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Preview: KEEPER OF THE SNAILS

KEEPER OF THE SNAILS



The Literary Blog of Clare Dudman



Updated: 2017-05-29T10:30:58.275+01:00

 



Storyhouse: Chester's New Cultural Centre.

2017-05-12T20:21:38.043+01:00

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

2017-05-12T21:56:27.572+01:00

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

2017-04-26T15:37:33.612+01:00

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

2017-04-23T16:06:53.193+01:00



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

2017-04-08T23:22:39.474+01:00

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.

2017-02-24T17:43:26.405+00:00

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

2017-02-11T20:51:59.233+00:00

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'.

Excellent.





Portus

2017-02-10T20:19:03.354+00:00

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

2017-02-08T04:49:55.956+00:00

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

2017-02-01T11:48:33.154+00:00

(image)
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

2017-01-29T19:34:46.908+00:00

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.  



Tu-whit

2017-01-24T19:54:22.634+00:00

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

2017-01-31T09:18:41.627+00:00

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.

2017-01-22T12:25:01.801+00:00

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

2017-01-18T21:26:03.734+00:00

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

2017-01-18T21:23:45.862+00:00

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

2017-01-14T18:41:09.663+00:00

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

2017-01-12T20:31:29.762+00:00

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

2017-01-12T20:46:38.249+00:00

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

2017-01-10T17:58:57.463+00:00

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.
'Move!'
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.




Taxed

2017-01-09T18:18:09.430+00:00

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.

2017-01-06T20:53:12.043+00:00

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!

2017-01-05T23:21:04.189+00:00

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

2017-01-05T14:06:37.991+00:00

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.  



Resolutions

2017-01-03T23:49:55.630+00:00

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.