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Five things make an LJ post [Jan. 17th, 2017|03:53 pm]
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1. Hull...
The Guardian offers an insider's guide to the City of Culture, including a hotel recommendation. Not that I'm planning a cultural jaunt to Hull, but it might be worth a stopover if we were, say, taking the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. And we might be planning something of the kind. First, though, I need to renew my passport.

2. ...and high water
It's been raining, and when we crossed the river on the way to the pool yesterday morning we were both impressed by how fast the water was flowing. Also, vacation is over, and the student swimmers are back, occupying a third of the pool and making waves.

3. ...with gently smiling jaws
The press report as good news Donald Trumps statement that he'll be only too happy to do business with a post-Brexit Britain, and none of this nonsense about delay or going to the back of the queue. Folks, when a businessman tells you that he's only to happy to make this deal, and don't you worry your little head about those pesky details - well, maybe that's the time to slow down.

4. From Hartlepool...
The Reading Group has been discussion comics set in England, and as always, relying heavily on members contributing items from our own collections - but this week I've been reading a book from the library's collection, The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jérémie Moreau. This is a first in the current discussion, I think, a French perspective on an aspect of England - though publisher Knockabout are very discreet about that origin: only a little sticker on the cover, saying "Winner of the Rendez-vous de l'histoire Award 2013 gives the game away. Identifying the book as historical BD, a mainstream genre in France, makes a lot of sense, and the story - that during the Napoleonic wars the people of Hartlepool hanged a monkey as a French spy, earning themselves the nickname 'monkey-hangers' - has become more widely known since the electoral success of Stuart Drummond.

Lupano's narrative is carefully pitched: there's just enough pathos to season the farce. The people of Hartlepool don't come out of it well, though to be fair, nor does the French captain who appears briefly in the opening scenes; Moreau's art has a scratchy, cartoony quality that reminds me of Ronald Searle, and his scribbled landscapes give a fair impression of Hartlepool's Headland (there are some samples in this review).

There's a sting in the tail in the closing pages, with the identification of the doctor who has involuntarily broken his journey in the town and witnessed the grotesque events, accompanied by his young son. I'm ambivalent about this: as far as I can discover it has no historical basis, and the respect with which he is treated (visually, in his clear lines and blocks of colour, as well as verbally) suggests what while the poor are fair game for satire, the wealthy are exempt. It's a neat little twist, though, to close the story which otherwise does just what it says on the tin.

5. ...to La La Land
To the cinema yesterday, for La La Land, accompanied by J. who did not like it At All. This may have cast a dampener on my own reaction, best summarised as:Fun movie, what's all the fuss about? We both enjoyed the references to classic films, but we both thought it went on too long. And really, if you're going to remind me of Singin' in the Rain or An American in Paris, you risk me feeling that that was very nice, but actually I'd rather be watching Singin' in the Rain or An American in Paris.
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Let's move to... [Jan. 14th, 2017|06:13 pm]
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A regular in feature in The Guardian's Saturday magazine discusses the merits of moving to some location or other: the brief is clearly to keep it short, and keep it upbeat. As is the rule with journalism, it's very persuasive until the subject is one you know something about, and then - not so much. Last week suggested: "Let's move to Durham" And there's nothing wrong with it, exactly, but oh, so much to quibble about.

There is only one reason to move to Durham, apparently, and that's the Cathedral (though this is presented as a perfectly adequate reason): "Without it, Durham would be a pleasant, undemanding market town, albeit beautifully sited on a wooded loop of the river Wear and with a fine university attached." Let's assume that when he says 'the Cathedral' he means 'the mass of medieval buildings shown in the picture' (which is the classic shot from Framwellgate Bridge, showing both Castle and Cathedral, though without the current wrapping on the crossing tower). Even so, without it, Durham would be - well, a University campus, actually, albeit beautifully sited and with the contrasting culture of its mining heritage.

Oddly, that "with a fine university attached" is the article's only reference to the fact that a move into Durham City is a move into an area with a population that is 50% student, which (even within the terms of this kind of article) has an impact on, for example, house prices. Yet when it comes to the section where they quote local residents, it chooses two commments which focus on this factor, both of them from Crossgate residents. Full disclosure: only one of them is me (and we did not collude). So I know there was a degree of selection here, because it's not the only thing I sent them. In fact, for the record, my full text was:
Robinsons greengrocers and Teesdale Game & Poultry (the cheese stall in the covered market); quiz night at the Elm Tree

City population is 50% students: party town one half the year, ghost town the other.

The Elm Tree isn't grand enough for The Guardian, which suggests we hang out instead at DH1 and The Garden House (but doesn't mention Finbarr's, which we like) and recommends the Victoria as the best of the pubs (not the Colpitts - though it's a while since I drank there - nor durham_rambler's new favourite, the Station House) .

The Avenue gets a mention among their "where to buy" suggestions, and most of the obvious places. Although they say "Plummest for historic property are North and South Bailey by the cathedral," (in your dreams!) they don't mention South Street. And the spotlighted "Bargain of the Week" is the house in Flass Street until recently occupied by the young woman who represented the Tories in the last general election - but don't follow the agent's directions to get there, it's on the other side of the street to where they think. How odd...
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Saturday in London: to the Barbican and beyond! [Jan. 13th, 2017|08:56 pm]
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Friday you already know about: what next?

durham_rambler had discovered that there was an exhibition about Topic Records at the Barbican library (this link explains more, and links to a video: 75 years of folk music in ten minutes). GirlBear was familiar with the space, and was able to warn us that it wouldn't be a very large exhibition, but even so, the three of us felt it was worth a visit. We allowed ourselves an hour to look round, and that was plenty, even allowing time for reading documents and reminiscing about the records. I'd have liked more about the field recordings, and less about the stars, but I'm already converted and don't need to be preached to: and I'm sad enough to get a buzz out of things like Davy Graham's first recording contract.

After lunch, GirlBear had an assignation with the Society of Recorder Players, and durham_rambler and I visited the Museum of London. Where there are many splendid things, and I took many pictures.Collapse )

We dined that evening with helenraven - or perhaps I should say with kelpercomehome, since she lured us south of the river with promises of wines she had discovered on her travels. The journey was more exciting than it should have been, since the nearest tube station was closed (though we didn't find this out till the doors of the train were closing) and we had forgotten the number of her flat - which wouldn't have mattered if it weren't for the security gates fitted since our last visit. So we coulsn't simply proceed along the walkway until we recognised a friendly door. But we worked it out, we arrived, the wine was excellent and the company even better - and that was Saturday.
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Beamish in January [Jan. 10th, 2017|05:27 pm]

We spent Sunday at Beamish museum. Not everything was open, but there was enough to entertain us; the car park was busy but it's surprising how many people you can lose within the museum:

Back street

The place wasn't really deserted, but this is a back street, between the fish shop and the chapel, looking towards the school. The photo gives a good idea of what the light was like - bright but mellow sunshine coming and going, and a haze on the air which wasn't entirely caused by the fact that, to my surprise, they were frying at the fish shop - see the thread of black smoke from the chimney? It would have been a very early fish and chip lunch, so we went instead to the school, where a very elegant young man, with a fob watch, a well-kept moustache and a flower in his buttonhole, demonstrated the workings of the - and I've forgotten the name of the instrument: like a player piano, in that it can be powered by pedals to play a paper roll, but also capable of being played by hand - a name I recognised as soon as he said it, but which has now evaporated, leaving no trace... There were pit ponies in the stables, dhaggy, stocky little creatures, and there was more music in the band hall:

Music in the band hall

"We're the East Stanley Temperance Band - " said someone who was getting enthusiastically into character.

"Oh, no, we aren't!" said someone else, who wasn't.

We took the bus to the town, where we visited the new pharmacy, and the photographic studio, where you can - though you'll have to book in advance, there's a queue - have your photograph taken with what looks for all the world like a plate camera, and receive an old-fashioned print with a speed which gives away the fact that no glass plates were harmed in the taking of this photograph. But the lady assistant showed us a selection of (reproductions of) early photographs, including James Clerk Maxwell's colour photo of a tartan ribbon. The baker's shop was warm and smelled of coconut, and I bought durham_rambler a cake hot out of the oven, and tried not to translate its price into pre-decimal currency.

Another bus to Pockerley and a quick visit to the Georgian faem, but by now we were winding down and running out of time. There's always more to see, but it will have to wait for next time.
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Phantoms in their thirteenth year [Jan. 7th, 2017|06:56 pm]

Introducing last night's Phantoms at the Phil, Gail-Nina claimed to have no idea how implausibly many times this event, at which three writers read new ghost stories to a packed audience, has been held. Sean O'Brien offered an alternative statistic: it was now in its thirteenth year. Back home and checking the records, I make it fourteen years, but thirteen Christmases: there was always a struggle to schedule the early sessions into the busy days before Christmas, and eventually inspiration struck, and now Phantoms is the last event of the seasonal calendar, held on January 6th, which I have finally been persuaded is not Twelfth Night at all (mostly by valydiarosada counting on her fingers: Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas...) but the feast of the Epiphany.

Thematically, that works just fine: apparitions, epiphanies, the awful realisation that something is not what it seems (or worse, that it is precisely what it seems)... Last night started with Gail-Nina Anderson's The Landscape of Memory, about which she was immensely and unnecessarily nervous, outside her comfort zone in having set aside a humorous piece to write a haunting little character study of a woman with a gift for reading the fortunes of others, but less clear sight about herself. "Next time," she says, "I'm definitely doing The Haunted Handbag." And that'll be fine too, but I'm glad she took this risk. In The Aspen Grove, Sean O'Brien treated the flaws of his hapless protagonist with humour right up to the point where things weren't funny any more. And Debbie Taylor's Three Places are locations of which Lydia is afraid, within her compound in an African village. The fear comes first, and only as the story nears its end does the cause of the fear become clear, to Lydia and to the audience.

Three fine, totally unseasonal stories, and not a traditional ghost among them: and now Christmas is over. Time to write some thankyou letters, sort the Christmas cards, and think about the first of the year's birthdays!
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Three cups of coffee [Jan. 4th, 2017|03:09 pm]
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The Guardian's uplift supplement (and oh, how glad I will be when all the looking back over the past year and looking forward over the coming one is over, and we can take time at its own pace again!) included a batch of poems designed to restore positivity.

Positive, uplifting poetry: what could be less inviting? But I liked Tomas Tranströmer's Espresso, as translated by Robin Fulton:
It's carried out from the gloomy kitchen
and looks into the sun without blinking.

The Guardian's rather hit-and-miss search feature didn't make it easy to find, and while I was looking for it, I came across a different translation.

And then, to complete the caffeination process, the original Swedish.
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Lunch in Weardale [Jan. 2nd, 2017|05:14 pm]
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This morning D. announced that he fancied going out to lunch, maybe in Whitby; durham_rambler said he has important papers to read, and couldn't possibly; the message from valydiarosada was that goingt out to lunch was a fine idea but she wouldn't be leaving her bed anytime soon; and I likewise thought thar 'out' and 'lunch' were good, but a three hour round trip sisn't tempt me in the least. As a result D. headed off alone, and was last heard of at the Lion in Blakey, and the rest of us went out rather later and lunched at the Black Bull in Frosterley.

The sun was below the hills by the time we finished our lunch (around three o' clock) but instead of driving back the way we had gone, along the river valley, we carried on, further west, and then climbed out of the dale and back into the sunshine. The high moors were dusted with snow, and although I don't make new year resolutions, I thought, this year we must come here more often.

Home through the lengthening shadows and the reddening sky, and the sun just setting (again) as we arrived.
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Trying to exorcise an earworm [Dec. 31st, 2016|11:03 pm]
poliphilo posted yesterday about the mantra "Spectacles, testicles, watch and wallet," with which a man might describe the action of crossing himself. I have no idea whether the order in which those points are visited is significant, but I commented that the version I know is "Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch," which is rythmically more satisfying.

It is indeed: I am now completely earwormed by it. Only the version that is now playing in my head begins: "Pentacles, tentacles..."

Happy New Year, everyone!
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Entertaining guests [Dec. 30th, 2016|06:36 pm]
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D. and valydiarosada are with us, as is only right and proper, for the New Year. Our initial plan for today was to visit Dunston, where D. has an appointment to see a man about a wheel, and then go on to lunch with D.'s sister and brother-in-law. But they thought better of the invitation, having both succumbed to winter colds, so instead we went to Seaton Sluice for fish and chips at the Harbour View - and sculpture. The Gallery which I enjoyed in August was closed, but the many sculptures of Tom Newstead survive -

Neptune in his Christmas finery

Here's Neptune in all his Christmas finery - and proliferate. There is now an exhibition space - it may look like a shed,but it's definitely an exhibition! Here's one tiny corner:

Inside the exhibition

because I particularly liked the blue whale with teaspoons. There are more sculptures outside, though the sun was low and bright and made photography tricky. Nonetheless, have a Viking:


And now I must go and attend to my guests. I am neglecting them shamefully, and anyway, it's cold up here (we have a problem with the heating, which is not reaching the bedrooms or attic - though fortunately the rest of the house, and the hot water, are fine). I wonder if they've lit the fire yet?
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Dealing with cold callers [Dec. 28th, 2016|02:36 pm]
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durham_rambler has just fielded a cold call from someone whose name he did not catch. "This doesn't require you to do anything," they said. He said "OK," and hung up.
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