shewhomust: (Default)
Before going shopping yesterday morning, we compared our diaries for the coming week (so that I could plan the shopping) and beyond: it looks as if September will be quite busy, and October - well, October is looking a bit silly. In a good way, with many things I am looking forward to, though I wouldn't have chosen to have them all happen in the same month.

That said, we have taken advantage of a planned trip to London to add a few days in France, so that bit of it is self-inflicted. We have now booked the overnight ferry to Brittany and back, and four nights in between.

We were at the Botanic Gardens today: we went to the orchid show at Josephine Butler college, which is next door, so why not? Once we had admired the sheer variety of orchids on show, from the beautiful to the sinister, and from the huge colourful blooms to the tiny green things in bottles supplied by Equatorial Plants, we went for a walk in the gardens. This ought to be the cue for a photo of some autumn foliage, but the North American Arboretum failed to oblige, so instead, here's what I found lurking in the bamboo:

Hiding in the bamboo

I had bought the first damsons of the season at the greengrocer's, so there was damson crumble for pudding.
shewhomust: (ayesha)
This morning's e-mails included a request from the Council: they wanted my opinion. "Dear Customer," it began, which isn't a great start - I think of myself as a resident, a Council Tax payer and occasionally an elector, but not as a customer of the Council. Never mind, here's what the e-mail said:

We would like to hear about your experience of contacting Durham County Council.

We would appreciate it if you could take a couple of minutes to complete a short survey to give us your views.

Your feedback is important and will help us to develop and improve our service.

That survey in full )

Apologies for the boring post: I wanted a record because County Council 'consultations' are an ongoing game.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
At the dentist's this morning (just a checkup, thanks, and all is well) I noticed for the first time a picture behind the reception desk. It's a slightly generic painting of a stone bridge over a river, with the title in bold capitals: Victoria Bridge. It looks like a pub sign, and come to think of it - yes, says the dentist, we just brought it inside when we converted the pub (which I remember well from when we used to live up that way).

Things change, but the past is not effaced.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
Towards the end of a cold February day in 2016, Mark - also known as 'Whitney' - Houston's metal detector gave "a perfect tone" (whatever that may be) indicating the presence of an interesting quantity of metal at an interesting depth. He dug it out carefully, although his first thought when he saw it was "what a stupid place to discard an old motorcycle battery!" - a little stack of plates of metal. But he took it home, and started - very carefully - to clean it up, setting the washed plates on the windowsill to dry. It happened that the light caught the wet surface in such a way that he could see writing on them, and what's more, he could see enough to recognise that the writing was Latin.

The pictures on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database give an idea of what it looked like at the time, and the bit that really impresses me is that armed with this, the internet and a network of other metal detectorists, he was able to identify what he had found, to the point that when he contacted the PAS, he was able to say "I think I've found a Roman diploma."

The Lanchester diploma )
shewhomust: (Default)
We visited the local allotments for their Open Gardens afternoon; you pay an entrance fee (which goes to charity) and then you wander round the allotments and chat to people (and occasionally they invite you to sample their raspberries, which is no hardship). Lots of sweet peas this year - not a spectacular flower, but such a pretty scent. Lots of sweetcorn, too. I had thought there were two reasons why you can't grow sweetcorn here: we're too far north, and anyway, there are badgers on those allotments, and they are very fond of sweetcorn. As if this weren't enough entertainment, there was a theme. Last year there were scarecrows, but this year there was Art, and visitors were asked to vote for their favourite piece. I liked a bold, almost abstract painting of some pears on a royal blue background, displayed alongside some actual (bought from M&S, because of course it isn't the season) pears, on a royal blue towel, but I think this has to be the winner:

Vincent's chair

There was fruit and veg and quite a bit of jam on sale at the entrance (this may have been [personal profile] durham_rambler's favourite bit), so were came home with gooseberries and tayberries and jostaberries (a cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant and - this is important! - not prickly).
shewhomust: (ayesha)
Previous years: 2005 (with explanation); 2006; 2007; 2008; (2009: we were in Iceland) 2010; 2011; 2012 (briefly; 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016 (briefly)
DMA Website
Guardian report

The promise was that this year's Gala would be the largest since [insert your comparator of choice here], that Jeremy Corbyn, fresh from his triumph at Glastonbury, would pull in a massive crowd. This is a good thing. It's great that the Gala, which at one time seem likely to disappear like the mining industry itself, is going from strength to strength. And if my heart sinks when I'm promised a massive crowd, well, that's my problem.

Paradoxically, our first impression as we set out on Saturday morning was that the town was emptier than usual: we could hear no music as we walked down the hill, and the North Road was empty, blocked by a council truck parked across the end (someone had stuck a blue NASUWT flag in the back, so we knew they had passed this way). Usually we'd be running into crowds as we climbed Silver Street, but this year we reached the Market Place before we ran into the banners and bands, and it wasn't difficult to make our way past Magdalen Steps, usually a pinch point. That's where I took this picture:

Unison in purple

There were plenty of people wearing red, and the NASUWT's blue was everywhere, but I appreciated the effort Unison representative had made to wear purple (and handling phone, banner and coffee at once shows real skill).

More of the same: more words, more photos )

And that's all for another year. We accompanied [profile] samarcand and co. to their hotel, and had a drink and a chat, and then we made our way home...
shewhomust: (mamoulian)

  • Poking around the internet, looking for something else, I found this article about the decline in puffin numbers in Iceland. It dates back to 2013, and blames the mackerel, heading north on the warmer waters and eating the zooplankton which would otherwise feed the sand eels (ans eating the odd sand eel, too). The evidence is circumstantial, but persuasive. In passing, it suggests that the technique of catching puffins in flight using a net on a pole is actually less damaging to the puffin population than the previous method of catching them from the burrows: "Pole netting targets the tremendous wheels of flying puffins that form just off the colony cliffs. Thousands of birds spend hours flying in an arc out to sea, then banking and coming back low over the cliffs. The birds that do this are mostly adolescents. They have free time, and they spend it endlessly reconnoitering the cliffs, trying to learn what it takes to find a burrow and a mate." Of course: birds that spend their time flying round aimlessly in circles, what could they be but adolescents?

  • I described the practice of pole netting in a post last year about a television programme, also about the decline in seabird numbers, presented by Adam Nicholson. I am now reading his new book, The Seabird's Cry and hoping for more up to date information. I've barely started it, and have only just reached the chapter about puffins, but I loved this hint of how they spend their winters: "Winter puffins, dressed in grey, float in silence, picking at fish and plankton alone on the surface of the sea." Something very chilly about that wording.

  • And one puffin-free item: Harry Potter, the Durham connection. I am mildly shocked at the idea that Durham University is offering a Harry Potter module as part of its English degree: the course, as described, sounds like a very good way to teach civics to schoolchildren, but not the material for undergraduates on - oh, wait, can I even assume that it's a literature degree? Better stop here and go to bed.
shewhomust: (Default)
D. was with us at the weekend. He had agreed to spend Saturday supporting some friends who were doing the Lyke Wake Walk, and no, staying in Durham in order to do this makes no sort of geographical sense. And of course we'll see him next week, when we all go to Lindisfarne. But an excuse for a visit is always good. In the course of Friday evening, [personal profile] durham_rambler remarked that there is a dig in progress this summer at Binchester Roman fort, and D. said that he had never been to Binchester. So that's what we did yesterday.

Previous visits: Open Day 2014; Heritage Open Days, 2016. Not to mention Time Team's visit in 2007.

The changes to the existing display, which were promised on our most recent visit, haven't happened yet, and the reconstructed Roman still sits in the first hot room, where D. was properly impressed by the survival of the flues that brought the heated air up from the hypocausts below:

Flues and hypocausts

Across the walkway, a couple of swallows had found their way into the second hot room, and seemed to be very agitated about something, but we couldn't work out what - they seemed to be able to get in and out, and they weren't fighting. If they'd built a nest, we couldn't see it, but that proves nothing.

Outside, a track has been worn across the field to the Regimental Bathhouse, the only part of the vicus still visible above ground, and now sheltered by a giant marquee, which flaps noisily in the wind:

Bathhouse under cover

This year, they are excavating the mausolea on the plateau below the fort: there was nobody there, it being Sunday, but we went and nosed around anyway. Big bare area, holes in the ground in no obvious pattern, lots of white string and labels. We are capable of getting quite excited about these things...

We had thought of lunching at Whitworth Hall, where none of us had been before, but it was fully booked, so we went into Bishop Auckland to see what we could find: building works, mostly. Renovations at the Castle have reached a point where the building is closed, and the Market Place is barricaded by roadworks. We gave up and went to the local Wetherspoons (the 'Stanley Jefferson', in honour of local boy Stan Laurel), unexciting but reliable.
shewhomust: (watchmen)
  • Intrigued by remarks on my friends' page, and elsewhere, we tracked down Jeremy Corbyn's appearance on The One Show. Which was fine, but not as interesting as a short film from the European Stone Stacking Championship (don't miss the picture gallery).

  • We spent last Saturday at Wonderlands, a perfect mini comics / graphic novels con. Went to several panels, wandered round the hall, talked to lots of people, had a great time - there ought to be more to say about it, but no. Take the title of this post as an indication of my esteem. And have a quote from Martin Rowson, on the primacy of drawing: "Writing is just a by-product of accountancy."

  • It was at Wonderlands that Mel Gibson told us about her late father, Jeff Johnson: I hadn't heard of him, or seen his work, but I rather like the painting reproduced in that obituary.

  • On Saturday evening we went to The Dragon and the Bone Queen, half performance, half illustrated lecture based on the work of Records of Early English Drama North-East: there was a procession led by the Boy Bishop (Durham always has to be different, and marked Whitsuntide with not one but two Boy Bishops, one for Durham itself and one for Elvet), there was music, both singing and instrumental, there was a dragon, there was the Dance of Death, as represented by the Bone Queen and her attendants:

    The Bone Queen and her attendants

  • It was a beautiful evening, as you can see from the light flooding in through the window and fogging the photo. We walked home from the Music School by the scenic route, and admired the evening light on the Cathedral, not to mention the moon...

    Moon and stone
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  • As agreed, the bathroom fitters arrived on Tuesday morning to start work on the downstairs bathroom. They ripped out all the fittings, and took up the floor. They discovered, what we had already told them, that there was damp underneath the floor (this, indeed, more than a desire for a shiny modern wet room, is the reason why the downstairs bathroom heads the list of home improvements). "I thought there would be joists under the flooring," said the boss, and we made sympathetic noises, and refrained from saying that we had told him the floor was solid (and he had confirmed explicitly that he felt competent to take on a job which was likely to involve remedial building work). The work will take longer and cost more than the original estimate, but this hasn't come as a total surprise. The most unnerving thing is hearing the excited Polish conversations and not knowing what they are about.

  • To the cinema, to see Their Finest. It is based on a novel called Their Finest Hour and a Half, which strikes me as a clever and witty title: I wonder why they changed it for one which people are forever getting wrong? But the film was enjoyable, if you didn't think about it too hard. Apparently it is still inevitable, if a man and a woman are on friendly terms, that romance will ensue (and I don't think that can be regarded as a spoiler since it is, as I say, inevitable). It also has to balance - or perhaps juggle - a humorous depiction of the making of a film which will boost morale during the Blitz, with the depiction of the Blitz itself, which isn't in the least funny. This dissonance was amplified by the fact that the film within a film is a sentimental account of Dunkirk, and one of the trailers preceding the main feature was for a particularly bloodthirsty account of the same event.

  • We walked home over Milburngate Bridge, which we haven't done for some time, as parts of the route (not always the bridge itself) have been closed for various reasons. We had a fine view of the pile of rubble where the Passport Office used to be - literally, in that the plan is to use the debris of the old building as a platform on which to build the new, so raising it above the main flood risk. The heron was strolling along the weir, admiring his reflection in the still water above it.

  • Yes, election day. We, like many other parts of the country, have county council elections. You are forgiven for not noticing. The news media have occasionally mentioned the elections for the new powerhouse mayors (thankfully, we have escaped this one so far), but county councils are beneath their notice: London doesn't have one, so it can't be anything important. Finally, today they had to notice. The Today programme this morning kept announcing that 'we aren't reporting on politics today' in what I thought was a very passive-aggressive manner.

  • For what it's worth, I'm not convinced that reporting on the issues - such as they are - of the General Election would have had much influence in this ward. We have been showered with leaflets by both Greens and Lib Dems, who have good grounds for claiming that neither Labour nor Tories have a hope. I'm quite insulted that the Labour Party haven't felt it worth making an effort: they control the County Council, and seem to resent that the City is an enclave of dissent, but they haven't tried to win us over. The other contender was an independent - a semi-detached Green, and I wonder what the story is behind that? Anyway, the polls have just closed - the count is tomorrow.
shewhomust: (Default)
April 5th was my father's birthday - in my mind I still say 'is', but it's twenty years today since the last birthday of his lifetime. When I can, I like to mark the date by visiting Finchale Priory, where he and his family spent holidays during his childhood, in a hut which his father had built. That's where we went this afternoon:

A place for reflection

At the top of the path we met a pair of walkers coming towards us, a woman of our age and a much younger man in a dog collar: did we know these woods well, they asked; was there another path that went down to the river? We told them the path they were on would take them to the river, if they persevered, and they turned round and set off again. They weren't walking very fast, but I was dawdling, taking pictures of the carpet of windflowers under the trees:


and the very first spears of wild garlic just beginning to bloom - in a week or two its white stars will have replaced those of the windflowers. Where the path reaches the river, and turns right along its edge, there is a little beach, and that's where we met the duo again. He was looking without much enthusiasm at the water, and we pointed out the notice that warns of strong currents. He was resolute: he was an Anglican vicar, it seems, and he was due to baptise someone "from a culture that requires total immersion" so he was scouting for a suitable location. He had previously baptised someone in the sea, but that was so cold (even wearing a wetsuit) that he thought he'd try the river...

A little further on, I spotted these alien growths:


I'd never seen anything like them, but [personal profile] durham_rambler photographed them with his phone, and tweeted the picture to @SeymourDaily, who tweeted right back that they are toothwort (Lathraea squamaria). A new-to-me plant identified by living-in-the-future technology.

So then we went and walked around the ruins, and stood on the bridge to laugh at the ducks. The female was just rootling around in the shallows, but the male was doing the full upside down dive, and they look so funny when all you can see is the tail and the feet paddling like mad.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
D. is with us: or rather, D. has gone to - Northallerton, I think - for the dinner which justified his coming to see us, and staying here last night and tonight. Not that staying here in order to dine in Northallerton makes enormous sense, but we're all glad of the excuse for a visit and don't enquire too closely.

A visitor is grounds for going out to lunch, and we thought we'd try somewhere new, and went to the farm shop at Knitsley. Success all round, I think. A pleasant drive out, with authentic April showers, and the verges thick with daffodils (were they always there, or is it an exceptionally good year?); a twenty minute wait for a table gave me time to buy goodies for tomorrow's lunch and further into the future; and good things for lunch. [ profile] durham_rambler and I chose the 'pork tasting plate' (ham, pate, pork pie ans a particularly successful Scotch egg) while D. observed the traditions of the day French-style, by opting for the fish and chips. The dessert menu was less exciting, especially as we had seen the cakes counter on our way in, so we bought cakes to eat at home with coffee.

We drove home via Lanchester, since D. had not seen the information board about the Roman fort: the fort itself is unexcavated, so there isn't much to see, but the walls are visible - or rather, the core that remains when the stone has been robbed for use in more recent buildings:

The walls of Longovicium
shewhomust: (dandelion)
The sun shone and the weather was mild all weekend, and for once we managed to take advantage of it.

On Saturday we went to the seaside: technically, this was work, because we had a meeting with a client. But the client lives in Cullercoats, so after the meeting (which didn't resolve things as far as I would have liked, but wasn't disastrous either) we lunched on scampi, with a view of the bay, walked a dhort way along the front, diverted to visit Oliver's Bookshop where I bought a copy of Jandy Mac Comes Back (to the Abbey, that is...)

Yesterday we went to the Botanic Gardens, and enjoyed the sunshine and admired the daffodils. One or two other things were in bloom, including the primroses, but it's mainly daffodils: there are so many of them, and they are planted in great masses of each variety, so there patches still in bud alternate with patches in full bloom. I'm never satisfied with my photos of daffodils - I can never capture the contrast between the formal shape of the individual trumpet against the carpet of gold, the way the light catches them, the translucence of the pale blooms with the light behind them - but I quite like the way this army of flowers are stampeding down the hill towards us:

Daffodil onslaught

I was hoping to see cherry blossom, too - I knew they were replanting the trees of the 'circle of friendship' but I hadn't realised this meant that all the trees had been removed (they had turned out to be a variety that is prone to problems, apparently) and that the opportunity had been taken to pave the grassy circle (there were good reasons for this, but I'm still sad about it).


Mar. 9th, 2017 07:38 pm
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Earlier this week, returning from the swimming pool to the car, we met a neighbour who told us that a pair of dippers were nesting in the retaining wall of the river. He also told us that he had been feeding homebakes to the pair of geese who have taken up residence. "They recognise me," he said, "and come and demand to be fed."

I'm not so sure they do recognise him. Yesterday on the way back from the pool we met the geese in the car park. They took up a position on the narrow path the leads to the bridge, stretched to their full height and raised their wings, and hissed at us. It took several minutes before they gave up hope of homebaked treats, and let us pass.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
There was some sort of ice sculpture event on in Durham yesterday and today. I think it was designed to provide something families could take the children to, it being half term, and there were events and opportunities to get involved, none of which I was interested in. But there were ice carvings dotted about the streets under their banners of flame, which brightened up an otherwise not very satisfactory morning's shopping (the market had been cancelled becausehigh winds were forecast):


The sky wasn't as dramatic as this picture makes it look, but I like the effect anyway.

More pictures )
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I was beginning to feel as if I never left the house. This isn't the case: I was at the pool yesterday morning, for example. But drive there, five minute walk across the bridge, swim, five minutes walk back, drive home and all before breakfast - no, it really doesn't feel as if I've been out. There's plenty to do here, and no particular reason to go out, but this morning I decided it was time, assembled a short shopping list (olive oil spread, cold cream, birthday cards, lunch) and set off. I took the path down through the old graveyard, just in case the snowdrops were out, and yes, they were:

Snowdrops I

Snowdrops II
shewhomust: (durham)
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 [ profile] 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...
shewhomust: (dandelion)
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 [ profile] 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.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
This morning D. announced that he fancied going out to lunch, maybe in Whitby; [ profile] durham_rambler said he has important papers to read, and couldn't possibly; the message from [ profile] 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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