Monday, 29 April 2013

Day Out at Durham

So, to continue the story I got distracted from...

Spiky bits on right are cathedral; flatter building on left is castle.

Vivien and I spent a day wandering through the charity shops in Durham.  It made a change from our usual haunts.  I love going on the train for pleasure now that I don't have to get an 0600 train to London and return to Newcastle well wrung out at 2100 with still another half an hour to home, all my energy and my evening gone.  Perhaps I should be grateful for those weary journeys because it was those days that truly brought home to me the real exchange I was having to make for my nice pay cheque.  But thankfully that is all past, and in any case the train journey from Newcastle to Durham is all of 15 minutes...

I was keen to get photos of the cathedral and the castle (obviously mine aren't as good as these links I've given you).  I knew from the many times I'd passed through Durham that the view from the station was good.  The castle and the cathedral each rightly deserve their own post, to be fair.  I got distracted in my last post because Durham castle now belongs to the University and serves as halls of residence to about 100 students.  Tough life, eh?  

Railway arches always impress me, they are at once so intimidating but also somehow graceful.  

Vivien noticed this interesting old water fountain, just a niche in the wall by the arches.  

Hard to imagine a time when everyone didn't have running water in their own homes.

The River Wear (rhymes with dear).

We had a list of shops, most of which were on one main street, and then we wandered along to find lunch at what turned out to be a cozy pub beside the market place.  

The market was amazing, too, sort of a series of tents within a building, all stuffed to the gills with merchandise.  

A person would need neither department store nor internet very often with access to markets like this and the one in Newcastle.   Some folks are sniffy about markets, though.  Their loss.

View from the pub window, down onto the market!

Loved this bookshelf wall paper!

Probably the most fun place we found was Oxfam's 'Boutique', where the cream of the donations had obviously been collected.  The prices reflected the special nature of the items, but sadly neither of us were in the market for anything we found.  I think it would likely be aimed at the affluent students of the university.

We walked way up a hill to find a shop that probably never existed, but we figured the exercise was good for us and the street was full of lovely old Victorian houses that were a delight.  You can see it yourself, just go to Google maps, ask for Albert Street Durham, put the little yellow man on the road and 'walk' along the street, up the hill.  The pretty houses start with the ivy on the left...  For that matter you could walk all around Durham should you wish.  I love Google maps!

Left:  Old Dun Cow Pub; Right:  former Masonic Hall

Vivien worked in Durham at one time and she took me up Old Elvet street towards the Durham prison and the court.  It was a lovely green, peaceful place, but Durham prison has a reputation that is chilling, to say the least.  

Durham courts.

My general impression is that between Britain's welfare system and its somewhat permissive legal system, a person has to go a long way to land in prison, so the people there are a bit scary.  Also, I'm thinking that prisons stand at the far end of the queue for public money and so conditions there are harder than most.  By the end of a prison sentence, I reckon 'that which didn't kill you made you meaner'. In with the fear, I do have a bit of compassion.  I've had glimpses of life at the bottom of the heap and can't say I'd make all the right decisions had I started there.  I've had a relatively soft life and I know it.  

One of the first buildings we passed was an enormous red brick building, far too large to even attempt a photo.  It was a former County Hall for Durham, called the Old Shire Hall.  It's not particularly old for the area, built in 1895, but it is listed as an historical building to be protected.  It is for sale and will likely be turned into flats.  Some people think this is sad, but I say better than to tear it down.  Also, it might be a fun place to live!

Vivien pointed out these two remarkable buildings which, like the name of the Old Shire Hall, have taken me all morning to discover.  Bill recognised the Old Dun Cow, but the building next to it is the old Masonic Hall. So far as I can tell it is no longer associated with the Masons (and of course I got distracted trying to figure out if women are allowed to join...I lost interest before I got to the bottom of it.  I'll still with the craft groups for now).

Tiles on the Half Moon Pub

From their website; doesn't capture the romance, somehow.

Old Elvet is an amazing street and I'm thinking I'd like to take this article and walk back up it one day.  (And of course, you can use Google maps and do the same...)

Friday, 26 April 2013

Part XXXVII – The Diligence Dichotomy

This is a series about the book, Theory of the Leisure Class, by American economist Thorstein Veblen, published in 1899.  Chapter Nine is titled The Conservation of Archaic Traits.

It appears that Veblen, as an economist, was also interested in the ideas of his day provided by anthropology and sociology.  He seems more concerned with individual personality traits relating to how predatory and war-like individuals were.  And though what he called the barbarian culture has survived up until even today, I would argue, there are sufficient peaceable types around that even the fierce competition for resources has not extinguished them.  That said, what would be the point of being the upper class if there were no lower classes?  So even the barbarian system has to support the lower classes to some extent.  (My logic, not Veblen’s theory).  Veblen feels that the barbarian nature has more variation than in the past because modern life doesn’t support the predatory temperament in its fullest.  Modern industry, for example, requires more peaceable types. 

I was able to satisfy my curiosity about why Veblen said that the institution of the leisure class arrested the spiritual development of a community.  He uses the term ‘spiritual’ in the following way, in discussing the peaceable, savage culture:
“…the dominant spiritual feature of this presumptive initial phase of culture seems to have been an unreflecting, unformulated sense of group solidarity, largely expressing itself in a complacent, but by no means strenuous, sympathy with all facility of human life, and an uneasy revulsion against apprehended inhibition or futility of life.”

“Among these archaic traits that are to be regarded as survivals from the peaceable cultural phase, are that instinct of race solidarity which we call conscience, including the sense of truthfulness and equity, and the instinct of workmanship, in its naive, non-invidious expression.”

In this chapter Veblen seems concerned with explaining how it is that the less predatory type people have survived throughout the stages of barbaric culture.  He is also beginning to talk about more modern ways of life, modern in his time (1857-1929) or the time of his book (1899).  Much as Veblen doesn’t particularly seem to admire the leisure class, the predatory types, he doesn’t exactly exalt the savage temperament either: 
“At his best he is “a clever, good-for-nothing fellow.” The shortcomings of this presumptively primitive type of character are weakness, inefficiency, lack of initiative and ingenuity, and a yielding and indolent amiability, together with a lively but inconsequential animistic sense. Along with these traits go certain others which have some value for the collective life process, in the sense that they further the facility of life in the group. These traits are truthfulness, peaceableness, good-will, and a non-emulative, non-invidious interest in men and things. 

The traits which characterize the predatory and subsequent stages of culture, and which indicate the types of man best fitted to survive under the regime of status, are (in their primary expression) ferocity, self-seeking, clannishness, and disingenuousness — a free resort to force and fraud. 

In ‘modern’ times, economic life has evolved in the industrial communities such that the interests of the community no longer coincides with those of the individual.  That is, communities no longer have to compete for the means or right to live, except as the ruling classes are inclined to keep up the tradition of war and pillage.  Communities aren’t hostile to one another, except for ‘circumstances of tradition and temperament’; this made me think of the rather wry habitual disparagement of all things French, by Brits.  The world has moved on and the success of one community is not dependent upon getting the better of another.  The same is not true for individuals and their relationships with others. 
“The collective interests of any modern community center in industrial efficiency.”

Individuals who are efficient in the so-called vulgar, productive employments are the most useful. 

“This collective interest is best served by honesty, diligence, peacefulness, good-will, an absence of self-seeking, and an habitual recognition and apprehension of causal sequence, without admixture of animistic belief and without a sense of dependence on any preternatural intervention in the course of events. Not much is to be said for the beauty, moral excellence, or general worthiness and reputability of such a prosy human nature as these traits imply; and there is little ground of enthusiasm for the manner of collective life that would result from the prevalence of these traits in unmitigated dominance."

Veblen doesn’t really like anyone, does he?  We're all either dishonest or stupid.  This reminds me of a blog I used to read but have lost track of.  The woman wrote brilliantly about the many dichotomies of preference, ie, are you a dog person or a cat person; long hair or short?; salty or sweet tooth? 

Are you savage or barbarian?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

I Guess It's a Northern Thing

Now, I was going to tell you about a day out in Durham and Vivien and I enjoyed a few weeks ago.  I took photos of the cathedral and the castle as they are beautiful, impressive Norman buildings.  This led to me telling you a bit about Durham University (of which Bill Bryson is a former Chancellor).

Part of this was about Durham University being quite prestigious, after the Oxbridge Uni's (Oxford and Cambridge).  I thought I ought to confirm this (yes, Durham and St. Andrews are apparently where folks go if they can't get into the southern universities, or that is their reputation).  In doing so I stumbled into some weirdness:

Milking - apparently a speciality of our very own Newcastle University; other universities such in Nottingham have joined in.  

Porting, brought to us by Durham University

And, just so folks will know that St. Andrews is even posher they made a video of their own but apparently it upset people so much that the young men had to apologize for pouring bottles of Moet Chandon champagne over their heads.  So maybe they aren't just more posh they are more polite?  That video has apparently been removed from YouTube (my, they take this very seriously!) but hopefully you can still see it embedded in this article from the Daily Mail.

Don't ask me what this all means.  I think it is a ramification of social media and probably something to do with rampant hormones or just the high jinx of being young.  What I missed, not going away to uni!

Oh wait, it has spread... Has this come your way?

But never mind them, what about the high jinx of being retired?    That will have to be another post...

Monday, 22 April 2013


I haven't shown you the village yet, so will end this trip with that.  Cockermouth is a colourful little village where the River Cocker joins the River Derwent.  Given the village name I was, like many people, expecting it would be on the coast; that it would be at the 'mouth' of the Cocker where it flowed into the (she quickly double checks Google maps) Irish Sea.  As it turns out, a 'mouth' can also flow into a river, lake or reservoir.  Who knew?  

At the bottom of the street is the pub:  The Bitter End...

Being located where two rivers conjoin is a big disadvantage in times of flood.  Everywhere we visited, there were lines marked on the outside and inside of buildings showing the level that the flood of 2009 had reached.  It must have been awful. Floods are the main natural disaster Britain has (I gather there are some 'baby' tornadoes and the occasional mud slide).  Fortunately, most of the buildings in Cockermouth are built of stone.  

I don't know what the place was like before 2009, but we formed the impression that the village had re-invented itself and gone slightly upmarket. We've watched Tynemouth change from a relatively mundane place (well, any mundane place on a coast with an 11th century castle and priory).  Tynemouth Front Street is now very tourist orientated and to a certain extent, so is Cockermouth.   Then again, so is the entire Lake District.

The River Cocker

We saw a number of flood barriers that impressed Bill.  I think it would be quite hard to trust that your home or business wouldn't flood again.  I'd be inclined to put anything I valued on the upper floors!

I thought Cockermouth was a nice mix of history, charity shops, upscale gift and baby shops, an old and a new book store and a handful of antique shops.  I could almost imagine us living there, but on reflection, I like where we are:  a few miles out of Newcastle, on a hill, 25 feet above the River Tyne, which flows freely into the North Sea.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Part XXXVI - About Blondes

This is part of a series about a book, Theory of the Leisure Class, by American economist Thorstein Veblen.  He titled his ninth chapter The Conservation of Archaic Traits.

According to Veblen, 
“The institution of a leisure class has an effect not only upon social structure but also upon the individual character of the members of society.”  

When ways of thinking become the standard in a society, that standard not only continues to influence the society but also influences individuals.  This influence might be through teaching and encouraging agreement with the norm, or it might take the form of repression and selective elimination of those who don’t conform.  Two of the norms which most concern Veblen are those of conspicuous waste and of industrial exemption, major components of life under the scheme of the leisure class.  I was intrigued by Veblen’s statement that 
“…the tendency of the institution of a leisure effect upon the temper of a community is of the nature of an arrested spiritual development.” 

He points out that 'The human material of society itself varies with the changing conditions of life.' Then he begins to talk about ethnic types based on the shape of person’s skull.  He refers to them as (a) dolicho-blonds (b) brachyenchalic brunettes and (c) Mediterranean types.  Even knowing that he referred only to Europeans, not to African or Eastern peoples, this made little sense to me until I found this website and it still seems to have more to do with animal breeding than sociology, but I suppose there were early theories in anthropology that Veblen refers to.  

However, Veblen isn't so much concerned with race as with what he sees as two different types of people as he describes early on in his theory of social development.  Some people are more peaceable by nature (like the savages); others are more predatory (barbaric).  Peaceful people are more concerned with the welfare of the group; predatory people look out only for themselves.  The predatory, barbaric culture developed when the scenario no longer involved a group of humans pitting their wits against a harsh environment but moved to human individuals pitting their wits against each other, ie the harsh environment moved from non-human to human. 

Both variants can be found in any of the races.  Veblen refers to the peaceable types as ‘reversional’ because he thinks the ‘savage’ culture predated the ‘barbaric’, as described in some of the first posts about this book.  In fact, he seems to think that the predatory traits don’t ‘breed as true’ as do the peaceable traits. 

On the other hand, he makes the statement that 
“the men who have scored a brilliant (Napoleonic) success on the basis of an impartial self-seeking and absence of scruple, have not uncommonly shown more of the physical characteristics of the brachycephalic-brunette than of the dolicho-blond. The greater proportion of moderately successful individuals, in a self-seeking way, however, seem, in physique, to belong to the last-named ethnic element.  The temperament induced by the predatory habit of life makes for the survival and fullness of life of the individual under a regime of emulation; at the same time it makes for the survival and success of the group if the group’s life as a collectivity is also predominantly a life of hostile competition with other groups. “ 

So, is this perhaps his way of explaining why ‘blondes have more fun’?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Happy Birthday, Daddy

Yet another year has rolled around and it's the day for me to remember my Dad.  Not that I forget him for long in between birthdays.

As you can see from Grandma's notation, he was sixteen years old in this photo.  Didn't they do dramatic portraits back then (1934)?  He looks a bit fed up, perhaps.  I know I got tired of having my picture taken by my photographer parents and grandparents...

Monday, 15 April 2013

Keswick Crafts

Bill and I had a day out at Keswick after Sarah and 'the Simons' had gone.  Martin and Helen went in a different direction and we got back together for dinner.  I was thinking I'd been to Keswick before, but perhaps it was Kendal...all those Lake District villages, all those K names...

I noticed the lovely old Congregational Hall.

Bill was the one that noticed there was a crafts fair on.  Bless him.

I mainly look for ideas, but then when I was looking at some things made around maps, the gentleman behind the table began to talk to me.  

I was taken with his little map-covered notebooks, about 3 x 5 inches, if that big.  He explained that he started framing map sections and cutting his own mats. He had developed his own style of what looked like double matting, but was in fact just a second groove cut to frame the hole in the middle. He hated to see the matting from the hole wasted, not to mention the bits of map that were outside the framed section, so he began making these cute little notebooks.

I was saying how much I admired people who could 'make something from nothing'.  He said he disliked the terms 'upscaling' or 'up-cycling' or even 'recycling'.  He preferred to think of it as giving something a new life. He went on to show me his price tags.  They were tiny sized tags the usual shape of a rectangle with a pointy end.  He said they cost a lot to purchase, so he started making his own. Sure enough, the back of his cardboard tags showed that he drank whiskey and ate cereal.  By that time, I was so impressed I had to buy one of his little notebooks.  I was just going to tuck it into my backpack, but he insisted I needed a bag:  it was a lovely replica of a brown paper bag, made from magazine pages!

He had no business card or I'd be sharing that with you.  He was quick to point out he wasn't a business, this was just his hobby.  Bill would probably say that in fact the man was in sales and that, as with all sales jobs, he sold himself well.  He was certainly easy to talk with.

I then went on to he next table and spoke with his wife, who had enjoyed eavesdropping on our conversation as she stood there knitting.  

I admired her fabric wares, but didn't feel the need to purchase any.  I will admit to taking note of some ideas, particularly for what she called a 'Wendy basket', after her friend who shared the idea with her.  If I ever get around to having a go at that I will certainly share it.

All the while, Bill wandered off and snapped a few photos. 

I finally caught up with him and we went for a pot of tea and a couple of scones at Bryson's, just hitting the last of the late lunch rush.

After standing in a queue for a bit, we lucked out and got a table in the window.  We sat drinking tea, watching the world walk by and baking in the sun!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Part XXXV - Business and the Leisure Class

This is a series discussing Theory of the Leisure Class, a book published in 1899 by American economist Thorstein Veblen. He titled his Chapter 8 Industrial Exemption and Conservatism.

This post will briefly cover the last idea Veblen outlined in Chapter Eight.  Aside from his referring to the leisure class as barbaric and predatory, this is the place in the book when I began to suspect that Veblen didn't actually like or admire the upper class. Of course even by 1899 the industrial revolution had made many of the middle class quite wealthy and perhaps it was this group that Veblen held in greater esteem, people who worked to achieve their place in society.  

Still talking about conservatism, Veblen acknowledges that all change is not for good and so some reserve on the matter might thwart a few disasters.  However, social change does occur in spite of conservatism.  He goes on to characterise economic institutions into two camps.  One camp is to do with acquisition or what he labels as ‘pecuniary’ and serving ‘invidious’ interests.  He also calls these ‘business interests’.  The other camp is to do with production or industrial purposes and they are considered ‘non-invidious’.  He says this latter type of institution rarely concerns the ruling class and so doesn't normally become involved in legislation, which of course is under the control of the leisure class.

 “The relation of the leisure (that is, propertied non-industrial) class to the economic process is a pecuniary relation — a relation of acquisition, not of production; of exploitation, not of serviceability.  Their office is of a parasitic character, and their interest is to divert what substance they may to their own use, and to retain whatever is under their hand. The conventions of the business world have grown up under the selective surveillance of this principle of predation or parasitism. They are conventions of ownership; derivatives, more or less remote, of the ancient predatory culture. 

The legislation to which Veblen refers has to do with 'changes affecting bankruptcy and receiverships, limited liability, banking and currency, coalitions of laborers or employers, trusts and pools.' 

These are matters that only concern people with property, those ranked upon the leisure class.  However Veblen claims that in controlling and manipulating this sort of business, the ones in the 'pecuniary' camp, there is indirect impact upon the industrial sector and the rest of the community.   This actually serves a purpose in the community in  facilitating 'the greater facility of peaceable and orderly exploitation' through the more facile conduct of pecuniary business.  

The more that any 'disturbances and complications calling for an exercise of astute discrimination in everyday affairs acts to make the pecuniary class itself superfluous. As fast as pecuniary transactions are reduced to routine, the captain of industry can be dispensed with.'

I confess that I don't fully understand this last paragraph.  It seems to parallel the idea of mechanisation being a replacement for workers, but at a different level altogether.  Veblen seems to be making a dire prediction about the future.  What do you make of it?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Billy Bonka's Death by Chocolate

One of the other things we did when the whole group was together in Cockermouth was to have a Murder Mystery over dinner on Saturday night.  It was Helen's idea and she planned the whole thing beautifully, even posting invitations to our characters!  I won't say we were exactly typecast, but the people Helen chose to put against the characters was quite amusing.  I think we were all a bit nervous, this being the first murder mystery experience for many of us and I certainly have never done any sort of plays or acting.  In spite of all that, if you've never done this, I'd highly recommend it, but everyone does need to enter into the spirit of the thing for it to work.  It was great fun!  Thanks to Simon and Bill for sharing their photos...

Inspector McClue in Death by Chocolate 

"It's the 15th of April 1900, Easter Sunday. Paris is the centre of world attention as millions of visitors arrive for the opening this weekend of the International Exposition. Amongst them is an elite but diverse group of individuals staying at the Hotel Paradiso. As they gather for dinner, however, the peace of the hotel is rocked by an explosion. Billy Bonka, the foremost chocolate manufacturer in America, is found dead in his room, having apparently been killed by an exploding Easter Egg. Suspicion falls on the people around this table.

One - or more - of you is a murderer. Your task is to discover who that killer is. Fortunately the famous amateur detective Hercule McClue is on hand to assist your investigations."

Guests :

'CHOCOLAT' BERTRAND - The greatest legend of the Belgian chocolate industry, he is known as much for his ruthless business practices as for his suave bonhomie.

MARCHIONESS DUCHAMP - An internationally notorious artist, whose work has scandalised two continents, and whose private life has done much the same.

MARIA VON SCHNAPPS - The young businesswoman who has just taken over as head of a long-established Swiss chocolate firm.

MIKE BISON - The rising star of American boxing. He's in Paris for the Olympic Games, where he's sure he'll win a gold medal.

DAME BARBARA CARTHORSE - The most celebrated beauty in England, as well as a hugely popular romantic novelist.

DR. DORIS JOHNSON - An amateur archaeologist specializing in the Aztec culture, she is regarded as being eccentric even in a field populated by eccentrics.

DR SIGMUND FRAUD - The controversial psychologist whose theories have won him a small band of devoted disciples and the hatred of conventional society.

Inspector McClue makes his contributions via video conference.  You didn't know those were available back in 1900, eh?

And of course we had to have some chocolate on the menu!

At some point it started to get a bit wacky, but who could resist a tiara, a pretty hat or a stainless-steel-scouring-pad-beard? 

But all's well that ends well and the good guy got the girl...