Thursday, January 03, 2019

SHERINGHAM DIARY 23 ~ Waving The Christmas Wand About A Bit

A tunnel of lights inside a hedge at Blickling Hall

Whilst still fumbling about on its lower southern approaches, Christmas can feel like a very steep hill ahead, strewn with all those strains to meet obligations, expectations and timescales.  Once you're into December each day you open an advent calendar door onto another shopping list, another task, another place to travel to in order to see if they just might have that special item. Apart from Bakers & Larners Food Hall.  North Norfolk, as you can imagine is not ripe with 'must go too retail destinations'. And we wonder why online retailing has become so popular!

December 1st is quite early enough for Christmas to arrive, thank you.. This year a smaller sized more manageable tree, less inclined to create a halo of pine needles, and a stylish wreath from Homebase I'll have you know, made out of white curls of painted wood, these were the only new flourishes in our festive decorations. Apart that is from a Poinsettia, apparently raised in Mexico, that like all Mexicans arriving in the UK for the first time shivered in the severe temperature difference, dropped all its leaves and its will to live within a week.

Though more last minute than usual in making nut roasts, pudding, cake and mince pies etc,they tasted on the day as good as ever. After all the preliminary efforts, once Christmas arrived we were surprisingly chilled and spent a lovely time together, watching the beautiful film Roma, the wacky delights of the Coen Brother's latest The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, plus The ABC Murders and the return of Luther - Plus the obligatory walks along the coast - What larks we had, Pip!

Conversational Snippet Of The Month 
Some times when you over hear people's conversations you feel the need for a bit more background detail. Simply to understand where the hell they are coming from. Quite often its as if you've scratched the scabby top off some festering lesion and you get a queasy whiff of what lies beneath as you pass by. Such as here, where we were walking around the gardens of a stately home and overheard a middle aged couple say:~

Woman - 'Oh, by the way, Ronald's chimney fell down on his cottage last weekend.'
Man - ' No schadenfreude there then.'

New Frame Design on Cottonwood Workshop

The 'Rinky Dinky Pinky Photo Frame Farce' of last month has had a wand of redemption waved over it this month. What felt at the time like the trickster work of a malevolent demon, has revealed a volte face. Initially I could have willingly consigned the frames to become kindling, but when my calmer head prevailed I took them right back to the bare wood, to see how I felt about them once all memory of how they'd been previously was erased. Abandoned was any desire for too elaborate or time consuming processes. Design ideas became refined down to their very simplest form, and more importantly, simplest execution. So, a multiple product disaster, in the end, forced a rethink on design and of how much time and effort was appropriate. The final results have turned out more coherent and quite pleasing. Rephotographing products and re-doing the websitec is taking us a bit longer than we'd initially anticipated, but soon, soon it will be done.

I'm currently working on a commission for a friend of ours to strip, revarnish and upholster four 1970's dining chairs for them. I've stripped varnish from a chair just once before. But this time by the second and third chair that unrelenting cycle of applying varnish stripper, wait 30-60 minutes, rub down with stainless steel scourer, dry, sand, repeat, began to relinquish what little charm it possessed to dogged stoicism. I finished stripping the fourth chair the Friday before New Year, so I begin the revarnishing process post New Years Day. Though one might  hope this will be less strenuous, it holds its own challenges in getting the varnish colour right and consistent in tone across all four chairs.

I've just finished reading CJ Samson's latest book in his Shardlake series 'Tombland.' The lead character Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer who invariably finds himself involved in all sort of murder and mayhem whilst trying to execute a royal  request. The books are set in Tudor times and Samson paints the sights, sounds, smells and power dynamic of the era brilliantly. His earlier books I found to be really tense page turners which I avidly devoured in a few days. With each book in the series the compelling nature of that narrative has certainly slowed and the detailing of the context and issues of the period has become more prominent. They are also getting progressively longer with 'Tombland' clocking in at over 800 pages. There is a sense with each suceeding book that Samson's writing is increasingly chaffing against the fictional constraints of the period crime procedural.  The murder investigation gets all but abandoned about a quarter of the way through, then quickly resolved in the last 100 pages. Inbetween though is a very vividly sketched fictional re-imagining of what the Kett's Rebellion could have been like. Its tone ends up being interesting, but inconsistent.

Tombland begins with Shardlake going to Norwich to investigate a murder, but he unwittingly becomes deeply embroiled in the Kett's Rebellion. Six to nine thousand people forming a camp just outside Norwich to create political leverage for their social and economic demands to be met. Such camps as these had sprung up near towns across southern England in 1549 according to a roughly co-ordinated plan. Hyper inflation was increasing poverty and destitution, exacerbated by enclosures of common land by wealthy aristocracy. The impoverished peasantry rose up demanding something be done to improve their rapidly diminishing lot, talking of the 'commonwealth' of a more collective sense of ownership, society and economics. Though their demands might not be considered unreasonable to our eyes, to those in power in this period such poor people criticising their betters was considered an appalling, unforgivable and traitorous act. An awful slaughter of the rebels was to follow, and the restoration of the rule of the elite brought the rebellion to its end. Tombland is a humane, sad and salutary book with many a resonance with the tensions of our own time.

After a two year gap, I've finally picked up my study of Dogen's Instructions for the Tenzo. I  swim my forty lengths then walk from the pool into town to the Whelk Coppers Tea Rooms on the sea front. I order myself a scrambled egg on sourdough toast, put a squggle of ketchup on it and then out come the books and notebook. Usually I stay for about an hour and a half, attempting to tease out the meanings in phrases and choice of words, and reflecting on these in the light of my own experience. I'm not necessarily settled on the Whelk Coppers as being the best cafe/study venue. In the last few weeks they've been really busy from the moment they open, particularly with kids, and hence noisier. I'm hoping that this is just because of Christmas and it will settle down once 2019 and the chill of Winter arrives. Chin - chin.

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