'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Eddy Waring - a posthumous encounter

Mention of British sports broadcasting legend Eddy Waring (note to American readers: think Jimmy The Greek with a comedy accent) reminded me that some years ago I was privileged to try on for size the great man's trademark titfer.
It didn't fit. Not even close. Perched atop my head looking embarrassingly un-jaunty.
Thankfully all this took place in the back of a car speeding down Upper Street en route to a hot date in Pizza Express. So the citizens of Islington missed my single-handed re-creation of Waring's legendary dying-seconds commentary on the 1968 Challenge Cup Final. Their loss.

The Lost Frontier

Two or three times a week I drive to Cockermouth and work out at Iron John's gym. The last fifty yards of this journey are the best: I park on one side of the Derwent & cross the river by a hideous metal footbridge.
The view from this bridge encompasses the ridiculous and the sublime: on the left bank is the back garden of the house where William Wordsworth was born. You can look down into the rock pools where the poet played naked as a boy and hear the burble of running water that invaded his dreams.
On the right bank there's a little public park where, in my childhood, the BBC recorded a heat of It's A Knock-Out that naffest of 1970s TV programmes, complete with an incoherent Stuart Hall and Eddy Waring mini-marathoning in midstream. (Ren Man - there is a picture of me and the kids in the audience at this event in the local WC Times & Star - happy days)
But cross the footbridge here & you're crossing one of the great lost frontiers of Britain: a thousand years ago you would be walking across an international border between two warring states. For a couple of centuries around the start of the last millenium the border between England and Scotland followed the line of the Derwent from Workington to Keswick.
Before anybody starts bringing contemporary political baggage along & indulging in Braveheart-style fantasies, it should be pointed out that in those days Gallwegian was probably the language of choice on the right bank, Cumbric on the left, and Norse everywhere. If there was any fighting going on then both sides were probably hurling insults at each other in Norman French.
Cumbria's always been a sophisticated, cosmopolitan sort of place.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pasche Eggs (Part III)

The one Pasche Egg Extreme Sport that's still popular round here on Easter Sunday & Easter Monday is Egg Dumping. This has nothing to do with the EC offloading surplus agricultural produce onto some hapless third-world chicken farmers.
Egg Dumps usually take place at pubs, clubs and parties. You'll need a lot of eggs and some friends. Taken an egg each (in the commercial version you buy an egg for a pound, winner takes all). Pair up. By some obscure method (a toss of a coin usually works) decide which contestant is to be 'over' and which 'under'. Advanced Egg Dump Game Theory states there's a small but measurable advantage to being 'over'.
What follows is basically egg-conkers. 'Under' grasps their egg and holds it steadily, sharp end up. 'Over' holds their's above it sharp end down & smashes it into 'under'. The winner is whoever's still got an unbroken shell. Loser gets to eat their egg. Winner goes on to face the next opponent, with the advantage of being 'over'. Last egg standing wins.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Slow Pleasures

First slow food. Now slow lakes.
It's probably just as well that the members of the Windermere Speed Boat Racing Club don't play cards, go to the theatre or dance around maypoles.
Meanwhile, the RAF continue to fly fast jets 200 feet above our premiere national park with impunity.
Cumbria County Council elections are in May. I shall be standing on a platform of free surface-to-air missile ownership for all residents.

Pasche Eggs (Part II)

Just north of my home town there's a vertiginous place above the beach called Pasche Egg Hill. This was where, I am assured, locals would gather for pasche eggs races.
Apparently this involved climbing to top of said hill, hurling your egg and racing it down - first one to the bottom wins.
All very quaint, but when I went off to investigate this it turned out to be rather like wearing rubber fetish gear - you can never find anyone who's actually done it.
Presumably anyone who habitually charged down a steep hill after hard-boiled eggs is now viewing the world from behind the windows of the local spinal injuries ward . . .

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Inside The Museum

To Keswick with the Renaissance Man & Woman for the opening of 'Daffodils', an exhibition of predictably Wordsworth-related art. Nothing jumped off the walls, but the location was a real eye-opener.
The Keswick Museum is a deeply peculiar place. It is as if you have stumbled into a Victorian gentleman's collection of curiosities: nothing seems to have been touched or changed since the century-before-last. Stuffed birds of every local species. A mighty slate glockenspiel played before Queen Victoria in 1848. A 500-year-old mummified cat from Crosthwaite church. Someone's collection of minerals. All presided over by a stuffed badger of malevolent aspect. Go and see it today, because the gossip last night was that consultants have been engaged to recommend modernisation.
Rapidly bored with the Daffs, I wandered over to the side-gallery & stared at two 19th century folk-paintings of local worthies. In the first the burgers of Keswick are lined up outside the Moot Hall, in the second they're striking ice-skating poses on a frozen Derwentwater. Unerringly, I found my attention drawn to one of the Moot Hall worthies: an old, white-haired and bearded man with a wide-brimmed hat; a hard man, his face rough as the Gates of Borrowdale, his eyes set solid and challenging. The crib by the painting told me this was Isaac Hodgson of Crosthwaite.
A few questions to the Renaissance Man confirmed my suspicions. The front wall of the cottage where I live has three initials and a date set into the bricks. They've been cleverly done, because they're recessed into the inside wall too, giving the place a touch of the Rachel Whitereads and incidentally providing useful niches for small objects. (The first letter stands above my bed & holds a shook of dried barley-sheaves). The letters, of course, spell out 'IEH 1861'. In that year Isaac Edwin Hodgson of Crosthwaite built the house in which I live.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Pasche Eggs

It's Good Friday, so in a bid to reconnect with my cultural roots, I've gone in for some authentic ethnic cuisine.
Pasche Eggs are a tradition that seems to live on only in the far north. Though if you believe this they found their way to Tennessee some centuries ago.
(Note to avid surfers - you'll have to scroll through those links as I've not yet got the hang of landing the cursor on a specific part of a target page. Applications for the post of Blog Technical Correspondent are welcome).
Apparently painted Easter eggs are still popular in the eastern mediterranean, and I like to think that our own date back to the days of the Roman occupation, the last time that Cumbria and the Levant shared a common culture.
Whatever their origins, Pasche eggs are simple to make and great fun - particularly for children.

You will need:

6 free range eggs
plenty of onion skins (collected throughout Lent for just this occasion)
1 copy of yesterday's Manchester Guardian

Wrap each egg in a couple of onion skins, ensuring that they completely cover the shell
Wrap the result in half a sheet of newspaper
Place the eggs snugly in a large saucepan and hard-boil them.

When the water's cooled, remove the wrapping and you should have six beautifully dyed, deeply coloured eggs.

Don't eat them yet. Easter Sunday and Easter Monday bring exciting opportunities for traditional pasche egg sports, which I suspect will the subject of another post . . .

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Almost The Princess of Lightness

The convalescing Patterdale decided to chew through the power lead to it's warming mat today. Somehow 'it' managed to do this and only blow the fuses to the socket circuit down stairs. I wondered why her coat is a little more unkempt.
Tomorrow I will attempt to remove the rest of the worktop in preparation for the delivery of the new cooker and continue my search for a plumber who is prepared to set foot in our kitchen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Princess of Darkness

The Renaissance Couple's household features a number of animals. Most recent addition is a small, fierce, pitch-black Patterdale terrier bitch. In keeping with the tenor of the house, she has developed pronounced views on music - which have now got her into trouble. She had to be rushed to the vet at the weekend, having eaten 40 feet of cassette tape. Luckily the operation was a success and she is now restored to rude health, once again terrorising the local wildlife. Oddly, the cassette she chose to devour was a recording by Renaissance Man's ex-wife's second husband. Clearly a dog of impeccable taste.

Against a Tie & a Crest

Yesterday afternoon, for reasons that need not detain us here, the Northern Professor, the Lady Novelist & I happened to visit the northernmost Eton Fives courts on the planet. This theatre of perspiring dreams resides on a bleak terrace overlooking a glacial valley that empties into the Irish Sea. The courts themselves were in a rather distressed state - all pealing paint and stoved-in roofs. In a fit of middle-aged enthusiasm I demonstrated, inexpertly, the basics of the game from behind the buttress.
This led the Lady Novelist to wonder how many other sports are played on a pitch or court that replicates, wherever located, the precise architecture or topography of a specific place (in this case the flying buttress of Eton College chapel).
We eventually came up with just one - and that only as a tangent. The Marathon is run over a course of 26 miles & 385 yards: the extra yards were tagged on for the 1908 Olympic Games, conveniently placing the starting line outside Mary of Teck's front window - in Windsor Castle, just over the river from Eton.

This geographic coincidence must be significant, but we can't think how . . .

Lost Time

Friday night dressed to kill: I drove to Carlisle with a car full of guitars and amps - I was roadying for the band that the Renaissance Man & Renaissance Woman play in. After we'd unloaded the gear at the venue (a student bar) I parked in front of the college, stepped out of the vehicle, and something extraordinary happened.
I was standing in front of the former hospital where, as a child, I had undergone an operation. Quite unexpectedly, I was overwhelmed by the memory of an intensely lived experience. The window of the surgical ward, the hospital lawns, the houses outside the gates - all were exactly as I remembered them. The smells, sights and sounds flooded back unbidden after 40 years.

Unfortunately, there's no quality control with involuntary memory, and I couldn't get out of my mind the dialogue from the episode of 'Bonanza' that I had watched with the other patients the night before going under the knife in 1965.

"Say after me - Hoss is gonna be a giant among men. Hoss is gonna be a giant among men."

Wim Wenders was right - the Yankees really have colonised our sub-conscious.

The gig was a great success - 200 Irish trainee teachers got their ya-yas out and their rocks off for St Patrick. The band stormed.