'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, March 31, 2007

Snow Hares & Trailhounds

Our bloggists are scattered across the hemispheres: the Renaissance Couple have gone to South Africa; the present writer is in the deep north of Scotland, along with Ben The Trailhound, who has been co-opted into an impromptu holiday. There's nothing so melancholy as a resort out of season or a pub with no beer: yesterday on the route north I stopped atop Glen Shee, a ski resort with no snow, to allow the hound some mid-journey exercise. Liberated from car-bound stress he plunged across the hillsides while I stood amidst the desolation of chairlifts and empty coffee shops reflecting that global warming has disfigured this piece of the Highlands into an entirely post-industrial landscape: the Mounth must be the most extensive stretch of high ground in Britain yet snow was only to be seen in occasional streaks, and this in March.
Happily, Ben The Trailhound was untroubled by this and bounded along, successfully terrifying a brace of black grouse and a white snow hare. I'm pleased to say he failed to catch the latter, but the sight of them running beneath the stationary chairlift was exhilirating and the only sign of movement for miles. Ben is now appearing in a cameo role in The Deep North, where you may follow his continuing Highland adventures.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Muckspreader Once, Muckspreader Twice

My return to the Arkleby boheme has been immeasurably softened by the sudden appearance of Cumbria at its early spring finest: warm sunshine and hazy light between the Solway and the mountains, as if the heat and thunder of high summer are imminent. But this is a new start, not a return. Though some things remain unchanged: I have just looked out across the fields and seen Sheep-Fighting Man's muckspreader sail merrily past my windows, flinging lumps of ordure high in the air.
Gee but it's great to be back home . . .

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Happiest Day Of His Life

One of the minor hazards of life in St Bees was the likelihood that, when turning up to some event at the local school, I'd have my collar felt by a visting old boy and be recognised and remembered as a former pupil. One such occasion recently developed into the inevitable Do you remember old so-and-so? - a dismal prospect as in general all anybody ever wants to talk about is Rowan Bloody Atkinson. But this time with real originality and pleasure I heard the story, second-hand, of a dimly remembered younger contemporary. At some point in the late 1970s the school was indulging in one of its periodic bouts of construction. One day Dimly Remembered Younger Contemporary distinguished himself by liberating a JCB from the building site, driving it around school and attempting to take the roof off one of the buildings. Sadly, he was expelled. In a just world such a finely judged combination of individual initiative and psychotic violence would be rewarded with the captaincy of the School XV and a place at one of the more barbaric Oxbridge colleges.


New horizons in sound: my mate the rocking ex-banker Henry Doss, and torrid rock-chick Emma Rugg are about to embark on their Directions US/UK tour. If you're anywhere near any of the venues go & listen to their exceedingly good music. Good luck to both of them, and their tour manager the splendid Chris Arvidson. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Resolution & Independence

A few days before my precipitate departure from St Bees (about which I'll not be blogging) I had a chance encounter on the promenade. It was a cold winter morning, the light was bouncing off the Head and the sea was gently flinging pebbles up the shingle slopes to the concrete platform on which I walked.
Coming towards me was a woman dragging what seemed to be a metal detector along the bank of stones beneath the promenade rim. She was of course checking the littoral for radiation from nearby Sellafield and the device was one of Mr Geiger's counters. She was dressed in bog-standard Goretex and woolly hat, beneath which her hair was streaked red - more environmentalist than corporate enforcer, I thought.
What was she looking for? I asked.
Radiation hotspots at the high water mark, she replied.
Were there many of those? I wondered.
Oh no, she said, she was definitely not expecting to find any at all. The clicks on her Geiger were just background radiation, that was all.
I thought I was being given the usual corporate bullshit line at this point. But the Renaissance Man tells me that what really worries BNFL these days is uncontrolled emissions of radioactive seagull droppings. (OK, this implies that other emissions are controlled by BNFL, but how do the seagulls get so much radioactivity within them in the first place?).
This made me reflect on her quest for things that slowly decay. What most impressed me about the solitary radiation gatherer was her utter dedication to a search which should most satisfactorily end in failure. She was separate and apart, in her work and appearance, both from those who employed her and those who she was, apparently, there to protect. The rest of the promenaders politely ignored her. But she continued her task on the edge of the prom. I took heart in my own despondency in a way I had not expected - she was showing me how to be true to your self, indifferent to success and failure, and above all utterly committed to the importance and authenticity of your own task.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Advertisement For Myself

A modest ray of sunshine in a gloomy time: in my occasionally alluded to professional life as a part-time rural IT consultant, I'm responsible for a small number of websites of taste and distinction. One of them has just won 'Best Website Of The Year' at the 2007 British Federation Of Film Societies annual awards. Unfortunately I didn't get to meet the great Nic Roeg at BFI South Bank when he was handing out the gongs. But if you or your organisation would like a website like this one, drop me a line in the comments or via the email at the bottom right of the page, and I'll respond.

Friday, March 09, 2007

It's All Turned To Custard

At Christmas the household acquired a state-of-the-art electric ice-cream maker, a present to V inspired by the success of the Northern Professor and the Lady Novelist with their own iced confectionery. After some initial false starts we're now awash with stupendously high quality iced desserts and the younger members of the household are entranced by my virtuosity with honeycomb crunch and ginger mascarpone.
The key to this success has been the assiduously hard work spent on my custard technique which has recently blossomed into unqualified success with the difficult-to-pull-off soft-scoop bitter chocolate recipe whose perfection had eluded me for some weeks.
Now fresh horizons of cultural fusion beckon and a project has been mooted to achieve a high standard chocolate chilli-pepper ice cream. Ice cream theory suggests that this is best achieved by infusing the milk with finely chopped chillis when preparing the custard. Then adding a selection of diced, deseeded chillis to the mixture either pre- or post-churn.
V has serious concerns about the whole enterprise, fearing that the chilli oils will cling to the inner surface of the churn, imparting a flavour of chilli to all future ice cream.
Would the readership care to offer advice?
There are culinary Titans out there and we need your help with the practicalities of effective chilli technique and choice of chilli pepper. Advice on the dangers of long-term chilli contamination would be particularly welcome.

Is This The Most Dangerous Woman In Britain?

The photograph above is of the TV lifestyle presenter Kirsty Allsop, and she has ruined my life. Singlehandedly, this woman has corrupted the tastes and minds of the young urban bourgeoisie, depraving them into delusional fantasies that no lifestyle is complete without stainless steel kitchens, sleek Scandinavian stripped pine furniture, beige angora throws and ceramic lighting units. Interior decoration is the new pornography and this woman is its high priestess.
The net result of this diet of lifestyle fantasy is that prospective tenants looking for rental accommodation in South London all harbour utterly unrealistic expectations about the quality of gaff their hard-earned valuta will get them. Forget Rachman: landlords are now an oppressed class forced into ever more ruinous renovations and redesigns to attract the discerning tenant. I have just managed to acquire two of these elusive beasts for the Battersea flat. At what cost in terms of pandering to the TV-mediated tastes of the aspirational urbanite I will not say. But the nightmare of renovation is over and I am sitting by the window of the deceptively spacious reception room on a warm winter morning waiting for Lloyd the South African plumber to take his kit and go. On Saturday the girls move in. All that remains is to clean the place one more time and I can leave it, knowing that I can force myself back into unfamiliarity more easily, and it will be someone else's personal, domestic machine for living.
As to Ms Allsop, a sustained period of silence from her would be most welcome.

All Over Battersea Some Hope & Some Despair

Returning to a place in which you have lived after a substantial absence to find it transformed by others and no longer your own is a jarring, discomfiting experience. To do so in that period of non-time immediately after New Year when London has not yet returned to reality, the streets are deserted, the bars full of inauthentic bonhomie and the only sign of purposeful life is in the hypnotised gaze of hard-partying bargain-hunters makes it even more of a floating, dislodged experience.
But that was what I did at the beginning of the year - camping out for a week in an old sleeping bag while I systematically tore apart and put back together the fixtures, fittings, decorative details and soft furnishings of the place I had once called home - with a very considerable amount of help from my partner's sister and brother-in-law, without whose enthusiasm, insight, sense and inventiveness the whole enterprise would have been doomed.
At first the flat was completely unfamiliar, the colour schemes and furnishings the choice of someone I no longer recognised. This was not my place, not my street, not my town. Camping out among the re-arranged furniture, tins of paint, dust sheets and toolboxes, I truly felt like a journeyman. Then memory began to assert itself: the way that you turn at the corner of the hallway, the creaking of the bedroom door; the reaching up to the shelf to the left of the cooker; actions long unfamiliar became unconsidered and automatic as my body began to remember the place it occupied. The flat became mine again, as I set about making it fit for others.