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shewhomust

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Christmas: the good, the bad and the movie [Dec. 9th, 2018|02:52 pm]
shewhomust
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The good
On Thursday we were at the social evening of one of Durham's other residents' associations. This followed a committee meeting, and was mostly for their own members, but one or two outsiders had been invited. Our invitation was to [personal profile] durham_rambler " - and [personal profile] shewhomust, too, of course!" which was kind, but my expectations weren't high. In fact I had a delightful evening, talking almost entirely to the (adult) daughter of an old-but-not-close friend (increasingly I feel the need for a word to express this relationship). There was a touch of acid in this pleasure: she was spending a few days with her father, because he had just received some very bad medical news. But the conversation was wide-ranging and generally delightful.


The bad
On Friday morning we learned of the death of a friend's husband. His health had been poor for a long while, and he had been particularly unwell lately. I had accepted that our plan to meet for a meal during our pre-Christmas visit to London was unlikely to happen, but the latest news was better than expected, and it was possible that there would be a slow process of recovery. And no, as it turns out.


The movie
If you are looking for a Christmas movie guaranteed to make you feel bad about Christmas, and antidote to any seasonal sentiments, any cheer and goodwill, may I recommend Await Further Instructions? @ComradeMorden tweeted that "Await Further Instructions is the bat-shit crazy Christmas film you didn't know you needed. Lovecraft and Cronenberg and Carpenter's lovechild with a tinsel topping!" and who am I to argue? He is far better versed in the genre than I am. I went to see it because scriptwriter Gavin Williams is a friend - you would not guess, from his pleasant exterior, what a deeply twisted mind he has. The film starts out with the young man bringing his girlfriend to meet his family and spend Christmas with them, which is a recipe for disaster at the most mundane level (David Bradley has a whale of a time playing the grandfather); then it shifts into a whole new kind of nastiness; and when you have started to wonder just how this can possibly end - badly, of course, but what kind of badly? - it goes somewhere entirely unexpected.



This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Les gilets jaunes: a footnote [Dec. 9th, 2018|11:31 am]
shewhomust
I have nothing to say about the substance of the news from France: but I realised yesterday morning why the British media are translating les gilets jaunes as 'yellow vests'. They aren't vests - except, of course, that in US English, they are, a waistcoat is a vest. Who knows why our reporters have got this usage from their American colleagues, but evidently they have. I shared this revelation with [personal profile] durham_rambler.

He was unimpressed. "You know what they are, don't you?"

"They're high-vis jackets."

"Yes," he said, "but specifically they are the high-vis jackets that French law requires you to keep in your car alongside the emergency warning triangle. We have a couple in our car."

He's right, of course.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Two things I didn't know about pizza [Dec. 3rd, 2018|11:45 am]
shewhomust
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Our friendly neighbourhood Italophile showed me the book she was reading, Matthew Fort's Eating up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa ('Eating up', because he travels up from the south to the north: cute, eh?). I asked to borrow it because I have good recollections of Matthew Fort's writings for the Guardian. I also have slightly less good ones: I thought it was a pity they had moved him from restaurant reviews, at which he was excellent, to writing about cooking, which he did less well. Unless it was the other way about...

The book contains some of each, plus a certain amount of travel writing and some portraits of artisan food procucers, and having read it all, I still don't know which mode I preferred. As a book, it reads like a series of - well, not exactly newspaper articles, but magazine features. Published in 2004, it doesn't quite feel like a blog, and the monochrome photographs give it a retro feel (they are sometimes striking and atmospheric, sometimes too small for me to make out in less than optimum light (your eyesight may vary).

I didn't feel any desire to try any of the recipes, which are heavy on the 'this is how you use this local product' (and occasionally 'this is how you make this local product', particularly sausages). Occasionally the landscape descriptions made me want to see more of Italy. But the one passage I wanted to hang on to is purely factual:
The most basic pizza of all is pizza bianca, which may be lubricated with olive oil and flavoured with garlic. Slightly more sophisticated and no less ancient, is pizza marinara, so called because sailors - marinai - could take the ingredients with them to sea. The ingredients for the topping were just tomato puree, garlic, olive oil and oregano. Had pizzaioli stuck to such inspired simplicity, all might have been fine, but they didn't. In 1889 Queen Margherita of Savoy paid a visit to the city, and the pizza Margherita, which combines tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves in imitation of the colours of the Italian flag, was invented in her honour and that has become the archetypal pizza, and the standard by which pizzas may be judged - and that is the problem.


I had assumed that pizza marinara would involve fish, and I had not known the origin of the pizza Margherita. Margherita was queen of Italy by marriage to Umberto I, apparently...

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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All at sea with Captain Pugwash [Dec. 2nd, 2018|05:38 pm]
shewhomust
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We knew there was a Captain Pugwash exhibition at Ushaw College - actually, Ushaw having been until not so very long ago a catholic seminary, an exhibition of the work of John Ryan, creator of Captain Pugwash and long-time cartoonist for the Catholic Herald - and had every intention of visiting it, sooner or later. Then, on Wednesday, I received an e-mail: sorry about the misinformation in the previous e-mail, Isabel Ryan will be lecturing on her father's work on 29th NOVEMBER.... I hadn't seen any previous e-mail, and the 29th was the next day, but we decided to go for it - and I'm glad we did, because the exhibition was charming but, let's say "minimalist", and the talk was excellent and provided all sorts of material that wasn't in the exhibition. So, here's the Captain Pugwash exhibition website, and here's the exhibition at Ushaw:

Ahoy me hearties!


Things could have been better organised.Collapse )

However. The talk itself was joyful. My memories of Captain Pugwash are of the television series (and accompanied by the Trumpet Hornpipe, known in this household as 'the Black Pig', after Captain Pugwash's shop). I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that it started out as a comic. The first Captain Pugwash strip appeared in the first issue of the Eagle, but after a few weeks, Eagle decided that Pugwash was 'too childish' for them, so Ryan drew them Harris Tweed instead. Him i do remember as a comic, and Lettice Leefe, too, though I don't think I ever connected them with Captain Pugwash.

Meanwhile, the Pugwash strip found a home in the Radio Times, and from there it was a small step to the BBC asking for a television version. It seems to have been Ryan's idea to animate this by combining static images with a limited number of moving parts - eyes, mouths, arms, a ship at sea - which could be operated using cardboard levers, in time with the soundtrack. Amazingly, the first episodes were broadcast live, with Ryan and his wife frantically pulling and pushing the cardboard tabs, and trying not to giggle as Peter Hawkins played all the voices. This must have been absolutely chaotic, and they soon started to film the show. Isabel Ryan had brought some examples of scenes with moving parts, for her audience to try out; she told us that on her much delayed train to Durham the previous day she had had an entire carriage of travellers acting out scenes, and so caught up in the process that when they finally saw a train pass their windows, they cried in unison no, it's the scenery that's moving!

Captain Pugwash's puffin?Collapse )

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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December already! [Dec. 1st, 2018|03:47 pm]
shewhomust
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Tom Gauld has opened his advent calendar early.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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It is too late to begin [Nov. 28th, 2018|04:41 pm]
shewhomust
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To the Lit & Phil on Monday to hear Nancy Campbell as part of the Books on Tyne Festival. The event was preceded by a frustrating visit to the Newcastle branch of Majestic; they had sent us a discount voucher as an incentive to resume buying wine from them (we stopped because they closed our local branch), and I wanted to put it towards ordering some wine to be delivered to the Bears, to make mulled wine for the carol evening. But as well as closing my branch, they have changed the tills, says the assistant, and now we have to phone an order through to the Holloway Road branch. So we spent our voucher on the Portuguese red with the wading bird on the label, and we might phone the Holloway Road, or we might phone the Wine Society... The event was followed, more satisfactorily, by dinner with S. We hadn't planned this, but since we were all there, we went to Mario's and S. told us about her recent holiday in Japan.

Nancy Cambell's event was linked to her book, Library of Ice (here's the Guardian's review). I had no idea whether I would like the book: there were things in the description that appealed to me, and things I thought I was likely to find irritating. Having heard her speak, I'm still not sure, but I will find out, because I was sufficiently intrigued to buy a copy. I enjoyed the talk, which started with her residency at the museum on Upernavik, a small island off the coast of Greenland, and went on from there to the scientists who are drilling deep into the ice of Antarctica (the resultant cores are the 'library of ice' of the title). I was going to call it 'beautifully constructed' until I realised that at one point she had realised she was overrunning, and apologised to someone in the audience for skipping a section which particularly interested them...

Rather than attempting to transcribe from memory my own highlights, I commend the author's website, which links to many good things. Here's a sample of her voice:
'Ilissiverupunga,' Grethe muttered. I'd only recently learnt the word. It meant 'Damn! I've put it away in a safe place and now I can't find it.'

Mornings at Upernavik Museum: an endless round of kaffe and conversation as local hunters dropped by to discuss ice conditions. Wishing to make progress in my research into Greenlandic literature, I'd asked Grethe, the museum director, whether she knew of any poetry books. But the bibliographic collections held mainly old black-and-white photographic records of the settlements, and kayaking manuals.

'Illilli!' Grethe called an hour or so later, 'There you are!' She emerged from a doorway almost obscured behind a stack of narwhal tusks and proudly presented me with a 1974 hymnbook, its homemade dust-wrapper culled from an offcut of pink wallpaper.

[From the essay No more words for snow]


And here's the book I really coveted, a Greenlandic alphabet produced as an artist's book, twelve words (because only twelve letters appear in the initial position in Greenlandic) and twelve images:



This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Black Saturday: food and drink [Nov. 25th, 2018|11:45 am]
shewhomust
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It was a day of shopping: especially if you regard shopping as an activity in its own right, and don't fret overmuch about buying things.

I did buy things - food for the coming week - at the market in the morning. The man who sells Spanish products at his stall was a little anxious: should he give me a paper bag for the tin of smoked paprika I had bought? If any escaped, would it contaminate whatever else was in my carrier bag? I thought it unlikely to escape, but in any case, as I told him, the Cornish pasties in the bag would not suffer from the addition of a little paprika. Oh, mo, he agreed, that's be fine, and he told me about the Cornish pasties of Mexico (blame the tin miners). Evidently the world wants me to know about that connection: Grace Dent's restaurant review, which I read over breakfast this morning, recommends The Mexico Inn in Penzance, reputedly founded by a returning tinner.

We didn't buy anything at all at the Brancepeth Castle craft fair that afternoon. We had every intention of buying some wine from Domaine de Palejay. but for reasons yet to be discovered, they didn't turn up. Instead we tasted the sparkling mead made by the Northumberland Honey Co.. The 'Wildflower' is dry - imagine champagne, but with a strong honey flavour where champagne has that toasty edge. Then in summer they take the bees up to the heather moorland, and make 'Heather' sparkling mead, which is rich and sweet. I like dessert wines, and liked it very much. It isn't cheap, and the vendor (presumably Luke: "My wife's the chemist; I'm the beekeeper,") was philosophical about not making sales - perhaps people were buying his chocolates, or beeswax candles. Their online shop will also sell you a 'nucleus colony', but he hadn't brought one to Brancepeth.

By this time, the sky was dark with low clouds, and the last of the evening sun gilding the top of the courtyard; as we left, the rain started, and a rainbow appeared above the wall (second rainbow of the week).

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Old-fashioned skills [Nov. 23rd, 2018|08:36 pm]
shewhomust
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The opthalmologist apologised for repeatedly shining his bright light in my eye: he was drawing my optic nerve. With a pen. On paper. I was reminded of a series of French postcards, Les p'tits métiers d'autrefois, the skilled jobs that no longer exist, like the pupitreur who walked the cellar of the champagne house, giving each bottle a quarter turn and a slight increase in angle each day (to move the sediment gradually into the neck). Now I suppose postcards themselves are on the way to obsolescence. But the opthalmologist still draws by hand.

That was the best bit of the consultation. The bad news is that my left eye is no longer responding as well to the drops as it was: we will try a different kind of drops, and see if that helps. The good news is that my left eye is still fine (fortunately, since it's the one that does all the work.)

After this, [personal profile] durham_rambler took me - still blinking in the daylight - to TKMaxx, because he thought we should buy some pillows: he's quite right, and long overdue, but I don't know what provoked him to do it today. And then we went to Aldi, and bought things for lunch, and a variety of seasonal treats. Aldi is fun, but Lidl has an in-store bakery. so Lidl wins.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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A week of Black Fridays [Nov. 22nd, 2018|04:54 pm]
shewhomust
I have been slow on the uptake this year.

I did think, as I trailed round the shops of Newcastle in search of a wrist watch, that today couldn't possibly be Black Friday, since it was only Tuesday. And I may have grouched about the abundance of Black Friday deals in my inbox and on my television: I know that Black Friday is simply an encouragement to make a bridge (or is that a Gallicism?) from the Bank Holiday to the weekend, and go shopping, but this has extended far beyond a long weekend.

But it wasn't until this afternoon, ironing through Countdown, that I realised that no, today still isn't Friday, it's Black Thursday. Oh, wait -

Yes, it's always Black Friday and never Thanksgiving. Where is that lion when we need him?

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Remembrance Sunday [Nov. 18th, 2018|01:24 pm]
shewhomust
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We did not go to Danny Boyle's Pages of the Sea last Sunday, although we could quite easily have gone to Roker, one of the participating beaches. Why did we not go? As you know, I was feeling ambivalent about all this remembering, and marked the moment of the Armistice by composing a post about it. And I was afraid the event would be horribly crowded, that too. Seeing photographs of the event, I think I was wrong on both counts: here's my favourite picture (the photographer reserves his rights, but it's worth clicking through. Also, a description of the event, and more photographs in this set.).

Why Pages of the Sea? It's a line from Carol Ann Duffy's poem, The Wound in Time, which also does a fine job of balancing solemn commemoration with actual remembering.

We did, though, watch Peter Jackson's film, They Shall Not Grow Old, though I watched a fair bit if it with my hand over my eyes. It's an astonishing piece of work, opening with the familiar jerky black and white film flickering in a small square in the middle of the screen, the men's voices telling cheerfully how they had signed up, singly and in groups (and many of them so young) and been trained for war. And as they set off for France, the image began to fill the screen, the motion became smoother and more natural, until suddenly there was colour. Like Summer Holiday, only completely different.

It was fascinating, but I wasn't as moved by it as I had anticipated. There were moments when I had to look away (not always fast enough!) but overall it left me with more questions than emotions. I'd have loved to see an accompanying 'making of', not so much for the technical 'how did they do that?' questions (some of which are answered by this Radio Times article) as the editorial questions: who filmed this in the first place? And how, and why? What choice did Jackson have from the material available to him? Likewise for the commentary, which is compiled from oral archives recorded in the 60s and 70s by the BBC and the Imperial War Museum. Jackson comments on its extraordinary stoicism, which is true, but only part of it: against the background of every idea we now have about the war, it is positively cheerful. Not just in the opening scenes, when you might expect the film-maker to select extracts which reflect the light-hearted, optimistic expectation of a war which would be over by Christmas, not just the matter-of-factness of the descriptions of life (and death) in the trenches, the cold, the mud, the rats, the man next to you falling dead from sniper fire, but at the end of the film, the men who looked back and 'wouldn't have missed it for the world'... These were, of course, by definition the survivors, and more, the survivors who were prepared to speak to authority about what they had survived.

Meanwhile, the camera reminded you all the time of what voices were not saying. Who was the intended audience of these scenes? The cheerful groups at mess tables, or marching past the camera shouting "Hello, Mum!", I can imagine these scenes being shown: but the squalor of the trenches, both in tragic mode (those youthful faces now looking up from corpses half eaten by the mud) or comic (the rows of bare bottoms strung along a pole above a latrine pit), would this ever be shown to those at home? The footage of life in the trenches was so immediate and candid, too, it was a struggle to remember that it wasn't filmed on the ubiquitous iPhone, but on heavy cameras that had to be manhandled into position.

'Manhandled'. that's another thing: this was the war as we have only recently learned not to think of it, exclusively male and white. Was it Jackson's decision to focus in this way, to exclude the women who overcame official opposition to do their bit at the front? Or are they absent from the IWM's archive, neither seen nor heard? Similarly, it's a very European view of the war to be made by a New Zealander: Jackson talks about his interest in the war beginning with stories of his grandfather, who signed up (admittedly with the South Wales Borderers) in 1910, but fought at Gallipoli as well as in the Somme.

Against all this, my last question is trivial, but I stumble across it every time I try to think or talk about the film: how did they decide on the title They Shall Not Grow Old? The phrase draws so much power from Binyon's For the Fallen, and then stumbles, because it's wrong: I keep wanting to say the familiar words, ",They shall grow not old..." Does it work with that association? Someone must have decided it does.

And that's it, a century plus a week has passed. Will World War II be commemorated in the same way? I find that unthinkable, it seems such an entirely different matter (don't ask me why).

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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