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The Literary Blog of Clare Dudman

Updated: 2017-01-19T13:11:31.388+00:00


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  So far, the one old-fashioned pendant light - close to the window for modesty's sake - has been replaced by an array of spotlights, the mouldy spot on the wall, where Hodmandod Major's fish tank once stood, has been replastered, the noisy old laminate floor has been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.

Charge 2


Meet the Nag. Last year's directed birthday gift.

It looks innocent, like a watch waiting to wake, but it's not.
It's that whisper in the ear, that shaking head, that look of puzzled disapproval from someone older or wiser, that feeling of unease, that tutting.
'Get up!'
Only I can feel it vibrating on my arm.
There's just a hint of a buzz.
'Time to step.  Only 249 to go.'
And then, if I'm lucky, by 5pm the tyrant is finished.  '9 out of 9', '10,000 steps'. Electronic fireworks exploding on my arm.
Then I'm allowed to sit on my couch again just moving my toes.
Go me.



The tax form is completed.  Since I invariably end up spending all day completing this, submitting the thing always feels like a huge accomplishment.

A Matter of Quiet.


We had to have new windows fitted to replace the old ones which were difficult to open as well as being so ill-fitting that in a strong wind they would rattle in their housing.  We'd expected a new sort of quiet, but instead we heard a hum as if something far underground was circulating.  Sometimes it was like flowing water, other times it seemed like distant heavy machinery.  It seemed to be always there.  Except, that it, in the early hours of the morning if we happened to wake then.

Eventually, Hodmandod Senior came up with an answer: traffic.  A distant rumble of internal combustion engines.  With the windows open it sounded something like the roar of the sea, but when closed it seemed that the double glazing of the new windows changed the frequency of this sound into something else.  We packed the window with layers of old curtains and hardboard which muffled it, but it was still there.  Still there until today, when our window fitters swapped the double-glazed units of standard glass for acoustic ones.  The glass is thicker, there's a film of plastic and a wider space between the two panes.

When he'd finished, we went up to listen.  The option we had chosen was the cheapest one on offer, although it was still expensive given that we'd only just had the window replaced.  Also,  there was no guarantee that it would work - but it has.  I go into the room and listen.  All is quiet.  I keep waiting for the sound but there seems to be nothing there at all.  Maybe, just maybe, it is a little too quiet.

Thanks Theo!


Today we bought a new Purdy paintbrush. Recorded on the handle is the man who made it: Theo.

I think I remember reading once that the names of the makers of the figures of the terracotta army are also recorded  on their work.  I suspect this is so they could be held to account -  I suspect the First emperor of China did not have a great reputation for leniency in the event of poor workmanship.

Luckily, the workforce of Purdy paintbrushes live in more enlightened times, and anyway the paintbrush looks perfectly fine to me - a link between the craftsman who made the brush and the man about to use it.  In this case Hodmandod Senior.  No excuses.

Invisible Naples


So many cities have underground places - tunnels, sewers, mines, quarries, half-finished underground railways and the chambers that a lava flow has left.

In Naples they mainly used their underground places to hide: from bombs, from people, from mudslides and once from the flow from a nearby mountain called Vesuvius.  It was a breath so hot it boiled away brains and forced bones to crumple into a penitent's rest.   

It may come again, this terrifying wind.  Next to Vesuvius, beneath the waters of the bay, is one of the world's supervolcanoes known as the Phlegraean Fields.  Like its little brother, this supervolcano is fed by a magma chamber, but this one is gigantic and in July 2016 Robin Andrews reported that the bay of Naples was rising - something that may signal a catastrophic eruption...or not.  

No wonder Alexander Armstrong and Dr Martin Scott in Invisible Italy seemed anxious to make their visit to Naples a brief one.  The saying, 'Go to Naples and Die', they explained, came about during the Grand Tour because it sometimes ended with Syphilis, but given the precarious location it could also turn out to be an aphorism too.  In which case the results of an amazing project to completely scan the city in 3D - revealing how its vast underground and underwater systems connect with the buildings above - could be more valuable than we know.  It also makes me understand the attraction of one of those virtual reality headsets.  



One of my resolutions for 2017 was to do more strength training.  Another was to post a blog every day.  Today I booked to do two classes I'd never tried before: 'Pound' and 'Body attack'.  The first involves drumming, the second high intensity interval training.

There's still time to cancel.

But at least I've written my post.

Eighth Night


In a particular street, in a particular town,

they have gone all-out for Christmas.

Loitering polar bears sniff tarmac floes

a cascade of lights pour between plastic windows

while swans glide along imprinted concrete

and a tipsy Rudolph joins his prancing brethren

high on glowing toadstools and enchanted trees.

Above it all the moon and its sixpence is crisp and clear.

A consolation for twelfth night.

A Little Victoriana.


Ah, the first of January.  Time to turn over a new leaf and maybe rescue this blog, which has been neglected.  But just a line in and I am spotted at my desk.
'Mum's blogging again,' sighs Hodmandod Minor (temporarily home from his normal residence at the side of the Manchester Ship Canal).
'I thought we'd all agreed that this was bad for you,' says Hodmandod Senior, still alive, still thriving.
'No,' I tell them.  'Not blogging.  Blogging is good.'

Anyway.  Time to catch up with what I'm doing.

Reading Fallow by Daniel Shand.  This was given me to review by Sandstone Press.  This absorbing read has, unfortunately, been interrupted by Christmas but so far has had a series of convincing twists and features what I am suspecting to be a deceptive narrator.

Listening to Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent - the story of a Victorian monster.  I am just a couple of chapters in but so far it is reminding me of one of my favourite TV series, 'Ripper Street'.  Both of them re-interpret 'the Victorian' with a voice that  manages to be new and original and yet convincingly authentic too


Watching, very soon, Sherlock on the BBC.  More of the Victorian...with the rest of the population of the country, I suspect.

Sunday Salon: Being European.


It's five years since I last posted to Sunday Salon.  Somehow, the habit faded away - but having been directed to its Facebook page by its founder, Debra Hamel, I've decided it was high time I renewed my acquaintance.

As usual, I have several books on the go.  An audiobook - Pat Bakers's Life Class,

a Kindle book - Craig Taylor's Londoners

and then Matthew Zajac's The Tailor of Inverness - one of those quaint old-fashioned mixtures of paper, glue and a little glazed card.  The book.   In its original form - and my favoured alternative.

(image) Life Class is the first of a trilogy, and it slightly annoys me that I read the last of the three, Toby's Room, first.  Although I'm sure it doesn't matter very much, I do like to do these things in order.

Pat Barker is an old favourite.  I must have read her Regeneration trilogy twenty years ago - and this Life Class trilogy returns to a similar era: the First World War.  The story follows some young artists as they skirt around the trenches - not actually combatants, in as part of the Red Cross and therefore just as involved in the terror of it all.  I'm looking forward to doing some ironing later today so I can hear some more.  There's a huge pile so I should be happily 'reading' in this way for some time.

The Londoners is a compilation of interviews on the theme of living in the capital.  It makes a good Kindle book - a section just enough to read on my phone in idle moments .

(image) I know London a little.  I lived and studied there in the nineteen eighties.  I loved it then, but that place I knew is different from the place it is now, and it is becoming ever more different from the rest of the country.  This is something that becomes apparent as I read through this book and its excellent choice of interviewees.  The interview I read last night, for instance,  was by a city planning officer.  London will never be finished, he says, because it was never planned.  It grows chaotically like something living, and all a planning officer can hope to do is manage its growth - picking out weeds like a conscientious gardener.  A planned city is a dead city, he says.  I think that's true.

Planning is a form of  bureaucracy.  And bureaucracy tends to create more bureaucracy -  bureaucrats creating more bureaucrats, thereby creating layers within layers.   It is a form of growth, but  unproductive growth - rather like a canker.  A good gardener might snip it out.

The Tailor of Inverness


The Tailor of Inverness was just as good as I thought it would be.  So good, in fact, I'm very glad I bought  the book on sale in the foyer outside before we went in.

I like the intensity of a one person play.  There is little let up for either actor or audience.  In the The Tailor of Inverness there was occasional music, the odd poem, and sometimes a bit of well-chosen video, but mainly it was the talented Matthew Zajac on stage with a violinist.  Sometimes he jumped on a chair, once he twirled a large clothes rail around and around, and once he did around twenty press ups while shouting out his lines - really incredibly energetic.

The set was minimal - the sort I like best because it allows the imagination to work.   There was the tailor's bench, his chair, the clothes rack - and a wall that became something else with clever lighting.  

The play itself was about memory, the tales we choose to tell about ourselves, and the effect of war. There was one point when I realised it felt like the entire audience was holding its breath.  No sweet unwrapping, no fidgeting, no removal of velcro fastenings on boots (as happened immediately behind me the last time I visited the theatre) making it altogether a great theatre experience.  I'm really pleased we took the chance on Hodmandod Senior's cough not interrupting things (it didn't).

Happy St David's Day!


A perfect day.

Maybe not quite the first day of spring, but it's getting warmer..

After killing myself in Ali's spinnin' class, I indulged myself with a bunch of Tesco's daffodils

then returned home to find my friend Debra's book, 'Killing Eratosthenes'  behind the door.

I had the pleasure of reading this in its pre-published state.  It takes what remains of a murder trial recorded in Ancient Greece and converts it into a fascinating narrative.  As usual with Debra's books I learnt a lot about life in fifth century BC Athens, but the book comes with a decidedly twenty-first century innovation: via a link to Debra's Killing Eratosthenes website, it is possible to cast your vote and take a look at the virtual outcome.

To finish my perfect St David's day, I am returning to Wales to see the Tailor of Inverness in Theatr Clwyd.   Looking forward to this.  It's had great reviews and the last time monologue I saw in Thatr Clwyd, Grounded,  it turned out to be one of my all-time favourites.

Happy 2016


To celebrate the new year, I have decided to start a new blog, Real Chester.

Meanwhile, in this place, business will continue much as usual.


In 2015 I got though 90 books.  The last was 'Lives For Sale' by Mark Bostridge, which was a compilation of essays celebrating and justifying the biographers' art.  A very interesting read for me since I am about to embark on more biographical fiction.  



...the inner walls ...slithered along every alleyway, every street, every nook I could find...

until I'd reached its heart.

It's taken a couple of years (so far) but I'm beginning to feel I know my city.

The Walls!


Today, I finished my exploration of the walls (and a large section of the the inside).  
And now onwards into the heart of the city...

The Castle


Earthquakes, hurricanes, witches...

...torturing and traces of the Medieval.  No wonder it took over a month.



Finished Handbridge!  
(took some doing...)

The Lache, Lache Lane and Westminster Park


What there once was  - and is now.  Courage and inspiration.

Hough Green, Curzon Park



Slitheringly upmarket...



A salt marsh.  Trains.  Roads. Sidings.  Remains of a ship yard.  From here we travelled the world.  

Still south of the river.



This being the last part of 'West'.  Only 'South' to go now (and a small matter of 'Centre').