Things I came across while putting together the previous post, but which really don't fit into that post:

  1. One reason why I couldn't immediately place A Chance Child is that the internet offered me images of a current edition, whose cover I didn't recognise. But when I took my own copy from the shelf, its cover, too, was disconcerting: Exhibit A: A Chance Child. It appears to have been paonted with the book in mind: the three children, the waterway, the industrial revolution era bridge... That's actually the Iron Brisge itself, too grand and too high above the river gorge, but that wasn't what bothered me. The boy in front, that level gaze, didn't I recognise him? Well, yes, I did. Exhibit B: Eight Days of Luke. Not the same image, as I had thought at first, but same model and same artist. So not quite as odd as I had thought, but now I wanted to know more about the artist, Maggie Heslop, and the internet doesn't want to tell me anything about her. It does, however, come up with some more covers, specifically Exhibit C: The Time of the Ghost. And this time, I'm not so sure that one of those children isn't the same image...

  2. Talking about Diana Wynne Jones, she, too, was a winner of the Phoenix Award (for Howl's Moving Castle. Fire and Hemlock was an 'Honor Book', which I interpret as runner-up). Peter Dickinson another winner (twice, in fact) and his acceptance speeches are online. Here he is talking about the writing of The Seventh Raven (I note in passing - in the margins of these marginalia - that if you ask an author "Where do you get your ideas from?" they - and everyone else - will mock you. But if you ask them "Where did you get the idea for this book from?" they will tell you, often at some length.):
    If only I could have found a way of developing the story so that the ideas simply permeated the whole structure, like the veins of gold in a mountain, which had seeped in among the rock when everything was liquid in the heat of creation, and set there, for my readers, with luck, to notice the glint of an idea in the surface and then themselves mine into the mass and discover the wealth beneath. That is, of course, the unobtainable ideal...

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

Jill Paton Walsh

The BBC tells me that Jill Paton Walsh has died (the Guardian is mystifyingly silent on the subject). The radio bulletin mentioned only two books: The Emperor's Winding Sheet (a particular favourite of mine, though the BBC singled it out because it had won the Whitbread - now the Costa - prize) and Knowlefge of Angels, because a book by an established author which can't find a publisher, is self published and goes on to be Booker short-listed, is such a good story (meta story?). I was a little surprised they didn't mention her Dorothy L. Sayers "continuations", which must be her highest profile work of recent years - and I see that the web version of the story fills in that gap, and others.

But this had set me thinking what a very various writer Jill Paton Walsh was: that she had written not only so many excellent books, but so many excellent books of so many different kinds. Even in that initial list, there is historical fiction for younger readers, crime fiction (her own Imogen Quy novels, the posthumous collaboration with Sayers and the quasi fanfic of her subsequent Peter Wimsey novels) and the unclassifiable Knowlefge of Angels. There's a family resemblance between that last and the diptych of Goldengrove and Unleaving (which won the Horn Book awaes): the glwaming prose and the application of philofophy to hard questions. But these elements aren't exactly absent from her books for the youngest readers, such as Birdy and the Ghosties...

Like Lucy Mangan, I have a fondness for Fireweed. Unlike Lucy Mangan, I probably wouldn't choose it as the one essential volume by Jill Paton Walsh with which to stock a children's library, but it may be the first of her books I read (in the days when each month brought a fresh batch of Puffin books, and there was always treasure among them) and it was one of the first books I read which talked about the war as it was experienced on the home front. But like Lucy Mangan I had the opportunity to express my affection to the author, anf received the same response (that it was an early book, and there were aspects of it with which she was now not happy).

I, at leasr, was lucky enough to be having tea with the author - one of the perks of our then association with the Durham Literature Festival, as it was at the time, was that we were sometimes invited to join the organisers and guest for a meal before or after the event. So I was able also to express enthusiasm for the Peter Wimsey books (which I think she was currently promoting) and one or two others. Booking had been slow, and we had been asked to put the word arounf, which is why there was also someone in the audience who was as delighted as I was to dinf one of her favourite authors at the Festival, and rather nonplussed the author by declaring her passion for The Dolphin Crossing (even earlier than Fireweed).

So many wonderful books, and so much to reread. Rather than try to pick out favourites, I'll finish by taking an almost random example. Checking dates as I started to write this, I found a reference to A Chance Child, which won the 1998 Phoenix Award. I couldn't place the book, but I have much respect for the Phoenix Award, presented 20 years after original publication to a book which did not win any mahor peize at the time. Twenty years seems like a good length of time to consider which books deserve prizes, and there are some excellent ones on the list. So I found my copy of A Chance Child, and started to read - and oh, yes, I see why I had blanked it. It's an uneasy read. It begins with a child - no, it begins with a dedication, which waens you that it is going to talk about child labour in the industrial revolution, then comes the first chapter with a child alone, starved and neglected, trying to shelter from the rain on a patch of waste land in the present day. This is tough reading, but the beauty of the language helps, and a gleam of something mysterious that is almost hopeful, and the canals - it's also a love letter to the canals. Within a chapter or two it's - well, it's still tough, but it's irresidtible. This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.

On the doorstep

Our across-the-toad neighbour phoned to ask if we would like some apples: of course [personal profile] durham_rambler said 'yes please'. So she delivered a bagful to our doorstep, and rang the bell - and we got there fast enough to say 'thank you, and how are you?' and so on. We had been chatting for maybe ten minutes when another neighbour came past and accused us of mingling - which I denyy. We were socialising, but we weren't mingling, and we carried on doing that, the four of us, and very pleasant it was.

And useful, too, exchanging information, and thoughts about the latest planning application, and the residents' association, things that were too half-formed to provoe an e-mail or even a phone call, but which come to mind because - well, because that's what conversation is, and I miss it!

Also, I have a bag of apples. This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.

Friday treats

A phone call summoned us to the doctor's surgery for our flu jabs: we were a bit surprised, we'd expected to be kept waiting a while yet, but the call came and we answered. No crowds, the place was deserted: no use standing on the 'stand on this spot' under the porch, because the receptionist behind her screen can't see you, so we called out, walked in, and waited for the doctor to emerge from his room (yes, an actual doctor was doing the injections). My arm was a bit sore for a day or so, but that has passed.

Another Friday night, another pop star birthday, another movie: it doesn't seem right that Cliff Richard is younger than John Lennon, even by a matter of days. Summer Holiday (1963) certainly shows its age in a way that A Hard Day's Night (1964) doesn't, and not just because it isn't as good a film. Cliff and his companions drive their London bus south through Europe encountering national stereotypes at each stage: the French mime artist (Ron Moody), the picturesque inn in Austria where everyone breaks into a waltz (I'm sure I heard a reference to 'White Horse Inn'), the colourful peasants in Yugoslavia where Cliff inadvertently finds himself the centre of wedding festivities ... Even the Americans (not Cliff's love interest, but her scheming mother and her agent, less scheming only because he isn't as bright) are stereotypes, and treated with hostility rather than the condescension meted out to the comedy foreigners, though all is, of course, forgiven for the sake of the happy ending. But what left me speechless was the final shot; the Shadows in the uniform of evzones, the Presidential guard, playing a bouzouki arrangement of the theme tune. I'd have been happy to hear more of that music, and actually there's something rather neat about converting the distinctive march of the evzones into the Shadows' choreographed onstage moves (you couldn't call it a dance). I'm sure it wasn't intended as mockery ...

It may be evident from the above that a) I can forgive a lot in a musical and b) I am not a Cliff fan, I am a Shadows fan. On previous viewings, I've been frustrated by how little use Summer Holiday makes of the Shadows. There's a scene in a nightclub in Paris - the sort of cellar bar where Audrey Hepburn went looking for existentialist philosophers in Funny Face (1957), but now dancing to the music of the Shadows - and fragments where they appear as cyclists, and picnic around the bus.

Which is as much as you could expect, if not more - they aren't actors, they don't have acting parts in the film. On previous watching, I've been frustrated by this, but this time, knowing what to expect, I could accept Cliff's three fellow-mechanics, his gang of mates, in their own right, comedy duo Cyril (Melvyn Hayes) and Edwin (Jeremy Bulloch). For the first time I noticed that Steve, played by Teddy Green, whom I have hitherto thought of only as 'the other one' dances rings around everyone else, and I enjoyed watching him. Well, not quite everyone: he leaves Cliff looking as if he is standing still, and his dancing stands out from the ensemble in its jazzy style as well as its quality, but he isn't the only dancer in the cast. It seems a waste that when the three lads pair off with the three girls (nominally a singing group, though I don't think we ever hear them sing), Una Stubbs is allocated to Melvyn Hayes.

There is so much wrong with this film, but on an evening when the highlight of my day has been having a qualified professional stick a needle into me, as an accompaniment to a glass of wine, it can still make me smile. And this year more than every, everybody needs a summer holiday... This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
mamoulian, stuff

Library porn

Durham University offers an online introduction to the Treasures of Palace Green Library.

Actually, as library porn goes, it'd disappointingly soft-core: not close enough, or deep enough to satisfy. There's a tantalising "pinch to zoom if viewing on mobile" but since I'm not viewing on mobile, I can't find a way to get any closer to that glorious volume from the Kelmscott Press: ymmv.

Still, a letter from the Oxyrhynchus papyri (which they summarise but don't translate); a first edition of More's Utopis; Bishop Cosin's own copy of the First Folio, "distinguished by having the longest single continuous ownership of any first folio" - which makes me wonder whether there is any copy of the First Folio extant which is not distinguished by some feature of this kind - and whether, as with tyhe mathematical paradox, this is in itself a distinguishing feature?

Anyway, book! And a pretty picture of the library itself - though not one of the areas to which I had access as an undergraduate, back in the days when Palace Green was still the main university library. This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.

Variations on a screen

Most of the entertainment that enters the house at present, and pretty much all the interaction with other people, passes through a screen. Different platforms, on different screens: because we can (more or less).

Last Thursday we accepted the invitation of a client, a small press, to attend the launch via Zoom of their latest book, a narrative poem. It's always possible that I'll be blown away by the writing at one of these events, but the odds are against it: I'm hard to please. But I was glad of the opportunity to make contact with a client, and I admit that I was curious to find out how this particular publisher, a notorious luddite, would handle a Zoom meeting. It was fine: obviously, he had a volunteer to handle the technical end of it, and less obviously he carried off his own part in it with aplomb. It was good to see some friendly faces, even at postage stamp size and without the chance to say 'hello' (and I still don't know whether some of the oddities of that display resulted from choices I had made, settings chosen by the host, or a combination of the two). The poetry didn't outstay its welcome, and I was glad I had tuned in.

On Friday, the BBC marked what would have been John Lennon's 80th birthday by showing A Hard Day's Night. We've watched it before, and it was a pleasure to watch it again. The novelty on this occasion was that [personal profile] durham_rambler had a supplementary screen, the smartphone from which he is never entirely disconnected, alongside the television, and was able to answer all those wait, don't I know that face? moments. Victor Spinetti's assistant? Yes, that's Robin Ray (oh, of course!). And that tall man at the disco looks familiar? Jeremy Lloyd (uncredited, but thank you, IMDB). The music grows more wonderful with the passage of time: what was just pop music - good pop music, but just pop music - now seems to me perfect pop music (still just pop music, but perfection is perfection). Even the humour survives better than you might expect (will the BBC ever show Help! with its Eastern religion of human sacrifice?).

On Saturday we attended our first event in the Durham Book Festival's online programme: Richard Osman talking about his crime novel, The Thursday Murder Club. This was relayed over Crowdcast, which is a new system for us: [personal profile] durham_rambler rigged it up to play through our television (with mixed success; it was fine until it cut out, and he wasn't able to repeat that success with a later event). It was recorded - no surprise, as I knew another guest had recorded her session - but he had travelled up to Durham, and was interviewed (by a professor from, I think, Northumbria) in what I think I recognised as the Town Hall. It was evidently filmed a little while ago, and although they had actually asked fans to submit questions (the only event I've watched to do so), they hadn't asked people who had registered for the event (not actually sulking, as I wouldn't have had a question, not ahead of the event). It didn't feel like a live event, but it was agreeable television. I haven't rushed to buy the book, but if a copy turned up - if I ever go to the market bookshop again - I'd be interested to read it.

It goes on. On Sunday we were back at the Hove Pavillion (that is, watching Robb Johnson live through Facebook) for a concert of covers. Yesterday's two Book Festival events were long-distance interviews, two - oh, well, as it happens two men, side by side on the screen. Comics artist Adrian Tomine was interviewed by his editor at Faber: I hadn't persuaded [personal profile] durham_rambler to join me for this one, and although I enjoyed it, I couldn't have told him he'd missed anything. Ian Rankin interviewed by fellow crime-writer A A Dhand (which the television declined to pick up, and we watched together on a bonus computer monitor) was much more fun, a natural feeling but serious interview which - well, if you want to know you can watch it yourself. It still feels more like watching television than like attending a festival event, but there isn't enough of this kind oof thing on television,so why not? This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
mamoulian, stuff

Have I got this right?

I'm still trying to get my head around the latest batch of coronavirus restrictions. As far as I could tell from yesterday's six o' clock news, as of tomorrow the north-east of England will be subject to tier 2 regulations. This means we will not be permitted to meet friends from other households ondoors - as is already the case. But we will be permitted to meet in each other's gardens, which is currently not allowed. Can this be right?

Yes, according to the Mcite>Guardian, in some areas the new rules will be more relaxed than previously.

Unless they aren't, as there is also scope for local regulations. Ah. That kond of simplofication. As Sellar and Yeatman's indisoensable history book explains, it's all in Magna Charter: "That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm - (except the Common People)."

Whether or not the council decides not to implement this restriction (and indeed, what "the council" means when the entire north-east region is treated as a single unit), I won't be rushing to sit in my friends' gardens any time soon. Not just because it is a rainy October in rhe north of England (though that is a consideration) but because this is a university area, where rates of infection are many times above the local level (and [personal profile] durham_rambler's analysis of the local figures suggests that Durham's rates are even higher than those quoted in that article.

Will our student neighbours be equally cautious, or will they go back to mingling households in their back gardens? Who knows? To be fair, they have been comparatively quiet this term. But when my diary reminds me that Thursday is Farmers' Market day - well, with regret, I'm more than ready for an excursion but I don't think I'll be going into the city. This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.

Pubquiz interruptus

We were about to enter on the last round of last night's quiz, when the power cut out. Lights, internet, all but the merest trickle of mobile phone, just enough to know that the other city resident on the team was similarly affected. The Quizmaster, who lives on the edge of the city, lost power briefly, but we were out for two hours (I went to bed, but [personal profile] durham_rambler sat up and waited for it to return).

We had, in a sense, been in the dark all evening, because the Quizmaster, in his constant attempt to outwit the 'home' team, had produced a sports-themed quiz which, even given his quirky approach to any theme, was designed to target our area of weakness.

This is the second power cut in as many weeks. The previous one was overnight, which was less obviously disruptive. This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.

Keeping on keeping on

Autumn is here; the evenings are dark, and often so are the days, overcast and rainy. The mornings are still light, thank goodness, we still wake up to daylight, just about. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The new university year has started, a little later in Durham than elsewhere, and we have not (yet, thankfully) seen the sort of outbreaks of infection among the students that our neighbours in Newcastle have had. But [personal profile] durham_rambler has been digging into the local figures, and thinks that infections in the city are many times higher than those in the rest of the county. A friend who lives in Barnard Castle asks, subtly "Are you being very good about observing the regulations?" and I would love to respond Would you like to meet up? Instead I replied "It's not that we are being good, but we are being cautious..."

New term or no, the Botanic Gardens are still closed, and the head gardener continues to mail out a daily picture. Last week we passed Day 200 (ouch!). Day 203's picture is a view of the car park.

With the new series of Only Connect, Monday is once again quiz night on television - and yes, life is quiet enough that this is a real pleasure. University Challenge sails blithely on with a series which must have been recorded in its entirety before March's lockdown, which I suppose allows the competition to be completed before the contestants are distracted by exaams - but meant that on Mondays Jeremy Paxman told potential entrants for the next series that their Students' Union has details of how to enter. Only Connect was delayed until they had worked out how to slide perspex screens between the three members of each team. Countdown has simply increased the space between Susie Dent and the Dictionary Corner guest. Is either of these precautions sufficient? I don't know, but I hope so, because I am really pleased to see them back.

I have posted before - because life is very repetitive around here - about the pros and cons of lockdown television, with specific reference to Staged, and what I said about that is what I am saying now about the return of the quizzes: "What I am disproportionately grateful for is the recognition that we don't have to wait for the promised new dawn, the 'on the other side' to be creative, that we can still make entertainment, drama or comedy with what resources lockdown allows us. Hey kids, why don't we so the show right here in the barn?"

Not just television: GirlBear sent me this slideshow from the weekend school she and [personal profile] boybear had attended. Look! Live music! Irritatingly short snatches of live music, but all the same, music (including wind instruments):

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

You can take the girl out of Essex

I'm not an Essex girl (I was born in London), but I lived in the county as a child, and I went ti school there. This was a significant enough part of my life that as the stereotype of the Essex girl emerged, I felt I could claim that I was one.

So I enjoyed reading what Satah Perry
had to say about Essex girls in Saturday's Guardian
. I'm not sure I want to read a whole book on the subject, but maybe I should try one of her other books ... This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.