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The Literary Blog of Clare Dudman

Updated: 2018-01-20T12:54:09.721+00:00


Happy 2018


I'm starting 2018 with a short review of one of the 61 books I read in 2017.

'The Ice Palace' by Tarjei Vesaas was sent to me by Penguin Books - a strange and remarkable book.   From the cover, a girl - I think it is Unn, one of the schoolgirls in the book - stares with lifeless eyes, halfway between colourless and blue-violet.  Her skin and hair are both too pale, too perfect, and then there's the white something adhering to her face and hair.  Is is white lilac blossom or snow?  Why doesn't she sweep it away?  Perhaps because she can't.

The text itself reminded me of Scandinavian Art House film. The village, of course, is isolated.  It has to be.  The house of the main character, Unn, lies apart from the rest, and in order to get there, Siss, the other character, has to travel through woodland.  Both Unn and Siss are enigmatic, Unn more than Siss.  Siss has been born and brought up in the village, whereas Unn comes from elsewhere, and her past remains a mystery, a little of it told in disconnected fragments. Unn and Siss, like the other characters in the book, talk in half-formed sentences loaded with subtext.  Then there's the Ice Palace.    It was formed when a nearby waterfall froze - and sounded so intriguing I was desperate to see it for myself. Like any palace, it has entrances and rooms, one connecting with the next.  This bewitching place entices its prey inwards and then imprisons her...  Probably.

The rest of the book dealt with the aftermath of this visit to the Ice Palace.  The people of the village search and find nothing.  They move on and the event is remembered in empty chairs and things unsaid.  Meanwhile, the ice compacts, cracks and is so mesmerisingly described that the chilliest room seems warm in comparison.  Then, sometime during the last third, the narrative becomes more urgent.  The thaw begins - and yet nothing is revealed. Something is resolved, but it's not clear exactly what it is. But as in the best Scandi Noir, it is not this that matters.  Maybe to understand it all would be somehow missing the point. Mood is everything.

Grace Darling and Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon


Today, David Bradley reminded me that it is the anniversary of the death of Grace Darling, and has marked the event with his own tribute to the heroine and a very interesting account of the circumstances of her heroism.  It adds a useful piece of background to the novel that I'm reading at the moment.

It is called The Wynding by my friend Simon Gotts, and very well written it is too.  It's particularly good evocation of the life, times and an area of England that still seems remote to many today.  A large part of this comes from the dialogue, and Simon has somehow managed to convey a strong accent that is not only convincing but understandable to the twenty-first-century reader too - very impressive.

I've only managed to read a couple of chapters so far, but I'm hoping to catch up with this and some essential reading in Dewey's 24-hour reading challenge this weekend.  Here is the rest of the pile: two novels, one pop-sci, one social history, a memoir and one that's maybe part psychology, part sociology.  There's no way I'm going to get through all these, but like Mukulikaa Ananda, it's good to have some choice.

Erddig's Golden Apples


I like apples. This week we went to Erddig Hall near Wrexham for their apple show.  There are various activities at the weekend during the month of October including cider-making, history of apples, various craft events and family creative writing, but since we went during the week it was relatively quiet.East front of Erddig HallThe gardens are a big draw at Erddig, with stately avenues of yewsGarden of Erddig Hallfruit trees grown against warm crumbling walls.Fruit wall at ErddigA specialty is the number of apple varieties produced each year. Some are available to buy (and sample at the weekend).Erddig Apple DisplayDropping our hoard in the car, we went on one of the marked walks in the ground to see the remains of the first Earl of Chester's Motte and BaileyHughes d'Averanches earthworks (eleventh  century)the Motte now marked out with an avenue of trees leading to views over the surrounding countryside and revealing the reason why Hugh d'Avranches chose such a spotAvenue of trees on mottebefore going on to 'the cup and saucer' a hydraulic ram, invented by one of the Montgolfier brothers, which was used here to pump water up to fountains in the grounds of the house.  The National Trust is hoping to bring this pump back to life one day.  Meanwhile, the cup and saucer remains an elegant and interesting way to transfer water from one level to another.'Cup and Saucer ' Hydraulic Ram, ErddigWe finished with a tour around the house, with displays in the servants' quartersButler's Pantry, Erddigand stable blocksWorking Shire Horse at Erddigjust as interesting as those in the main house.Bedroom at ErddigThe house had been owned by the Yorke family for several hundred years.  The family ended in the 1970s with two bachelor brothers, neither of which produced heirs.Nursery at Erddig - frozen in time around 1912Philip Yorke, the last brother, who lived at Erddig with a friend, sounds an interesting character.  He was a teetotal vegetarian who would not allow motor vehicles onto the estate and relied on sheep to cut the grass and rode around the estate on a penny farthing (which Prince Charles once tried).  The house was without electricity, except for a generator which he used to power two televisions tuned to two different channels, and Philip Yorke was determined to leave it all to the National Trust.Gas lamp at Erddig.At first, the National Trust offered to buy just the furniture (there are 30,000 artifacts here, only 20,000 of which are on display),Library at Erddigbut Philip insisted that they buy the house too.  It was a battle because the Trust was reluctant to buy a building that was obviously going to require some extensive renovation.  It had been undermined by the National Coalboard, which had resulted in some structural damage.  Eventually, Philip won through, the National Trust only persuaded to take the plunge after they had been given permission to sell off some of the estate's land for housing to finance the repairs. Gratifyingly, he live long enough to see the completed project.Dressed stone west front of Erddig HallBy the time we'd finished with our tour of the building (at the splendid west side, an aspect I'd never encountered before) a few other apples were available to buy - so we added to hoard.Apple hoardOn the subject of apples, I see that Ian Patterson has made this fruit the subject of one of his literary quizzes in his 'Nemo's Almanac' which arrived at my house today, courtesy of Profile Books.Nemo's AlmanacIt's based on an appealing idea: quizzes for people who have an interest in books.  I can imagine this working really well in literary festivals with an entertaining adjudicator.  I've also found it fun to try and guess, and even when I haven't got a clue, I find I learn a lot.  For instance, I remember loving the title of a book by Ray Bradbury in my youth, 'The Golden Apples of the Sun', so much I devoted an art project to it, and this afternoo[...]

Swansea Research


I'm researching for another novel at the moment.  This time, it is partly based in Swansea.  Swansea, a town in south Wales, is a place I used to know well because my family used to go there every summer (and at other times too) to visit my grandmother who lived there. Because I was a child when we went to visit, there are some parts of the town I feel I know very well, other parts are hazy  - it's like joining the dots between memories. Looking at it afresh now, travelling virtually along the roads I used to know on Streetview, I am struck by how beautiful the place is - around every corner is a view of mountains or the sea.  It makes me want to go back there.For instance, I remember my grandmother's house.  It was on one of the main roads out of the town up a steep hill, and looking on Streetview,  I can see that this road is indeed as steep as I remember it to be, but also much more narrow.  There are trees and hedges, and the place looks much more rural than I remember.Another significant feature of my childhood was an ice-cream parlour near the sea-front called Joe's.  This sold sundaes in tall jars, including the magnificent' nut sundae'.  I once ate two of these in quick succession, little piglet that I was.Reading through 'Swansea's Frontline Kids' by Jim Owen I learn that the windows of this ice-cream parlour were smashed by stones when Italy joined on the side of Germany in World War Two, but Joe Cascarini offered free ice-cream all round on Victory in Europe Day).Then there was the wide beach, that was only sandy when the tide was in.  When it went out we had to trudge through a darky grey sludgy mud.  This, Frontline Kids reveals,  had pillboxes and poles in the sand during the war and was sometimes out of bounds.Then there was the town centre with its stub of a Norman castle and shops all around.  This, apart from the castle,  was all new.  The original shops, including the town's main department store, was completely razed to the ground during Swansea's three-day blitz in 1941.Images of Swansea, compiled by the South Wales Evening Post, show this devastation when it was still raw.  The smoking ruin of Ben Evans' department store; the steel skeleton, which was all that remained of the market building, and the mounds and mounds of rubble. I'm interested too in what happened next, and having read through the highly entertaining GrowingUp in the Lower Swansea Valley by Jim Young about the childhood antics of a boy born just outside of the town in 1949,I am now reading Swansea in the 1950s by Geoff Brookes.  This, no doubt, will reveal to me how this shell of a town centre became the modern city centre I knew when I was a child in the 1960s and 1970s. Other books I have lined up to read are: 'Bloody Welsh History Swansea' also by Geoff Brookes;'Swansea Girls' by Catrin Collier, which is the first novel of three about coming of age in 1950s Swansea; and 'Swansea Girl' by Barbara Hardy, which is a memoir of an academic who was born, I think, between the wars.  [...]

Sunday Salon: What I'm Doing 46


Another few weeks of culture: first, a political play called 'Whipping it Up' at TipTop - a local amateur dramatics group (as usual the acting was...tip top, of course:-)).  This was about the shenanigans of the whip's office written by someone who knows, I should think.  Entertaining it was too.Mound of Shotwick CastleThen, a couple of weeks ago, in blistering sunshine, we went with the Chester Archaeology Group to the site of Shotwick Castle.  All that's left of it now is a mound, the stones robbed away - presumably for other buildings.  But it was built in Norman times, perhaps by the first Earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus, in the eleventh century.  It was later used by the princes as a staging post as they made their way into Wales over the River Dee to subdue the Welsh.  Our little expedition was ably led by Peter Carrington, and it was very interesting hearing from the other knowledgeable people in the group too.Chester Archaeological Group on Shotwick Castle SiteI, of course, know very little, but I have been reading about this crossing place on the Dee, and came across a book called the 'Cestrian Book of Dead' which maps the many places where people attempted to cross the Dee - only to be drowned by the incoming tide.Apart from that, my reading has been 'The Gene' by Sidhartha Mukherjee,'Postwar' by Tony Judt on Audible (both of these hugely impressive works),and having finished 'Londoners' by Craig Taylor, have now started 'Our Endless Numbered Days'by Claire Fuller on my Kindle. So far so good.[...]

Sunday Salon: What I'm Doing 45


The summer has brought me an excellent couple of weeks of culture.What I've seen (live).  Julius Caesar at Storyhouse. This was the opening night and I've been wanting to write about it for some time.  It started in the foyer with Julius Caesar marching in with the crowd swarming around the audience in adulation.  The flags and banners were in blue, white and red stars, and there was footage of his arrival at the theatre in a black limousine on a big screen - pointing out the link with the modern world.  But then every time I see any Shakespeare I am reminded that all he says is timeless and endlessly relevant. After the introduction in the foyer, we were led upstairs to the auditorium where the rest of the play continued - the cast sometimes shouting from the wings - which had the effect of including us all in the story.  The first half culminated in a satisfyingly bloody and dramatic assassination - in preparation for a second half that was one of the most gripping I've ever seen.  By complete coincidence, we found ourselves, very happily, sitting next to the poet Aled Lewis Evans, and at the end of it we just looked at each other and said exactly the same thing: 'Wow!'Julius Caesar is now my favourite Shakespeare play.  I cannot remember ever being enthralled with any of the others I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot) as much as I was with this.What I've seen (on TV): An Art Lover's Guide to Amsterdam, Barcelona and St Petersburg.This was great.  Excellent presenters (I've seen them in other things and they've always been good - but to put them together was inspired, I thought). These three programmes looked at the quirky pieces of art available in each of the three cities - my afvourite segment being the one on Irma Bloom and her books.  There's an articl from the New York Times on some of them here.And then, of course, I've read a few books.  First Gregory Norminton's The Ghost Who Bled:   collection of stories from different places and times, some with an environmental theme:  a science fiction story featuring a cult which pays homage to animals that man has made extinct, for instance; an academic's disillusionment with university life;  and a beautifully written paeon to a past accessed from a future that is lost.  The wistful meandering between now and then makes compulsive reading. A poignant exploration of a fundamental truth - that saving someone's life forces you to hate them forever -  is joined by stories dealing with advisability of going back; creativity in a world that's falling away; and a Japanese ghost story that twists and teases between cockpit and village.Showmanship is another motif: an actor changes his mind about a life-changing decisionand in doing so 'sobbed for his body, for the close companionship of bowels, of kidneys, of liver and spleen.'; an emperor who finds a novel way to extract information from a visionary and a ventriloquist wants to end it all. Each story is exquisitely written but perhaps my favourite is  'In My Father's Garden' - an entertaining look at the varied ways we impose ourselves on our little piece of planet. Apart from that I've read Engleby by Sebastian Faulks - an intriguing and brilliantly mystery primarily evoked by the unreliabilty of the narrator. It seemed just as real as The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale that  describes a life that turns out unexpectedly- teaching me alot about life at the end of the nineteenth century.  It reminded me a little of Peter Carey's books - and not just because it was based, in part in Australia (although the Wicked Boy was non-fiction). Now I'm on Postwar : A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt.  Because I'm listening to this I hadn't realised that it is a thousand pages long, but it impresses me so much I've just ordered it in hardback as well.  I thin[...]

Storyhouse: Chester's New Cultural Centre.


For the last couple of years the old Odeon building in Chester has been hidden behind hoardings, with glimpses of the renovations to turn it into the new 'Cultural Centre' fleetingly exposed.  One winter's day, for instance,  the old back wall came off and we gawped at the  tiers of the old cinema seating framed in the space which was once the big screen.  I imagined a production there, Grecian- theatre style, the Clwydian hills forming a wild and authentic backdrop.  Another time, Hodmandod Senior noticed bricks in an elaborate pattern joining the front old portion to the newer building behind. Were they old or new?  We couldn't remember, but someone had arranged them beautifully in place.  Once, close to a Christmas last year, or maybe the one before, the inhabitants of Chester were  invited to dig where an old office block had once been, and more hoardings appeared showing finds from Chester's Roman past.  Then, in March the old library closed: a favourite building of mine.  It used to be the old Westminster Motor showroom with three brick arches and a moustached face grinning from the middle like a genial twentieth century gargoyle.   When I heard the new library was going to be a stroll-in affair, self-service like a shop, I didn't think it would work.  These days, libraries tend to be down-graded.  They are converted into gyms or taken over by computer terminals or coffee shops.  But last weekend as we passed, the hoardings had been removed from the new Storyhouse or cultural centre and we were invited in.Those tiers of seats once exposed to the skies are now stairwaysleading past peacocks perching on walls,and Art Nouveau monkeys holding a shine to aspidistra pots.Below them, framed by the outline of the old screen, are  modern ticket terminalswith a fifties vibe.  Alongside is a restaurant with long tables, high tableslow-level chairsand books.  Books!Here then, is Chester's new library, and it works really well.  Up the stairs,alongside the original laddered windows,part of the fabric of the place, like a vital threadsewing together corridors,quiet places to readand there, beneath a track of light,is a particular bookshelf assigned to historical fictionwhich includes, as it turns outone of mine!I love it (and not just because of my book)!  [...]

Sunday Salon: What I'm Doing 44


What I'm ReadingThe Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha MukherjeeDr Mukherjee is a cancer specialist and the writer of the 'Emperor of all Maladies' (a biography of cancer) which won the Pulitzer Prize, and by all accounts is an excellent book.  But its subject makes it one I'd have to steel myself to read.The Gene, on the other hand, seemed like it could be emotionally easier.  It interposes Siddhartha's family stories (on the incidence of schizophrenia) with interesting details of a story that is supect is already quite widely known (the history of the discovery of the gene).  Despite this familiarity, Dr Mukherjee still manages to find new points of interest and impressively evokes the personalities involved.What is it about the discovery of evolution and genetics that makes it such a fascinating to me, and I guess many other people? I suppose it's because it tells us more about what we are.  I never tire of reading about it. What I'm Reading (electronically) Londoners: The Days and Nights of London by Craig TaylorI must have been reading this book for months now.  But then it is quite thick and it's something I tend to read on the phone in my spare minutes.  Since it consists of a short interviews with various people, it's a great way of spending a few spare minutes. It's also a good way of conveying how it is to live in a city.  There are taxi drivers, policemen, people who have migrated in and out, bouncers - the whole range of human life.  I'm really enjoying it and learn something new every time I dip in.What I'm listening toThe Way We Live Now by Anthony TrollopeTrolllope's writing is quite different from the modern style - as well as the 'showing' there is also a lot of 'telling' by the narrator - even so the character build to something real and entertaining.  The theme of the book is financial corruption.  A businessman of uncertain pedigree is rich from schemes  that are financed by money that is owed rather than actually owned, which sounds strikingly familiar and puts me in mind of the London property market.  House owners are rich, but only on paper.  This audiobook is narrated by Timothy West which adds to the pleasure. What I'm WatchingMaigret at the Crossroads based on novels by Georges Simenon with screenplay by Stewart Harcourt. Ideal TV crime drama with suitably complicated plots, lots of atmosphere in the setting post-war France and, most importantly,  starring Rowan Atkinson as the eponymous Jules Maigret.  When I first heard that Rowan Atkinson was playing the lead I couldn't imagine it would work - he is too much Bean or Blackadder, but once he opened his mouth I was converted.  His natural voice, it turns out,  is a revelation - so deep and warm to hear it is an unexpected pleasure.  I wonder if he's ever narrated an audiobook.[...]

A Leechbook


I've been waiting for this!

I'm not sure where I first read about it, but apparently this Leechbook (i.e. Collection of Medical Recipes) or something similar, has recipes that are being reinvestigated today as a cure for MRSA.

In 1934, Warren Dawson's transcription of a MS No 136 from the Medical Society of London was published by Macmillan.  It was doubtless an act of dedication.  His fascinating introduction describes how  this manuscript was a compendium of knowledge derived from classical Greek and Roman scholars, who in turn drew on work from the Egyptians and Assyrians. This then, in 1444, represented the cumulative medical knowledge of the western world - something that had been handed down in virtually the same state for over three thousand years.

The cure in question for an eye infection and came an older version of the Leechbook from the 9th century.  It involved minced onion, wine and an extract from a cow's stomach which were mixed together, chilled and kept for nine days. The resulting liquor killed 90% of a MRSA infection and, very interestingly, the cure required the complete concoction rather than a single ingredient.

So, curious to see if I can find something similar in this book, I open a page at random and come upon recipe 365, a cure for 'Gout fester'.  For this I need to   'Take a root of radish and put it in honey, three days in summer, and in winter two days; and afterwards pound it in a mortar, and make therof powder; and dry it well in a new pot and anoint the evil with honey and cast above it the powder.'  I suppose that might be worth investigating.

Then, on page 309, I find four cures for hiccoughing on page 309, which I am sure will work just as well as anything else. The last one says, 'Take smearwort and stamp it, and mingle it with good wine.  And it will destroy the hiccoughing if thou drinkest it.'

Definitely one to try on the Hodmandods - as soon as I find some smearwort.  

But there are others too: recipes for lucky days, experiments to find out if a couple are capable of conceiving and then something involving a plant that 'men called Nightshade' which is made into a powder and applied to sores in the mouth.  I think I might keep clear of that one - I rather think that one might belong to the category 'kill or cure'.

Sunday Salon: Snails and other devotees of the slow


My friend Debra Hamel gave me a beautiful book about a snail (The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey) a few years ago, and now this is joined by another one, courtesy of Alma books.  The important point about the snail, in both cases, is that it is slow.  Following its track across the floor allows plenty of time to reflect - for the invalid recuperating on a bed and also, according to the The Story of a Snail who Discovered the Importance of Being Slow the snail itself.

The snail in this children's story by Luis Sepulveda is the type of animal that asks questions.  One thing bothers him in particular: why are snails so slow?

The answer, the owl tells him, is that he is carrying a weight on his back.  But that doesn't seem quite right to the snail, and he continues to bother the snail community until he is exiled.  From here it is a classic story of a quest.  His allies are other creatures including another slow creature, a tortoise.  The tortoise, of course, is another slow creature, and he is old and wise (I can personally vouch for this: my own tortoise is very old and she never moves unless she absolutely has to).

These two amble along together for a while until they reach 'The End of Life' (a dark level surface ''as though a slice of dark sky had become stuck to the ground').  This is the forewarning of something even more sinister that has the potential to wreak disaster to the snails.  So now the snail's quest becomes a mission to not only warn  but convince his relatives.  This is not straightforward and not without casualties, but the ending is satisfying and optimistic.

I very much enjoyed reading this elegantly told and illustrated little story, and look foarward to testing it out on Hodmandod Major's Majorette next time I see her.  (Being half-French she has tried the national delicacy, but seemed to be repulsed by the experience. Quite right too: snails are not for eating. )

Learning Supplements


I am still here.  Unfortunately, the blogging has taken a bit of a bashing due to my signing on to my courses at Future Learn.  Within an hour or two of starting all other life was abandoned.

So, a few weeks later, I have completed the History of Portus from Southampton University,
The Future of Genomics with St George's Hospital, and soon I'll have finished
A Virtual Map of Ancient Rome with Reading University, and Reading in a Digital Age from the University of Basel.

These, of course, have had to be supplemented with some auspicious reading.
The Future of Genomics goes very well with the new paperback edition of The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The courses on Rome and Portus have encouraged me to download the audio version of SPQR by Mary Beard (although I now feel I need to pick up the print version of this book from my bookshelf too).
While Reading in a Digital Age introduced me (via a fellow student's reference to a newspaper article) to  The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth.

I told myself this will be enough.  Time to move on and write that novel or at least make a start.  But somehow I've found myself enlisting for just one more.  And just a few others.

My Sit Stand Desking.


My new study is taking shape: bookshelves made for me by a local wardrobe manufacturer, and then a wardrobe doubling for the occasional guest, but mainly containing shelving for my stationery.

I am particularly pleased with my new (to me) desk bought from a used office furniture place.  It not only fits into the space we left for it (phew!), but is also height-adjustable so that for the first time ever I have a desk at the correct height for my (almost) 5'3'' frame.  My feet are flat on the floor!  My elbows are at desk height, and the top part of my screen is at eye-level.

Now that the 'sit' part is satisfactory, I am contemplating adding an adjacent 'stand' or 'walk' part so I can alternate between the two.  Instead of having a desk that adjusts up and down, I am thinking of buying a stand for another monitor (which mirrors the first) with a low-powered treadmill beneath.  Then, when my FitBit commands me to move, I can - all the time continuing with whatever I was doing at my desk.

Snail Serum


One of my favourite parts of the Times is the conversation in 'The Lowdown'.  On Wednesday it was written by Hilary Rose on the topic of Snail Serum, and was particularly good:

'I am growing concerned about the visible signs of ageing and I am intensely gullible,' 

'Excellent.  You've come to the right beauty hall.  Might I present Madam with the latest thing in moisturisers?  It's made with snail slime.'

After establishing how the snail slime moisturiser is made, and where (Italy), the intensely gullible one is able to summarise how the different nationalities utilise the snail. 

'In England we squash them.  In France they eat them.  In Italy they smear them on their faces...'

Thus providing 'definitve proof' that 'The European project is doomed'.




It's almost a week late, but I have just finished the first unit of the Roman port of Portus.  So far I've seen how the port developed under Claudius and Nero and now have a burning desire to go there.
It must have been an amazing place in its hey day with its hexagonal pool, columnated piers and massive port of ships enclosed by walls.  And then, burning on the western end, was a massive lighthouse built on a sunken lump of concrete (now standing outside St Peter, I believe, in Rome).  

This weekend I intend to try and finish the second unit so that I am properly caught up for Monday.

DIY Book Launch


It is a little overdue, but I am planning the launch of my latest book.  The venue and date is fixed.  The guest list is mostly compiled.  Tonight I have been designing and printing out invitations and shall be delivering most of them myself to people in the city.  It is a local book after all, which was one reason why writing it appealed so much to me.

Wild Cities


Daniel Raven-Ellison
I like this project: Daniel Raven-Ellison has spent several months walking around the UK,
monitoring his emotional reaction as he visits each place.  A true psychogeographer!

Having recently completed a similar project myself in Chester - but recording my reaction with words instead of an EEG monitor - I am very interested in where exactly he went, and also comparing our responses.

The Colour Chart


One of my favourite possessions at the moment is this...

the Farrow and Ball colour chart.  I must have spent hours looking through this, buying samples painting them on walls, and then trying to decide which one.  Apart from the actual colours - which seem so much better than, say, the Dulux ones to my eye (why I don't know, they are, after all, just colours) - I like the names.  Some are mystifying like 'Mizzle',  for instance, or 'Brinjal'.  Some are amusing like 'Mouses's Back' or 'Mole's Breath'and some are evocative on their own: 'Book Room Red' or 'Dove Tale'.  And the other day, to add to my enjoyment, Hodmandod Senior has pointed out that on the back is a description of each one.

'Mizzle', I discover, 'is a soft blue grey reminiscent of a west country eventing mist.  The blue will become more intense when painted in a smaller room.'.  We have opted for 'Cromarty' ('like the stronger Mizzle, this colour is inspired by mist , but this time from the sea.  It will bring a softness to any room'.).

Its like a poetic platform of words - inspiring not just my decorating, but stories and images as I brush the paint down the walls.  Each room gradually becoming
a different place.  



A new year, a new teapot cosy (mainly because the last one went up like a towering inferno when I mistakenly put it on a gas ring turned down so low I couldn't see it was on).

Anyways... I like this one.  Its name, apparently, is 'Twitter'.

What I'm Doing 43


What I'm reading (or about to read): Into the Woods by John Yorke.  This is a book on story telling.  Although it's aimed at screenwriters, I'm interested in it too.

What I'm hearing: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.  This is slated as one of the major novels of the 20th century and although I've just started it I've already learnt something interesting about Maltese language. It is a Semitic language, initially derived from Arabic via Sicily.

What I'm watching: The Bureau on Amazon Prime.  A French version of Homeland - absorbing and exiting just like its American counterpart but with extra Je ne sais quoi.  I love it.

What I'm doing: Trying to organise a belated book launch for my book (published in November).  In a city awash with venues finding the right one is mre difficult than it sounds.

The Meiotic Drive.


In Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene he describes the Meiotic Drive.  This is when a mutant gene - called a segregation distorter - skews the meiosis cell division in its favour so that it is more likely to end up in the egg.  It happens in mice.  If a mouse has a single t gene, 95% of its sperm will contain this mutated gene and so virtually all of its offspring will carry it.  The gene will then spread, Dawkins says, 'like brushfire' through the population.  This has catastrophic results because although mice with a single t gene are fine, those that inevitably inherit two of these genes are not.  They die early and are sterile and so soon the population dies out.

Ever since I read about this t gene a couple of nights ago I keep thinking about the other 't genes': the inaccurate result that seems right; the misinterpreted piece of gossip that no one questions; the witness who sees what appears to be a crime but is really something quite innocent.  The plausible idea that turns out not to be.  All t genes, perhaps.  They are hidden from view.  So the genes spread and spread.  Outside, everything seems fine but it isn't.  And its only when the children start acquiring  both genes that the real story can be heard.  And then it's too late.

The Pied Blue Wood Blewitt


Meet a 'Pied Blue Wood Blewitt '- the result of a foraging expedition (in a local shop).  The 'Pied' part being French for foot.

I liked the blue -  the colour of a the sky after sunset and poisonous-looking - but at £44.48 a kg, I decided to buy just one to try.  'Good in omelettes,' the sign in the shop said, or 'in a cream sauce', but I took this single fruiting body and fried it in a little oil.

I was expecting it to taste uninterestingly of mushroom, but it didn't.  It smelt of peaty earth and  tasted something like white meat, and went very well with the small pieces of pate I'd added to our lentil salad.  

A Whiter Shade of White


My new study is now decorated ready for the fitted furniture and flooring.

As you can see, the walls are... 'white'.   Like a 'May' Ball or a Slow 'Worm', 'Joa's White' is somewhat inaccurate.  I like it very much anyway.

A Little Education


For no particular reason, except that they looked interesting, I have signed up to three free on-line courses.  One is Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City with Matthew Nicholls at the University of Reading, another is Literature in the Digital Age: from Close Reading to Distant Reading with Philipp Schweighauser at the University of Basel, and the other is the Genomics Era: The Future of Genetics in Medicine from three doctors at St George's Hospital, London.

The last time I did an on-line course was a PGCE with the Open University.  Hodmandods Senior and Major have both done them with the MIT and say that they have learnt a lot, so now I am going to have a go.  The first two courses start on March 13th and require around four hours a week each, so I hope I can keep up.  The Genetics one starts earlier,  in February, and may well prove beyond me, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

New Spaces


Now that Hodmandods Major and Minor are both firmly ensconced in other parts of Cheshire, we have decided to renovate and adapt our house for ourselves.  And it turns out we need lots of space.  I, for instance, have claimed Hodmandod Major's bedroom for my study.  So far, the one old-fashioned pendant light - close to the window for modesty's sake - has been replaced by an array of spotlights, the mouldy spot on the wall, where Hodmandod Major's fish tank once stood, has been replastered, the noisy old laminate floor has been ripped up and the floor boards repaired and hammered down, and a long piece of ducting with electrical sockets has been attached to the wall to where my desk is going to be.

At the moment, we are redecorating.  The magnolia paintwork is being replaced with white, the paper has been scraped from the walls, and this weekend we are planning on applying a liberal coating (or three) of  'Joa's White' - a warm neutral colour for this north-facing room.  

I always think there is something satisfying about transforming a room.  The old school
is wiped away and then, eventually, there's a new term with promise.  A clean white page waiting for a pen or brush.

Matchy matchy


Yesterday, on a whim, I bought some nail varnish in the sales. I cannot do a manicure. I think there must be some technique I've never mastered.  I'm careless with the little brush.  There's no neat outline.  When I try to patch up the parts where I've missed I misjudge that too.  But this time I bought another coat with bits of white and pink that when I applied it last night conveniently disguised my ineptitude.  And then, this morning I noticed something else...

I’d inadvertently painted my nails exactly the same colour as my pyjamas.  A happy accident. Throw on an overcoat and I shall be ready for the big shop.