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Something there is that doesn't love a wall [Jan. 26th, 2017|08:39 pm]

There is a petition at Change.org urging Canada to plant a hedge along its southern border:
It's not complaining, it's not offensive, but it still marks off your territory in a "live and let live" Canadian sort of way. We also point out that, if done right, it could be nice for the local wildlife - giving them somewhere to live, shelter, snack or perch. And, it might help offset carbon emissions even though we realise that your neighbour no longer believes in such things.

Yew hedge

I tend not to sign joke petitions, but I enjoyed reading this one. Especially since the petitioner paid me the compliment of illustrating it with one of my photos.
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The side-effects of haggis [Jan. 26th, 2017|05:02 pm]
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The instructions desperance gave me, when he gave me my sourdough starter, tell me to put a bowl of water in the oven with the loaf: this is said to improve the rise. Every now and then I think yes, I really should try that..., but I am lazy, and clumsy with bowls of boiling water. and one way and another I never do.

But yesterday I was cooking haggis (of course) and the instructions for this required it, too, to be placed in in the oven, in a bowl containing an inch of water. Which gave me an overlap: not entirely by chance, but not entirely by planning, either, the bread spent its first quarter hour in an oven which also contained a bowl of water.

It certainly rose better than usual. This is not a scientific test: it was rising enthusiastically throughout the process, but nonetheless, for the record, oatmeal-raisin bread, bowl of water (surely the haggis is not an active ingredient?), completely satisfactory loaf.
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...and another five things make another post [Jan. 24th, 2017|10:05 pm]
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Posting has been slightly blocked over the last few days, because we were at a funeral on Friday: a sad occasion, but not one for which you need rush to sympathise, the death of an elderly neighbour, a nice man whom we had known, not well but for a long time. Too big a thing not to mention, but a story that isn't really mine to tell. Afterwards, at the pub, talking with neighbours, and someone I know, socially but even more slightly, started out of the blue to tell about his life - which was fascinating, but again, not something I feel entitled to write about here. So, a bit blocked...

Sunday was a happier occasion, lunch with a friend we don't see often enough. His invitation was couched as a request for help: About ten years ago I went a bit wild at the Wine Society, and now I have rather a lot of claret which needs to be drunk now... We were happy to do our bit - and it was true that these were wines which were more than ready for drinking.

Home on the bus, and with no prospect of doing more than watch television that evening, we finally caught up with To Walk Invisible, Sally Wainwright's drama about the Brontës, which was broadcast over Christmas. Lucy Mangan liked it, and so did I, with reservations. Branwell and indeed Mr Brontë were treated as characters, so that we saw the family as a familly, rather than as three brilliant sisters and some inconvenient furniture; the scenery was gorgeous, if rather highly coloured; the visualisation of their childhood shared narrative in which they are the Genii who rule the toy soldiers come to life was wonderful, but its dialogue indistinct. In fact, my main complaint about the production as a whole was that the background music would not stay in the background: Emily walks on the moors to a soundtrack of one of her poems, but its words are drowned by the music; Charlotte moves restlessly about the house to loud piano music, and I seriously wondered, did they have a piano? Is she wondering who's playing? Eventually, durham_rambler located the subtitles, and we got on better thereafter.

I am in the process of renewing my passport, which seems more difficult than it should be. I have acquired the required photographs, in which I don't wear my glasses and don't smile (in fact, the effort of following the instructions in the photobooth and pressing the green button without moving my head from the vertical results in my scowling). I hope I am not recognisable from those photos, but I hope they are acceptable to the Passport Office (yes, I am a little stressed about this). I have filled in the form, which is printed in pale orange on white, and was quite difficult to see. And I know better than to believe the address on the return envelope - it says "Passport Office, Milburngate House" but since Milburngate House is currently being demolished, I shall take it to the new offices on the other side of the river.

According to the Guardian's breakfast supplement, the place to eat breakfast in Kendal is Baba Ganoush. It would have to be pretty good to tempt me away from breakfast of my own making (my own coffee, made the way I like it! my own toast, made from my own bread!) but who knows, I might be in the market for brunch in Kendal, one of these days...
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That pre-Christmas weekend in London, concluded [Jan. 21st, 2017|10:48 pm]
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Friday at King's Cross; Saturday at the Barbican (and beyond); on Sunday we reached the purpose of our visit, which was the Bears' annual carol evening.

The carol evening: always the same, always differentCollapse )

Monday in PeckhamCollapse )
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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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