'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

If you've come here looking for pictures of a camp Roman soldier - click on this link

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Music From A Different Kitchen

The Renaissance Couple have departed for South Africa. Before leaving they threw one last bash, an evening of turkey curry and high-class canapes for their friends and fellow band-members of Banjaxed, possibly the most relaxed rock'n'roll band in Cumbria. The Wandering Minstrel and King Of The Road turned up, on guitar and drums. La Virtuosa was invited too and brought along her violin. What followed, post-turkey, was a memorable and, to a strict non-musician, utterly marvellous - a beautiful example of a spontaneous and skilled art lightly undertaken and joyously executed. The band played their regular repertoire & La V joined in, without rehearsal. The results were quite ravishing, marred only by my unique and challenging contributions to the occasional chorus. After a gorgeous rendition of Carrickfergus, the band played on through Moondance, A Case Of You, Please Please Me, My Girl and, finally, Let's Spend The Night Together. Sheer heaven.


Further to my earlier posts about the socio-economic taxonomy of Christmas house-decorations, I'm grateful to Lampy for bringing to my attention this wonderful site. Houseblinging is, it seems, the new rock'n'roll. Worryingly, the site itself seems to be an irony-free zone, but the photographs are quite wonderful and its title a delicious piece of bleeding-edge neologism. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Very Merry Christmas To All Our Readers

We're celebrating Christmas beyond the north wind . . .

Saturday, December 24, 2005

No .. Hell?

It's 5 years since we last had a Christmas at home. I had forgotten just how overpowering is the urge to buy gifts, food, wrapping paper, cards, decorations and more food. I've just put the brandy butter sauce in the cupboard to find the brandy butter sauce 'we' bought 5 years ago (4 years and a bit beyond the bbd). Mrs R., despite constant counseling from me, insists on just decorating the house a bit more and buying stuff that I know I could put straight in the bin rather than peel it and cook it first. For the last 5 years we've gone South to the Western Cape of SA and avoided the excesses. The shopping malls of SA will have been playing Rudolph and Slade since early November so don't think rabid consumerism hasn't touched BUT somehow we avoid the worst of it when we are there. Here in West Cumbria though it's impossible to hide. The old age delinquents (Mrs R's parents) will be here soon, our 2 sons (the minstrel and the baby jesus one(family joke)) will do their duty, Mrs R's sister and Murry will bring lager and I won't be able to hear the TV. I wonder if I can get a last minute flight. And another thing - I hate that Marks & Spencer advert.

Friday, December 23, 2005

And Man Will Shop For Evermore

I have just returned from the 8th Circle of Hell - Christmas Shopping in Carlisle. Next year I'm going to cut out all the unpleasantness & simply arrange to have myself horse-whipped naked the length of Botchergate.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Misplaced Names Truhpenuh - so good they named it thrice

Misplaced Names – Truhpenuh – so good they named in thrice?

Just up the road from Chez-Ren is Torpenhow. So named, I am told after the 3 hills either seen from it or on the way to it. Tor being Cornish for hill, Pen being Welsh and How being Norse. Anyway: A Cornish man, a Welsh man and a Viking got together and decided to name a  village in Cumbria after 3 hills. Hell I don’t know, I’m making this up now. The point of this blog is that Torpenhow is pronounced by us locals as Truhpenuh. (all the uhs are pronounced northern and short (bit like the Picts)). This pronunciation completely ignores the Cornish and the Vikings thus confirming my worst fears that we are Welsh afterall… aargh. The other school of thought is that there is in fact only one hill, but it’s very noticeable standing as it does above the village. So noticeable that the locals named it thrice? I think not. It implies that us Cumbrians have the memory span of goldfish. Oh look there’s a hill….. Oh look there’s another hill…. Oh my god there’s another hill.. I do believe it’s the same hill .. why don’t we call it ‘Thought I saw 3 Hills’ ? I’m starting to ramble. Happy Christmas

The Wigton Haspirative Haffirmative

The Wigton Aspirative Affirmative

Now I can’t quite remember who coined the aspirative affirmative expression .It could have been James (bad to the bone) Waddington or Jonty (over the Top) Brame. In Wigton the natives have this peculiar way of saying Aye.
I’m talking Wigton Cumbria here. The birthplace of the second greatest living Cumbrian (Melvyn Barge). What yer Wigtonian does - is to say the word Aye, add a H and shorten it slightly to pronounce as Hi!, whilst taking a sharp intake of breath. You have to drop the jaw slightly. <breathe in and at the end of the in say> hi!
Have you got it? Once you are competent you can use it in conversation (in most parts of Cumbria) either as a single affirmation OR repeat it (on the same breath) half a dozen times in quick succession .. hi.hi.hi.hi.hi.hi.hi to indicate that you are in total agreement.
I will stop now. That’s enough electrocution lessons for one day. As my dad used to say.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gene Blues- Cousins Jim 2

Last week I gave blood. Just a little (not a biscuit rewarding armful) but blood nevertheless. Newcastle Uni are doing a study requiring DNA sampling of people in West Cumbria who can trace their parents being born in Cumbria and their parents and their parents (that's 8 isn't it at 3 gens back 2:4:8? yup). As luck has it the Ren ancestry goes back 13 gens (in Cumbria) which equates to 8,192 possible great great .... grand parents (whatever they would be called). In 1598 the population of West Cumbria can't have been much more than a couple of hundred so is it any wonder we have a few cousins knocking about.
I turned up at the blood letting ceremony to discover my cousin in charge of the sampling needles (haven't seen her for years) and on more than a nodding acquaintance with everybody in the room. As I walked out I overheard cousin Jeff asking cousin Len if there was any chance of finding out who his father really is 'cos he's fairly certain that the bloke my mother lives with (my cousin Jim btw) isn't. ... and another thing my mother looks a lot like the woman taking the blood he said .. but she says she's never met me before!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

All Lit Up

Cumbria, December. Fear stalks the streets. Yes, it's the moment when the good citizens of our county indulge themselves with the great seasonal potlatch of Christmas lights.
What began as a simple Christmas tree in the front window or a wreath hung upon the door has in recent years taken on the dimensions of a great public son et lumiere. Or at least a lumiere. No-one has (yet) thought of adding sound effects and music to the free entertainment on offer.
Over the valley in Aspatria, at the delightfully named 'Comely Bank' you can enjoy one of the best free light shows for miles around: a single house in the row is covered with illuminated abseiling Santas, ski-jumping reindeers, chiming bells, gift-wrapped presents, Christmas trees and exploding champagne bottles. It is quite the most spectacular thing for miles around.
And two things immediately strike you about this Christmas display. First, all the symbols and images are pre- or post-Christian - none of them refer to the Incarnation and its associated events. Second, there's a detectable socio-economic taxonomy to the displays. Put simply, the poorer the housing stock, the more lavish the display. Last year, on a sink estate in my hometown the house opposite my cousins', a post-war flat-top council semi, was festooned with lights on all four sides. I drew the conclusion, perhaps uncharitably, that this was some kind of coded Get your smack here message, as I couldn't imagine who else would have the resources for such a display on that estate. Then it occurred to me the pattern was more complex. The executive commuter houses of Bridekirk, protected by their great prairie lawns, sport clouds of white lights in their trees. Barn conversions exclusively feature straight electric icicles hanging from their eves (La Virtuosa's sports a rather fetchingly elegant set, appropriate to that property's chatelaine). Heaven knows what the castle-dwelling classes display. Older farmhouses tend to feature shimmering lines of wavy icicles (absolutely NOT the straight variety) beneath their guttering. Alas, none of Cumbria's elegant Georgian houses have decided to light up the skies. The only genuinely unclassifiable display seems to be that of the red-and-green flashing light-lines on small bungalows and cottages. What are they trying to tell us?
I'll try to photograph some of the more egregiously fascinating displays and post them to this blog. In the meantime, please send to us notable examples of domestic Christmas illumination. We'll publish & be damned . . .

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Welcome To A Different World

I'm currently up in The Deep North for a few days, visiting the Lady Novelist & the Northern Professor. Among their capacious libraries I have discovered a book Cote D'Azure - Inventing The French Riviera. It includes the following dazzling insight into the lifestyles of the rich & famous in the 1920s:

"Princess Violette Murat, friends say, not only bought her opium in Toulon, but also rented a submarine in order to smoke it in peace."

You couldn't make this up . . .

Monday, December 05, 2005

What Is A Beatle Project?

Thursday night dressed to kill, to the launch of the new Cumbria Film Office at Rheged, near Penrith. The occasion was graced by the usual combination of arts bureaucrats, soap-opera starlets and The Great & The Good (the Renaissance Man & the Cineaste among them). I was about to narrow my eyes & pour myself a stiff canape when something quite unexpected happened. A rather blowsy presence of great power in that world emerged from the crowd and breathed 'Are you with the Beatles Project?' What, I wondered in my best Judge Cockle-Cantley, is a Beatles Project? And should I be with it/them? For a moment it rather looked as if I should be. I demured, which was obviously the wrong answer. The blowsy presence wafted elsewhere. But it kept on happening. People wanted to know was I with the Beatles Project? Now I should point out that I'm not in appearance a lovable 20-something Scouse moptop with a collarless suit, so heaven knows what delusion the assembled throng were labouring under. My mission that night was to press the flesh and press the charms of the local film festival I'm involved with, so this bizarre obsession with a popular beat combo of the 1960s was rather counter-productive. The Renaissance Man, for reasons unexplained, thought that I'd probably been mistaken for Fairport Convention's bass-player. And no, I can't see the resemblance either. By the end of the evening I was none the wiser . . .

Time Regained/My Old School (trad French melody, arr. Becker & Fagen)

Friday night I did something that I had once forever foresworn - I went back to my old school. This time at the invitation of La Virtuosa, for a concert of classical music and jazz in the rather pretentiously named 'Whitelaw Marquee'. (Such a temporary erection hardly has the fleshy permanence one naturally associates with the late Willie). The entertainment was quite breathtakingly good - far superior to that on offer when I'd been a pupil there myself - and the half-time canapes exceptional. One could almost believe that the once-reviled institution was now practically civilised, an impression borne out at the after-concert party at La Virtuosa's where I was ruthlessly interrogated about my past links with the place and found the missing pieces of many histories and memories unexpectedly supplied.
This was a touching counterpart to the experience of scanning the interval crowd in the Whitelaw Marquee. An experience straight out of the Princesse de Guermantes' reception at the climax of Le Temps Retrouve. Many of the faces were familiar, but utterly changed. My former PE teacher, once a vigorous and athletic 30-something, seemed ancient. Faces once young were transformed beyond easy recognition. Except for me, of course - I was entirely unchanged in both appearance and mindset, and the ancients' failure to recognise me was solely down to their own deficient powers. Whether this means I now know what it is I must do with my life I couldn't possibly say, but I was certainly left with the impression of having lived through a certain period of time.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Baaa Afraid. Baaa Very Afraid.

Readers with exceptional memories will recall last summer's Cumbrian sheep ringtone saga. Now those wild and crazy dudes at the Cumbria Tourist Board have decided to get really cutting edge, in a festive kind of way. Yes, they've produced the Cumbrian sheep Christmas ringtone for you. Quite what possessed them we can't imagine, but you can download it here. And there's a megamix too. We're all in favour of promoting Cumbria as a centre of high culture, but this obsession with sheep does seem a touch unsavoury. Apparently it's supposed to encourage you all to come and spend the winter months in Britain's most beautiful landscape. We recommend you do so in February, when the Keswick Film Festival is in town. Four days of fabulous movies, film-making classes and director interviews. Absolutely the most fun you can have with a group of strangers in a darkened room. And not a sheep in sight. Book it now.