shewhomust: (Default)
The 'out' component of the evening was another wine tasting at Majestic, the third we have been to, and we have yet to encounter any of our fellow tasters twice. This time Mike took us through a 'pinot noir masterclass' which was nothing like as formal as that suggests - I wouldn't have minded a list of what we were tasting and the opportunity to scribble on it. What I learned was pretty much what I already knew, that with pinot noir you get what you pay for, but that things don't really get interesting until I'm way out of my comfort zone. Actually, the first and the cheapest wine we tasted (which may have been Chilean) was thin and fruity, high in acidity (reminded me of the wines we bought in Coiffy, on the edge of Fance's wine-growing regions) and I liked it, though it wasn't generally popular. I've had more approachable pinots at the price. Chapel Down produce pinot noir in England, but they have to blend it with something called rondo to get a saleable wine which isn't very like pinot noir at all - and it's quite expensive. But the two outstanding bottles were both over £20, a Saintsbury from the Napa Valley and a Cloudy Bay (NZ). To be fair, no doubt there's Burgundy as good as either as these - but not within the budget.

We returned home on the bus for the 'in' part of the evening: a quick supper and a bottle of Gran Volante Spanish red, which Majestic are promoting quite heavily, but which I found memorable mainly for the fact that the winemaker's name is printed on the cork - I don't think I've ever seen that before! And there was time for an episode of I Know Who You Are, a Spanish thriller which we are - not exactly binge-watching, but the closest we come to it. Successful lawyer emerges from the forest, claiming to have amnesia; in his crashed car is the phone belonging to his niece Ana, now missing, and traces of her blood. Does he really have amnesia, and did he kill his niece? He looks pretty guilty, but it's more interesting if he isn't - or at least, that's my take as of 5 episodes. Time for another one...
shewhomust: (ayesha)
A couple of years ago, the BBC decided that what we needed, to get us through the first day of the working week. was an hour of quizzing to look forward to. So they programmed University Challenge, followed (not necessarily on the dame channel) by Only Connect. And it was good. Not necessarily to everyone's taste, of course, but then, what is? It pleased enough people that the BBC started to make a feature of it, and to promote 'Quizzy Monday'.

It was too good to last, of course. The BBC decided that no, Friday night is Quiz Night! (What? Why?) They are now trailing Only Connect as a double act with Mastermind. Even if I watched Mastermind (which I don't - it has John Humphrys in it), quizzes would not be my Friday night entertainment of choice: give me music, or comedy, or not watching television at all...

The new season of University Challenge began a couple of Mondays ago, and last Friday Only Connect started as well. But we have the technology, so we time-shifted it to its proper slot, immediately after University Challenge. It's a small victory, but we settle for what we can get.

And followed it with a half hour programme about how Orkney has become 'the cruise capital of the UK' shown earlier this evening, which barely acknowledged that there might be a downside to this, and didn't mention the impact on archaeological sites at all. Very odd.

Us watching three television programmes in one evening is also very odd.
shewhomust: (Default)
That summer feeling, where doing not very much still fills the day from end to end, with plenty of breaks for reading or poking about the internet. Time slips by, yet nothing seems to have happened - or at least, nothing to write home about. Nonetheless, rounding up a few things -

Last Friday we went to a wine tasting at Majestic wines. We'd dropped in the previous day, in search of rosé, and since the tasting was of rosé, and the price of the ticket was redeemable against buying wine, and we weren't doing anything else, it seemed worth a try. We weren't sure what to expect, but we caught the bus, in the pouring rain, and were welcomed into the shop by Mike who had served us the previous day and was our 'wine guru' for the evening, busy putting out chairs for the six customers. That made it one of the smallest tastings I've ever been to, and definitely one of the least formal (we were not - quite - rowdy, but we may have come close). Mike had put together half a dozen wines from six different countries at a range of prices (and showed us, with evident regret, the Bandol which his budget wouldn't cover). The hit of the evening was a Côtes de Provence in a fancy square bottle, which I thought pretentious and not very interesting, certainly not justifying its price. I was disappointed in the Chapel Down (and I wish I'd been taking notes, because I don't remember why), intrigued by the Muga, which had the flavour of Cava but without the fizz, could have done without the Route 88 White Zinfandel (pink sugar-water) and of the six preferred the Breganze Pinot Grigio, an easy-drinking blush. But I didn't like any of them as well as the La Serrana we had bought the previous day, deep raspberry red with a surprising tannic grip, and how can they possibly sell something drinkable at that price? After which we caught the bus home to a takeaway pizza and a bottle of decent red. A fun evening, good company, I'd do it again.

We've been enjoying Doctor Who. The series began while we were away on holiday, so we've been watching on catch-up, and were following along a week behind transmission. On Saturday we watched the last two episodes back to back in one feature length extravaganza - and I'm glad we did, because I would have found the cliff-hanger irritating and the second part dragged out. As it was, I didn't feel it earned its extra lenth, but that was less obvious since we'd chosen to watch at extra-length anyway. The series as a whole has been very uneven, which I suppose is what you get if you have different authors for different stories. and there have been bits of dialogue (usually when the Doctor has to say something particularly high-minded) when I've just thought 'no!' but I tend to blame the writer rather than the actor. Overall, I've enjoyed Peter Capaldi's Doctor, and I'm sorry we have entered its end-game. Nardole was fun; Bill was fine, though the University setting was one of the more alien worlds the Doctor has visited. Initially I greeted the rehabilitation (or not) of Missy as a pretty threadbare plot device (I still don't buy the idea that the Master is the Doctor's oldest, bestest friend, he just happens to be evil) but it grew on me. She gets all the best lines...

We were at the Lit & Phil last night for the launch of Peter Mortimer's book The Chess Traveller: the proposal was that Pete would start from a randomly selected point and proceed from there by bike to a sequence of other randomly selected points, at each of which he would engage a total stranger in a game of chess. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, of course, and the sections Pete read out were very funny about what did go wrong - as always with Peter Mortimer, I'm half amazed at what he achieves and half baffled how he gets away with it. But looking forward to reading the book.

At the market this morning I bought a red hat. Nothing special, and not expensive, just a floppy sun hat with a wide brim, in a strong deep red, lined with dark green. Only later did I realise that I was already wearing purple (with which it doesn't go). No-one can say they had no warning...
shewhomust: (galleon)
Bolting together two posts which have been simmering for a little while, because they seem to fit together: in reverse chronological order, first one of a series of lectures organised by Durham's World Heritage Site management, then a two-part television series following the salt roads from Morocco to Timbuktu.

Syria and other disaster areas )

The road to Timbuktu )
shewhomust: (guitars)
We watched the Eurovision final on Saturday. If I were taking this seriously, I suppose we'd have watched both semi-finals, and then lived-blogged our way through the final. But to take Eurovision seriously is to miss the point.

I did consider live-blogging the final, but couldn't bring myself to do it. If I had, it might have kept me awake, at least until the end of the competition. As it was, I nodded off somewhere in the last few songs: looking at the running order, I don't remember anything after Belgium, so that must be when I fell asleep (sorry, Belgium) and woke up as we launched into the mid-way entertainment, wondering "When do we get to France?"

Since we are living in the future, I hadn't missed my chance forever, and caught up not only with France's entry as performed during the show, with spectacular lighting but also with the official video, a stronger performance of the song but with the distraction of a couple dancing - or appearing to dance - all over various Parisian landmarks. Usually you can count on France singing in French (or at a pinch, Breton, but in any case, not English) which always wins points from me. Requiem was half-French, half-English, despite which I rather liked the song; I could still remember phrases of it ten minutes later, and that's unusual for Eurovision. I don't know why it didn't score higher. Was it too blatant a bid for the sympathy vote, with the lyric:
On pleure mais on survit quand même
C'est la beauté du requiem
and the visuals playing on the idea of Paris, city of lights?

Another deep and meaningful entry was Italy's Occidentalis Karma - it seems there was a reason for the man in the gorilla suit. Only in Eurovision would you decide - quite late in the proceedings, apparently - to underline the serious message of your song by bringing on a man in a (not very good) gorilla suit. So perhaps there was a reason for Azerbaijan's staging: the blackboard with key words I sort of understand, because you'd need help to remember the lyrics, which seem to have been rendered from the Azeri by Google translate. But why is the man with the horse's head standing on a stepladder? Or, if you prefer, why is the man on the stepladder wearing a horse's head? You might as well ask why Belarus's duo, channeling the young Sonny and Cher (or perhaps Esther and Abi Ofarim) were in a small boat? Still, they sang in Belorussian, which is a first, so top marks for that!

The slogan of Eurovision 2017 was "Celebrate Diversity". This was achieved by having three presenters, all white men - all youngish, able-bodied white men - wearing dinner jackets each of which had a different design of sparkly decoration. You think I'm just being snarky? Here's the official video explanation of the brand: the image is based on a traditional Ukrainian necklace, a string of beads of different sizes. The European nations are like the beads of that necklace, all different but alike enough to make a harmonious whole - no, that's my interpretation.

And, to be fair, the winning entry was the one which was most unlike any of the others. By which I don't mean Hungary's operatic blend of Gypsy drama and rap (one man and his milkchurn, a woman in white to express adoration in dance and a woman in black to play the fiddle) though politically this was a remarkable piece of ethnic diversity. I don't mean Romania's blend of rap and yodelling, though musically that's pretty WTF even by Eurovision standards. No, I'm talking about Portugal's decision not to play the Eurovision game of bigger means better, more staging, more lights, more dancers and special effects, and to present instead what BBC commentator Graham Norton described as "just a boy in his bedroom singing a song written by his sister". Which, allowing for the lights which have transformed that bedroom into a magic forest, happens to be true, but it is a very pretty song - none of this is my kind of music, and this particular kind of 'LaLa Land' nostalgia less than most, but it was the bookies' favourite and it won, giving Portugal its first ever Eurovision victory.

It has happened before that the winning song has been a rejection of the razzmatazz and hype. I'm thinking of 1994, when Ireland won with Rock 'n' Roll Kids, a male fuo, two older-than-the-average-contestants singing about being middle aged, without a big band, accompanying themselves on piano and guitar. It was Ireland's third consecutive win, and there was a rumour (though Wikipedia denies it) that it was deliberately designed not to win, not to incur the expense of hosting the contest yet again. I'll end with a reminder of what Eurovision used to be like, back in a quieter age, with Terry Wogan in the commentary box:

shewhomust: (Default)
We have just watched the final of University Challenge; as always, I am amazed at the things the contestants know. It isn't just a matter of knowing the subjects they are studying: they are impressively well informed about the history and geography of far-flung parts of the globe. They have their blind spots, though: asked to identify the film maker whose works included Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, they hesitated, then ventured "Jean-Luc Godard?"
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Posting has been slightly blocked over the last few days, because we were at a funeral on Friday: a sad occasion, but not one for which you need rush to sympathise, the death of an elderly neighbour, a nice man whom we had known, not well but for a long time. Too big a thing not to mention, but a story that isn't really mine to tell. Afterwards, at the pub, talking with neighbours, and someone I know, socially but even more slightly, started out of the blue to tell about his life - which was fascinating, but again, not something I feel entitled to write about here. So, a bit blocked...

Sunday was a happier occasion, lunch with a friend we don't see often enough. His invitation was couched as a request for help: About ten years ago I went a bit wild at the Wine Society, and now I have rather a lot of claret which needs to be drunk now... We were happy to do our bit - and it was true that these were wines which were more than ready for drinking.

Home on the bus, and with no prospect of doing more than watch television that evening, we finally caught up with To Walk Invisible, Sally Wainwright's drama about the Brontës, which was broadcast over Christmas. Lucy Mangan liked it, and so did I, with reservations. Branwell and indeed Mr Brontë were treated as characters, so that we saw the family as a familly, rather than as three brilliant sisters and some inconvenient furniture; the scenery was gorgeous, if rather highly coloured; the visualisation of their childhood shared narrative in which they are the Genii who rule the toy soldiers come to life was wonderful, but its dialogue indistinct. In fact, my main complaint about the production as a whole was that the background music would not stay in the background: Emily walks on the moors to a soundtrack of one of her poems, but its words are drowned by the music; Charlotte moves restlessly about the house to loud piano music, and I seriously wondered, did they have a piano? Is she wondering who's playing? Eventually, [ profile] durham_rambler located the subtitles, and we got on better thereafter.

I am in the process of renewing my passport, which seems more difficult than it should be. I have acquired the required photographs, in which I don't wear my glasses and don't smile (in fact, the effort of following the instructions in the photobooth and pressing the green button without moving my head from the vertical results in my scowling). I hope I am not recognisable from those photos, but I hope they are acceptable to the Passport Office (yes, I am a little stressed about this). I have filled in the form, which is printed in pale orange on white, and was quite difficult to see. And I know better than to believe the address on the return envelope - it says "Passport Office, Milburngate House" but since Milburngate House is currently being demolished, I shall take it to the new offices on the other side of the river.

According to the Guardian's breakfast supplement, the place to eat breakfast in Kendal is Baba Ganoush. It would have to be pretty good to tempt me away from breakfast of my own making (my own coffee, made the way I like it! my own toast, made from my own bread!) but who knows, I might be in the market for brunch in Kendal, one of these days...

Art is long

Oct. 7th, 2016 08:51 pm
shewhomust: (ayesha)
This post has been gradually accumulating over nearly two weeks, now. It began in reaction to a television programme, Who's Afraid of Conceptual Art?, which we stumbled into while looking more or less at random for an hour of diverting television. But it seems to have turned into a hybrid, partly the sort of response - I won't flatter it by calling it a review - that says well, if I'd been in charge, it would go like this... and partly just a place to stash some of the links I gathered together while thinking about that.

Cut for length and ramblings. But it might be worth it for the links. )
shewhomust: (guitars)
Ten days ago we heard Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys at the Sage - Hall 2 of the Sage itself, this time, promoted from Gateshead Old Town Hall where we have previously seen them (more than once, I thought, though I can't find any record of that). As before, an immensely enjoyable live band - they deserved a larger audience than the Sage had managed to muster - who I'll happily see every time they play locally, without feeling any need to buy their CD and listen to it in their absence. Sorry about that, guys.

Last night's concert was about as different as it could be: the Durham Hymns in the chapel of Ushaw College. The Durham Hymns was commissioned as part of the First World War commemorations, with poems by Carol Ann Duffy inspired by contemporary texts, set to music for choir and brass band. Plenty there to be ambivalent about, but a friend had been immensely impressed by the premiere at the cathedral, so we agreed to join her for this small performance at Ushaw.

The setting, in the college's magnificent Gothic chapel, could have added so much atmosphere - but somehow it didn't work out that way. The choir and the band seemed immensely remote, below the altar at the end of the long high nave; and the readers seemed to be having problems with the acoustics - the more emotion they gave their words, the more the echo blurred what they were saying. As the performance went on, they seemed to get the hang of it, and by the end they were almost entirely intelligible, but the initial problems added to the distancing effect. Right at the end, after the last poem, which is called The Last Post, a single trumpet (I think - don't quote me) played the Last Post from the west end of the chapel, ringing clear and true down the nave - and when the choir and the band picked up the finale, it felt magically connected by this one strand, and the effect was electric. Which only made me more aware what had been missing. I wonder how it would have played in the lesser grandeur of Ushaw's Exhibition Hall, where we recently heard Alistair Anderson and co.

Somewhere between these two we watched a television documentary about early films of the ascent of Everest: the programme's argument was that huge resources were thrown at the ascent of the mountain, the race to be the first to the summit became a matter of propaganda and the role of film in that race doubly so. I don't dispute it, but I was more interested in the story of John Noel. I expect everyone but me already knew this, but it was new to me, and fascinating. As a young man in the army in India he became fascinated with the distant peaks of the Himalayas, and in 1913 disguised himself as a pilgrim to travel into Tibet and get closer. Then he came home and lectured to the Royal Geographic Society about it, and seems to have created, single-handed, the idea that Everest ought to be climbed. When an Everest expedition set out in 1922, he was its official photographer and cinematographer, developing his photographs in icy water in a darkroom-tent. The expedition failed, in the sense that it did not reach the summit, and no-one was willing to fund another. So Noel set up a company to make a film of the expedition, and by buying the rights, made the expedition possible. In 1924. This time he was able to film even higher than before: he filmed Mallory and Irvine setting off to attempt the summit, and he filmed the search party return without finding them. His film, The Epic of Everest is on YouTube. Some of Noel's photographs (I'd like to see more of these).

I'm pretty much immune to the romance of mountaineering: when I hear of people returning again and again to attempt climbs on which their friends have died, and on which soomer or later they will die themselves, what I think is not complimentary. I am if anything repelled by the rush to climb summits in order to take selfies, scattering the slopes with litter. Noel would seem to have a lot to answer for. Even so, what a story! And what pictures!
shewhomust: (puffin)
Countdown is all about the word and numbers games, and mostly the weekly guest is the least interesting part of the show: too many sports personalities, or daytime TV presenters with pointless self-deprecating anecdotes. So I didn't have great hopes of Chris Packham (TV presenter and naturalist, who just happens to have a book out at the moment). In fact he has been fun, and today's snippet put together two facts about animal perceptions of taste in a truly striking way. Bearing in mind that this was not an in-depth explanation, and that I am writing from memory, it goes something like this:

Birds are capable of tasting the same five basic tastes as humans, but most species don't taste all five. Penguins only sense two tastes, sour and salty. This article, with bonus cute Gentoo penguin, hypothesises that they have lost sensitivity in the receptors that don't function well in the cold. It doesn't say whether this is the same factor which removes flavour from over-chilled wine, and means that a mixture that tastes too strong before freezing is fine as ice-cream - but I digress. Penguins have a limited sense of taste.

Fish, on the other hand, not only sense more of the basic tastes (four, at least, I think), some of them have taste receptors on the outside of the body as well as in the mouth (I can see how this would be useful for tasting the water they are swimming through).

So when a penguin swallows a fish whole, the penguin can't taste the fish that it's eating as well as the fish can taste the penguin.

You're welcome. Bonus Wikipedia quote: "Salmon have a strong sense of smell."
shewhomust: (dandelion)
The news from Eurovision is that somehow a clever little song has found its way into the contest, representing Sweden. [ profile] durham_rambler was so shocked that he phoned in a vote for it.

I'm still lamenting the absence of Belarus: but the video on the Eurovision website doesn't show the extraordinary lighting effects that so impressed me in the semi-final - no, not that Ivan appeared naked, and not even the wolves.

Actually, forget the songs, this year's show is all about the lighting. Italy, wearing sparkly dungarees, in a flooded garden, Ukraine's beatiful tree of light...

If Germany is channeling some manga that I ought to recognise, would someone let me know, please? No hurry, though, I'm not planning to stay up for the voting.
shewhomust: (galleon)
On Sunday we caught up with The Vikings Uncovered, which we only picked up on because a friend tweeted about it. In many ways it was an infuriating programme: in particular, it did one of the things I most hate about television documentaries, which is that it assumes the subject matter is not inherently interesting, and that unless it is tricked out with illustrative footage and fake suspense, the audience will wander off. It also managed to run for an hour and a half, which is longer than I find comfortable for a pregramme whose structure is "Look at this! And now look at this!" It was like watching a ninety minute trailer for a series coming later in which each of the short sections would would be unfolded into a really interesting programme about a site associated with the Vikings, and what we could learn about them from that site.

The most interesting of all of these, the bean in the cake, was the discovery of what really does seem to be a second Viking site in Newfoundland, at Point Rosee near the southwestern tip of the island. The BBC, bless their pointed little heads, issued their press release on April 1st, which combines with their rather excitable tone to unfortunate effect - but reading carefully what they do and don't say, there is still something there to get excited about.

Two somethings, in fact: the site itself, and the way it was discovered.

Excavations at Point Rosee have uncovered evidence of iron working. That's all, and it is in itself pretty minimal: a boulder in front of a shallow pit, surrounded by smaller stones and sheltered by an L-shaped turf wall, traces of charcoal and a quantity of slag. It's not a Viking settlement, because if there is an associated settlement it hasn't yet been found, and there's no evidence that it is even Viking - except that it's a technology known to have been used by the Vikings, and by no-one else in the region at the time. So it seems reasonable to call it a second Viking site, and evidence that the Vikings didn't just touch down at L'Anse aux Meadows and then turn round and go home. This would be even more exciting if the programme hadn't let slip something that I hadn't previously known, that butternuts (I hadn't even heard of butternuts: it's a kind of walnut, apparently) found at L'Anse aux Meadows must have been brought back by explorers further south and west. So it is not entirely news that the Vikings travelled further in Vinland than just the most northeasterly tip. Still, sort of knowing is one thing; seeing traces on the ground is another.

Seeing those traces on the ground from 400 miles away in space is yet another. The excavation site was identified by space archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak - which has to be the best job title of the year. She doesn't, alas, go into space. Instead, what she is doing is the familiar exercise of identifying promising locations from the air, just from rather further up than traditional aerial photography. She uses satellite images (if we were told whose images, I missed that bit) and enhances them to pick out promising features. These are not always what she is looking for: the sheltering turf wall at Point Rosee had looked like a typical Viking longhouse (and similar traces on Auskerry turned out to be turf cuttings). Pretty amazing, all the same, to identify from hundreds of miles above something which, close up, even when the grass has been removed, looks like different shades of mud.

All in all, despite patronising me outrageously (it seems that everything I thought I knew about the Vikings was wrong, they didn't have horns on their helmets at all - and here's some footage of Up Helly Aa) the programme did tell me new and interesting things, and sent me off to the internet in seach of more. Links follow, for my own convenience:

shewhomust: (dandelion)
On the building front: the errant downpipe has been reattatched, and the insurance company notified that the cause of the damp has been corrected, and they can start repairs as soon as they are ready. Meanwhile, while the scaffolding is in place the builders are doing useful things to the back of the house, repointing, repairing window frames, repainting woodwork.

The next job will be external repairs: the wall at the end of the garden, the outhouses, the steps down to the garden. The wall has already gone. We knew it was unsound, it was further damaged in bringing scaffolding through, and when the builder tried to remove the tree growing out of the top of the wall, it became clear that the tree was in fact the only thing holding it together. Just as well we already wanted to replace it. Replacing the back steps is also we've had in mind for some time - but it will have to wait until the scaffolding is removed.

This ought to be enough excitement to satisfy anyone. I don't know why I feel that nothing much is going on here.

On the Northern noir front: I've been enjoying Shetland enough to be sorry to see it come to an end, but thought the resolution was a little weak. The scheduling did it no favours, following the emotional blockbuster of the fifth episode with a two week gap, and then a dénouement which depended on cramming quite a lot of new material into the final hour, some of which didn't add up. As usual, I'm left feeling that the books are better. And the TV version seems set on dismantling everything interesting about Jimmy Perez's personal life. Oh, well.

It tells you somrthing about Trapped that where Shetland is filmed in Shetland in the summer months, Trapped meets the Icelandic winter head on: it is set in February, so not only is the town cut off by snow, and the population 'trapped', most of the action takes place in the long winter nights. This can be dramatic, and events are often macabre, but I wouldn't call it gloomy. There's a relish to it. One confrontation in episode three, which is as far as we've got, takes place while one of the characters in skinning and gutting a reindeer.

If that's part of your definition of noir, you can add The Last Seabird Summer to the list. Adam Nicolson (whose book, Sea Room, I have quoted before) investigates the decline in sea bird numbers around the coast of Britain, which includes going to Iceland (Grimsay, in fact, the island on the Arctic Circle) where licensed hunters still pluck puffins from the air with fishing nets, and cook them in barbecue sauce. Nicolson's discomfort at this is a thing of beauty.

Nothing to do with anything else, but the Guardian has an obituary of Gillian Avery. I loved The Warden's Niece; I've read and enjoyed others of her books, but The Warden's Niece remains special.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
In accordance with the rule that you wait hours for a bus and then three come along together, we have failed to watch all the big TV dramas, but are dividing this weekend between three northern crime series. Two of them spin off from the novels of Ann Cleeves, who is both friend and client, and it is one of the vagaries of scheduling (rival channels, so it can't be collusion) that they are both running on TV at the same time.

Vera is the least northern of the three: it's set in Northumberland, but strays into neighbouring counties, and location-spotting is not the least of its pleasures. It's the least noir, too. The convention appears to be that crime fiction is divided into 'noir' and 'cosy', and cosy is inferior in both literary and moral terms, treating murder as an entertainment and avoiding the grim realities of life. The crimes Vera solves are personal, domestic in scale. They show violence - and the pressures that provoke the violence - breaking into the sort of life lived by the majority of her viewers / readers: I don't see what's so cosy about that (and the first story ended with something genuinely shocking and unexpected, so don't let me overstate this ;'cosiness'). One episode of the four in the current series was based on the latest Vera Stanhope book (The Moth Catcher), the others are original stories, but retain the flavour of the books. Much as I like the books, they suffer from being cut down to fit into however long remains of two hours when you have subtracted the interminable advertising breaks; perhaps I prefer to original stories because I don't have the novel to compare them to. Vera has been an agreeable way to spend Sunday evenings, and I'll be sorry to say goodbye to her tomorrow.

Shetland is made by the same company as Vera, but they have made some very different choices. Given six one hour slots, they have opted to tell a single continuing story, and that story is harsher and more violent. It's probably obvious from the previous paragraph that my own tastes in crime fiction tend towards the so-called cosy; I am more interested in exploring why an ordinary person might commit murder than in contemplating the actions of people whose wickedness is sufficient to explain whatever they might do. If you want me to stay interested when the investigation moves to Glasgow and the Mr Big of gangland, you have to work twice as hard to make me interested. This series of Shetland has achieved that, by keeping the focus not on the hard men but on the effects of their activities. (Here's what Ann had to say about this, though if you are watching the series you may not want to read it before you have seen episode five). There's enough suggestion that the dénouement will bring it all back home to Shetland to make me impatient for the final episode: a two week wait, thank you BBC schedulers!

Further north and more noir yet, we have just watched the first part of Trapped: which begins with a headless, limbless torso being fished out of an Icelandic fjord (later we get a good look at it). As in The Bridge, there's an international complication: the body may have come from the ferry which has just docked, and the captain insists that he is subject to Danish law. It's a curious mixture of grand guignol and officialdom. The scenery - before the weather imposes a white-out - is spectacular. In an extraordinary piece of negative product placement, the ferry, with its probable crime scene, obstructive captain and other suspicious characters is - as it is in real life on this route - the Norrona, which has been on my wish-list since the long ago days when it used to call at Lerwick on its way from Denmark to the Faroe Islands.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
A visit from [ profile] valydiarosada and D. is always an entertainment in itself, of course, and we did all the things with which we habitually amuse ourselves at the New Year: we may have drunk rather less wine than usual, since one of our number was taking painkillers which should not be mixed with alcohol, but we built fires and did crosswords and waited for the New Year to strike, and so on.

Three things in particular:
  • We watched the special 'what if Sherlock were the Victorian Sherlock Holmes?' Sherlock. It's only now, trying to encapsulate that concept, that I realise quite how twisty that concept is. On the other hand, it didn't bother me becaise I wasn't trying to rationalise it. I switched off critical brain, sat back and enjoyed the eye-candy, and the jokes. If you feel that 'switch off brain' is an odd way to approach a Sherlock Holmes story, I wouldn't disagree, but I find it works pretty well for this particular version. On this occasion it carried me all the way through to the spoilers ), at which point my brain switched itself on again and said "You WHAT?!" On reflection, since more spoilers ) perhaps the whole Victorian narrative last one, I promise! ). Which is even more worrying.

  • We were lingering over breakfast on Saturday morning, not quite ready to drive out to visit D.'s sister and brother-in-law, when someone rang up, claiming to be from Windows Online Help calling about a problem with our Windows personal computer. You'd think he'd have spotted the danger signal when [ profile] durham_rambler asked him "Which one?" "Your Windows personal computer!" "Yes, but which one? The notebook, the desktop, the Windows8 machine, the Windows 10..." "All of them, all your Windows personal computer!" Or perhaps when he repeated "I am windows Online Help!", and [ profile] durham_rambler said "No, I am windows Online Help." But he persevered, insisting that we switch on a computer, so we thought 'well, he's asking for it,' and switched on the nearest computer (my little notebook). This must have gone on for the best part of half an hour. Even when I told him that I had no intention of connecting to his server, that I wouldn't dream of doing anything so insecure, he didn't hang up, he just passed me on to his supervisor. I suppose this means that the failure belongs to the supervisor rather than to him.

  • D.'s sister and brother-in-law have recently bought a house in Alston, so we drove up Weardale, up into the cloud and out the other side. The weather was grey and damp, but not too wet to walk to the Angel for lunch. This was the same pub where we had lunched a while ago on a birthday jaunt to Alston, and it served good pub food, but was running out of drink: the landlord explained that the brewery delivers once a week on a Friday, but since we had just had two Bank Holiday Fridays in a row, even filling the cellar to capacity before Christmas had not prevented the barrels running dry. About the only thing in town that was dry, though. We walked back along a circuitous route, and I took the year's first photos. This one gives some idea of the extreme lushness of the moss:


    The drive home in the dark seemed longer and more winding than the drive out. Eastgate was very enthusiastically lit for Christmas, though, and I liked the glimpse, as we passed, of the full-sized nativity scene in the bus shelter, with the star over the door.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
Tell me, oh internet, who are the Chase sisters? In what book do they appear? Am I being very ignorant / stupid in not recognising them?

Background: they appeared on the Wall in Monday's Only Connect -

Background to this background: the most fiendishly difficult round of quiz programme Only Connect confronts contestants with a wall of 16 items, which can be arranged in four groups of four connected items. Some items are ambiguous, in that they could belong to more than one group, which makes it harder to resolve but isn't relevant at the moment -

On Monday one group was revealed to be Chase, Bennet, Fossil, March and the connecting factor was that they were literary sisters. I identified the Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice and the March sisters from Little Women, and then was delighted to spot Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil from Ballet Shoes, the only name host Victoria Coren Mitchell found it necessary to explain.

So, who are the Chase sisters?
shewhomust: (dandelion)
The current series of Doctor Who started while we were in France, so we are lagging behind, but fast catching up.

The initial two-parter took me by surprise, but, thanks to [ profile] poliphilo, we were prepared for the next one, and made time last night to watch episodes three and four (Before the Flood / Under the Lake) back to back. I enjoyed this story a lot, especially the first three-quarters, after which it collapsed into the sort of unearned emotionalism which had spoiled the first two-parter for me. Genuinely unexpected developments and lots of smart lines, plus fun with time paradoxes, for this I'll forgive any number of plot holes.

Two questions, though:

If we need to be reminded that the TARDIS takes care of translation, and that its failure to translate the sigils is mysterious and significant, what are we to make of its failure to translate sign language?

And the Fisher King? Really, we (the writers? no, the characters, surely?) have decided to call him the Fidher King? Because why, exactly?
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We were severally not at home on Tuesday. [ profile] durham_rambler was at the Lit & Phil for the opening of Gail-Nina's postcard exhibition (back by popular request) and I was at the Graphic Novels Reading Group - I'm going to miss the next two sessions, so I was keen to be at this one. Afterwards I trotted down to the Lit & Phil, with just time for a glass of wine, a quick look at maybe two frames of postcards, and some conversation - and the conversation carried on into dinner at Pizza Express, which was very agreeable, both for the company and for a degree of reconciliation with Pizza Express. For a long time it was our pizzeria of choice, but after a couple of unsatisfactory meals, I had rather gone off it. Tuesday was fine; I'll give it another chance.

So it wasn't until last night that I was able to watch Hunt for the Arctic Ghost Ship (repeated on 4seven, a channel I'd never met before).

I have a continuing interest in the Franklin expedition, and knew that one of Franklin's ships had been found last year. I guessed that a programme called 'Hunt for the Arctic Ghost Ship' was going to play up the sensational, play down the tedious detail (and I, of course, am all about the tedious detail). So I wasn't expecting too much, and I'm not going to grouch about them not even mentioning Rae, I understand how that happened (though we had time for Dickens telling him off). But I'd have liked a little more hard information (there are things in this newspaper report which weren't in the hour-long programme).

In its favour, the programme was very easy on the eye, with lots of footage of chunks of ice floating through a sunlit sea, and of distant sailing ships in the ice (how did they do that? are they models, or cgi, or what? I think we should be told). And footage of divers swimming round the wreck, looking into what must, apparently, have been Franklin's cabin, bringing up the ship's bell - this was worth the price of admission.


May. 24th, 2015 05:50 pm
shewhomust: (guitars)
Specially for [ profile] athenais, the Scandinavia and the World version.

Why yes, we were watching: I baled after the songs, but [ profile] durham_rambler stayed up until the bitter end of the voting. I thought the songs themselves were unmemorable, but there were some interesting themes in there. Anyone who elected to sing in their own language gets bonus points from me, but the stand-out WTF Eurovision moment was surely Serbia's entry, "Let it Go" from Frozen as it would have been if Elsa had been played by Meat Loaf.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I have celebrated Christmas by catching a cold. I resent this all the more because I did the same thing last time we were away from home, in New England. It isn't a fun thing to have yourself, and it can't be a fun thing to have in a guest, and I wish it would go away. I had an early night last night and a long hot shower this morning, and feel better, but still snivelling.

[ profile] valydiarosada cooked a turkey, and while it was in the oven we drank champagne and opened our presents, which were many and very acceptable. Then [ profile] valydiarosada grappled the roast potatoes while I dealt with the sprouts and the parsnips. Neither D. nor [ profile] valydiarosada likes parsnips, but there were two in the vegetable box, and [ profile] durham_rambler regards them as God's own vegetable, and I like them fine from time to time, and these were particularly good parsnips.

All of which adds up to a very traditional Christmas dinner. We accompanied it with two bottles of Château Musar, one 2007, the other 2005. (Since I didn't diary last year's two bottles of Château Musar, we have been unable to recall their dates, but I won't repeat that mistake.) Neither of them had that overcooked fruit flavour which I had started to find, and not like, in Château Musar: the 2007 was full, fruity and spicy, the 2005 almost unctuous in its richness, with just enough spice at the finished to stop it being over-rich. We had enough of it left after the main course to feel that a little cheese was in order (especially as some cheese and crackers had been discovered under the tree), and when the decanter was empty we moved on the the Mission port which [ profile] durham_rambler and I had bought at the vineyard in Amador County: not port, without the complexity of port, but sweet and smooth and almost creamy. All these rich fruit flavours had satisfied any craving anyone might have had for Christmas pudding, so we agreed to save that for another day, and retired to the sofa with coffee and chocolate and television.

Doctor Who was actually better than I expected: my heart sank when I heard that it would have Father Christmas, but he wasn't too painful, and I enjoyed his elves. There was a twist towards the end which I thought was emotionally exploitative, ran counter to the logic of the episode and spotlighted an aspect of the Doctor / companion set-up which it might be better not to look at to closely, but I won't spoiler the story by saying more.

The only other news is that in the few days we have been here in Ely I appear to have become more frightning to the cats. On our first evening, Amber actually deigned to walk across my lap on her way somewhere. Now they both scatter at the sight of me. Since one of their preferred nesting places is the rug outside the bathroom, they do quite a lot of scattering.

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