'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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

Friday, July 28, 2006

Starters For Twelve - Part II

Those much-sought-after photos of last weekend's reunion have finally found their way to this blog -
On The Terrace

Your Blogger Admiring Mr Pugin's Facade

Dr Badsey Addresses The Troops

And Finally . . .

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Starters For Twelve

La V and I were in London last weekend for the annual reunion of the all-conquering Sidney Sussex University Challenge Team. Our heroic captain, the Member for Aylesbury, had cunningly offered to organise dinner in his works' canteen, so we duly donned DJs and ball-gowns and sauntered down Whitehall in hot evening sunshine with Dr John & Mrs Dr John. Getting into the Palace was easier than expected - we were clearly the only thing happening that night and the Met's parliamentary security officers turned out to be big fans of the programme. They even offered to take photographs of us as we posed decorously on the Terrace overlooking the Thames before giving us, at the Member's behest, a guided tour of the Commons. It was rather marvellous to stand on the floor of the House, even when deserted the claustrophobic, confrontational arrangement of the place is jolting. So we made our way back to one of the private dining rooms for a sensationally good meal with our guest and her spouse. Much later, after enjoying a rather hallucinatory view of Big Ben by night from the courtyard outside the Speaker's House, we spilled out onto the pavement opposite College Green. Flashbulbs popped and arms reached out to us. We found ourselves, quite unexpectedly, co-opted into the holiday snaps of some Sudanese tourists. Clearly in years to come there will be a family in Khartoum who will show their friends photographs of the terribly important (and rather drunk) people they met coming out of the Mother Of Parliaments. If only they knew the truth . . .
Photographs of the earlier part of the evening will be added to this blog as soon as I get hold of some . . .

Roger's Wah-Wah Sheep

Sheep-Fighting Man was hay-timing last weekend but left uncut - for obscure reasons of legal title - the strip of land just beneath my windows, where a lush thicket of grass now flourishes. Or did until this aftenoon. The suedehead sheep he's put to the field spontaneously congregated there, it being the only green on the patch. One thing about hungry sheep: they make an absolutely extraordinary racket. And they don't stop. It's not just the continual sound of grass stalks being swept up into their ravenous maws. They make a strange burbling noise deep in their oesophagoi, perhaps it's trapped wind, perhaps it's eructation direct from the stomach. Whatever, it's loud, it's irritating and it's continuous. And no, you can't just close the windows when the temperature is in the lower 30s. Eventually, I clapped my hands and shouted and they scarpered to the middle of the field, where they stared back at me, murderously resentful at being deprived of their greens. Ha! Eat straw, white slugs. And stay away from my window.

On A Mission

To St Begh's in Whitehaven on a hot Sunday morning - as roady for La V's daughter who was harping her way through the 300th anniversary celebrations of the Benedictine mission to West Cumbria. Those present included most of respectable Irish working class West Cumbria, at least one bishop, and more abbots than you could shake a thurible at. La V was much affected by the occasion, this being the church at which her family worshipped when she was a child. The homily, delivered by one of the abbatial party, suggested that they were playing a long game: preparations seemed to be already underway for the mission's 600th anniversary. What struck me most forcefully - in between some unfortunate remarks about how you just don't seem to get pious women these days - was a glimpse of a sort of alternative history of Cumbria, congruent with but quite different from the version in which I grew up. The Mission sees itself as the lineal successor - with an unfortunate intermission of two centuries - of the Benedictine Abbey of St Bees, expropriated by the state in the 1530s and whose wreckage was reconstituted a generation later as the school for good Elizabethan protestant young gentlemen which I attended and whose own history is just as selectively cherished. Contemporary history got a less enthusiastic welcome: the major competition facing the mission these days was clearly neither the Established nor the Dissenting Church, but shopping and football. I'd never really thought of the Premiere League and Retail Therapy as the lineal descendants of innovation, modernism, Freemasonry and communism, but the Abbot may well have a point . . .

Friday, July 14, 2006

Little Wing

The Wandering Minstrel has returned to the Arkleby boheme from his job as a charity mugger down south. When I step out into the courtyard he's hard at work on his car, stereo system turned up to 11, playing Jimi Hendrix's delicious Little Wing. The lyricism of those guitar notes, their lightness of touch and ethereal timbre are somehow right in tune with the heat and haze of the Cumbrian afternoon. Out in the fields beneath my window they're hay-timing. The weekend starts here . . .

The Major In December

A chance encounter in a Cockermouth chemist's. An old man waiting for his prescription gives his name to the girl at the counter. I look over & a flash of recognition passes between us. He was one of the teachers at my former place of detention, now long since retired. I go over and introduce myself: he remembers me. I remember him as one of the most terrifying parts of a thoroughly miserable experience throughout my adolescence, his name a byword for the arbitrariness of authority and dark sarcasm in the classroom avant la lettre. I guess we all had our coping strategies. He is now a thoroughly engaging, if slightly deaf, octogenarian. We chat briefly and part on excellent terms. Outside beneath the lime-trees of Main Street, on a bright Cumbrian afternoon, I can hear the gentle sounds of ghosts being laid to rest.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Cumbrian Shipping News

Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries the ports of West Cumbria were among the busiest in the world, famously exporting more coal than anywhere but Liverpool (& slave-trading too, of course). According to local tradition the street-grid of Manhattan was based on the planned town of Whitehaven. For a few exciting decades West Cumbria must have seemed to be at the centre of the world.
Which makes this fabulous interactive map of the Irish Sea as fascinating as it is melancholy. Essentially a splicing of Google Earth with GPS data from the transponders of merchant shipping, it shows a near-real-time update of shipping movements in the northern Irish Sea. A moment's glance shows that the Solway Firth is, literally, a backwater. All the action's in Liverpool and Belfast. Except for one boat that at the time of writing seems to have sailed into the Pennines - presumably up the wrong end of the Manchester Ship Canal.
Hat-tip to The Yorkshire Ranter for drawing my attention to this excellent toy.

Clinically Short

That, at least, is the diagnosis of my physiotherapist. I am, or at least various parts of me are, clinically short. I tried convincing her that at 6' 3" there was nothing short about me, but she insisted that therein lay the root of my hamstring's rebellion. So it's four weeks of gentle stretching and even gentler exercise in an attempt to make it heal properly. The agony of St Bees on Wednesday afternoon has somewhat retreated. We pay for our moments of pleasure . . .

Next To Last In the Sack Race

To St Bees Village School Sports Day to support La V's younger daughter and, eventually, succumb to youthful encouragement to take part in the Fathers' Race (or in my case, I suppose, Surrogate Fathers' Race), an enterprise about which perceptive readers will already have an ominously bad feeling . . .

In the course of the afternoon it struck me that while the school sports we know and love - sack races, tugs of war, & so forth - are deeply peculiar activities that small children undertake with enormous glee, they're no less peculiar than those undertaken by adults, whether professionally or for pleasure. It's just that, thanks to some completely random circumstance of the social environment, they now occupy a quite different branch of the tree of sporting evolution. The Tug Of War was once an Olympic event (I believe that Great Britain were the last gold medalists, so presumably we can still claim to be Olympic Champions at something) but it is now the preserve of pub teams and regimental messes. Ponder why there is no Olympic Egg & Spoon Race. (And if you think that a peculiar question, you've clearly never watched synchronised swimming . . .).

So I watched the infant athletes doing preposterous things in the name of healthy compeition, and was struck by a number of thoughts -

  • Very small children leading a race will automatically stop dead in their tracks when faced with a winning tape. The more enterprising will attempt to run around it.
  • Our schools are clearly failing to teach children the rudiments of sack-race technique - many competitors jumped into their sacks and attempted to run inside them
  • Health & Safety culture is out of control - children were hurling blunt foam-rubber javelins in a completely haphazard fashion, often landing among the crowd of parents. There's nothing like the danger of impalement by five feet of cold steel to encourage sound javelin technique.

All of which was but shadow-play for the main event previously mentioned - the Fathers' Race. I should have realised that it would end badly when I lined up and noticed that everyone else was either (i) 10 - 15 years younger than me, (ii) wearing T-shirts with the words 'Ironman 2000' across the chest, or (iii) both. Summoning the middle-aged ghost of my sprinting technique, I managed to get off to a flier undetected by the Starter, but soon found myself overhauled. With five yards to go, third place looked inevitable. At this point, just as the finishing line was within reach, the upper half of my left hamstring gave up the struggle and decided that, wherever the rest of my body might be headed, it was making straight for the nearest physiotherapist . . .

Monday, July 03, 2006

Fingers On The Buzzers & Starters For Ten

Just in case any of you are at a loose end at 10.00pm (BST) on Tuesday night and within reach of BBC-2, the channel is repeating the 2002 grand final of University Challenge Reunited. Will we win? It's going to be like deja vu all over again . . . Enjoy!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

My Weariness Amazes Me . . .

Must be a Sunday afternoon spent working - and the Cumbrian weather (30C & humidity off the scale . . . )

Cider With Roadies

La V's elder daughter, prodigiously talented at 16, has got herself a gig playing electric violin with one of the better local rock bands. She's obviously doing this in the style of the great Scarlet Rivera because an innocent enquiry after the band's repertoire produced the following immortal exchange . . .
- They do covers mostly. There's one song that's really good. It's called 'Tambourine Man'.
- You mean Bob Dylan's 'Mr Tambourine Man'?
- Yeah, that's it. Someone called Dylan wrote it.
Brief pause.
- It's really good. Has he written anything else?