December Reflections 8: gold

Gilt-heavy mosaic wall decoration featuring classical figures playing musical instruments

I’ve been to the opera this evening (this photo shows the ceiling of the lobby at the London Coliseum). It was the fourth time this year, which might be a record. I’d only just begin to cotton on to the fact that English National Opera exists, and is very cheap, and I was already in London on many days of the week, when coronavirus hit. I got to Carmen in February 2020, and then there was no more opera.

Until this May, when we went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a converted tram depot in Frankfurt. It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that we planned our entire Rhine trip around this, but it certainly made a handy peg to hang it off. I wanted to see my cousins in the children’s chorus and my aunt in the orchestra. Tony does not really go in for opera but was sold on the promise of a countertenor.

We both had a fantastic time. I’d always thought of Britten as being difficult, and while it’s true that his music is often a real pig to sing, it’s actually very listenable. (And it was a great production, and very funny.) When I saw that the ENO was doing Gloriana (one night only!) I booked a ticket very fast indeed. More on that this weekend. And then I thought it really was time I saw Tosca. And then I took one of my brothers to see The Yeomen of the Guard for his birthday.

I already have one ticket booked for next year. I am not sure that I am going to match this year, but you never know. It all depends on how efficient I am. And, I fear, the whims of the Arts Council.

December Reflections 7: 5 things about me

A woman in a cocktail dress sits in an elaborate gilt chair

1. I have blue eyes, but one of them is slightly greener than the other.

2. I write books, although not at the moment because I’m very tired.

3. I can’t drive and get along fine without it 99% of the time.

4. I’ve lived in three cathedral cities. Four if you count Guildford which isn’t technically a city.

5. I often think that my job as a trade union officer is the most visible and meaningful outworking of my faith.

December Reflections 6: brings me comfort

I don’t talk much about Tony on here, mostly because he’s been on the internet longer than I have and is quite capable of speaking (or singing, as is more usually the case) for himself. But I have really been appreciating him this year, when I’ve been particularly conscious of my own limitations. He helps me recalibrate my unrealistic expectations of myself.

I take myself far too seriously. He doesn’t take himself seriously at all.

He brings me dark chocolate. And Lancashire cheese. And comfort.

December Reflections 5: biggest challenge of 2022

An almost full moon straggling through light cloud.

It’s had plenty of them. The year began with my father’s death; then I caught Covid in March and was out of things for a good six weeks. Intense heat in the summer. And now, once again, the fatigue and lack of go that always affects me in the winter.

One constant, and perhaps the biggest challenge of them all, has been the absence of energy and motivation. Life goes on around me and it’s hard to keep up with it. My brain isn’t working as fast as it used to, but there’s just as much to be done. My memory isn’t as reliable as once it was, and I get maybe a couple of hours in the day when I can knock out tasks and cross things off lists. The rest of the time? Napping on the sofa, or staring into space.

In some ways, the problem is wanting to do it, whatever it is. I still have the ability, but I have to summon an awful lot of motivation to make it happen. The autopilot’s on the fritz, and doing it on manual doesn’t half take it out of you.

I know this isn’t a complete truth. Even quite recently I’ve managed to climb into the saddle and get some things sorted, when they wanted to be sorted. And things will shift, as 2022 moves into 2023, as the days get longer, as I regain physical energy. In the meantime… well, the things that want to get done will get done, and the things that need to get done will have to get done, and everything else can hang on another few weeks. And the challenge of 2022 is being OK with that.

December Reflections 4: if I were an animal… and Week-end

Fluffy black and white cat asleep with all her legs stretched out in front of her

The animal I know that’s currently spending as much time as I am asleep on the sofa is the cat, so there we go. Since having Covid in March I’ve been much more conscious of my body’s needs and desires; the thing is; it usually seems to want a nap, particularly at the moment. The next challenge is to roll with this as gracefully as the cat does. I am hopeful that I will have more energy come next year, but I would also like to continue to know what I want and need and to act on that.

The good

Tony’s work Christmas do last night; excellent fun. Let us hope that nobody has caught Covid. Last weekend, reading at both the morning service and the Advent Procession, at which I also served. Also, a very pleasant few days with family on the Isle of Wight. The sun came out on the last day and it was absolutely glorious.

The mixed

Going through boxes of family papers – letters, diaries, sketchbooks, and so forth. It’s fascinating; it’s a chance to get to know relations I barely knew or never met at all; and it’s surprisingly tiring. I more or less gave up for the day when I found my great-aunt Kathleen’s note of what she wanted all her siblings and friends to have after she died (which she did, aged 13 or so, in 1917).

The difficult and perplexing

Cold. Cold and tired. I don’t seem to have many suitable winter clothes at the moment and I’m not sure whether I ever did.

What’s working

Honestly? Napping.


I demolished Paris Daillencourt Is About To Crumble on the train south on Monday and then regretted it, the way one might regret a slightly-too-large cream cake. It was a bit issueficcy for my taste, though I did appreciate the section where Tariq explains that it is perfectly possible to be a person of faith who is also queer. (This, in my experience, is a conversation that often does have to be had in words of one syllable.) Then I read Poirot Investigates (short stories; Hastings particularly insufferable) and Truly Madly Guilty (Liane Moriarty) when I was on the Isle of Wight. I enjoyed that one; I think it’s the most psychologically plausible of Moriarty’s books that I’ve read so far, even if it isn’t so conventionally suspenseful.


Absolutely nothing (apart from these blog posts, obviously). I spent the train journey home looking out of the window and not feeling remotely guilty about it. I’m sure my brain will come back sooner or later and in the meantime I’m not going to worry about it.


I took the tacking stitches out of the secret patchwork (the papers are staying in, for support). Pictures coming up in a few days.

Listening to

A couple of bands at the party last night – one dressed as Game of Thrones characters and doing an eclectic variety of covers (Take On Me, I Wanna Be Like You, Proud Mary…) and the other, The Captain’s Beard, dressed as pirates and doing folk rock, generally Irish or seafaring. Extremely good fun.


Winter vegetable stew with cheesy dumplings. I cheated magnificently with the vegetable component – found a yellow-stickered bag of pre-prepped casserole veg in Tesco and chucked it into the pan with some oil while I made the dumplings. Worked very nicely.


There were some very nice canapés last night. Beef with horseradish sour cream. Cauliflower and beetroot. Tomato and feta.


Rummikub and Scrabble with my mother. We weren’t terribly impressed by Rummikub.


An excessive (even for the Isle of Wight) quantity of roadworks. A waxing moon flirting with the clouds. Christmas decorations (today I saw that our opposite neighbours have hung big silver baubles in the bare trees outside their house).


Family, the connectedness of it, and the opportunity to know a little more of who and where I come from. Tony’s employer’s extravagant hospitality. Live music.


I came home with a little packet of green beads my mother had been saving for me.


Some sort of leg covering that keeps my legs warm, that I can cycle in, that fits me comfortably around the abdomen… I have never found trousers that fit me sensibly, and most of the time this isn’t a problem because I live in skirts instead, but at this time of year it doesn’t quite cut it. /goes off to look at woolly tights on Snag.

Line of the week

I’ve been looking at Polish Cooking (Marianna Olszewska Heberle), trying to work out how much of the traditionally meatfree Christmas Eve dinner can be fully veganised. She has this to say about carol singers:

If they sing in front of your house and you don’t give them food or vodka, they might pull your sleigh five houses down, or remove your fence gate, all in good humor.

This coming week

Back to work. I’m hoping to get quite a lot of loose ends tied up before Christmas.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

December Reflections 3: best book of 2022

'Double or Nothing' by Kim Sherwood, 'Wanderlust' by Rebecca Solnit', and 'Art and Lies' by Jeanette Winterson

I haven’t had much brain for reading this year. This stack could just as well have been made up of Agatha Christie and K. J. Charles books, if you interpret ‘best’ as ‘most readable’, and why not? Although since all the K. J. Charleses are on my Kobo it wouldn’t have made such a pretty picture. Also on my Kobo is Light Perpetual (Francis Spufford), which was the first work of litfic I managed to read after Pa died, and I could see how it was put together, which suggested that my writing brain hadn’t entirely deserted me either, and which possibly was my best book of 2022. Maybe Sisters of the Vast Black, too.

Anyway. Double Or Nothing was a really interesting development of the Bond tradition. Wanderlust was history and politics and walking and some really gorgeous prose. Art and Lies was hazy and beautiful and I’m still not entirely sure I really followed it but it doesn’t matter. I could make a case for any of those three being the best of the year, although of course Double Or Nothing was the only one actually published this year.

I Did Not Finish Hamnet, because Magrat!Anne Hathaway was just too much for me. I also gave up on The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, which was just too twee. The most disappointing book that I finished was The Embroidered Sunset, because WTF was that ending?

Week-end will follow tomorrow. I have a cab in ten minutes.

December Reflections 2: my favourite mug

A tapering handthrown mug with a design of fish

This one, or else its twin from the same set (by Tregear Pottery, which I’m delighted to see is still going). It was originally a set of six, three with little fish like this, and three with big fish. One of each has got broken.

They were a present from the church choir I used to sing with on the Isle of Wight on the occasion of my moving to the mainland. I use them for coffee, for fresh mint tea. Today, for miso soup.

If you use things, you run the risk of their getting broken, whether they get dropped or have things dropped on them. There are a lot of cracks in the glaze that weren’t there in 2007. Still, I keep using them. Sad as it is to know that they might get broken, it would be far sadder never to use them.

December Reflections 1: here I am

A sandy beach at low tide on a sunny day. The sea is a narrow blue strip in the distance. The photographer's shadow stretches a long way across the beach in the low winter sun.

Well, there I was. That was quarter to eleven and I was on the Isle of Wight, and now it’s quarter to three and I’m with in Hertfordshire or Cambridgeshire. The latter, I’m pretty sure. Things move on.

I’ve spent a lot of this year travelling back and forth between Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Wight, helping to sort out my father’s house, spending time with my family. Sometimes I’ve stopped in London to do a day’s work on the way. Other times I’ve dog-legged lazily through West Sussex for the pleasure of seeing Arundel and avoiding the Tube. Usually I’ve taken the hovercraft over the water, more for the (slightly) more convenient timetable than for the amusement of pretending that I’m in some sixties vision of the future.

The Isle of Wight is pretty unstable, geologically speaking. A month of rain hasn’t helped matters. And there is always somebody digging up the roads on top of that. On the bus from Ryde to Ventnor on Monday night we stopped at no fewer than four sets of temporary traffic lights. It might have been five. Not counting the entirety of Ryde bus station being dug up, too. It was generally cold and damp and miserable. Today, though, the sun came out and the whole thing was really ridiculously beautiful again.

But here I am, in transit, on my way home, passing through three former home towns along the way (and it looks very misty in all of them: we’ve just got to Cambridge). There’s still a lot that needs doing in Ventnor. Plenty more trips to come next year.

Week-end: fantastic Tangfastic

A packet of Haribo Tangfastics with one sweet that appears to be composed of four individuals stuck together

The good

Co-tutoring a Speaking With Confidence course on Thursday. Helping people feel more able to do their thing and being able to enthuse about how writing works.

The difficult and perplexing

Ugh, the trains home from London afterwards. Apparently there was a bomb scare at New Southgate. Anyway, I didn’t get home until nine at night, and because the train was pretty crowded I couldn’t take my mask off and was getting more and more antsy.

The cat brought up a hairball on my computer keyboard. At least it wasn’t on the laptop, I suppose.

Far more serious than any of that, this week saw a difficult anniversary for some of my in-laws. I’ve been thinking of them a lot.

What’s working

Napping. Tangfastics.

Make-up. I can’t usually be bothered, but I like to put a game face on when I’m delivering training, and I got three separate compliments.

Taking my bike on the train to an appointment on Tuesday evening meant that what would have been a twenty minute walk on an unfamiliar road became a five minute ride on an unfamiliar road, and I was able to get things done and get the next train back.


I finished Destination Unknown, which I hadn’t exactly meant to do, but the cat was on my lap and there was nothing else within reach. Continuing slowly with Meet Cute. And I got to the Council of Elrond and out the other side.

I forgot to mention last week that I finished The Paris Apartment. Certainly twisty, but I don’t think it’s Foley’s best.


A tiny, tiny bit on the Romeo and Juliet thing. If I have very little reading brain, my writing brain is barely there at all.


Secret patchwork project is 5/6 done, and I’ll be able to share pictures very soon.


Eurosport’s winter sports offerings; today, in particular, the Grand Prix Espoo.


Supper today was pancakes stuffed with a sausage, tomato and cabbage filling, a bit like bigos except using fresh cabbage instead of sauerkraut. Except I can’t do pancakes, so the filling was on the side.


I had a really nice piece of Bakewell tart on Thursday. Kudos to the work canteen and whoever they get their cake from.


A magnificent mutant Tangfastic (see picture). It seems to have been made of three dinosaurs and a dummy. I’ve eaten it now.

In the garden

The Japanese anemone is flowering. And I really need to sweep up some leaves. And prune the fruit trees.


My big Chinese quilted jacket. I got it for a few quid in a Cambridge charity shop several years ago and it is just the thing for winter.


A few ebooks that were on sale in Kobo. Today I picked up two Chrestomanci books (Diana Wynne Jones) and a couple of Eva Ibbotsons too in the Ely charity shops. My inner twelve year old is very pleased.

Line of the week

Because the hotel in Destination Unknown sounds heavenly, or, one shoud say, paradisiacal:

This was what a garden was meant to be, a place shut away from the world – full of green and gold.

Saturday snippet

Here’s a bit from the Romeo and Juliet thing:

He slung his kitbag over the shoulder and crossed the footbridge, the noise of his boots on the iron treads drowned by the yell of the whistle. He paused for a moment at the middle. An express train was hurtling towards him on the up fast line, seeming to gather speed and detail as it approached.

This coming week

Advent starts tomorrow! I seem to be on all the rotas at once, but am departing for the Isle of Wight on Monday morning.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: particularly rapid unintelligible patter

The right hand front wall of a large wooden dolls' house stands open. A fluffy black and white cat is sitting in the first floor room

The good

Very enjoyable evening watching The Yeomen of the Guard with one of my brothers (and seeing his partner and son, hurriedly). More on that distributed through this post. Also, a work thing I’d been dreading turned out to be surprisingly fun.

Meanwhile, the Society of Authors’ AGM (for which I’d submitted my proxy vote) saw off two motions, one mealy-mouthed faux-motherhood-and-apple-pie maundering about free speech, one gloves-off nasty attack on Joanne Harris, the chair of the management committee. I think the most useful summary of what actually goes on in the SoA is this thread by Dawn Finch.

The Torygraph (and, to a lesser extent, the Grauniad) is of course reporting this as a victory for cancel culture. Interesting how it’s only cancel culture when it’s a particular set of views that encounter a robust rebuttal.

I often feel like a bit of a fraud as a SoA member, because writing isn’t and probably never will be my main source of income, but I came by my membership honestly and I’m very glad that the Society can continue to standing up for my fellow authors with, I hope, less of this infuriating distraction from a tiny but loud single-issue pressure group.

The mixed

Thursday got dreadfully complicated. It should have been a London day, but I ended up with a mid-morning appointment in Ely. That was positive and useful (and I didn’t particularly mind the half hour walk each way in the rain; I’d have cycled if I had) but it meant a dash down to London at the end of the work day, which meant cycling through an unholy combination of school run and Christmas fair traffic, again in the rain. And a late night, but that was always going to happen (and Tony had forgotten to leave the latch down for me, so I had to phone him to get him out of bed again).

Pleasingly, I got to Wagamama just as J and family got to the front of the queue.

The difficult and perplexing

My horrible noisy front mudguard. I must take a spanner to it. Again.

And I have very limited brain at the moment, and I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. I can get one or two useful/creative things done per day and that’s it.

What’s working

Well, not the bit of string that’s holding my mudguard in place, I can tell you that much. Hmm. Canned soup is proving very useful, though.


Not a huge amount (see: not much brain). I’m leading the readthrough of Destination Unknown (Agatha Christie) for my online romantic suspense reading group; it’s good fun and extremely of its time (touchingly naive about the McCarthy initiatives, for example). I started reading Meet Cute (ed. Jae), an anthology of extracts from various sapphic books; unfortunately it’s often more like Meet Cringe and hits my embarrassment squick hard. Although it has reminded me that I’ve occasionally thought of giving Vicki and Gianna from A Spoke In The Wheel their own book.


I returned to the Romeo and Juliet thing on Monday, but haven’t done much since.


Mystery patchwork. One down, five to go.


The Yeomen of the Guard (English National Opera, London Coliseum) with my brother J. We were rather tight on time (Wagamama took a while to serve us) and got there half way through the welcome, and excoriation of Arts Council cuts, from the director. Which is not bad timing really.

Yeomen isn’t my favourite of the Savoy operas, but this production mitigated most of the reasons I don’t like it. They’d taken most of the thees and thous out of the dialogue (pastiche Tudor: not one of Gilbert’s strengths) and set the action in the febrile post-war period, with Colonel Fairfax a brilliant scientist and suspected spy. (I couldn’t help thinking of Destination Unknown.) This made sense both as an update on his alleged dalliance with the dark arts and of his character: he remains terribly poor stuff, but the ‘asshole genius’ treatment makes sense.

Most importantly, I think, they let it be what it always has been when you scratch the surface: a show about miserable people making terrible decisions. Pretty much everybody would end up happier if nobody took any of the actions they take. Except Fairfax, and he is, as I say, an asshole, not to mention pretty philosophical about dying until someone gives him an alternative.

They threw in the patter trio (except they somehow made it a quartet) from Ruddigore as a replacement for Rapture, rapture. I can’t say that Rapture, rapture is much loss. If they’d just skipped it altogether I might have got home half an hour earlier. On the other hand, I’m probably never going to object to the patter trio from Ruddigore.

There was some excellent singing (I was most impressed, I think, by Sergeant Meryll, and he was an understudy), some clever staging, some good acting (Jack Point, in particular), and, in among the misery, a lot of genuinely funny moments.


Tagliatelle con cipolle, out of the Diane Seed book. I somehow managed to cook about half the tagliatelle that two reasonable people would want, so we ate in two phases.


Ginger chicken udon at Wagamama. Not bad, though I had to eat it too fast. Gingerbread fudge from the fudge shop in Ely (very nice; there’s black treacle, or something like it, in there, which makes it taste definitely like gingerbread as opposed to just like ginger). Last night I was too tired to cook so we got Indian delivered: I had chicken tikka makan palak with Bombay aloo.


Duolingo. Well, I’ve been doing it for ages and have a 600+ day streak, but this week I got the update that everyone’s been whingeing about. I don’t hate it, actually. It’s not as disheartening as the one that added five levels to every skill. I did in fact stop using it for a few years after that one, and then picked it up again when I was bored in lockdown.


Long-tailed tits in the pear trees. A squirrel munching away on a bunch of ash keys.

A strange sound from the dolls’ house, which turned out to be the cat getting into the loft. I got a picture of two green eyes peering through the top window, and another of the descent of Ceiling Cat, but neither of them was as good of the one of her in the bathroom, at the top of this post.


The NHS. Affordable opera tickets, dammit (here’s the petition to get the ENO’s funding reinstated). The fact that you can phone people up and pay them money and they will bring you food.


New bras arrived.

Line of the week

I subscribed to The Marginalian recently. This week they sent me some John Muir:

The scenery of the ocean, however sublime in vast expanse, seems far less beautiful to us dry-shod animals than that of the land seen only in comparatively small patches; but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Saturday snippet

From the Romeo and Juliet thing:

‘I’ve seen him before. Only once, I think.’ She glanced at the closed door, drew a packet of cigarettes from her skirt pocket, and lit up.

This was promising. ‘When? Where?’

Rosa thought that it might have been at somebody’s party, though, now she thought about it, perhaps it was at some club somewhere. ‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m afraid he didn’t make as much of an impression on me as all that.’

‘Do you know who he is?’

‘Haven’t the foggiest.’ Rosa inhaled deeply and blew the smoke out again before she continued. ‘The odd thing is, he does seem familiar, but I can’t think how I would know him. We’ve certainly never been introduced.’

This coming week

Tidy things up at work before I take a week’s leave. Apart from that, not much. I might try to get to the Alexander the Great exhibition at the British Library. And maybe I’ll move the dolls back into the dolls’ house. Will Twitter fall over?

How about you? Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!