Reverb, Day 15

#reverb13Day 15: Sensory highlights

Give us a sensory tour of 2013. How would you describe the year that’s passing in terms of:


Stars and spots. Blues, yellows, creams and whites, scraps and flounces: a tablecloth, two petticoats, and eight mats.
The late spring, and everything coming out yellow at once: jasmine, dandelions, daffodils, celandine and crocus.
Cyclists, bright in lycra and with long spidery legs.
Cardboard boxes. Flat, folded, full, piled high, taped up, collapsing… Bright-printed fruit boxes, dull brown purpose-bought boxes…
Flowers in winter. Bold scarlet poinsettia, delicate pale-pink cyclamen.
The Pre-Raphaelites, who remembered that colour exists.
Saints and prophets and angels, all the way up the west front, and the sun setting, turning the whole world gold, and the moon rising silver.
Flags and banners and balloons.
The lighted windows of my old office.
Stars again, in frosty December skies.

Birdsong. Road traffic. Late at night, the impatient trumpet of a train whistle.
The metallic, curse-punctuated twanging of rim tape.
Thunder, and wind, and rain.
Welcome aboard the oh-eight-fifteen service to – London Waterloo. Calling at – Worplesdon – Woking and – London Waterloo.
The thrumming, shouting, whistling, vuvuzeling, laughing din that is a march. Pride or protest. Protest and pride.
Scampering, pattering little kitten feet, all through the house, chasing, wrestling, starting all over again.
Seagulls pontificating on the chimney of the next house down.
The scream of impossibly huge, impossibly old, petrol engines, breaking the silence of a Gloucestershire hillside.

I said before: oil, dry grass, warm leatherette.
Damp. Mould. Then the wrong, clean smell, and then it wasn’t home any more.
Rubber. New bicycle tyres, wrestled into position, and the smell lingering on the hands.
Fresh paint. Then whatever it is they put windows in with.
The pear-drop solvent of suede protector spray.

Coffee. Strong and gritty, in the office cafetière. Thick and treacly and deadly, in my new little Moka Pot. Milky and bitter, after church.
Cherries, from the market in Wells. (I bought a pair of gloves, a bottle of beer, and a box of cherries. It might have been five hundred years ago.)
Cinnamon. Nutmeg.
Champagne, and other things with bubbles in. Plenty to celebrate, this year.
Red wine, for love.
Fish and chips, hot and salty and greasy – to watch the cycle races – and after the longest work day – and to move house with.
Apples, almost every day this autumn until we worked out how they microwaved best without exploding.

Sea-water, cold even in August, but salty and calming, swirling around me, holding me up.
The rush of air past me, the juddering of the road under me. Handlebars, responsive, going wherever I tell them, taking me wherever I want.
Needlecord. And velvet. Velvet coat and velvet boots and velvet gloves. Velvet cushion.
The unaccustomed weight of silver earrings.
Scratchy woollen army blanket, laid on the grass for a picnic.
Prayer beads, heavy glass and smooth wood and rough pumice, running through my fingers.
Sinking lower and lower in the air bed. Long and narrow like a mummy in the camp bed. The guest bed, like a cloud.

Reverb, Day 14

#reverb13Day 14: Decisions, decisions

What was the best decision you made in 2013? What were the results? How will you continue the good work in 2014?


The one that turned out to be the most significant was a very hurried one: I might as well put this application in, because I can just do it in these two hours, and because I need to keep my jobseeking tab open with the universe.

The one that I put the most thought into, the one that was the most difficult, turned out not to make any difference, and then not to affect me at all. The majority voted the other way, and then I was leaving. I am, however, still glad that I put proper consideration into it.

In actual fact, neither of those two decisions would have meant anything at all had it not been for a decision I made, several times over, earlier in the year: that, if it were possible, I was going to pursue a career with my current employer.

There were alternatives, some more practical than others. Quit my job. Start temping again. I was very tempted by a part-time job with WatCh, but the timing was all wrong. Write. Be very clever with the maternity policy. And the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to go, but I was equally concerned that there was no obvious career path for me. Of course it was all mixed up with Tony’s jobseeking progress, and the question of moving, and the lack of a transfer policy and the knowledge that something, somewhere, was going to have to give. And the decision really came down to what was going to give.

The decision was to stick with it; to keep prodding at things that might let me have my cake and eat it, to move and to stay simultaneously. And it worked. Everything seemed to be very finely balanced. I prodded twice, and it all fell into place. So far, it’s working well – but it’s all very new.

Into 2014: to do the best job I can, to get my head around how things work at HQ, but to do all this knowing that I do not expect, nor am I expected to, do this job forever. To keep my eyes open, my ears open, for the next step. Because I have decided, I have committed, to go bravely on.

Reverb, Day 13

#reverb13Day 13: Alchemy

The phrase “It takes a village” is often bandied about, in reference to child-rearing, running a business, just about everything. But if you’re anything like me, you may not be a natural born collaborator.

In 2014, how could you explore what community means to you?

It might be a question of sharing the load, asking for help or signing on someone with a complementary skill set. Or it could be about a creative collaboration that pushes you to explore new ideas and media.

Where might the alchemy be?

‘Not a natural born collaborator’. Indeed. One of my aunts, having her hair done for a children’s party in 1961 or thereabouts, said, ‘I’ll do it myself, and go with it wrong’; which is fairly well representative of the whole family’s attitude to life. We are a large family, but we are a bunch of loners. We do things ourselves and, often, by ourselves. I can’t speak for any of the rest of them, but for my own part it’s down to a combination of fear of other people laughing at my thing, and the conviction that nobody else could possibly know how to do it anyway.

At the moment, community means a hangover: the inevitable result of going straight from my new team’s Christmas party to my old team’s Christmas party. I very much enjoy the social side of work – by which I don’t just mean the post-rally pub sessions. Even in the alternate universe where I am a best-selling author or have won the lottery I can’t see myself not having an office job of some sort, so that I can go to and talk about Star Wars or Kerbal Space Program or the zombie apocalypse. I like other people more than I think I do, and being unemployed would drive me bonkers in a very short space of time.

But. I still like being the only one who does X, because everybody else will Do X Wrong. My new manager is aiding and abetting me in this approach. The responsibilities of the two administrators on the team, previously one glorious stew, have been divided neatly into two parts, to be crossed over only when one of us is away. My own feeling is that this is going to work nicely, and everybody will know what everybody else is meant to be doing, and that’s how I like it. Time will tell.

Having said that, there is one part of my life where I have always been a willing collaborator, and that is in music. My estimation of my own abilities is skewed the other way when it comes to music – cello, particularly, which I never practised enough to be really good at, but I’ve also always had singers in my life who are ‘better’ than me – my mother, my husband, my best friend. This has never mattered, because for me music has always been about being a very small part of a very large whole.

I realised a while ago that I never enjoyed playing cello solo anyway. It bores me. I’d much rather be part of an orchestra. Similarly with singing: while I’m now a considerably better singer than I ever was a cellist, while I do have the odd solo at church, while I’m happy to lead raucous parties in Goodnight Irene, Clementine, The Last Thing On My Mind and similar, while I’m confident enough now to know when I’m right and the person next to me is wrong (even when it’s Tony), and to ignore them, I still prefer being in a choir to singing on my own.

And music is instant social life. Even for shy retiring types such as myself, music gets you talking to people, and learning who’s who, and discussing over coffee or wine how horrible that entry before letter C is, and why don’t the basses ever watch. I shall miss my current choir horribly, because they are so very good and so much fun, and also I wanted to sing at Norwich Cathedral and now I won’t get to. There will be choirs in Cambridge (ha, that’s an understatement!) and I will find one to join. Maybe there will be some kind of amateur orchestra that plays stuff just for the hell of it. (Here is the advantage of playing cello: you can be completely rubbish, and people will still take you, because there are never enough cellos.)

So that’s one alchemical set-up, and there’s nothing really surprising there; this is really reprising tactics from all my other progressions. My other major creative activity is writing, and this is where community and collaboration are harder to find, and, indeed, possibly counter-productive. After all, every evening I’m discussing the brilliance of Firefly in a pub somewhere is an evening I’m not writing. I’m not Jane Austen, writing in the morning room between callers. I write by turning on the computer and shutting the door. And God forbid anybody ever sees what I’ve written.

Except that’s not true at all. The quantity and quality of my work has increased dramatically since I started taking part in Picowrimo, where one not only talks about writing but shares snippets of one’s writing. Three months of Pico and I have the best part of a novel, as opposed to six years simmering resentment and the constituent parts of a novel sprayed haphazardly across at least twenty different ODT documents.

Two scenes to write, about fifteen to finish, at least three very thorough reads-through which will undoubtedly see much changed, and then comes the terrifying part, where other people read it. At least, I suppose they have to. Not much sense in its sitting on my Dropbox forever.

It will be the better for it. I know that. It takes more eyes than mine to pull out the faults, the glitches, the inconsistencies; but this scares me. I have no idea of any strategy, only, finish the damn thing, finish it properly I mean, and then start prodding things, and trust that the right people will appear.

Reverb, Day 12

#reverb13Day 12: Turning Mud to Gold

I’m a big fan of muddy experiences. They become our greatest teachers when we’re wise enough to exfoliate with them; roll around in the deep until we finally feel ready to get clean.

Today, identify something muddy that kept recurring for you throughout 2013, and then ask yourself this: What’s the clear truth underneath this damn mud if I finally wash myself clean?

Not mud, I think. Dust. And some mould. But mostly dust. Cobwebs and fluff and hair and all sorts, all of it.

(I am reminded of the poet Bunthorne: O! to be wafted away/From this black Aceldama of sorrow,/ Where the dust of an earthy today/ Makes the earth of a dusty tomorrow! – not that this has anything to do with it.)

2013’s recurring muddy, or dusty, experience has been moving house. There has been an entirely ridiculous amount of moving. My father downsized in the grand fashion. I am told that this was just as bad as the last time we downsized – but it had the huge advantage of my not having to do a whole lot about it. Tony moved out of our flat into Tom*-and-Iona’s and then to Sawston. I moved out of our flat into Tom’s* parents’ house and then into Tom’s house.

That concludes the moving in which I played any active part, but there seems to have been a lot of it about – friends’ moves, colleagues’ moves, none of it straightforward.

Despite my gloomy allusions to dust, none of this year’s moves have actually been as bad as all that. In fact, I was pretty damn efficient, packed up loads of boxes on my own, coped remarkably well with having a stinking cold in the middle of it all, and did a decent job at everything that didn’t require a driving licence. (Tony did everything that did require a driving licence, and was fantastic.)

This mud, this dust, isn’t from 2013. It’s partly from 2007/8, as suggested yesterday, and mostly from 1999. 1999 is why I will tell you I hate moving house. 1999 was possibly the worst year of my life, though 2000 wasn’t much fun either. 1999 went on and on. 1999 was the year we had to move, because. 1999 was the year I didn’t get a say in it. 1999 was the year I was powerless. 1999 was the year I could have told you it was going to be awful and not do a blind bit of good anyway. 1999 was the year I had four different addresses, one of them twice. 1999 was the year I left the school I liked, joined a school I hated, left that one, went back to the first one, and found my best friend had moved away and I hated this school too, now.

1999 is why I hate moving. 1999 is why it’s a challenge, not an adventure. Washing the dust away, I find a scared, angry, fourteen year old self to whom nobody is listening, who is trying resentfully, self-sacrificially, to just shut up and live with it for the sake of holding the family together. (This does not work.)

I didn’t know she was still there. Not until I woke up three weeks ago in Sawston and heard the wind dashing up and down the estate did I realise that I was freaking out about the wrong move, that it was the wind off St Catherine’s Point that was chilling me, all the way back from half a lifetime ago.

This move is not that move. The occasional sense that I have now, that I have let the universe back me into a corner, is not the screaming lack of agency that was mine then. In this move (for it’s only one, really, no matter how many different ways I tot up our addresses) I have been setting my own terms all the way along. I have been able to go at my own pace, and ways for that to happen have turned up in a most obliging fashion. I have asked for things, and they have appeared.

This is not that move, but part of me is still in that move, and still scared and still hurting. I am trying to let her out. And so I have learned about being kind to myself. I have learned about choices. I have learned about compromise and progress and how to ask for what I actually want rather than what I think I ought to want.

Wash the dirt away, and you can see how deep the wound goes. Then you can make a start on patching it up.


*Two different Toms here, if you were wondering.

Reverb, Day 11

#reverb13Day 11: Boldly Go

What challenges lie ahead in 2014? How might you meet them boldly?

Cambridge. Cambridge is one hell of a challenge.

My goodness, I’m scared of Cambridge. Or, rather, I’m scared of everything I mean by Cambridge. April, or maybe May, 2014: moving house. Starting all over again.

No, actually, what scares me is the idea that moving to Cambridge is going to be just like moving to Guildford was, back in 2007. That I will not know anybody except Tony who will not have time to see me and that I will take years to make friends and that I will feel as if everybody knows that I am a fraud and Do Not Belong There.

That is a reasonable thing to be scared of, because at least the first year in Guildford was pretty grim. It is also an unreasonable thing, because none of that is true any more.

I will be living with Tony. I have at least three university friends in Cambridge, an uncle in Ely, a cousin in Bury St Edmunds, not to mention all the AFPeople who really count as Tony’s friends but who are lovely. I am much better at making friends now than I was then. I will actually notice if I get depression again, because I know what to look for now. And, just as not everybody in Guildford is a millionaire three times over, not everybody in Cambridge will have three degrees.


It is still a challenge. It is probably going to be much more of a challenge than my recent change of job has been, because a lot more is changing. I’m not starting from scratch, but I’m still starting. And we will be moving back in together, and will no doubt both prove to have picked up some foul bachelor habits in the intervening six months, and will have to get over all that.

I am allowed to be scared. I am allowed to be sad.

There was an art exhibition at my church recently, a selection of abstract paintings by a painter priest called Robert Wright. The titles were all, I believe, quotations from Thomas Merton. I was particularly struck by one entitled go bravely on. I liked the echo of to boldly go, and the painting itself was all red and gold and black and white, arrowheads and circles, which felt, yes, very sci-fi. Had I been feeling rather richer and less timid, I might have bought it; as it was, I have carried the title around with me ever since, and turned it over in my pocket when I had difficult decisions to make, and I think it needs to come with me for at least a while longer:

go bravely on

I will wear my cockle shell. I will remember that I am a pilgrim. I will move forwards to keep my balance. I will go bravely on.

Reverb, Day 10

#reverb13Day 10: Auto-pilot

Living life on auto-pilot can feel disorienting and dull. How did you cultivate a life worth loving during 2013?

How can you turn off your auto-pilot button in 2014?

I’m not sure I had much choice in the matter, actually. This was the year that everything changed whether I liked it or not. I had to move on. Staying on auto-pilot would have meant crashing into the cliff face.

Our landlady wanted us out of the flat we’d been in for four years. My husband got a job a hundred miles away. Everything was changing and even then I was scrabbling for ways to keep everything the same, even though it couldn’t possibly be the same. Even though I’d already got fed up with the way things were.

The universe very graciously gave me two shots at everything, and this turned out to be invaluable. Two holidays: one to cry and fight and sing, and one to sing and laugh and write. Two moves: one to grieve the loss of the home, and one to be thankful to have somewhere to live. Two job interviews: one to panic about how I couldn’t possibly cope at HQ, and one to get the job and realise I was going to love it. This autumn has almost been a repeat from 2008 – living in a room in Guildford and waiting for something to happen – except it has been so much better than 2008.

Which is all very interesting, but not answering the question at all, because the question is about what I did, not what anyone else did for me. There were four things:

a) insisting that holidays – namely, a weekend at the seaside, and choir tour – were going to happen, no matter how broke we were;
b) identifying four states of being in which I wished to continue for the next year and beyond (alive – sane – married – employed);
c) beginning to make a real practice of looking at myself and the inside of my head and finding out what I was feeling and why I was feeling it;
d) writing.

I promised you a story yesterday. I realise now that it doesn’t really answer the question, either, because again we are talking about external events; and even going by my new liturgical year, it happened before the start of this one. But I promised, and it’s not a story of what happened, it’s a story of what I did with what happened.

The women bishops thing. It hurt. It hurt a lot, and I don’t want to tell the story again. I was hurt and I was angry. I was furious. And I knew it was too good to waste. And it was nearing the end of Picowrimo and I had finished everything I had meant to write, and so I wrote about Synod. First, a scene in an oft-abandoned novel that wasn’t about Synod at all, really, except now it is. Then, a post explaining why I wasn’t going anywhere (still one of my best, I think).

The novel went on. All this year I kept bashing away at it. Three months of Pico and some solo work in between. The plot shrank and fell into place. The characters developed character. I had to rewrite the whole first section and it worked a million times better than I’d ever thought it could. It comes from Synod. It comes from my anger with Synod. It comes from my deciding to use my anger with Synod.

I was angry, and I did something with that. I directed all that righteous fury into something creative, something that might turn out to be good. I am very proud of that.

That, then, is how I turn off the auto-pilot. I must use what I am given, and feel what I am feeling.

Reverb, Day 8

#reverb13Day 8: What went right

What went right in 2013?

Maybe you didn’t quit smoking or lose those pounds or go to Paris, but something did work, did happen, and/or was realized. What was it?


Fine. Almost everything. Seriously, so many things have gone right that I am not counting the ones that didn’t. I spent months of this year waiting for things to happen and then they did:

– There was the long chain of events, which started with Tony finishing his PhD – then passing his viva, then getting a job, then submitting, then my realising that I actually do like my career, then applying for the Only Job I Would Ever Want, not getting it, and then discovering and almost accidentally getting another one – and which will finish in about April when we move back in together.
– Whatever it is that has happened in my brain, where I am good at stuff and I like myself. This has been gathering speed over the last few months, and kicked in seriously over the past couple of weeks, and I am flabbergasted and so very happy.
– Learning to ride a bike. An actual, honest-to-goodness, two-wheeled bike, on the actual, honest-to-goodness, road.
– Breaking free of the ‘you must eat all this food or it will be WASTED’ mindworm.
– My novel! It has a plot, and characters with characters, and things happen because of other things and it’s sitting at 90,000 words and is nearly done.

Thank you, 2013. You have been a wonderful year.