shewhomust: (Default)
Yesterday afternoon, on my fortnightly binge of "gardening" - which means, hacking back brambles and uprooting rampant buttercups and other weeds, ready for the garden waste collection the following morning, I found and ate a ripe blackberry. Just the one, in a sheltered, sunny position (under the kitchen window), but even so, this is very early, isn't it? I think of blackberries as an autumn fruit, and July 25th as the beginning of the summer holiday season (because it was Grandma's birthday, and often coincided with the start of the school holidays).

It's going to be a good year for blackberries: the brambles in the garden are heavy with fruit, and although I am cutting back yards and yards of new growth, that's not where the fruit is.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
Apologies for radio silence, lately. My desk is in the attic, and it gets very warm up here in the summer. Most years this creeps up on me, gradually getting harder to stay focused into the afternoon, but this year the sudden heat* has hit me like a brick, and I crawled away in search of cooler parts of the house where I might sleep until the summer weather has passed.

I grabbed a book from the heap to help me though this time of trial, and it turned out to be Laurie R. King's Dreaming Spies. Such a great title for what is, in part at least, an Oxford novel (and sufficiently loosely a tale of spies that I wonder whether she found the title first, and then had to write a book to fit it). You may deduce from this that nature of my relationship with Mary Russell: two parts suspicion to three parts 'I'm not going to put this book aside until I've finished it'.

*For values of heat as it understood in the northeast of England, obviously. Californians (and others who live with serious summer climates) feel free to laugh.
shewhomust: (Default)
Yesterday I believed in summer. I walked into town without a jacket, and I took my camera with me to photograph the bluebells down the road:


The first cherries had arrived at the greengrocer's, and there is still asparagus. And the long evenings seem to have arrived while I wasn't paying attention.

Today is cooler, grey and overcast. The radio warns me of heavy showers, thunderstorms, and Theresa May visiting the northeast.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
The daffodils on the bank below the station are now in full bloom: I've been watching them open over the last couple of weeks, but this morning there were no more buds, just golden trumpets.

A pair of geese are nesting on the riverbank, where the heron used to stand; the heron has moved closer to the weir, near the Archimedes screw. This morning one of the geese had adopted the heron's pose, standing very upright on its short orange legs, neck erect.

I don't know whether to blame the urge to spring clean, but we have been trying to restart the programme of work on the house. Something untoward is going on under the floor of the downstairs bathroom (shower room, I suppose, since it doesn't contain a bath), and I'd like to take the opportunity to turn it into a wet room (because I find the shower cramped - I'm forever banging my elbows, or pushing to door open without meaning to). I thought this would be - well, not easy, because I don't find this kinf of thing easy, but I thought this was a reasonable sort of home improvement aspiration, that we were going with the flow. Apparently not. The builder we used before was very discouraging about the whole wet room concept, and has given us a quote for the job with very little derail and several things missing. We have been talking to a firm that specialises in bathrooms, and they are more interested (though they too keep trying to insert screens in spaces where there isn't really room: they don't like the idea of a wet room in which things might get wet). It has taken two visits to the house - I don't think the boss could quite believe the measurements he was given, and he certainly didn't believe what we were telling him about our hot water system. But we do now have a quote from them, too. We can't have our first choice of shower, and the choice of colour is pretty much a choice of shades of grey (monochrome is not only fashionable, it's compulsory) and nowhere near fifty shades, either... But it's progress of a kind.

And we have started making bookings for a holiday.
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: (bibendum)
The instructions [ profile] desperance gave me, when he gave me my sourdough starter, tell me to put a bowl of water in the oven with the loaf: this is said to improve the rise. Every now and then I think yes, I really should try that..., but I am lazy, and clumsy with bowls of boiling water. and one way and another I never do.

But yesterday I was cooking haggis (of course) and the instructions for this required it, too, to be placed in in the oven, in a bowl containing an inch of water. Which gave me an overlap: not entirely by chance, but not entirely by planning, either, the bread spent its first quarter hour in an oven which also contained a bowl of water.

It certainly rose better than usual. This is not a scientific test: it was rising enthusiastically throughout the process, but nonetheless, for the record, oatmeal-raisin bread, bowl of water (surely the haggis is not an active ingredient?), completely satisfactory loaf.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Introducing last night's Phantoms at the Phil, Gail-Nina claimed to have no idea how implausibly many times this event, at which three writers read new ghost stories to a packed audience, has been held. Sean O'Brien offered an alternative statistic: it was now in its thirteenth year. Back home and checking the records, I make it fourteen years, but thirteen Christmases: there was always a struggle to schedule the early sessions into the busy days before Christmas, and eventually inspiration struck, and now Phantoms is the last event of the seasonal calendar, held on January 6th, which I have finally been persuaded is not Twelfth Night at all (mostly by [ profile] valydiarosada counting on her fingers: Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas...) but the feast of the Epiphany.

Thematically, that works just fine: apparitions, epiphanies, the awful realisation that something is not what it seems (or worse, that it is precisely what it seems)... Last night started with Gail-Nina Anderson's The Landscape of Memory, about which she was immensely and unnecessarily nervous, outside her comfort zone in having set aside a humorous piece to write a haunting little character study of a woman with a gift for reading the fortunes of others, but less clear sight about herself. "Next time," she says, "I'm definitely doing The Haunted Handbag." And that'll be fine too, but I'm glad she took this risk. In The Aspen Grove, Sean O'Brien treated the flaws of his hapless protagonist with humour right up to the point where things weren't funny any more. And Debbie Taylor's Three Places are locations of which Lydia is afraid, within her compound in an African village. The fear comes first, and only as the story nears its end does the cause of the fear become clear, to Lydia and to the audience.

Three fine, totally unseasonal stories, and not a traditional ghost among them: and now Christmas is over. Time to write some thankyou letters, sort the Christmas cards, and think about the first of the year's birthdays!
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Exactly a week ago we were still in London - back at King's Cross, but this time waiting for our train. One week on and - well, I won't say that it's all over, because I'm a firm believer in the twelve days of Christmas, a period of not exactly twelve days that starts on Christmas Eve and ends on the debatable territory of Twelfth Night, traditionally defined by the fesrival of ghost stories that is Phantoms at the Phil.

Nonetheless, we have had a busy time since that train brought us north (which is why I have not yet posted about the rest of our stay in London). Since the activities listed in my last post, we ate a celebratory Birthday Eve lunch with a friend whose birthday is Christmas Day; we watched Saving Mr Banks, which was, as Victoria Coren Mitchell led me to expect, entertaining and interesting, but very obviously a one-sided account of a disagreement (pretty, though).

And then it was Christmas morning, and time to visit S., first for the Christmas morning party she has held for maybe twenty years, with a shifting personnel as people drop out because the children are no longer compliant babies, then in again as the children grow up - and accompany their parents. No grandchildren this year, but planty of good conversation, and the odd surprise (the person who said, "Actually, I voted 'leave'" and had her reasons). We stayed on after the party, and chatted to Gail who had returned unexpectedly from Whitby, while S. cooked her goose and did all the hard work. The goose was excellent, and I had chosen a Uruguayan tannat to accompany it, which worked very well.

So it's definitely not over, but a milestone has been passed. Now for a quieter couple od days - but first, the Doctor!
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • I saw the moon last night as I was putting the milk bottles out on the doorstep: a big bright full moon, certainly, but no more super than many others. To be fair, that's all that was promised: the far point of the swing of the pendulum. [ profile] durham_rambler, getting up in the night, opened the curtains and saw the moon low over the trees on the hillside. This was more impressive, he tells me, and that too is as promised: the moon always looks bigger when there's a point of reference. (I didn't get up to look).

  • To the Eye Infirmary this morning for the Come back in six months to make sure it's not getting worse. It's not getting worse, so they've discharged me. It's not getting better, either, though my right eye is better than expected. I'll settle for that. And a pleasant drive there and back, in autumn sunshine and plenty of golden foliage.

  • Pretty pictures in The Guardian of the extraordinary versions of traditional rugs by Azerbaijani artiat Faig Ahmed: I had to read the article twice to convince myself that these are real physical rugs, not digital manipulations. (More on the artist's website).

  • These book sculptures are all over the web, though the artists's own website seems to have gone missing. At times they veer further into cuteness and whimsy than works for me, but at their best they are delightful: and I like that each sculpure represents the book from which it is made.

  • Shopping triumph! I have bought a pair of slippers. Limited triumph, because given absolute choice, I would not necessarily have chosen lilac, with a snowflake design incorporating a sparkly center in each snowflake. I chose them because they fit me, and that in itself is triumph enough. I celebrated by throwing away their heelless and very grubby predecessors.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
There's a book post sitting on the back burner, failing to make progress, and another at the conceptual stage. But the cold is still hanging around, and the plantar fasciitis flared up again, and I'm sleeping badly. I felt well enough to go to Sainsbury's this morning, which is just as well, because supplies were low - but then slept through this afternoon, waking only to cough. It's a very annoying sort of cough, which responds to a tickle in the throat by scratching somewhere else entirely. Failing coherence, have a handful of the random thoughts which have been chasing each other round my mind.

We seem to have hit peak absurdity this Remembrance Season -

- what? Oh, yes, we now have a Remembrance Season. Once upon a time when I was little, there was Remembrance Sunday, which was a military event not observed by my family, in which generals and politicians gathered at the Cenotaph. Poppy sellers sold poppies in the streets, and you could buy one, in which case you were donating to a charity which looked after ex-service people because the government was failing in its responsabilities, and in return for your donation you got a paper flower which looked very much like a poppy. Or not. Your choice. Later the peace movement started to sell white poppies, but this was controversial, even if you wore one of each. Then - when was this? maybe around the turn of the century? - there was a shift to observing Armistice Day, with a minute's silence, a moment of personal reflection on the 11th itself. But at the moment we have, if not a season, Remembrance Weekend (an expression I certainly heard on the radio this morning), and it's all about the poppies.

This year, two matching absurdities have collided. On the one hand, two national football teams want to wear poppies during their match, but have been told by FIFA that this isn't permitted (no political emblems allowed). Cue outrage. My initial reaction was surprise that a match would be scheduled for Armistice Day, but they were playing in the evening, so no actual conflict. What this does illustrate, though, is that the poppy is not a sign of remembrance but a substitute for it: the act of remembrance has been completed when the poppy is added to the clothing, and the footballers are now free to concentrate on the game.

Further proof comes from the matching outrage at the Cookie Monster's appearance on the One Show: this time it's not the absence but the presence of the poppy that's wrong. Because apparently there are people who hadn't realised that the wall-to-wall, no exceptions, poppy wearing on our televisions is achieved not by national mindfulness but by the vigilance of the wardrobe department. Remembrance has been outsourced to the professionals.

The ubiquity of the poppy indicates not memory but oblivion: which is apt enough.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
My mother liked supermarket shopping. If she could organise her shopping list so that she needed to visit two supermarkets rather than one, she was happy. I'm the opposite. If I can organise my shopping so that once a month I buy all the staples and heavy goods in one big supermarket shop, so much the better - and even then, if I can put off doing it, I will. This motning, though, we couldn't put it off any longer.

There are compensations, though. The shopping itself is one: the smug feeling that we will not run out of toothpaste or baking powder or onions any time soon; not to mention the opportunity to succumb to temptation and buy small treats which we will enjoy over the next few days (another reason to maximise the interval between Big Shops).

Better still, that side of town has the best of the autumn colours. No doubt there's a reason - the choice of trees to plant along the main roads around the commercial centre, perhaps? Mostly we see a beacon of flame here and there among the green that darkens and then falls as it rusts, this morning's trip was brightened by whole stretches of gold, red and orange.
shewhomust: (puffin)
I am, as you Bobs know, very fond of puffins. But there are lengths to which even I will not go to drag puffins into situations where they are not at home.

It is the season of the Christmas catalogues. They arrive in the post, and I leaf through them, before (almost invariably) adding them to the recycling bin. But this Amnesty Christmas card caught my eye:

Amnesty International Puffin Perch Christmas Card

At first glance, obviously, I was tempted: a puffin Christmas card, that's what I need! But wait -

The puffin is not a bird associated with Christmas. It comes to land to breed in the summer, and spends the winter mysteriously out at sea. Even without getting into discussions of whether the picture shows the bright beak of its summer plumage, those pink flowers are thrift, which does not bloom in December. Someone has gone to the trouble of adding a seasonal touch in the form of falling snow (this also has the advantage of explaining why the rocks on which the puffins are perched are streaked with white, which we would otherwise have taken for guano).

I went to the Amnesty website, looking for a copy of the picture to send my friendly neighbourhood cultural historian (to thank her for sending me a postcard - of a puffin, obviously - from Dublin) and found the additional information "Botanical plate by Pierre Joseph Redouté, the 'Raphael of flowers' and official court artist of Marie Antoinette." Wait, what? Can this possibly be correct? A cultural historian answers, by return of e-mail, no, it can't.

Despite which, Amnesty is a Good Thing, and if you saw that picture and thought "There's my Christmas cards sorted!", don't let me put you off. Here's a link to the shop.

ETA: The fabulous Gail-Nina has waved her magic wand, and the puffins are now correctly attributed to wildlife artist Lisa Hooper - and here they are on her website, with not a trace of snow to be seen - in the company of many other covetable prints.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Garden waste is collected every other Wednesday, early. That gives me me two weeks to get my money's worth by filling my wheelie bin with garden waste (brambles, mostly). Sometimes I do this before Tuesday afternoon, but not this week. It was raining very, very slightly, so gently that it didn't even make me wet, but I could feel it.

[ profile] durham_rambler complains that by cutting back the brambles I am depriving him of blackberries, but these are not the kind of brambles he has in mind. This afternoon I gathered less than two spoonsful of fruit from a yardage of vegetable barbed wire sufficient to fill a bin nearly as tall as I am - and maybe half of that, certainly the largest, ripest berries, came from reaching over the wall into the bottom of next door's garden.

The robin came to see what I was doing, but he didn't hang around to supervise.


May. 8th, 2016 06:32 pm
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We were up early, while the morning mist was still hovering over the railway embankment. But by mid-morning the sun was out, so we went out.

First to the Botanic Gardens, where the cherry blossom is out:

Cherry blossom garland

Then down the lane to the woods, where the bluebells are out, and particularly splendid this year. [ profile] weegoddess, I was thinking of you - and can you see who else was out for a walk in the bluebell woods?

A walk in the bluebell woods
shewhomust: (ayesha)
Yes, I know, it's traditional. But those are hailstones banging on the window above my head, sliding down to cluster at the bottom of the sloping glass.

Even now, as the hailstorm passes, there's a lacy edging of ice pellets around the blue sky that fills the pane.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Today we paid our annual visit to Finchale: it's a ritual. Since we always visit on the same day, and always park on the far side of the river and walk down through Cocken Woods, we always have the same conversations: look, the celandines are out - there are the wood anemones, all the little white stars - the wild garlic won't be long now, I can smell it already - and look how lush the leaves are! But this year there were flower buds ready to burst open on the garlic, and even one or two flowers. And further down the slope, where I'm looking out for the blue of the violets, I almost didn't realise that those particular spikes of blue weren't violets at all, but the first straggly bluebells. Bluebells in April, surely not!

Across the river and into the priory. I wanted to photograph the ruins across the bed of daffodils, but the daffs were all facing the wrong way, their trumpets towards the priory and their backs to me. Also, my pictures are all very slightly misframed. But my new camera does wonders in low light, so here is a picture of the undercroft:


While we were below ground, the sun came out. Two pairs of mallards were dabbling about in the river as we crossed back, one on the limestone pavement, the other in the deeper (but still not deep) water.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Signs (or maybe clues) of spring: [ profile] shewhomust in the garden, with the secateurs (because garden waste collections start on Wednesday); [ profile] durham_rambler in the sitting room, with the paint scraper (because he is working on re-attaching the sheet of paper which came down from the ceiling when the radiator gland was leaking).

In other signs, the vegetable sellers have made their last appearance at the farmers' market: we'll see them again in October. And the students are flying their nests: though we'll see them again rather sooner than that.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • I breakfasted this morning on the last corner of a loaf of the rye / cornmeal bread. The dough had been very wet - too wet, really, I misjudged it, and as a result it was very sticky and hard to handle. But it had risen - and spread - spectacularly, which supports the hypothesis that the wetter the dough, the better the rise. If this were the only change from the usual I'd say "proves" rather than "supports", but I also forgot to add any salt. And yes, I could taste the difference. It was still good enough that I served it with cream cheese and smoked salmon as first course when J. came to dinner on Saturday.

  • The problem with being so enamoured of my own baking is that going out to breakfast, as we did on Monday, isn't the treat it should be. [ profile] durham_rambler had been looking for a reason to breakfast at Broom House Farm, and he always enjoys the traditional cooked breakfast. I quite enjoy it, but not at breakfast time, even if I've swum a thousand metres first, so I chose 'eggy bread' from the children's menu. It was excellent, but a massive helping: two thick doorsteps of fluffy wholemeal bread. Afterwards we came home to a pot of our own coffee - and I would have made toast, too, out of sheer greed, if I thought I could possibly have eaten it!

  • The snowdrops were blooming along the lane that leads to the farm.

  • The reason we chose to breakfast out on Monday was that it was going to be difficult to fit lunch in, as I was due at the Eye Infirmary at 1.30 for laser treatment to clear the clouding in my left eye (a not uncommon sequel to the cataract operation, apparently). This went very smoothly. I had expected to be aware of the laser beam, but didn't feel a thing - other than the lens which they put in the eye to help target the laser, which felt huge and angular, especially when I had to look up, down, left, tight... Anyway, I am beginning to see an improvement in my vision, which is encouraging.

  • STAnza, the St Andrews Poetry Festival, have been compiling a poetry map of Scotland. Almost all the poems seem very recent: so far I've only found one I already knew (attached to Sule Skerry) but I liked this Egilsay Calendar.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • At County Hall on Monday evening for a consultation event, I'd estimate that maybe one in ten of those present were wearing poppies. Impressionistic, anecdotal, unscientific by all means: but at a moderately formal gathering, not selecting for any particular point of view, wearing a poppy was the choice of a respectable number, but still a clear minority. And as far as I could jusge, there wasn't any bias towards those who were there in a professional capacity.

  • Yet you could get the impression from watching television that the poppy is universal, if not compulsory.

  • As you could from the ludicrous antics of Downing Street's PR people: adding a poppy to a profile picture in November, as they would a Santa hat in December, observing the seasonal niceties.

  • Once upon a time, wearing a poppy was a sign that you had made a donation to charity. Actually, it still is. It shows respect for the dead of past wars by contributing to support veterans of wars past and present. It isn't diminished by wearing a white poppy ("never again!") alongside your red one (I saw this once on Monday). Is this function undercut by wearing a perennial poppy - an enamel badge, or that very attractive crocheted bloom?

  • I don't know when I last saw a poppy seller. Admittedly, I haven't been out much recently, but I didn't see anyone selling poppies in Durham on Saturday, the day before "Remembrance Sunday".

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