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)
There is something evocative about sherds - the detritus of the past. Crucial archaeological evidence, of course, and, if you are not an archaeologist, this vivid, tangible reminder of people who have been here before, making things and using them and discarding them. The past seems to echo with the sound of breaking crockery.

Penelope Lively, Ammonites and Leaping Fish
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • Contestant on Only Connect, deliberating with team-mates: I alway get 'Flaubert's Parrot' mixed up with 'Foucault's Pendulum'.

  • The decorators, having finished a previous job earlier than expected, arrived on Tuesday afternoon. The builder, to whom I had given the sample of my chosen wallpaper and the brochure with my chosen paint colours marked on it before we went on holiday, has not passed them on and has in fact lost them. We have, as of today, reinstated that order, and the decorator is confident that this won't hold things up. That may be because the condition of the plaster under the wallpaper is worse than they had expected, and what with patching the plaster and lining the walls, they will have plenty to keep them occupied. The room, our bedroom, had not been decorated since we moved in in 1975; yes, I am quite excited at getting rid of the Lincrusta wallpaper - but what I am really excited about is the prospect of adequate wardrobe space.

  • The man in front of me at the till in Marks & Spencers had his money ready, a five pound note on top of his two-for-a-fiver ready meals. He completely confused the till assistant by asking "Is there tax on top of that?", but I thought of all the times I've been caught unawares in the States, when there was tax on top of that, and I sympathised.

  • I made pizza with today's batch of bread - actually, with about half of it, and the rest has made a round of buns. It rose spectacularly: a combination of hot weather and sloppier than usual dough, presumably. For the first time ever, the final rise before shaping had the dough nudging the dishcloth I'd laid over the top of it. I'll try the rolls for breakfast tomorrow - it doesn't seem right to breakfast on pizza, even if it's disguised as rolls and has no toppings on it. Well, if I don't like it, I'll thing of something else...

  • Last Saturday's Travel supplement told me that Tucson had become a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. I didn't know there was such a thing, and it sounded great. looking it up, it would seem to be part of a Creative Cities network, which seems more nebulous, with overtones of marketing, and why does it have to be all about cities, anyway? Downtown Tucson looked pretty and colourful, though.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  • The morning after our return from London, with no food in the house and D. arriving that evening, we went to Tesco's. I didn't mean to buy any wine: this was supposed to be an in and out, quick and efficient, kind of shopping. But the French wines are right at the end of the aisle, I wondered what they had from the south-west, and there on the top shelf was a display of Terreforts de Madiran 2003 at £3.25 a bottle. (That's $4.70 at today's rate, and the article I've linked to quotes a price of £11.99 last November.) Madiran ages well, but 2003 is a fair age: perhaps it was past its best? We bought a single bottle, and opened it that evening. At first I thought: agreeable, distinctive Madiran tannins, but fading, worth that ridiculously low price but not as intense as it should be. But as we emptied the bottle it began to fill out, and the last drop of the last glassful was a delight. The next day we went back and bought all they had left, which was only six bottles. We opened another one on Sunday, a bit earlier this time, to let it breathe, and it was wonderful, all liquorice, leather and black fruits, bramble and plum. I wonder if it will last long enough to try on [ profile] helenraven alongside those Uruguayan tannats?

  • We are approaching completion of this stage of the building and decorating: unfortunately we are approaching it as Achilles approaches the tortoise. The spare bedroom is painted and almost papered, but the paper ran out with one tiny strip (maybe three inches wide, between the wardrobe and the corner) still to do, so we have been waiting for more paper to arrive. Due tomorrow morning (and the carpet is due tomorrow afternoon, so I hope there'll be no delay). When the decorator arrives, we're assuming he will also put a second coat of paint in the kitchen, and bring a long brush to paint behind the radiator. We had a nasty moment when the fridge was pulled out of its corner and revealed an unpleasant damp patch, but that has now been sealed and replastered. The new paint is very red. I thought I was choosing the shade closest to the existing terra cotta, and was puzzled that it was called 'Red Barn', but oh, yes, very red. I am rethinking which pictures go where.

  • Ushaw College is a former Catholic seminary, now busy reinventing itself as a welcoming events venue. This is disconcerting. But it has some fabulous architecture, and if it wants to fill that space with folk music, that's fine by me. We couldn't make all of the folk festival last weekend, but we were there on Saturday evening for Alistair Anderson's new band, Northlands. So new that their only web presence is on Alistair Anderson's news page: for the record, then, singer and flute player Sarah Hayes, Sophy Ball on fiddle and Ian Stephenson on guitar. Great fun, a mixture of solo spots and ensemble pieces, maybe not entirely settled in as a band but giving every sign of enjoying playing together. Long may they do so. The concert was in the Exhibition Hall, a chapel letting its hair down observed by bishops and other clergy in the roof beams:


  • Quotation of the week - but which week? We were watching the extended version of Have I Got News for You on the iPlayer. Paul Merton, intervening before Gyles Brandreth could lure Ian Hislop into a grammatical debate, announced "The gerund is a three-wheeled vehicle which was very popular before the invention of the horse."

  • Last night our dear friend F. celebrated a dignificant birthday by inviting a group of friends to an Elizabethan banquet at Lumley Castle. Don't be misled by the description, this is not about authentic re-enactment and historic recipes, this is the banquet as pantomime. It was extremely well done, and we even managed a certain amount of conversation in between the entertainment.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
From the British Library website, the rejection letter sent to George Orwell by Faber & Faber, declining to publish Animal Farm (with thanks to the Guardian for the transcription:
I think my own dissatisfaction with this apologue is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing... And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm - in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.
Signed: T.S. Eliot
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
I don't mind frogs - except when they get into the piano. That pisses me off.

Our friend M., whom we have not seen in altogether too long, dropped in this morning and brought us up to speed on her news. She now has her daughter's cats living with her, as daughter has moved in with a man who doesn't like cats. Obviously, she feels this is a mistake, but she's happy to have the cats, and the cats are happy to be there: they can go outside, and bring in frogs...
shewhomust: (dandelion)
One day, I asked my Finnish teacher if it was true that her language had 30 different words for snow. She fixed me with her big, blinky eyes.

"No, you poor deluded fool," she sighed. "We Finns only have one word for ‘snow’. The trouble is, you English think that everything white that falls out of the sky is ‘snow’."

Jonathan Clements, Schoolgirl Milky Crisis

Similarly that cold wet stuff falling out of the sky right now cannot be rain, because the forecast told us that it would not rain north of Middlesbrough.

(I think I'd have noticed if they'd moved Middlesbrough.)
shewhomust: (ayesha)
[ profile] steepholm questions the narrative in which Labour's election defeat comes from being too left wing. Frankie Boyle, in yesterday's Guardian doesn't question it, he shreds it.

Every line of the piece is quotable: I read several paragraphs aloud to [ profile] durham_rambler, but it doesn't seem right to do that here (tempting, but not right). Just one paragraph, then, the point at which I stopped reading silently because this just had to be shared:
Of course, none of the frontrunners are proper socialists; they don’t even hate each other. Jeremy Corbyn did scrape together enough nominations to stand, causing the left of the party to get quite excited that it is still allowed to lose. One of the few decent politicians remaining in the Labour party, he reminds me of those old drinkers you see haunting a new bar because they used to go to the pub that was there before.
If this seems excessively depressing and cynical, blame me: the article itself actually has some constructive points to make. Go on, read it...
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: (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."
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We hear so much about how modern politicians are groomed to deal with the media, and alert to the risks of becoming a sound bite: it oughtn't be possible for a government minister to entertain the nation by claiming that "the badgers moved the goalposts." But he did - on camera. The lure of the metaphor was stronger than any media training.

It's a long tradition. The classic example is: "Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I will nip him in the bud," perpetrated by Sir Boyle Roche, who specialised in this kind of thing, some time in the eighteenth century. I know a longer version (" ... and if he is not nipped in the bud, he will burst forth in a conflagration which will deluge us all...") of which the internet knows nothing. I didn't make it up, but someone else must have.

My own files also yield up British Fisheries spokesman Nigel Atkins, admitting that "Our worst fear is that the Common Fisheries policy, which is, warts and all, a very delicate flower, can easily be torpedoed." (I found it in the Listener, apparently, and that's the best I can do for provenance).
shewhomust: (dandelion)
An interesting article by David Mitchell in yesterday's colour supplement (the novelist, not the comedian) about learning to cope with his son's autism. I particularly liked this chunk:
There's quite a marketplace for autism treatments, you find. Some sound rational, others quasi-deranged. One claims that autism is caused by allergens entering the bloodstream through a perforated bowel and inhibiting cerebral development. You FedEx a blood sample to a laboratory in York, and quite a long list of prohibited foods comes back, including lamb, kiwi fruit, pineapple, gluten, red meat and dairy products. Your family adopts the regime, and although you feel a little healthier, you see no change in your child. Ditto the benefits from the ionised water you've ordered from the US, which a friend passionately recommended. You feel a new pity for the medieval unwell, who limped from one shrine to another, hoping to find the right saint to pray to, when what they really needed was a quantum leap in medical science.
(It occurs to me now that the same applies to David B's account of a childhood dominated by his brother's epilepsy, and his parents' desperate search for a cure.)

Bonus silly joke provided by Anne Fine:
Why did the French chef commit suicide?
He lost the huile d’olive.
shewhomust: (Default)
Over at the SF Signal Mind Meld, [ profile] desperance is among those talking about what makes a hero - in the literary sense, a hero as opposed to a protagonist. No-one who has read anything by Chaz Brenchley (or Daniel Fox or Ben Macallan) will be surprised that he comes to the conclusion that just as no man is a hero to his valet, so no character is a hero to their author: "We know too much: their inner drives, their hidden yearnings, what actually makes them step forward into the night. No one's motives are ever really that clean, that simple, that self-negating." Fortunately, because that makes them all the more interesting to the reader.

What makes a hero in the real life sense is much the same: I hate the idea that a hero can have no flaws, cannot be criticised. Since ideas never come singly, I wasn't surprised to come across this aspect of heroism this morning, though the source was unexpected: "We elevate people to the status of heroes in order to let ourselves off the hook: 'I'm just a mere mortal – I could never even dream of doing something like that,'" says Jarvis Cocker in the course of an exemplary review of Hunter Davies's latest trawl through John Lennon's waste paper basket (and it is an exemplary review rather than a hatchet job, go read it and see).

The Edinburgh book sculptures are being exhibited in a nationwide tour. I wonder...

Back home means urgent shopping - but in an unusually successful morning I scored a couple of birthday presents, a ridiculously sparkly jacket and the last quince in Durham.

The fifth thing which makes the post is that there is no fifth thing.
shewhomust: (Default)
...of which by far the oddest (via the Ansible) is that Grant Morrison was awarded an MBE in the Queen's birthays honours. King Mob enters the Order of the British Empire - can this be true? (apparently so.)

Photographer Leah Gordon performed a reductio ad absurdum on the fine-grained racial categories proposed by eighteenth century colonialist Moreau de St Méry, seeking out models who matched his classifications and photographing them in elegant Renaissance-style portraits. There's an example in the Guardian.

My inbox is regularly enlivened by the Quotation of the Day mailing list: rarely less than interesting, and with the occasional real gem. As, for example: "A dinner invitation, once accepted, is a sacred obligation. If you die before the dinner takes place, your executor must attend." (Ward McAllister, in Society As I Have Found It, 1890)

One of the highlights of my visit to the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley was their Minitel terminal. I remember our incredulity when the French government announced in 1982 that instead of producing paper volumes of phone numbers which were out of date as soon as they were published, it was going to give every subscriber a computer terminal. During my days at the advertising face, I would have to explain to colleagues that the code in the corner of the advertisement (36.15 Renault, for example) was to allow the public to seek more information on Minitel - and later, that one reason why France was slow to adopt the internet was that they already had Minitel. But I never saw a Minitel site, and now I never will, because the system has been turned off.

There's almost certainly at least one other thing lurking in the back of my mind, but I've made a pot of tea and still not dislodged it, so please regard item five as a check digit.
shewhomust: (watchmen)
Today's offering from the estimable Quotation of the Day mailing list:
Alexander Scriabin was synaesthetic, which meant his brain made connections between things that the majority of people do not believe to be fundamentally connected. Synaesthesia can take several forms (people can see colors in pain, or in letters or the alphabet); Scriabin "saw" music and "heard" colors. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius had the same gift. "What color would you like your stove, Mr. Sibelius?" he was once asked. "F Major," he said vaguely. So it was duly painted green."

- Victoria Finlay, from Color: A Natural History of the Palette

Presumably an adjacent but not identical shade to F# )

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