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shewhomust

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Intimations of mortality [Aug. 9th, 2018|11:15 am]
shewhomust
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The previous post was written on my little notebook at the kitchen table, because in a fit of seasonally inappropriate cooking, I had a sequence of things going into / coming out of the oven, so I didn't want to be three floors away from the kitchen. I completed the post, I checked the webmail, I moved the mouse to close something down - and the screen went blank. I tried restarting it, I tried ALT-CTRL-DELETE, I tried walking away and coming back to it. Nothing.

This morning, thinking that the battery might have died (I had seen, when I turned it on, that the battery was low) although it hadn't given the usual warning of that, I plugged it in. The screen flashed up a pair of battery icons, and then went dark again.

Oh, dear. This isn't an absolute disaster: no data, no work in progress is ever stored on the notebook. I use it for DW, for webmail, and to back up and view photographs when I am away from home. And it is, as these things are reckoned, not new: it isn't all that old, either, but the life of electronic devices is as that of mayflies.

Still, I felt bereft, not least because I wil be away for a long weekend next week. It's a family event, I don't anticipate spending much of it online, but I don't wish to be entirely cut off, either.

The good news is that [personal profile] durham_rambler has just brought me a cup of coffee and the information that he had tried switching my notebook on in safe mode, and it had responded to the master's touch by coming on as normal (looking, no doubt, as if butter wouldn't melt in its mouth). Disaster averted - for the time being.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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My young man's a Cornishman [Aug. 8th, 2018|06:05 pm]
shewhomust
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Jim Causley was the guest at the Davy Lamp Folk Club on Saturday, and we went along to hear him. I didn't really know what to expect. All I knew of him was that he had set a number of poems by Charles Causley, which I had heard as background music in a documentary about the poet, broadcast at the time of his centenary (but which I don't seem to have written about), in the repertoire of Martin Simpson, and by Jim Causley himself through the glass darkly that is YouTube.

So I wasn't anticipating his stage presence, which is droll bordering on camp: the picture on the front page of his web site conveys this very well. He sings a wide range of material, much of it from the southwest, but not all:



which YouTube informs me is a Sid Kipper song, and therefore from Norfolk.

He also still sings his settings of Charles Causley, plus an additional group of Causley's poems for children. I liked them enough to buy Cypress Well, the original recording, made in Causley's house using Causley's piano - and I liked these even better in the recorded version, which is more subdued, less amplified than what I heard live. Jim Causley has a good voice, and the accordion is not a quiet instrument, and the club is not held in a huge hall: the sound desk does a good job, but it really isn't needed, and I'd be happier without it.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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It's festive up north [Aug. 4th, 2018|05:56 pm]
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We haven't been avoiding the Festival of the North which is happening at the moment; but neither have we been seeking it out. Nonetheless, last Saturday (yes, Saturday a week ago - this post has been long in the writing) we did two things which come under its capacious umbrella - and one that didn't. We went to two concerts at the Sage, and spent the time between them exploring the 'Winged Tales of the North' trail in the Ouseburn.

Alistair Anderson presents...Collapse )

Where your wings were, and other storiesCollapse )

A concert of two halvesCollapse )

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Friday half-holiday [Jul. 27th, 2018|08:58 pm]
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[personal profile] durham_rambler and I had a lunch date with [personal profile] anef, who has been in town for a week long summer school. Having liked the Tapas Factory when we ate there on Gala Day, we went back there and liked it even better. Good food (leave room for dessert; I particularly recommend the churros), chilled rosé, pleasant service: the lunchtime customers came and went and we were still talking (about Thucidydes, deep fried octopus, accountancy and the Cambridge Folk Festival, among other things) without anyone making us feel we should move on: I like that in a restaurant!

After lunch, we went our separate ways: [personal profile] anef wanted to visit the Botanic Gardens, and [personal profile] durham_rambler and I to see the Bodies of Evidence exhibition, as recommended by F. who had been visiting earlier this week. It's in Palace Green library, about the skeletons found during the building of the library's new café, explaining how it had been established, by the most up-to-date scientific methods, that they were indeed, as everyone but the experts had assumed from the moment of discovery, the remains of Scottish soldiers marched to Durham after their defeat at the battle of Dunbar and imprisoned in the cathedral. (This is not a criticism of up-to-date scientific methods). An interesting exhibition - actually, two interesting exhibitions, one of them about the context of the English Civil War / Wars of the Three Kingdoms. and what we know about these soldiers from the historical record, including what became of those of the group who survived their imprisonment, the other about what we can learn from the bodies, which was, as these tend to be, a little defensive in tone. There was much emphasis on the sensitivity with which the bodies (many of them partial, since their unexcavated parts still lie beneath the library) had been reburied, so that the display did not include any of the actual bodies, but a 3D printing of one of them (the one which was the basis for the facial reconstruction. There was, however, a perfectly genuine skeleton excavated from an eighteenth century Quaker burial ground (and this is different because...?).

We encountered a couple we know in the exhibition, and then again as we were walking down Windy Gap on our way home, and they had interesting thoughts about it, which may lead to other things. But there were rumblings of thunder, so we didn't linger, and got home only slightly damp. The more serious thunderstorm has held off until this evening - no hope of seeing the lunar eclipse.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Mean Girls [Jul. 25th, 2018|06:13 pm]
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In Saturday's Guardian, Tessa Hadley opens her review of a short story collection by AM Homes by dismissing the fallacy that you have to like characters to enjoy reading about them. On the contrary, she says, "Fiction needs some meanness in its mix; even in the most wholehearted writing, a grain of it can ward off fatuousness."

I had just finished reading Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, purchased in a charity shop in Tain because it was only 50p, it was raining heavily and I wanted to buy something, and because despite all the praise and the literary prizes, I had never read anything by Hilary Mantel. Her great Tudor novels don't attract me, but I recalled being intrigued by the reviews of this account of the working life of a medium.

Beyond that, I didn't know what to expect: and since this is a literary novel, not a piece of genre fiction, I was quite surprised to discover - gradually, but I don't think this is giving anything away - that Alison, the medium, really was transmitting messages from the dead. There was some lovely writing going on here - and I don't just mean the descriptions, though there are some splendid poetic descriptions, beautiful or repellent or both at once:
Travelling: the dank oily days after Christmas. The motorway, its wastes looping London: the margin's scrub-grass flaring orange in the lights and the leaves of the poisoned shrubs striped yellow-green like a cantaloupe melon. Four o' clock light sinking over the orbital road. Teatime in Enfield, night falling on Potters Bar.

That's the opening of the book, and it's all there in that paragraph: the vivid but rather sinister visual description, the suggestion that nothing good can be expected from Enfield or Potters Bar. I should have been warned by all the endorsements ("As black as a tar barrel and very, very funny" - The Times) because as we know, I am not good at humour - but as we also know, I don't read cover copy, so the warning was not received.

I did, in fact, like the central character very much - or perhaps, I enjoyed reading about her: Alison onstage, creating her illusion, working her audience, aware that she is creating an illusion, that the messages she transmits create a false impression of what she receives. If this were a genre novel - as in a sense it is - I would call this 'worldbuilding'. There is a world after death, beyond black. Not all those who claim to be in touch with it really are: Mantel comes close to having her cake and eating it in her depictions of her 'psychic' characters, and if - as I was - you are reading this wondering whether it will turn out that everyone is a fraud, this may delay your decision that Alison does see and hear what the passages written from her point of view depict her as seeing and hearing (is this a spoiler? since that uncertainty reduced my enjoyment of the book, and my decision to trust the narrative in this respect increased it, I regard it as the opposite of a spoiler. Your mileage may vary.) I sympathised with Alison, I wanted things to turn out well for her, I accepted the hints that she has dark secrets with a sense that this was only to be expected, and if the slightly twisty ending made me think of Fay Weldon (whom I have also not read), I could live with that.

But if Alison is not herself mean, she walks down some mean streets. I'm with Tessa Hadley on the value of a pinch of meanness, a squeeze of lemon to sharpen the mix. As it happens, I have also just read (an advance copy of) Ann Cleeves's Wild Fire, so she was in my mind. Ann tends to be classified among the writers of 'cozy crime', a category that tends to be spoken of dismissively, though like every other genre and sub-genre it contains both good and less good; is it coincidental that it's a description applied predominately to women authors? (This is a diversion: file it for another time.) But how cosy, how snug and comfortable are her books? Some authors enjoy reading their work aloud; Ann isn't one of them, which is a pity, because something in her tone when she reads expresses a coolness, a critical appraisal of the point of view she is voicing: once you have heard it, you start to see it for yourself. It's part of the crime writer's stock in trade, I suppose, to make the reader feel that any of the characters could, in the right conditions, have committed the murder. The books aren't mean, but there is something beady-eyed about them.

Beyond Black, though, is mean. Its depiction of men is horrific: one particular group of men, in particular, and they are dead throughout most of the book, but there is no countervailing positive portrait - maybe one minor figure, who appears late in the book. The world they inhabit is meanly depicted: the roadhouse venue of a psychic fair, the aspirational housing development where all the houses are named after admirals, the modern world is mercilessly skewered. It's satirical, it's funny, but it's mean.

So here's a book by a very respected author, which I found very readable but did not like. And after this inconsequential ramble, I feel I've established why.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Too hot, and other excuses [Jul. 25th, 2018|10:29 am]
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The summer weather is not as extreme as it is in other parts of England, let alone parts of the world with continental climates and southern latitudes: we have even had the occasional shower. But I'm a northerner by choice, and it's hot enough for me. Hot enough, indeed, to disrupt my routine: my study is in the attic, and in the afternoon it becomes too hot for me to work there. As I said, excuses.

I do what I can in the mornings, which makes me lazy about going into town shopping. And it's an excuse to spend the afternoon reading, or watching Countdown and trying to keep up with the ironing - but I can only do so much of that before it becomes too hot and steamy for comfort!

So I haven't been posting much here, partly because there's not much going on to post about, but mostly because the heat is making me lazy. Even this post is a piece of laziness, because there's a half-written book post which I keep tweaking and turning round, and am dissatisfied with. Time to complete it and move on...

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Five happy summer things [Jul. 19th, 2018|10:35 am]
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  1. Puffin numbers are in decline - but not on Skomer. A BBC report includes a video, which would be better with fewer pictures of ornithologists and more of puffins, and insists on moving on automatically to a report about pig-walking in the Brecon Beacons, but any puffin pictures are better than none.


  2. Shopping triumph! My swimming costume disintegrated - I thought there was something odd last time I wore it, but it's so clingy when wet that it wasn't until I was folding it up to go swimming on Monday that I found the very large hole that was causing the problem. So on Tuesday I went into Newcastle early ahead of my reading group, and found not one but two swimming costumes in the first place I tried (Bon Marché - I miss their Durham store, which is being redeveloped as student accommodation, but that's another story). Neither is ideal, but both are my size, neither is absolutely hideous, and I have already tested one in the pool, without disaster. I also bought a copy of The Other Side of the World in a charity shop, so that's my next two books lined up. I call that a successful afternoon's shopping.


  3. I hadn't taken my camera to Newcastle, so these are not my photographs of Grey's Monument, which has been transformed into the Workers' Maypole for the Great Exhibition of the North by artists Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich:

    Tyneside: Earl Grey's monument

    Tyneside: Earl Grey's monument


    Thanks to KaysGeog for the pictures!


  4. Someone gave us a jar of Hari's Lime and Green Chilli pickle. Thank you, somebody, whoever you were! It was excellent, and we have scraped out the jar - but thanks to the internet, I know where to find more...


  5. Below the Surface allows you to curate your own collection of finds from the excavation of Amsterdam's new metro line: hours of fun for all the family! If I (and the Guardian) understand this correctly, the line follows the route of two canals which had already been filled in, so many of the finds are things which had been dropped into the canals, but have been excavated from canals which are no longer there. The archaeology of ghost canals...


This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Fête nationale; fête ouvrière [Jul. 15th, 2018|12:40 pm]
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Previous years: 2005 (with explanation); 2006; 2007; 2008; (2009: we were in Iceland) 2010; 2011; 2012 (briefly; 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016 (briefly) 2017
DMA Website

The Durham Miners' Gala takes place on the second Saturday in July, which means that from time to time it falls on Bastille Day (previously in 2007 and 2012, apparently) and that no-one but me thinks this is worth of notice. Even less frequently, it falls on a blazing summer day, which everyone notices.

D. was with us for a weekend conference, but once he had departed to what he claimed was his first ever nine o' clock lecture, we went out to follow the banners and the bands down to the racecourse:

Elemore


We did a quick tour of the tents, and said hello to a few people, then found ourselves a spot on the thirsty grass to listen to the speeches - but it was really too hot, and I'd soon had enough. New this year, there was a video screen, which was really too washed out by the brightness of the sun for me to see any pictures, but if you have a video screen you must, of course, have video messages, and there was one from Bernie Sanders, which was interesting, and said many of the right things. His remark, in passing, that we must break our reliance on fossil fuels, was a brave thing to say to this audience.

[personal profile] durham_rambler and I walked along the river in search of somewhere cool to eat, and after a couple of false starts found ourselves in the Tapas Factory on Elvet Bridge, which served us cold beer and decent food in a very friendly atmosphere. I'd go again, and I'd order some - but not all - of the same things! Tomato and goat's cheese salad particularly recommended.

Then [personal profile] durham_rambler went back to the Racecourse to hear Billy Bragg, and I decided I had had enough, and walked home, over Prebends Bridge, and straight into the shower. Then I sat on the sofa and read a book about being shipwrecked in the Arctic, until I felt ready to face the world again.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Compulsory games [Jul. 13th, 2018|08:08 pm]
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I am not interested in football. I also think that there is something tacky about suddenly becoming interested in something just because it is fashionable (though this may just be contrariness) or because your country is enjoying a moment of success. I had no intention of watching any of the World Cup. But it isn't that easy to avoid.

We arrived at the Elm Tree for the quiz on Wednesday, fully aware that there was likely to be a television on somewhere in the pub. We arrived, in fact, rather earlier than usual, for reasons which were perfectly good ones, until they collided with reality: there was a large television screen relaying the match in each of the pub's three bars. The seating had been dragged round so that every chair faced a screen, and the French windows were wide open so that the smokers on the patio outside could watch, too - and, unavoidably, blow smoke into the interior. It was like a reminder of how pubs used to be, smoky, smelling of beer, full of men...

Actually, it wasn't, it was nothing like that bad: more of a cleaned up Hollywood version of how pubs used to be. And although the extra time seemed never ending, at least we didn't then have a penalty shoot out, and we were able to hold a truncated version of the quiz.

Anyway, it seems that it is now all over. No-one seemed at all interested in the fact that England still have to play whoever it is (Belgium, perhaps?) for third place. We didn't win, and that, it seems, is what matters - which is quite a turnaround from the initial assumption that England didn't have a chance, and that surviving the opening rounds would be a good result. It doesn't matter who comes third, and it doesn't matter who wins (I'm hoping for France, of course, though I'm glad to be spared an England v. France final). The World Cup is officially no longer interesting.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Make Plot 4 Great Again [Jul. 9th, 2018|07:56 pm]
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St Margaret's Allotments had their open afternoon yesterday, and once again they had a competition for best scarecrow. It was very hot, and very dry, and I didn't feel inspired to take as many photographs of flowers as I usually do, but there was music floating up from somewhere in the middle of the gardens (though as usual, by the time we reached them, the musicians were packing up to leave) and a less formal pair of guitarists playing You ain't going nowhere and The Last Thing on my Mind on their patch.

Some of the scarecrows were very elaborate (Jordan Pickford making a heroic save) and some were simple but striking. This badger took much of the popular vote, apparently, perhaps because it is widely acknowledged that the badgers are the bosses of those allotments:

Badger


I preferred this - is it Daffy Duck?

Daffy Duck


- or perhaps I just liked those spectacular white foxgloves he's standing by.

By the time we returned to the gate, and collected the punnet of gooseberries we'd bought earlier, we were too late to vote. Otherwise, my vote would have gone to the plot festooned with notices: "Make Plot 4 Great Again - No Crows Here" and "Build that Wall! Crows Stay Out!"

Today is cooler, and even a little rainy - fine damp rain that doesn't actually reach the ground, but makes the air feel pleasanter. It won't last, but I'm enjoying it.

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