Hamble Campbell's Home Page

An occasional window on Hamble Campbell's world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Da Vinci Code

I have now read this book and I agree with you all that it is indeed a page-turner. I do feel though that the recent discussions about the importance of editors would be well illustrated by Dan Brown's book - it apparently not having had the benefit of one. Too many people "gunning down" their cars, etc.

Go and tell Lord Grenville....

that the tide is on the turn. It's time to haul the anchor up and leave the land astern.

Well, maties, I've just had a lovely weekend in Bournemouth, hometown of Al Stewart and my old school friend Elizabeth, whose hospitality I availed myself of. Sadly, I could not entirely shake off feelings of guilt for leaving my family in Reading but I did try.

We had a lovely Saturday with perfect weather, walking along the coast to Worth Matravers, where you can sit outside the pub (which squarely encompasses all that a pub should be) and look over fields to the big sploshy sea. And have a drink and a packet of crisps.

It pains me to have to admit that Elizabeth and I spent the evening binge drinking. We shared a bottle of Frascati to wash down the watercress soup, mackeril with a lemon and coriander cream cheese filling (she said she'd invented that all by herself), and unnecessary rocket salad with lardons considering we also had French beans (from my garden) and new potatoes baked with oil and rosemary and some of those lardons I mentioned earlier, then fresh pineapple in a state of perfection, and finally some very high percentage plain chocolate that Elizabeth did not like but I did. One bottle is apparently too much for us girls, despite the fact that neither of us is as slim as we'd have chosen to be, and so surely we have a bigger volume add the alcohol too.

We started watching a DVD her 18 yr old son (I know they're not all inconsiderate and lazy but...) had - he went to his all-night party though who would blame him for that?. The film was The Matrix and I had to ask for it to be terminated as I was suffering extreme boredom/confusion. I said I thought the plot idea owed a lot to Shakespeare's template in The Tempest, as John Fowles' The Magus does, but E. was not convinced.

My journey home was smooth and uneventful as was my journey out - amazing, considering I was travelling courtesy of Virgin trains. It is very pleasant to travel relatively long distances by train. You can look out of the window and just let your mind wander idly, or you can get out your sewing and get quite a lot done and be pretty damn pleased with your work.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Blog off

I've done a lot of blogging this evening you will have noticed - it's because I'm going to restrict myself from now on to blogging only once or twice a week and I'm dosing myself up for the barren blogless days ahead. I think it's obsessive and a shocking waste of time - you start up the machine and suddenly a whole hour (or more) has passed in the twinkling of an eye, the merest beat of a pulse, the slightest intake of breath.

And besides I've got a new hobby, which is the sewing of a wall hanging, involving textile painting, applique and embroidery. It's just as time-greedy but more companionable and certainly more creative. When I read my old posts, I CRINGE.

Tate Britain A Picture of Britain Exhibition

What a busy connoisseur I've been. Today I met Jon and Rachel (by arrangement) to see this exhibition .

I did enjoy the pictures, and was pleased to see they'd included two by Eric Ravilious. But the exhibition did seem to me to be a bit dull and uninspired. There was not much that made you step back and look again. There was nothing that seemed to speak about NOW . We asked ourselves, where were the landscapes with a nuclear power station in the distance; where were the portrayals of motorways and motorways being built? Where were the big statements and questions? It was all rather conservative, as I could have guessed it would be.

And in the shop there was nothing about my current favourite, Edward Bawden and the Ravilious postcards had all gone. I did find a new(ish) magazine that caught my eye called Illustration. It had some interesting pieces on Bawden and I read it on the train home. You will be pleased I am sure to know that both trips in and out of London were nothing less than PERFECT - no hanging around waiting for trains, just a seamless flow of joined up transport.

Cicely Brown - the rascal

I'd been reading about this young lady (as my granny was born with the same name as her).

She's got her first big exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford and i'ts all great big pictures of people caught in flagrante delicto, but you'd never guess, except in two of the paintings, because her painting style is rather to daub. Needless to say, there are a lot of flesh tones and then there are a lot of greens as most of the lovers seem to be outdoors enjoying the countryside.

I think the artist could have made some very powerful evocations of different aspects of the human condition that might have been more relevant and telling for the viewer - maybe subjects like, famine, immigration, war, religioun etc, and maybe her chosen topic was chosen as an easy way to shock and provoke attention. But maybe that's just me being old and tutting. My friend Tone thought they were jolly good (my words not his).

Restaurant meat suppliers

I went to blog just now and the machine wouldn't let me - some problem with my cookies apparently - the story of my life. So Mr HC obligingly sorted it all out and it turned out that the finger of suspicion was pointing at our oldest (that was nearly oddest) daughter (aged 15). She had been on the internet this afternoon and it does seem that whenever that happens, we get an internet problem. We questioned her about what sites she'd been looking at - it was RESTAURANT MEAT SUPPLIERS. I didn't ask.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Synchronicity experiment

I thought I would conduct an experiment.

I have noticed that coincidences for me happen in multiples. So for example, while I was trying to find a piece of music on the computer, I simultaneously heard that very piece being played on the TV. This was a coincidence that occurred in the same week that I borrowed from the library three books, two of which were mentioned in the third (to be precise, MRJames' Mezzotint and HPLovecraft's Dunwich Horror, mentioned in RHoban's The Bat Tattoo). And there were a few other things of that nature that I cannot now recall.

Anyway, this week I notice the coincidences are happening again. So my experiment is this:- I've been thinking about the song McArthur Park (not sure why, but I do like this song). I've not heard mention of it in ages, and it hasn't been in my mind for ages too; so if BBC2 decide to do a programme on JWebb/RHarris, or someone chooses it for their desert island disc, or if a horse of this name wins the 3 o'clock at Newbury THEN I'LL KNOW.

Of course, I've had plenty of other things on my mind, and I just picked that one randomly. So that can be part of the experiment too. Perhaps I could have just one more - I've been remembering a film I saw when I was at primary school, aged ten, and I've not seen it since. It was called The Red Balloon. Indelible.

Many happy returns

The young people came home yesterday, unscathed and triumphant from their trip to Switzerland with my parents, and probably with a better understanding of what it was like to be me, as a child. (Please do not misunderstand, though, I am grateful to my mum and dad!).

They brought back chocolates, which now, oh joy, are GOOD FOR YOU.

British Airways managed to divert my oldest daughter's baggage to, well, nobody knows. However you will be pleased to hear that I believe her mastery of the spoken forms of French and German have improved enormously , and I am sure that she will be delighted that I haven't yet sent back to Amazon DVD rental Wings of Desire so she can guage her progress. (This is the first film I've borrowed that I have not seen through to the end - I cannot see why people say it's a favourite - I'll swap it for what is probably its rival in pathos, a birdwatching guide).

All the talking with the locals was done by Miss Clever because my mother is one of those people who forgets that in Switzerland/France etc most people's first language is not English. She immediately wades in speaking to them as if she were at home, pronouncing all place names with an incomprehensible anglicised slant: "Lowzan, Burn, Freeburg" etc. I suppose she has persisted with this method, mainly when askiing for directions, because most people she has approached do in fact have quite a good command of English. I just think I would find it rather astonishing or a least presumptuous if, say, a French person in the street in Britain asked me something in French without checking first that I spoke the language. My father stays silent, mainly I think because he's got NHS hearing aids.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sign of the times

Yesterday morning I went by train into Reading. I wanted to buy some fabric for a new project - a wall hanging. I will let you know how I get on with that. I thought it would be a development from water colours which I seem to have a bit of a block with at the moment.

Two grumbles.

Firstly, my train fare is now more than double what it used to be. This is partly because I can't use my rail card these days. In fact I don't even bother to buy a rail card any more because it has become so devalued. It can only be used for fares that cost more than £10 and only between certain times on certain days of the week and only on sunny days when the engine driver is wearing his peaked cap.

Secondly, when I got to Reading, the only shop in the centre that I could find to sell me fabric was Heelas (John Lewis now - the old family shopkeeper's name has been removed wherever possible, though archaeologists can find it still picked out in enormous letters in the brickwork). I've just looked in the yellow pages, and yes, apparently there are no other shops in the centre selling fabric by the metre - though there is a shop down the Oxford road.

I think the rent/rates are too high in the town centre and that is cutting out choice for shoppers. Even the big shops that are part of a chain seem to close down relatively soon after opening. Even Laura Ashley has left Reading. Newbury is probably a better place to shop, except it's not so easy to get there on public transport from here; Wallingford is pretty good too, but the bus fare is extortionate, despite being subsidised by the council.

What's a girl to do? I'll be in London on Saturday, but to see the exhibition of British landscapes at the Tate - no shopping allowed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A recipe for cous cous

I'd been meaning to share this with you, as it may come in handy if a large number of vegetarians visit, expecting to be fed. This meal is not too expensive to buy for and can be made in large quantity if required. I ate this first at a friend's house, and she has now become a professional caterer and she says it is a frequent choice of her clients.

Last Friday evening we were joined for dinner by friends - a vegetarian and her husband. They'd come to us straight from taking their beloved cat to the vets (the creature's last visit), so you can imagine the mood was sombre. However, we made efforts to turn the event into a celebratory wake, with our guests remembering joyful and tender highlights from the deceased's life, and us extolling the virtues of dogs as pets and companions. Our own dog did not promote the cause much by scratching noisily throughout the meal from the confines of her makeshift sleeping bag which she has created out of her pillow/pillowcase; this gave way to the even more disconcerting audio accompaniment of her licking her smallest corners with much loud gurgling and spluttering.

Anyway, with that preamble - let me tell you that the recipe can be found in Delia's Summer Cooking. I know some people turn their noses up at this lady but I won't hear a word against her.

This dish is in the style of salad nicoise - a cold confection served all in one big bowl.

Put some cous cous (I think 6oz is enough for four) that you have soaked and steamed, in a large serving bowl. On top of that put a quantity (however much you fancy) of cooled vegetables that you have roasted in olive oil with garlic and basil leaves for 20 mins at 200degrees. I use ratatouille-type ingredients - ie aubergine, onion, tomatoes, peppers, chopped not very small. Sprinkle over some cubes of goats' cheese - that is sold in blocks and looks like pale cheddar. I also add whole black olives. For the very top layer put some salad leaves (lettuce, spinach, rocket etc, whatever you've got). Oh yes, and there is a "harrissa-style" dressing, to serve separately, which is the juice of two limes, olive oil, tomato puree, dried cumin and chile powder.

And for the inquisitive, we enjoyed a pavlova made with raspberries from the garden for dessert. A few minor things went wrong with this but what it lost points for in presentation it made up for by being jolly tasty.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Greenwich Chorus

I wonder if this link will work.

This doesn't usually play. But when it does it's lovely.

It is Peter Howell's "Greenwich Chorus" which was produced at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for Jonathan Miller's "The Body in Question". Its quite easy to get the beginning of the theme tune but GC is a bit more difficult.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Blue skies.

My prints have come back from the developer's dark room and I was particularly pleased with my efforts here. This was taken on the afternoon of Friday, 5 August on a walk up from Wasdale head, on the route that takes you past St Olaf's church with its many memorials to the young dead who "fell asleep" on the tops. I am sorry I am unable to furnish you with the name of the fell.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Non-native explosive specialist found by Thames

For the first time, I saw a patch of Impatiens glandulifera, aka Himalayan Balsam, aka Policeman's Helmet, growing near the river in our village.

This is a very invasive species which will no doubt soon be muscling out less pushy home-grown plants. I read in my Clapham, Tutin and Warburg (1959 edition) that this plant is "locally common in N and W England and Wales, less so in S E England, Scotland and Ireland, but increasing.

The exciting thing about this flower is its exploding seed capsules, which really are comulsive popping material, a rival for bubble wrap. Catch a pod at its ripest, and when the sides are pressed ..... well, CT&W describe it thus: "loculicidal capsule with the valves dehiscing elastically and coiling". No wonder its march across Britain is so phenomenal.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Shaking hands

I was very interested to hear a programme today on radio 4 devoted to a medical condition called Essential Tremor, because I am one of the "two or three per hundred" who suffer from it. In my case it affects my hands virtually all the time, and occasionally my head and legs.

I was surprised the programme did not mention the fact that sufferers can in fact have very good fine motor skills. I know this for sure because I can usually do my water colour painting with no trouble, and, especially for botanical studies, I can produce tiny details and thin lines, easily; I think it's because I'm resting my hand on the paper and that stops it. I admit that sometimes I can't paint - for example when my blood sugar level is low from not having eaten regularly enough, or when I am tired. Or very stressed. Stress makes the tremor a million times worse.

In fact, it was surprising that they did not mention the effect blood sugar level has on the tremor at all, but only mentioned the beneficial effects of alcohol (and I can vouch for them well and good).

When I did my PGCE (primary school teacher certificate) the year before last, my hands shook so badly on my first teaching experience that for the first time in my life I resorted to taking beta blockers. They did work to a certain extent but I would definitely not want to keep taking them and I think that this is probably the main reason why I've not tried to get a teaching job. (I did pass the course and I've got the certificate to prove it, in case you were wondering). I could not do the job without the Proponolol (beta blockers), as it is work that is so stressful that I would be shaking so much I couldn't do anything.

Why did I find teaching so stressful? I blame the evil psychopaths who call themselves teacher tutors. (Not all of them I hastily add). And I blame the constant fear felt by headmasters, and teachers, of Ofsted inspectors. And I blame a too-rigid National Curriculum, that is too strictly adhered too. And I blame the parents (all teachers blame the parents) for bringing their children up to be insubordinate, disruptive and with an attitude incompatible to learning. So there. Oh yes, and I blame myself for being unable to stand up to it.


Not the LP (what's that?) by Joy Division, but the play by Patrick Marber.

Without the children, there was a bit of spare time in the evening to watch a DVD, the film of the play. I'd meant to see it at the theatre, and also his Dealer's Choice, but did not get around to seeing either.

I don't know what I expected, but I certainly did not enjoy this film - mainly because it was soooooo depressing. All four of the characters were horrible people, impossible to sympathise with. It left me feeling glum. Not what I want from a film. Certainly it was thought provoking, but I wonder if films made for entertainment (as opposed to documentaries, etc) are the right platform for the exploration of unremitting negativeness. Books, pamphlets, painting, sculpture etc etc would be a better place for whatever Mr Marber wanted to say in his drama. Perhaps even the medium of a play is fine for this sort of comment on life, after all Shakespeare did, so maybe it is the medium of film that I've got a problem with. Or maybe it is just this film and its absence of a character I could empathise with. Can you tell I'm getting confused? Anyway, sad films are fine, but they usually have some positive elements.

This film seemed to me to have nothing positive to say at all (a bit like this blog post, really).

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Uses of Religion

Well, I waved off my two daughters on the rail-air link to Heathrow this morning. They've gone to Switzerland with my parents to visit my brother and his partner and their two young sons.

The reason for the visit is a Christening, which will take place in France as Danielle is French (well, some people are).

It is interesting, I think, to note the continuing popularity of Christenings, even for the offspring of parents who are not married to each other. We are godparents to two children, neither of whose parents are church attenders. I wonder why they are so keen to have a Christening. Maybe it is just to have a party, or maybe they have some deep-seated fear that actually all this religion is important after all, and their child's young life needs protecting in some mystical way.

What do you think? I will add that my own two children are unchristened. We are not church goers. Anyway I won't go on, for fear of giving offence.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Holdiay reading matter

I am always interested to see what books are lining the shelves of the holiday cottages we stay in. They are a combination of what the owners have furnished (this is usually a selection of National Trust publications, with advice on how to preserve the ancestral christening gown), and books previous occupants have left behind. Sometimes, more interestingly, they are the relics of previous inhabitants of the property from a time before tourism overtook their dwelling.

Last week there were three shelves, presumably aiming to cater for all tastess. The first shelf was confined to the works of Frances Parkinson Keyes, the second was entirely taken up by Enid Blyton (to be more specific, The Famous Five opus), and the third was a selection of local guide books of historical interest only.

My eleven year old had finished her two library books (39 Steps, Hound of the B's - can you detect my influence on her choices?) and resorted to the middle shelf. "Five Go Off In A Caravan" caused us much merriment, and invention, thinking up new more apposite titles for future stories. Possibly our favourite was "Five Go Off In Their Nest Under the Shed" - and may I apologise to all rat loving readers if that seems in poor taste.

Thoughtless for the day.

Maybe I wasn't properly awake when I heard Anne Atkins broadcast her Thought for the Day on Radio 4 this morning. She seemed to be irresponsibly (in these days of suicide bombers) commending the value of a glorious death to complement a virtuous life cut short. I've never been a fan of hers, I will admit it; she always sounds self-righteous and pompous. Who would want to hear the opinions of someone like that? Eh! What's that you say?

Monday, August 08, 2005


A handkerchief mouse.

This is a good trick for entertaining the young people. Handy if you want to be the kindly uncle/auntie who always has a trick up his/her sleeve. Jolly fun after dinner at Christmas.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

I wrote this all by myself and nobody helped me.

To gain a GCSE (that's an 'O' level, in old money) in English literature the student is required to write several essays over the two year course and hand them in for marking. These essays are written by the student at home and then checked by the teacher. If they need improving, the teacher suggests ways for this to be done and the student rewrites the work and resubmits it. This seemingly can go on and on, the student painstakingly tinkering at her essay and the teacher directing the alterations.

This system seems a very poor way to assess ability when who's to say who actually wrote an essay done at home? The course work counts for a hefty portion of the final marks (I must look into the details) and seems to be a gift to cheats. What's to be done, eh?

The road is long, with many a winding turn...

That leads us to Reading from Wastwater in the Lake District.

But thank you, yes, we had a lovely holiday. It's a shame you couldn't all have joined us. You would have been entranced by our charming cottage. You would have loved the rowing boat that the landlord had so thoughtfully provided. In the evening, from the lake, you could have observed how the tops of the fells glow auburn as the sun sets, and noticed the green weed tresses stream delicately in the absolutely clear water. You would have thrilled to the touch of careless bats' wings as they flicked past you chasing mosquitos low over the surface of the mirrored mere.

Alternatively, you could have stayed at our house and picked the courgettes and French beans, then we wouldn't have come back to a load of marrows and giant legumes.