... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Thursday 30 April 2020

My day in tea

Diamond Geezer consistently drinks an average of four and a half cups ot tea a day.  I reckon that my daily consumption is around twice that, and indeed, when I emptied yesterday's teabags into the compost bin this morning, there were nine of them. My daily consumption is nearly always around the eight or nine mark, week day or weekend and, I think, working at home or in the office.

So today I'm going to attempt an incremental post, posting every cup of tea I have. It's a fairly typical day, except I've a semi-social Google meet tonight which might edge one tea out with extra beer.

Cup of Tea 1 (06:45)
The first thing to pass my lips every morning. Come down, kettle on, feed the cat, last night's dishes away, porridge on. Sometimes the first cup of tea is finished before the porridge is cooked, other days there's still a mouthful to wash it down. Closely followed by

Cup of Tea 2 (07:15)
As soon as breakfast is finished, it's up to my desk for an early start to work. Except that, if I've not looked over breakfast (and breakfast is often finished before seven) I'll read DG first. There are going to be a lot of photos that look a bit like this one.

Cup of Tea 3 (08:45)

Half way through chasing up odd marks that haven't been recorded for one reason or another, I'm struck by the sudden urge for a micro-break. I take a brief stroll round the garden while the tea's brewing, then bring it back to my desk.

Cup of Tea 4 (10:00)
All set for the first video meeting of the day (and the 75th since I've been working exclusively at home)

Cup of Tea 5 (11:15)
Normally I might sit in the suntrap outside the back door for my elevenses, but it's a bit dull and blowy today, so it's back to my desk between video meetings to put some work into revised exam board proposals for Learning and Teaching Committee next week.

Cup of Tea 6 (13:00)

With lunch. Again, had the weather been more clement, I might have partaken of this repast on the verandah (OK, I haven't got a verandah)

Cup of Tea 7 (13:20)

And another one to wash it down while I answer some emails.

Cup of Tea 8 (14:55)
Today is heading towards being a ten+ mug day, as I settle down for a weekly group tutorial with my Politics students (hope they turn up!)

Cup of Tea 9 (17:00)

Normally I'd knock off work about now, and think about opening a beer while I start cooking my tea. However, I'm socialising later this evening, so I shall save the beer until then. So a quick sit down with a cuppa and a book and Radio 3 before I start cooking.

Cup of Tea 10 (20:15)

In the event, my social call was postponed to tomorrow evening, so I had a can of beer with my tea after all (that Abbeydale stuff is growing on me, just as I predicted it would ... or it might just be my tastebuds making a virtue of necessity).  And by quarter past eight I was ready to treat myself to a tenth cup of tea and the first bit of chocolate I've had in over a month.

And that, I think, is in fact a fairly typical day's tea consumption.

Monday 27 April 2020

In series

The blog tells me that I started re-reading Bryant and May in Full Dark House over breakfast on March 24th. I finished Wild Chamber for the second time on Thursday. I was then very frustrated that Hall of Mirrors, which I haven't yet read for the first time, hadn't arrived, and, indeed, still hasn't, so I've had to interrupt my Bryant and May-fest with some other reading.
Nonetheless, my re-run of fourteen novels and a collection of short stories kept me going for just about a month - so that's an average of two days per book, but skewed somewhat by the fact that I got through five whilst on my six day enforced Easter holiday. The rest of the time I was doing a full time job as well.

I enjoyed re-reading Bryant and May; they are occasionally funny, sometimes sad, and usually ingenious. The plots are occasionally a little outlandish for my tastes, but the characters carry them off. The earlier ones - as the author acknowledges - are more outlandish, and whilst even the later ones are never exactly - well, credible - there's no obvious cheating, just some rather tortuous plotting. It was much better reading them in order, I found, as they do on the whole get steadily better. The first one I ever read was The Victoria Vanishes*, which seemed a little too odd at the time, although all is explained in the end. If I'd started with Seventy-Seven Clocks I might never have picked up another one, which would have been a shame. Also, in reading them for the second time I was able to recognise more of the clues and hints that anchor apparently surreal events in some semblance of reality.

I'm a bit stumped now as to what set to re-read next. I was going to go for Stuart MacBride's Laz McRae series (rather gory on occasion, but also very funny) but they don't seem to come cheap on the second hand market. Others I might investigate are John Harvey's Resnick (I did once have a full set, but didn't keep it) or even Ian Rankin's Rebus, some of which I haven't read for years if not decades.

Further suggestions welcome - especially if they can be picked up cheaply.

*Yes, I know it's first on the shelf; that's because it's smaller than the others and fits in underneath the bracket. It's actually sixth in the series.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Hundred word story

The reason I got to thinking yesterday about things that make me cry, is that I was thinking about a story I wrote quite a few years ago now. It's probably very bad form to be moved to tears by your own fiction, but this did at the time.

It was an exercise I did as part of a creative writing class, in which we had to write a story in 100 words. My favourite fiction is sparse and pared down, so I loved this challenge. The starting point was the need for the rather clipped language, and the character grew out of that. I'd also not long moved to the north, and found that people really are friendlier ...

It doesn't even have a title - that would have used precious words - so here is my 100 word story:

Chatting to people on trains. More Jean’s thing. Knitting. Photos of grandchildren. She had the knack. Talked for both of us.

Woman opposite looks up from puzzle book. Smiles. Must be reasonably presentable. Managed to shave. Last clean shirt.

Scenery changing. Brick to stone. Strange.

Alison at Kings Cross. Sorry Dad. Would if could. Crouch End house tiny. Three kids. Better with Andrew. All that space. Meet new people. Lunch club. Gardening.

They took Poppy though. Silly little dog. Jean’s. But company. Andrew’s wife allergic.

Woman opposite opens handbag. Hands me tissue. There you go love. You’ll be all right.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Lilt and Bitrex

I write this with a glass of Abbeydale Voyager to hand. As my previous ventures into Abbeydale's canned range tasted of grapefruit, and mango, I eagerly sniffed this one on cracking the ring pull. A very familiar scent, clearly recognisable as ...  passionfruit. My goodness, I thought, the next one will be pineapple then.

Then I tasted it. And the taste was ... bitter. Just bitterness; no subtleties, no aromatics. This is a beer that has been carefully crafted from a rotating selection of hops lovingly gathered from around the world, and it tastes like it was knocked up in a chemistry lab, to act as a deterrent to beer drinking.

I like bitter flavours.
This is me drinking tonic water (somehow there was always plenty left over after my mother had put sufficient in her gin) with obvious relish. It was at that very bar (the Carrefour Hotel, St Peter Port, Guernsey) where I learnt how to drink out of a bottle. Possibly on that very occasion.

But there are bitter flavours, and there's bitterness.

What I thought was one of my best ever ripostes, when a colleague asked me 'What's the difference between real ale and craft beer?' and I replied 'About two pounds a pint', I now think might have been wrong.

I now favour the description by a minor character in one of the Bryant and May books (Wild Chamber, p. 212) of his craft beer as being 'like licking piss off a nettle'.

The trouble is, after the 24 cans I've got in the cellar I'll probably have developed a taste for it.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Things that make me cry

Not much makes me cry these days, but if you want to see me struggle to get to the end of  a sentence, ask me to explain the plot of Androcles and the Lion
File:Briton Riviere - Androcles and the Lion - 1915-3 - Auckland Art Gallery.jpg

or, on a less elevated plane, 'Two Little Boys', which is essentially the same story.

Various songs have moved me to tears on one occasion or another, but there is only one which is guaranteed to have me blubbing every time. And it's not a tale of thwarted love, or tragic death.

It's about a bloody pigeon.


It's about hope and faith, lost and restored.

I have versions by June Tabor, The Unthanks (with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band), and Lucy Ward. While Tabor's is the classic, and Ward is actually from Derby, and they're both raw, sparse, unaccompanied versions, I think I actually like the Unthanks' version the best - the brass band accompaniment really works to make it even more poignant.

Friday 17 April 2020

Supporting local businesses

I've just had an email from CAMRA saying how important it is that I renew my membership, and for once I believe them. It's thirty five days since I was last in the pub. I'm not saying that's a record - it almost certainly isn't, even for me - but right now it feels like a long time. I hope my local survives this. In the meantime, I can't support the brewery that owns 'is closely associated with' it, because they only do cask (I hope they survive too).

I have however been supporting Abbeydale, who supply their wares in ever-so crafty 440 ml cans. Tonight I had Heathen, which tastes of mangoes.
Previously I've been alternating that with Reverie, which is cloudy and tastes of grapefruit.

I have just taken delivery of a consignment of Voyager, which I am hoping will taste of hops, but somehow I doubt it.

Once I've got through two dozen cans of that, I might give Kelham Island a try. Their beers are rather more to my taste, and come in proper bottles (though I can't say I care for the label redesign); their website, however, is being rather uncooperative.

Still, don't let it be said that I'm not doing my bit to support vital local businesses as best I can.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

This gardener's world

I have never been so appreciative of my little garden. And I have never given it so much attention, or noticed it so much.

Here are some of the things it is doing for me this week:
The clematis that I bought as a couple of string-like stems in Tescos the year before last is going from strength to strength.
In the orchard, the Victoria plum has blossom on it, and the Cox's Orange Pippin is coming into leaf. They were two for £10 in Tescos and I'm so glad I carried them home along with the shopping and got them planted.
The amazing rosemary bush that came with the house is buzzing with bees.
For years I didn't know what this plant was called. We had a few clumps of it in the garden when I was a child, and I spent many years afterwards trying to describe it to people in the hope of finding out what it was and then getting some. As I now know, it's saxifrage. I bought two white ones and two red ones last year; one of each has thrived and grown, and the other (at the back) hasn't.

I have also just made a foray into online plant purchasing to buy some London Pride - what I now know to be another saxifrage - which is also a childhood favourite. I couldn't find any to buy locally last year so I'd have ended up going mail order anyway. That's going to make a rockery when it arrives.
Finally, this is essentially a massive pot of toadflax, which I have imported from Sussex. I love toadflax, with its tiny snapdragon flowers, and am hoping it will colonise my walls. What is also in this pot now are some wild sweet pea seeds, collected in Newhaven. If any of them take, they have small, very deep pink, flowers and are lovely. I've put some straight in here, chucked some in the flowerbeds, and nurtured some by soaking them and sowing them in pots.

Friday 10 April 2020

The Dark Tower

I looked out of the window the other night and I could tell there was something wrong, but it took me a while to realise what it was.
The Arts Tower is never dark.

That's it in the middle; the tallest university building in England, and usually a shimmering pillar of light. Even what looks like a single light in the photo is actually a crane in front of it. (Incidentally, I can currently count nine construction cranes from my attic window. Who's going to stay in all those student flats now?)

Almost exactly two years ago, I took a much nicer photo of the Arts Tower, from Weston Park, with Western Bank Library in the foreground.

Monday 6 April 2020


As I've been doing to housework to random selections from my meagre CD collection, a playlist for 'the current situation' started forming in my mind. So far there are only three songs (I limited myself only to tracks I actually own) but in the spirit of the Herbies' musical quiz, I thought I'd throw it open to everyone. The only rule is that you have to actually own the record (tape or CD). That'll stop it getting so up to date that I don't recognise anything.

So, so far I have We'll Go No More A-Roving - I was listening to Leonard Cohen's version, but I'm pretty sure I also have it by the Pogues, and The Band's You Ain't Going Nowhere (which I have on vinyl, nah!)

Top of the charts, unless of course you know different, must be Bella Hardy's Emmot's Song, a cheerful little ditty about self-isolation seventeenth century style, which is pretty much the same as now, except you stand to get the black death, and you can't text your boyfriend to cancel your date.

So, throw in your ideas and when we get to ten I'll post a list.

Sunday 5 April 2020

Surviving and thriving

As I noted a fortnight ago (incidentally, the last day I had any contact with an actual flesh and blood human being - thanks hairdresser Andrew!), in many ways I am particularly well-adapted to what we shall euphemistically call 'the current situation.'

I'm really lucky to be able to work at home - and to have a nice home (with garden) - in which to work (and relax). I'm lucky to be really busy with work, and feel that I'm doing something worthwhile. I'm really lucky to be able to get food delivered from Beanies and even beer from Abbeydale.  I don't need to invoke a 'good excuse' to leave the house. I'm happy to stay here, keep my head down, and pretend as far as possible that everything is normal. That's my survival strategy.

If I start to think about the use and abuse of emergency powers, and their long term effects; if I start to think about what will happen to higher education and my job and the students and potential students I work for; if I start to think about what will become of a society where we're now all primed to police one another and see everyone as a potential threat; if I'm confronted with the government rhetoric and statistics that underpins all this, then I will become a panicking, quivering, knuckle-chewing wreck who is no use to anyone.

I have stopped reading any news websites. I never did subscribe to any social media. I still occasionally look at blogs in the hope that they will provide a little light relief, a little glimpse of life beyond the current panic, or of finding positives within it. My blogroll is my reading list, and when a blog quotes government figures (available in so many other places to anyone who wants them) on deaths and infections two days running, sorry, it comes off, no matter how much I might have enjoyed it previously.

I don't subscribe the idea that it's some kind of moral virtue to immerse onself in misery and keep up to the minute with bad news.That might be a coping strategy for some people, and I respect that; but I am not one of them. I am deeply uncomfortable with making a drama out of a crisis. I'd rather just quietly get on with doing something practical, if I can. And luckily I can - at the moment 170 people's futures (and more immediately, their peace of mind) rest on my ability to design and co-ordinate alternatives to their end of year exams and presentations.

So please, fellow bloggers, keep the funny and inspiring, the everyday and the mundane, coming .... And if you must wallow in fear and misery, judgement and drama, then that's your prerogative, but I'm afraid you'll lose this reader.

Saturday 4 April 2020

Numbers game

12 assessments redesigned
11 modules to deliver remotely
3 lb gained
1 old friend contacted