shewhomust: (mamoulian)

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

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

  • And one puffin-free item: Harry Potter, the Durham connection. I am mildly shocked at the idea that Durham University is offering a Harry Potter module as part of its English degree: the course, as described, sounds like a very good way to teach civics to schoolchildren, but not the material for undergraduates on - oh, wait, can I even assume that it's a literature degree? Better stop here and go to bed.
shewhomust: (puffin)
So that was the end of our stay on Lindisfarne. Memo to self: a half-week in a holiday cottage is shorter than a full week than you would believe possible. Also, much as I enjoyed our trip to Scotland last year, I do love spending time on Lindisfarne. But now it was time to go home. We could do something fun on the way home, though, couldn't we? [personal profile] durham_rambler had a request for what we might do. And it began like this:

Stairway to Heaven

More pictures under the cut )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
After dinner I went for one last walk.

Down to the harbour, over the Heugh and down the other side to the beach immediately across the water from the sandbanks where the seals hang out. I couldn't see any seals, but I could hear them cooing to each other. The tide was quite low, so I walked round the headland towards Saint Cuthbert's island. The sun was just breaking through a grey sky, tracing a faint silver path across the wet sands:


Photograph taken at 9.20 pm. The solstice is past; the nights are drawing in.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
At Pilgrims Coffee café yesterday, ordering lunch, I spotted the 'scone pudding', which appeared to be a version of bread pudding made - you'll never guess! - from leftover scones., and thought: I'll come back for some of that! Today, after lunch at the Ship (fish and chips, in my case), [personal profile] durham_rambler and I slipped away from the family party, and went back for a slice of cake, and cup of the coffee that [personal profile] lamentables and [personal profile] abrinsky had praised so highly.

If you do the same thing yourself, be warned - don't take your cake to the outside tables:

Let them eat cake

[personal profile] durham_rambler was very amused: "They're after your cake!"
"No," I said, "They're after your cake!"
They were quite fearless in pursuit of it, too:


But in the end, it was my cake that they got. I was laughing too much to defend it. This is not a criticism of the cake - the one corner I got was very good: but it was worth a slice of cake to sit back and watch the little birds mobbing it, and to feel the wind of their wings, and to watch the lone blackbird surveying them with an affronted air, clicking his beak impatiently (and audibly), as if wondering why they weren't giving way to his superior claim.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Just a little walk: it's not far from here to the harbour, then across the meadow onto the village green, round behind the church and down the track to the shore. They've made a display in the old lifeboat house, about the lifeboats: tales of courageous rescues, a comedy photo opportunity (of the 'your face here' variety) and - completely simple, but I found it very effective - the painted outline on the floor of the boat itself. I sat on one of the benches, and watched the swallows, and the play of the light behind the clouds over Saint Cuthbert's island:

Saint Cuthbert's island

With a little goodwill, maybe you can see the slanting rays of light coming down onto the island. Those clouds keep trying to rain, and a few drops hit me as I left the beach on the footpath up through the field, but they didn't come to anything. I cut through the churchyard, but there's scaffolding there, too, between the church and the priory, so I turned, and discovered there's a dangerous tree round the other side of the church: it didn't look dangerous, it looked as if it was lying down and resting, but the notices said it was dangerous, and who am I to argue?

Past the shiny new village hall, and along the village street. Passing the Impressions Gallery I was invited in by the artist, and he told me that the excavation on the Heugh have found Saint Aidan's church - a bit of poking around the internet tells me that that is what they were looking for, but I can't find any up-to-date information.

Something to investigate tomorrow...
shewhomust: (Default)
The last few days have been full of busyness, some of it self-inflicted: cooking choices result in washing up, and did I really need to bake a loaf of bread? (Yes. Yes, I did.) Some of it was stubbornness about not being deterred from doing things which might more conveniently have happened at a different time: the farmers' market, the annual Eco Festival at the local church. Some of it will be rewarded when we return home at the end of the week, and find I have already done those things - mainly work, and the residents' association minutes. Some of it was me not responding well to the hot weather, and slowing down ...

Ah, well. What didn't get done before we left can be done when we get home. [personal profile] durham_rambler and I got away in time to meet [personal profile] helenraven from her train in Berwick, and here we are on Lindisfarne. [personal profile] valydiarosada and D. are unpacking their shopping into the kitchen, and I am writing this at the dining table with its view through the French window, across the patio and over to the Castle, which is elaborately scaffolded and topped with a canopy - just like home, in fact. But it's cooler than home, which is very pleasant.

Time for a stroll, I think.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Our first evening in Ghent had given us a taste of the city. Now we had to decide whether to buy the much-advertised City Cards. Our reasoning was that this was unlikely to save us money, but it might encourage us to do things we would not otherwise have done - and this turned out to be the case. I'm particularly glad we took the boat trip, which was worth doing for its own sake, and doubly so because it gave us angles from which to approach things, as well as ideas of things we wouldn't have known we wanted to see. It also made traveling by bus much less daunting (no need to ask for a destination, just show your card). So while the card isn't necessarily the cheapest option, it worked very well for us.

All our explorations of Ghent started with the same view: turn left out of the hotel, and this is what you see from the end of the street:

The Belfry in evening light

This is the classic view, in evening light, but feel free to imagine it as we set off on an overcast Good Friday morning to visit the Tourist Office and purchase our cards.

It turns out you can see quite a lot in 48 hours - and take a lot of photos, too. So much so that I've decided to split this post in two! )

And that was Good Friday.
shewhomust: (Default)
D. was with us at the weekend. He had agreed to spend Saturday supporting some friends who were doing the Lyke Wake Walk, and no, staying in Durham in order to do this makes no sort of geographical sense. And of course we'll see him next week, when we all go to Lindisfarne. But an excuse for a visit is always good. In the course of Friday evening, [personal profile] durham_rambler remarked that there is a dig in progress this summer at Binchester Roman fort, and D. said that he had never been to Binchester. So that's what we did yesterday.

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

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

Flues and hypocausts

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

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

Bathhouse under cover

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

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

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

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

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

    The Bone Queen and her attendants

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

    Moon and stone
shewhomust: (Default)
[personal profile] durham_rambler and I have postal votes, so we have already voted - oh, weeks ago. We had a choice of seven candidates, but it wasn't a hard choice: I voted Labour, for Roberta Blackman-Woods, the retiring MP. She has done good work on behalf of the constituency , and there is much in the party manifesto that I really like. (I could wish that these two things were more connected, and hope that this vote helps to bring that about.) The Lib Dem candidate is a local councillor, but I voted Lib Dem once, and they went into coalition with the Tories, so I'm not making that mistake again; I might have been tempted to vote Green, but the local candidate - well, let's just say I'm not impressed; the Tory is a Tory, and works for the University; UKIP apparently couldn't find a local candidate (hooray!) and had to bus someone in from Hampshire. This we knew when we cast our votes. Since then we have also received leaflets from the Young People's Party candidate, who stood as an Independent last time round, but has now found a party he likes, making him one of the country's three YPP candidates: they have some interesting ideas, which his election flyer undermined with a page of pointless snark; and an Independent who appears to be saying, if I have disentangled this correctly, that all politicians break their election promises, and he will avoid this by not making any promises.

So that's that. Now we wait and see. We will sit up for as much of the result as we can bear, which will probably be more in [personal profile] durham_rambler's case than in mine! It's going to be a long day. I shall do my best to fill it with useful tasks, and have already started a loaf of bread, and set the fridge to defrost (long overdue). [personal profile] durham_rambler has unblocked the sink in the bathroom. Time to strip the bed and wash some sheets, perhaps?

But first, we have a date to take our friend F. out for a birthday lunch; and [personal profile] durham_rambler has just told me that we need to set off in half an hour. Time to knock back the bread and find something more festive to wear!
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Ten days ago, the Guardian submitted supermarket croissants to a taste test. The highest scoring (8/10) were from Waitrose, which surprised me, as I had bought a pack of croissants from Waitrose and been very disappointed: light and flaky is good, but so flaky and insubstantial that you end up with a plateful of crumbs and nothing else. I'd preferred Lidl. Then I realised that my Waitrose croissants had been a pack of four, I forget the exact brand but something indicating 'Waitrose superior'; the Guardian's were 'Waitrose 1' brand, and a pack of two cost £1.50, which the Guardian thought was pricey.

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


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

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

Here's the thing I need to remember: it was not actually all that hard work. And the results were - well, I have had worse. They were chewy rather than flaky, and quite dense, and the layers were - vestigial. But worth it, I think. Certainly all the folding is just another thing to find time for, and I think the results would be better if I'd found more time, not for the process but for letting the dough rest between rounds. Start earlier, and steal time from the initial proving, maybe? It might actually be worth buying salted butter, which I don't usually do, and not salting the dough. And that two-stage egg wash is certainly worth the fuss.
shewhomust: (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: (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: (puffin)
It was 2013 when we first visited the Amble Puffin Festival: time to return. The Festival stays much the same from year to year, but Amble has seen some changes: the town itself is still slightly down-at-heel, scruffier than its smart neighbour Alnmouth, but there is gentrification afoot at the harbour:

Coble Quay

This smart new development is Coble Quay (25 apartments, the Fat Mermaid deli and bistro and a "Private - Residents Only" sign): I wonder if it will still look as smart when it is no longer new? There's a shed which is a seafood centre, which is in the process of setting up a lobster hatchery, and in its shade a little cluster of shops in what look like a row of bathing huts, selling the sort of things people buy at the seaside - no, not buckets and spades, not these days, now is is all handmade cosmetics and seaglass jewellery, and some rather nice prints, drawings of seabirds printed on old maps. When we had checked out these bijou boutiques, we crossed to the other side of the harbour, and spent the rest of the morning at the car boot sale, which is unchanged, all glittering beads and odds and ends of china, cheap DVDs and discarded toys. We bought a book each, and enjoyed the view of the harbour at low tide:

Low tide

Note the heron, which seemed to be coexisting amicably with some eider ducks. Note also how hazy it is. It's even clearer if you look across the river to Warkworth Castle:

Castle in the mist

This wasn't entirely unexpected - in fact it was part of my plan: if the weather is too hot, head for the coast, where a sea fret is quite likely to cool things down. Which worked very well for us in the morning, enough sunshine, but not too much. Towards the end of lunch (we started out at the Fat Mermaid, which was pleasant enough, but felt the pull of Spurreli's, and headed there for ice cream) the sky began to cloud over, and as soon as we set off to explore the town, it started to rain on us, quite heavily. So we didn't stay for the naming of the new lifeboat, but headed for home. The rain stopped as we reached the car, of course, and the drive home was even quite bright, at times, but just as we turned off the main road there was a loud crash, and then another, and hailstones the size of sugar lumps started bouncing off the car. A couple of hundred yards further on, it turned to torrential rain, and the thunderstorm which had been forecast - and the rain has been stopping and starting ever since.

Bonus seaside poem: I'm not a big dan of John Cooper Clarke, but the collaborative process seems to suit him. I think this came out rather well.
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)
Well, no, I probably won't go all the way to London to patronise Passport Photo Service, as described in the Guardian.

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

But their "most important" visitor? Too nice a story to spoil: go, read for yourself.
shewhomust: (Default)
The builders have gone, and the downstairs bathroom is ours, all ours. The final stage was completed on Friday morning, when the boss came to photograph the finished job, and the cleaner came to clean up. I don't know what the point of this was, as she only cleaned the bathroom, and given the amount of dust the builders had generated, and their commendable ability to clear as they went, the bathroom was probably the cleanest room in the house. The boss took his pictures before she cleaned, so that wasn't the purpose... But there's no point arguing with builders, so we left her to it, and once she'd finished we went out for the day.

It looks very smart - too smart, in fact, to belong to us, it feels like stepping through a spacewarp into a hotel bathroom somewhere. We have both tried out the shower, and [personal profile] durham_rambler pronounces himself satisfied, which is the important thing, as he is the primary showerer. I'm a little disappointed: I think I'm still hankering after that overhead power shower, which we couldn't have without rewiring and replumbing the entire house. It's fine, and it's certainly better than it was before, and if it doesn't make me prefer a shower to a bath, that was never really on the cards.

And while grey tiles would still not be my first choice, it is nowhere near as dreary as I feared.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Belsay Hall

Belsay Hall is an English Heritage property in Northumberland: its most interesting feature is a Quarry Garden (a rock garden on an altogether grander scale), but the house itself is square and rather dull. Last time we visited there I described it as: "the shell of a stately home which uses the building and gardens as a setting in which to display contemporary art around a different theme each year." This memory gave me inflated expectations of the quilting exhibition which has been occupying the hall for the last couple of weeks - which was a perfectly pleasant exhibition of an awful lot of quilts, some of which I likd better than others, but none of which were particularly memorable.

So that was a bit of an anticlimax, but it was outweighed by this being a brilliant time to visit the gardens. Everything was in bloom, there were bluebells in the woods:

The path through the bluebell woods

That door at the far end of the path looks as if it ought to be the way out of the gardens: on the contrary, it leads back into the formal gardens. Have an iris (because I do love irises):


The route home leads through Ponteland, so we stopped at Waitrose and did the weekend shopping there.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
On Thursday I found a copy of Ben Aaronovitch's The Hanging Tree in a charity shop. I've been waiting for the paperback, and here was a copy of the hardback, missing its dust jacket but only slightly bent, at a fraction of the price and a couple of months early. I carried it home in triumph, and with an amazing effort of will managed not to start reading it for almost a day and a half. Then I caved in, and read it at every opportunity over the next couple of days. I love the 'Rivers of London' series, novels and comics both, and I enjoyed this sixth book as much as any of them.

So it wasn't until very early this morning, inexplicably wakeful and listening to the dawn chorus, that I started to think "Hang on, what happened to the plot?"

Contains spoilers, but of a very non-specific nature. ) But. The Hanging Tree has a sort of coda in which Peter reflects on what has happened, and draws some conclusions, and it felt like a promise: this is not just recycling the same characters, there is an overarching story going on here.

Aaronovitch goes to a lot of trouble to remind us of past volumes in the series. Characters, themes, locations, all reappear and are remarked on (it's a great candidate for a re-read). I feel he's earned my trust that the future is as solid as the past. If The Hanging Tree doesn't feel quite complete in itself, it's because it's one section of a single novel in multiple installments. "Oh," I thought, "it's a roman fleuve!"

Then I realised what I'd done, and was so pleased with myself that I fell asleep again.

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