Monday, January 30, 2017

Wild Cities

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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Colour Chart

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.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


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'.

Monday, January 23, 2017

What I'm Doing 43

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.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Meiotic Drive.

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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Pied Blue Wood Blewitt

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.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Whiter Shade of White

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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Little Education

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.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Spaces

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Matchy matchy

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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Charge 2

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.
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.

Monday, January 09, 2017


The tax form is completed.  Since I invariably end up spending all day completing this, submitting the thing always feels like a huge accomplishment.

Friday, January 06, 2017

A Matter of Quiet.

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.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Thanks Theo!

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.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Invisible Naples

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.  

Tuesday, January 03, 2017


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.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Eighth Night

In a particular street, in a particular town,

they have gone all-out for Christmas.

Loitering polar bears sniff tarmac floes

a cascade of lights pour between plastic windows

while swans glide along imprinted concrete

and a tipsy Rudolph joins his prancing brethren

high on glowing toadstools and enchanted trees.

Above it all the moon and its sixpence is crisp and clear.

A consolation for twelfth night.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

A Little Victoriana.(or What I'm Doing 42)

Ah, the first of January.  Time to turn over a new leaf and maybe rescue this blog, which has been neglected.  But just a line in and I am spotted at my desk.
'Mum's blogging again,' sighs Hodmandod Minor (temporarily home from his normal residence at the side of the Manchester Ship Canal).
'I thought we'd all agreed that this was bad for you,' says Hodmandod Senior, still alive, still thriving.
'No,' I tell them.  'Not blogging.  Blogging is good.'

Anyway.  Time to catch up with what I'm doing.

Reading Fallow by Daniel Shand.  This was given me to review by Sandstone Press.  This absorbing read has, unfortunately, been interrupted by Christmas but so far has had a series of convincing twists and features what I am suspecting to be a deceptive narrator.

Listening to Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent - the story of a Victorian monster.  I am just a couple of chapters in but so far it is reminding me of one of my favourite TV series, 'Ripper Street'.  Both of them re-interpret 'the Victorian' with a voice that  manages to be new and original and yet convincingly authentic too


Watching, very soon, Sherlock on the BBC.  More of the Victorian...with the rest of the population of the country, I suspect.