiz programme Only Connect confronts contestants with a wall of 16 items, which can be arranged in four groups of four connected items. Some items are ambiguous, in that they could belong to more than one group, which makes it harder to resolve but isn't relevant at the moment -

On Monday one group was revealed to be Chase, Bennet, Fossil, March and the connecting factor was that they were literary sisters. I identified the Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice and the March sisters from Little Women, and then was delighted to spot Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil from Ballet Shoes, the only name host Victoria Coren Mitchell found it necessary to explain.

So, who are the Chase sisters?
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Strange conjunctions [Nov. 17th, 2015|09:40 pm]
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Yesterday was odd, not because anything was odd in itself, but because it threw together so many ill-assorted things.

The day began with guests for breakfast: the final stage of a visit from the Bears for the Lumiere weekend (more about Lumiere another time, I hope). Instead of seeing them onto their train and waving goodbye from the platform, though, we accompanied them on the train as far as York, to go to the funeral of durham_rambler's uncle. So that was odd.

The train journey wasn't odd, exactly, but being en route to a funeral put me in a frame of mind to be sensitive to every newspaper open at the same story, and the young woman across the aisle wearing her 'I heart Paris' T-shirt, and the train announcer inviting us to join in a minute of silent reflection at eleven o' clock (and then making another announcement to let us know that the minute was over, because you can overdo the silent reflection, I suppose). We came in to York past flooded fields and rivers overflowing their banks: après moi le déluge...

durham_rambler had plotted an easy walking route to the church where the funeral was being held. We set off on a footpath beside the railway, and came dry-shod to the footbridge over the river, though the riverside path lead away under the water to either side. But on the far side of the bridge our way was barred by a floodgate: some fit young people were scrambling over it, but we turned back, and went the long way round, which wasn't very much longer. We had some fine views of the river lapping at the city walls, though.

The funeral was as funerals are. We had brief conversations with people we are close to, and met cousins we haven't seen in decades, and people who are only relations i the loosest terms, and all stages in between. Then we came home, and made a pot of tea.

Then we went out again, and heard amazing banjo music. Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn:

This was the first thing they played, and I'd have been happy to listen to banjo tunes all evening. I enjoyed Abigail Washburn's banjo playing, and her singing - but I'd have enjoyed more banjo and less gospel even more...
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City of Lights [Nov. 14th, 2015|12:18 pm]
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Yes, of course I'm thinking about Paris. But I have nothing useful to say on the subject.

So have a picture from the Lumiere Festival. After the sound and fury of the son et lumière, and the interminable procession through the maze of barriers which brought us eventually into the cathedral, after the unimpressive lighting of the cathedral itself, eventually we came into the cloister and admitted that yes, the rose window was rather good -

- and then we emerged into this garden, and it was all light and fun and good humour:

College garden

We'll go back for more tonight, if the rain holds off.
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Other islands [Nov. 11th, 2015|10:06 pm]
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Inevitably, I thought of sovay when I read this:
The Sound of Shiant is also known as Sruth na Fear Gorm, the Stream of the Blue Men, or more exactly the Blue-Green Men. The adjective in Gaelic describes that dark half-colour which is the colout of deep sea water at the foot of a black cliff. These Blue-Green Men are strange, dripping, semi-human creatures who comr aboard and sit alongside you in the sternsheets, sing a verse or two of a complex song and, if you are unable to continue in the same metre and with the same rhyme, sink your boat and drown your crew.

That's Adam Nicholson, in Sea Room, part of that book-haul I was so triumphant about at the time. It turns out to be a very good sort of book to pick up when you hace a wretched cold that won't go away, and you aren't sleeping well, and you want to take a break in the afternoon but you don't want to get too deep into anything. And if you drift off to sleep among thoughts of islands, there's no harm done.

Wikipedia knows these 'Blue men of the Minch', though its account lacks the charm of Nicolson's: they are kelpies, it says, if not Picts, or possibly Touareg.

If the weather had been more encouraging while we were in the Western Isles, we might have tried to find a cruise to the Shiant Islands: we did consider it, once we had worked out that the islands are the only place in the Hebrides where you see puffins. (See! puffins!) Puffins like it there, it seems, because they return year after year: puffins ringed on the Shiants in 1975 and 1077 were found there again in 2009 (and reported to be Europe's oldest puffins, though an Icelandic puffin site claims that the oldest puffin on record is one ringed in the Westman Islands which was 38 years old when recovered).

Now, the Westman Islands really are on my must-see list...
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A scattering of poppies [Nov. 11th, 2015|10:25 am]

  • At County Hall on Monday evening for a consultation event, I'd estimate that maybe one in ten of those present were wearing poppies. Impressionistic, anecdotal, unscientific by all means: but at a moderately formal gathering, not selecting for any particular point of view, wearing a poppy was the choice of a respectable number, but still a clear minority. And as far as I could jusge, there wasn't any bias towards those who were there in a professional capacity.

  • Yet you could get the impression from watching television that the poppy is universal, if not compulsory.

  • As you could from the ludicrous antics of Downing Street's PR people: adding a poppy to a profile picture in November, as they would a Santa hat in December, observing the seasonal niceties.

  • Once upon a time, wearing a poppy was a sign that you had made a donation to charity. Actually, it still is. It shows respect for the dead of past wars by contributing to support veterans of wars past and present. It isn't diminished by wearing a white poppy ("never again!") alongside your red one (I saw this once on Monday). Is this function undercut by wearing a perennial poppy - an enamel badge, or that very attractive crocheted bloom?

  • I don't know when I last saw a poppy seller. Admittedly, I haven't been out much recently, but I didn't see anyone selling poppies in Durham on Saturday, the day before "Remembrance Sunday".
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Failing to soothe the savage breast [Nov. 5th, 2015|10:09 pm]
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Last night we took ourselves and our coughs to the Sage to hear Aly Bain, Ale Möller and Bruce Molsky: a Shetland fiddler, a Swedish multi-instrumentalist and an American old-timey musician ("from a little village south of New York - it's called the Bronx"). Three fantastic musicians, and a rich mix of traditions. Sometimes it sounds like this:

The video (of a show at Lerwick's Mareel) seems to be using a fixed camera; last night Aly Bain was wearing bright white trainers which shone in the spotlight, as if they were dancing of their own volition while he listened to the other two playing. But you can tell from the video that they are really enjoying playing together, and responding to each other's input. Which is why, for example, Bruce Molsky, very apologetically ("it's just a pop song - something I'd been singing in soundchecks - but Ale said I should sing it..."), sang Abraham, Martin and John, and why they paired it with a tune from Fetlar, because it seemed to be a good fit.

So, anyway, the music was great, and I wasn't. I felt less guilty when I realised, from the amount of coughing all round the audience, that I wasn't the only person there who had decided that they weren't going to miss this show, cough or no cough. But it wasn't pleasant, and I did seem to be coughing constantly (more than I am tonight, for example, though tonight is still not good). As we left the hall, durham_rambler suggested that the drying effect of the air conditioning had been adding to the problem, and that's quite plausible, both on the face of it and because of how it accounts for symptoms of which I'll spare you the description. And although I felt a bit better as soon as we were out of the building, I had a pretty rough night.

Which is why durham_rambler phoned S. and invited her to accomkpany him to tonight's Ewan MacColl tribute concert in my place. I had been looking forward to it, and I'm naturally disappointed, but right now I'm just glad I can cough if I need to, and take some cough linctus, and go to bed when I'm ready -

- which would be now, actually.
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If Amazon knows so much about me... [Nov. 5th, 2015|10:27 am]
...why is it trying to sell me things by showing me a picture of Jeremy Clarkson?
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November [Nov. 2nd, 2015|07:01 pm]



No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--

No road--no street--
No "t'other side the way"--
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