Preview: KEEPER OF THE SNAILS
KEEPER OF THE SNAILS
The Literary Blog of Clare Dudman
What I'm Doing 44
What I'm watching
Just finished watching Professor Simon Keay
as he takes a minibus along the route that a small boat would have taken along the Claudius Basin of Portus. Somehow, substituting a minibus for a boat, there is the same effect of drifting gently along, and Simon Keay is the perfect tour guide into the Roman past.
What I'm Listening to
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Although I enjoyed Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, it was very long and sometimes quite miserable, so it's quite a relief to plunge into something where the two heroines seem to be suffering from some sort of depression (and coping in the modern way with a carrier bag full of ready mixed gin and tonic). Strangely, I find this cheering.
What I'm reading.
Still reading Into the Woods by John Yorke. I am still working my way through the initial thicket.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.(or What I'm Doing 42)
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
, 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 Londonersand 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. 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 . 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
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.