shewhomust: (bibendum)
Before we had booked our October break in Brittany, while I was still trying to decide how to play this - very short - holiday, one option I considered was taking one of the shortest Channel crossings and spending a few days in the Somme. It's an area we have enjoyed in the past, as we drove through on the way to and from the ferry, and I'd be happy to look around. In the end we decided that it was worth taking a little longer over the journey, and visiting Brittany.

Almost as soon as we had that settled, the Guardian travel supplement, which must have been reading over my shoulder, published a double page spread on the Somme. And, as proof that we are on the same wavelength here, their recommendations include not only one of the hotels I had been considering (as recommended by my Routard guide, and, indeed, illustrated on its cover) but somewhere we have actually stayed in the past (and for which I had only a broken link). So that's all useful.

No, I'm not having second thoughts - but there will be other trips...
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
From Saturday's Guardian:
Back in St Ives I picked up a summer job in catering and started spending more time on the beach and in the water. One evening I went out paddleboarding and as I paddled back into the harbour, I witnessed the most gorgeous sunset; the whole harbour was glowing. That’s when I realised this was where I was meant to be. I imagined how magical it would be if a mermaid swam into St Ives on an evening like this, and what a stir it would cause. Then I thought maybe I could be that mermaid.
shewhomust: (ayesha)
In the Guardian (where else?), taste testing home made posh crisps. I can't decide which is my favourite quotation from the article:
  1. Their size and fragility mean they’re not as filling as a real crisp, but they could work well as a crisp amuse-bouche before proper crisps are served.

  2. Because the idea of healthy crisps appeals to everyone.

  3. In terms of taste it’s right up there with the radish.

What do you think?
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Ten days ago, the Guardian submitted supermarket croissants to a taste test. The highest scoring (8/10) were from Waitrose, which surprised me, as I had bought a pack of croissants from Waitrose and been very disappointed: light and flaky is good, but so flaky and insubstantial that you end up with a plateful of crumbs and nothing else. I'd preferred Lidl. Then I realised that my Waitrose croissants had been a pack of four, I forget the exact brand but something indicating 'Waitrose superior'; the Guardian's were 'Waitrose 1' brand, and a pack of two cost £1.50, which the Guardian thought was pricey.

That sent me off on a happy wild goose chase across the internet. I'm sure that when I spent a year in France, the price of croissants, like the price of the baguette, was regulated. Evidently that's no longer the case, and what's more, people seem more interested in the price of a pain au chocolat than of a croissant (pause in which I reflect on the depravity of modern tastes). The best I can do is this piece in Le Figaro about the popular entertainment of quizzing politicians about the price of everyday items. Last October, Jean-François Copé (of whom I have never heard) was asked how much a pain au chocolat cost, and guessed "Aux alentours de 10 ou 15 centimes d'euros, non?" The correct answer, says Le Figaro, is that you'd pay about ten times that much at the baker's. Which makes Waitrose's £1.50 for two croissants look about right. One of the comments below the article points out that in the local supermarket, a pack of right costs €1.89 € (24 cents each), but in the bakery section of the same shop they are 95 cents each - and in the café across the road, &euro4 each. From all of which I conclude that you make your choice and you get what you pay for, and, to come back to that 'taste test', which supermarket you buy from matters less than where in the supermarket. Despite which, I have a highest opinion of Lidl's bakery.


This had set me thinking about croissants, and the obvious next move was to have another go at baking my own. I took down Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery - no, I know this isn't exactly English cookery, but that wasn't the problem. First, Mrs David says, "I have only limited tolerance towards all the rolling and folding and turning involved in puff pastry..." and since for croissants you submit a yeasted dough to exactly the same process, she doesn't often bother. Secondly, she says, on those rare occasions when she does bake croissants, she uses Julia Child's recipe, and instructs the reader to do likewise. She relents only to the extent of giving what is evidently a professional's recipe for baking industrial quantities of croissants, with some hints about how to modify it for home use. Well, that's OK - she doesn't give an exact recipe, but since I adapt for my sourdough bread, an exact recipe would be wasted on me. What's more, I added a further random factor by carefully measuring out and adding too much water to my dough (no, I don't know what I was thinking either; these things happen). So the usefulness of this post as a reminder of what I did is as much awful warning as model to follow. Well, that's useful, too.

I used all wheat flour, in order to get the highest possible gluten content, but I couldn't bring myself to use all white flour, because that's not a thing I do. So I used five oz wholemeal flour, and since I had inadvertently added too much water, I had to keep adding white flour until I could handle it. Which was so much higher a proportion than usual that it might be worth nerving myself to use all white next time, just to see what happens. Made the dough, knocked it back, adding more flour rather than oil - and again. Next time, I added butter. The recipe says 450g butter to a kilo of flour, so I aimed for half a pound to my (notional, actually substantially more) of flour; the recipe says spread butter on half the dough and fold in half, but I sliced butter from the fridge over two thirds of the dough, then folded in thirds (the unbuttered third over, and then the unfolded third over that). Leave in a cool place, and repeat twice more. Then rolls out, cut into triangles and shape the croissants. Brush with beaten egg, leave to prove again, brush with more egg (this took one whole egg altogether) and bake, in the top of the over, mark 6 for 20 minutes.

Here's the thing I need to remember: it was not actually all that hard work. And the results were - well, I have had worse. They were chewy rather than flaky, and quite dense, and the layers were - vestigial. But worth it, I think. Certainly all the folding is just another thing to find time for, and I think the results would be better if I'd found more time, not for the process but for letting the dough rest between rounds. Start earlier, and steal time from the initial proving, maybe? It might actually be worth buying salted butter, which I don't usually do, and not salting the dough. And that two-stage egg wash is certainly worth the fuss.
shewhomust: (Default)
Well, no, I probably won't go all the way to London to patronise Passport Photo Service, as described in the Guardian.

I could do worse, though. It was founded in 1953, and thanks to its speedy service and central location had many famous clients, often referred by the US Embassy. "The first famous person through the door was Errol Flynn. He stood with his hands on his hips and said: 'Yep! It's me!'" Mohammed Ali saw the gallery of passport photos, and told the firm that now they could replace them with a single big picture of him; Uri Geller bent their only spoon.

But their "most important" visitor? Too nice a story to spoil: go, read for yourself.
shewhomust: (puffin)
Yesterday's Guardian Q & A features Martin Sheen; the accompanying biographical note explains that " He ... stars in Anne Of Green Gables, out next week on DVD."
shewhomust: (puffin)
I didn't mean to spend the afternoon looking at pictures of puffins: I do have work to do.

But [ profile] durham_rambler showed me a picture in today's Guardian, so I went looking for it to see if I could share it here. Not as easy as I expected. Here's the Guardian Witness feature, and here are today's photos: no puffins, but some nice pictures. I'd post the guiser Jarls queuing for their breakfast here if there were an LJ button alongside the FB, Twitter and Pinterest logos, but we are not worthy.

Oh, well. I finally tracked down my pictures archived by theme, and oh, look, there's an 'embed' option, hooray! Well, almost hooray. The code doesn't actually embed the picture, but it gives you this link:

Puffin vanity

Which in turn gives me the name of the photographer, and that allows me to find this story published in the Journal a couple of summers ago. I can't make the gallery feature work, alas, but in the meanwhile, have some piano-playing puffins:

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)
The Guardian's uplift supplement (and oh, how glad I will be when all the looking back over the past year and looking forward over the coming one is over, and we can take time at its own pace again!) included a batch of poems designed to restore positivity.

Positive, uplifting poetry: what could be less inviting? But I liked Tomas Tranströmer's Espresso, as translated by Robin Fulton:
It's carried out from the gloomy kitchen
and looks into the sun without blinking.

The Guardian's rather hit-and-miss search feature didn't make it easy to find, and while I was looking for it, I came across a different translation.

And then, to complete the caffeination process, the original Swedish.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
Charlotte Church writes in The Guardian about her opposition to drilling for oil in the Arctic, and being attacked for using her 'celebrity' to promote her views.

This double focus, writing about the issue and about her right to write about the issue, gives the piece a slightly unfocussed feel, but the point at which I did a double take was her description of this drilling as "the stuff of nightmares, the sort of thing a 20th-century science-fiction writer would have posed as a trigger for the apocalypse." Did she really, I wonder, think: this is the stuff of science-fiction, but not modern science-fiction! no, it is the stuff of 20th-century science-fiction! I picture the scene in the Guardian office:
Editor:You say here, "the sort of thing John Wyndham would have posed as a trigger for the apocalypse" - but who is John Wyndham?
CC:Oh, he's a 20th-century science-fiction writer.
Editor: Really? Well, let's just say so, then...

I am constantly wrong-footed by what is, and what isn't, assumed to be common knowledge*.

*This general point stands, even if Charlotte Church was not, in fact, thinking of John Wyndham - but it is precisely his sort of scenario, isn't it?
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I was beginning to suspect the Guardian of a stealth campaign to increase my vocabulary: words I do not recognise have been cropping up, unexplained. On Saturday, we had 'pancheon'; on Monday it was 'fulvic'.

This was in a 'Shortcuts' piece about ridiculous fads in the marketing of water (article not currently online: a search of the Guardian website tries to fob me off with an eccentric Shetlander and his republic of Forvik). There is, apparently, something called 'black water', a variety of mineral water which "gets its colour from fulvic minerals, for which there are broad health claims". This doesn't make me think that the water has any actual health benefits, but does make me wonder what fulvic minerals might be.

Chambers doesn't know. It offers me 'fulvous' and 'fulvid', both of which describe a tawny yellow - which I hadn't met in English, but recognise as the French 'fauve', tawny like a big cat, and hence a wild animal. So that's a Word of the Day.

The internet, on the other hand, is full of people who want to tell me about fulvic acid, and fulvic minerals, but only because they all want to sell me their dubious health products. (Oh, and it's mentioned in passing in a Wikipedia piece about 'humic acids', a term which describes rather than defines a group of components of soil).

Guardian, are you telling me that this water is black because it's muddy?
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
- much impact on the accummulated pile of newspapers (just as one wheelie bin per fortnight makes very little impact on the jungle that is my garden). Nonetheless:

  1. Other holiday cottages are also available. I don't suppose I'll ever rent one of these fabulous modernist houses on Cape Cod - unless I could persuade all my New England friends to come and share it with me! Nor do know why The Guardian feels the need to dress the article up with a come-on headline about Mad Men...

  2. Italy seems to be flavour of the month at The Guardian, and I can see why. How about Puglia, down in the heel of Italy's boot, where you can stay in one of the stone beehive 'trulli'? Or Ravenna, and up the coast to Venice, and then maybe beyond to Trieste? Well, maybe one day...

  3. Then there's London: Iain Sinclair walks the Ginger Line so we don't have to. At book length I find Sinclair unreadable, but half a page seems the right length for his blend of bile and lyricism: "The arches beneath the elevated tracks, oil pits dealing in MOT certificates, mysterious lock-ups and rehearsal spaces for bands without names, were being rapidly upgraded to fish farms offering meditational aids to keep money-market buccaneers on an even keel, Japanese restaurants and artisan bakeries operated by downsizing hedge-fund managers. The word 'artisan' signalled the change in demographic."

  4. Who is Henry Jeffries, and how has he persuaded The Guardian to give him a weekly column which is effectively an advertisement for his (forthcoming, self-published - via Unbound) book? It is, admittedly, tucked away in the increasingly pointless cookery supplement, but it appears under the title of the book, and is invariably followed by a plug for the book. To add insult to injury, it is often informative and always entertaining, even though is is usually about drinks in which I have no real interest. Here, for example, is what it has to say about vodka: he recommends Vestal Vodka from Poland, saying "Most of their vodkas are not only vintage (made from a single potato harvest), but also from a single variety of spud." Varietal vodkas - who knew?

  5. Today's news is full of the outcome of the Greek referendum. The problem seems to be that Greece may have taken the first step to leaving the euro while remaining in Europe, and this is a bad thing. The UK, of course, declines to enter the euro, while remaining in Europe, and this is a good thing. No doubt it's entirely different.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
The Guardian has a new feature each Monday, running through some of the events of the coming week. Here's a clipping from last Monday's list:

Cutting from 'The Guardian'

I was baffled, at first, by the information that Wednesday was Labour Day. Labor Day we know - but that's at the other end of the year. April 29th is Labour Day? Since when?

Then I looked again, and realised that no, we weren't talking about April 29th, but about the other Wednesday, the one that falls between Thursday and Saturday - today, in fact, May 1st, la Fête du Travail.

Fair enough, then. Happy Labour Day, everybody!
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I read - and enjoy - the Guardian's Travel supplement on Saturday's in a spirit of contradiction, of disbelief: is this really how people spend their holidays, flying halfway across the world, visiting places that I think of as unbelievably exotic, accessible only to the most intrepid explorers? Or, indeed, do they travel thousands of miles to spend a brief weekend at their destination? Do they organise a weekend break by selecting the hotel first (basing their choice on the quality of the toiletries) and then finding something to do in the neighbourhood? Not to mention the descriptions of glamping, glamorous camping, if ever two concepts did not belong together... And of course they do, many of them do, I am the one who is out of step.

This does not spoil the fun of reading about it, on the contrary. So when the first supplement of the year offered a list of 40 holiday destinations for 2015, I felt quite smug that not one of the 40 matched my plans. It took a degree of literal-mindedness to achieve this neat zero: one day I do hope to visit Yosemite, but not this year (California is just so 2014); I would like to visit Porto, and the Faroe Islands (though not in March, for the eclipse); it's not impossible that we might find ourselves in Rodez, I am plotting to be in the south-west of France this autumn...

Why does it become a point of pride to distance myself from the list of recommendations? I think there are two reasons. One is pure perversity: there's enough here that doesn't appeal that I refuse to want any of it. The other is vaguer, but it's something to do with not liking to be presented with a list to be worked through: not so much the 'bucket-list' as such - well, maybe it is. It's the idea that everything worth doing, everywhere worth seeing could be narrowed down to a list which someone else has compiled. I want the whole world, and you offer me a choice of 40 destinations -

Yes, it's completely unreasonable of me.

So it serves me right that the week after the article which promoted all this reflection about how out of step I am with the Travel supplement and all that is in it, it should carry a review of the Bridge Inn in Ratho, where we stayed before flying out of Edinburgh to the US; they liked it, and so did we.

Likewise, I may - I do - reject the whole idea of scoring items of a list, but I have just booked what my guidebook describes as "the ultimate tick for island collectors". Yes, we are going to St Kilda in May. That is, we will attempt to go to St Kilda: you book the boat for two consecutive days, in the hope the trip will be possible on one of them at least. But I shall be positive. The next task is to arrange a brief tour of the Western Isles around that fixed point: [ profile] helenraven, I shall be picking your brains about Skye.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
  1. Nigel Slater fantasises about what he would do if someone left a box of quinces on his doorstep - and then gives two recipes, one of which is, effectively 'serve poaches quince with gorgonzola cream' (sounds good); the other is for Quince and panettone pudding, but the proportions seem off: the recipe specifies 1.2 kilos of quinces (peeled and cored weight) to 220g panettone (or brioche): that's a whole lot of quinces.

  2. Mistakes do happen. In yesterday's Cook supplement, Henry Dimbleby concludes his introduction to a digest of his 'Back to Basics' series with the words: "And, finally, we have not included baked potatoes in the contents because I was weong. I am so sorry to all of you who sent me photos of your ovens looking like a culinary crime scene. Baked potatoes really can explode if you don't prick them with a fork. Quite violently, it turns out." Oh, yes. Been there, done that, washed the T-shirt. I've typed out the text, because I can't find it on the Guardian's website (though the column in which he claims that the exploding spud is an urban myth is still there).

  3. We had haggis for dinner. Since we did a big supermarket shop rather than going in to Durham yesterday, it was some fancy brand, i.e. not MacSween's, and it was not as good. The casing was some dark thin plastic, and the contents dense and claggy - not unpleasant, but, as [ profile] durham_rambler says, we'll be having the real thing on Burns Night.

  4. On the bright side, since I was cooking a haggis in the oven (in a bowl of water, because that's what you do), I was able to observe the effects of putting a bowl of water into the oven while the bread is baking. Today's chestnut loaf was rising very nicely even before it went into the oven, so this isn't conclusive, but it does seem to have helped.

  5. This is further support for the hypothesis that the wetter the dough, the better it rises - and the harder it is to get out of the tin.

ETA: some quince links, courtesy of [ profile] cmcmck and [ profile] browngirl: The NYT praises the quince, because there are quince trees at the Cloisters Museum. But there are more, at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon. Quinces seem to be having a moment, and there are several cookbooks (or cooking and growing) books devoted entirely to quinces. Barbara Ghazarian wrote one of them. She has a quince blog.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
Which London museum has a three-legged quagga?

"It took a very long time for the museum to realise what a treasure it had; there are many oddities in a collection which only three years ago discovered it had half a dodo in a drawer, filed as a crocodile."

This, it seems, was an understandable mistake: crocodiles and birds do have common characteristics. That's all right, then.

Happy New Year!
shewhomust: (bibendum)
In Saturday's travel supplement, the Guardian's restaurant critic recommends where to eat in San Francisco. [ profile] desperance, your mission is to try all of these before our next visit. Brunch at Verbena is currently top of my list (they have, and I quote, an illuminated wooden pickle wall), but I await your report...

Across the bottom of the page, readers contribute additional recommendations. One of these is for Hamburgers, in Sausalito - "just across the street from the ferry terminal. It’s a tiny place with a line of lunch customers along the sidewalk..." This explains something. My notes from Sausalito (which will be a post of their own when they grow up, but not yet...) remark that the big queue (much longer than the one in the Guardian's photograph) along the street was not for the nice Mexican restaurant where we lunched, but for the burger joint next door. Apparently it's a thing.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  • The Guardian for Friday 27th October 1995 offers a compendium of 'The Darling Words of Mae' - quotations from Mae West. Several of the best - certainly the best known - come from I'm No Angel (1933):
    • Beulah, peel me a grape.

    • When I'm good I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm bet­ter.

    • She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success, wrong by wrong.

    Then there's:

    Give a man a free hand and he'll try and put it all over you.
    Klondike Annie, 1936

    I've been in Who's Who, and I know what's what, but it'll be the first time I ever made the dictionary.
    Letter to the RAF, early 1940s, on having an inflatable life jacket named after her

    "Goodness, what beau­tiful diamonds!"
    "Good­ness had nothing to do with it, dearie."
    Night After Night, 1932

    Why don't you come up sometime and see me? I'm home every evening.
    She Done Him Wrong, 1933 (yes, this is apparently the original text)

    Connie Mines: Oh Miss West, I've heard so much about you.
    MW: Yeah honey, but you cant prove a thing.
    From the television pro­gramme, Mr. Ed, 1960 - wait, Mae West was on Mr. Ed? Oh.Kay.

  • At the other extreme, I've been reading today's edition, too. There's a project just waiting for someone with too much time on their hands, to log the writers who appear - who are quoted, profiled, reviewed or reviewers - in the Review, the Saturday books section, because it is obvious on even a desultory reading that certain people form an in-group, who get far more attention than others. Neil Gaiman seems to have joined their number. I don't dispute that Neil Gaiman is a Good Thing, but he appears three times in the first two articles: on page 5 he annotates a copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane to raise funds for PEN, on page 6 he appears twice in the diary, suppporting the campaign to Let Books Be Books and as an author whose readers are profiled by YouGov's Profiles service. Reaching the centre spread, and a profile of Ursula Le Guin, I reflected that she, too, has entered the enchanted circle, but without the overload - but, wait! here she is receiving the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from - yes! - Neil Gaiman.

  • Also in today's Guardian, it seems that Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the UK's best city: with a photo of the Lit & Phil to prove it. An associated article lists Newcastle's top 10 craft beer pubs - I'm not sure what the criteria are for inclusion, but they managed to exclude the Bodega. Note for the bewildered: number 1 on the list, Pleased To Meet You in High Bridge, is (i.e. was) the Turks.

  • Last week's travel section had some suggestions for UK seaside holidays in winter. I may be missing the point here, because it seems obvious to me that the seaside is somewhere you can also enjoy in winter. One of their suggestions is Tynemouth - and very nice too. They recommend some places to stay in Oban and Portmeirion, either of which I'd be happy to visit. Curiously, their explanation why you might want to go to Portmeirion is "You can pretend you’re on a Mediterranean holiday..." Some of us might want to pretend we're being pursued along the beach by giant white balls, but the young things who write my newspaper don't mention that...

  • Last week's paper also offers a bonus piece of travel writing disguised as a gardening column: Alys Fowler heads to Kazakhstan in search of the origins of the apple. She makes it sound ravishing, but then she doesn't mention the government, with its appalling record on human rights. I liked this, though: "Birds are thought to have carried the seeds of an early apple from China to Kazakhstan, where the Tien Shan brown bear fell in love with them. Bears like big, juicy apples and will hack their way through a tree to get the best fruit, pruning the trees as they go. They poop out the seeds in a perfect germination package. Thus, big, juicy apples do better. Bears don’t roam a great deal, but horses do, and Kazakhstan was one of the first places where they were domesticated. Horses love apples, and distribute the bear-selected apples far and wide." Let me tell you about the birds and the bears (and the apples)...
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
For some reason, my scanner had gone off the idea of OCR. I could scan images, as long as I allowed the machine to make all the decisions, in full auto mode, but I couldn't scan text to text. This evening [ profile] durham_rambler gave it a good talking to, and we have reached an accommodation.

So, to celebrate, some text - from 'Notes & Queries', The Guardian, Friday 12 February 1993.
QUESTION: Is there any truth in the suggestion that sculptures of nude males in the British Museum had their sexual appendages diligently removed by the Victorians?

□ MR G JERMAN is not entirely cor­rect about the demise of the original fig leaf on the Achilles statue at Hyde Park Corner (Notes & Queries, Janu­ary 22). I can assure your readers that it was not apt to come loose, nor did it fall off in the frost. It required a great deal of hard work with a hack­saw, the blades of which snapped fre­quently, to get the fig leaf away. It was secured by three very solid brass bolts, and it was necessary to get a park chair in order to climb up on to the plinth of the statue and then to put a second chair between the feet of Achilles in order to reach up between his legs to get at the fig leaf. As I remember, it took us about six hours of sawing on different nights to get through the three bolts. We were for­tified by pints of beer from The Nag's Head in Kinnerton Street.
We had in mind attaching the fig leaf to the door of London Rowing Club at Putney as a spectacular door knob but it was so heavy it proved unsuitable.
Last year I spoke to the Ministry of Works officer in charge of the statues in Hyde Park and asked whether it would be acceptable if I were to return the fig leaf and pay for its reinstatement or whether she would take a serious view that we had been defacing a work of art. Happily, she thought the whole affair very amus­ing and I paid a substantial sum for its reinstatement. So, Achilles is now again wearing his original "under­wear" — a much more impressive figleaf than his temporary one in the 1960s. — Peter R C Coni, OBE, QC, London SW1.

And, from The Guardian of Wednesday 4 August 1993, a reprint from a still earlier edition:
The lasses at the pit-brow
August 4, 1911

"Well, I don't know!" I can almost hear the well-worn phrase, expressive alike of surprise, consterna­tion and indignation, going up from a hundred homes as it becomes real­ised that the younger daughters now at school are to be debarred from "working on the screens" and that the occupation of their elder sisters, their cousins and aunts, and even their mothers is to be officially scheduled as degrading and im­proper. The proposal is a perfect ex­ample of legislation which is prompted by the most admirable intentions and marred only by an ig­norance of the conditions with which it proposes to deal.
What is the pit-brow lass really like? In Lancashire, at all events, you may always tell her, if you meet her coming away from work, by the scarlet band of flannel across her forehead, which gives her a strangely foreign aspect. The ban­dage is worn to protect her hair from the coal dust while she is at work, and as she swings along homeward in her clogs you see but a triangle of it under the shawl which invariably covers her head and shoulders. It is a curiously becoming head-dress and one would not will­ingly miss from our monotonous streets the sight of these light-hearted home-coming girls. For their superior health and vigour is no fairy-tale. They work almost in the open air though sheltered from rain. Their work is arduous enough, but it is not high-pressure work and does not involve the kind of strain, either muscular or nervous, that is particularly injurious to the phy­sique of women. The coal as it leaves the screens passes slowly before them on an endless band, and as it travels along they remove the "dirt" and deftly handling large lumps and smaller ones send the mineral duly clarified to its proper destination.
Compare this with the strain on the "four-loom weaver" or the card-room girl. A good index of the com­parative healthiness of different oc­cupations is the incidence of phthisis among those engaged in them and judged by this standard there is no doubt as to the advan­tages of the pit-brow girl over her sister in the mill.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • Driving in to Newcastle for Ann Cleeves' book launch on Tuesday, we were delayed by heavy traffic in Gateshead - a mixture, I think, of people avoiding the roadworks on the motorway, and people going to bonfire parties. But we had plenty of time, as we crawled down the hill to the Tyne, to admire the fireworks somewhere in Newcastle.

  • The party was for Thin Air, Ann's latest Shetland book, which I had enjoyed reading on the flight from Edinburgh to Boston. There was Shetland fiddle music, too, from Catherine Geldard, who loaned her surname to the book's child ghost - and since the story begins at a wedding on Unst, she played us the Unst Wedding March. It's very mournful; I can't imagine marching to it. (This is a bit different to what Catherine played solo, but I'm enjoying listening to it, anyway).

  • Afterwards, we went for a pizza at The Herb Garden, a hip, high-design (there's a full-size statue of a horse in the foorway) restaurant in one of the railway arches in the Westgate Road. "Last time I was here," said [ profile] durham_rambler, "I got my exhaust fixed." Pizza was good, though.

  • When I read about Mark Thomas's play Cuckooed at the Edinburgh Festival, I thought it sounded worth seeing, and I thought it sounded like something that could very easily be toured around small venues. Right on both counts: last night it was in Durham, and an interesting and thought-provoking evening (with a 20-minute standup set, which we were invited to regard as the support act). We looked around the theatre, convinced that some of our old political contacts must be present, but didn't meet anyone we knew until the interval, when we discovered that the Graphic Novels Reading Group was out in force.

  • From The Guardian of twenty-odd years ago, the incomparable Nancy Banks-Smith describes Ricardo Belmont: "He is craggily good-looking... open-necked denim shirt... shining teeth hung from ear to ear like pillow slips on a washing line... all that."

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