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.

Reading

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.

Writing

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.

Making

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.

Cooking

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.

Eating

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

Playing

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

Noticing

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).

Appreciating

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.

Acquisitions

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

Hankering

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.

Daily Decoration: the magi

Playmobil figures representing the three kings plus camel surveying a scene dominated by a cardboard shoebox

So here we are. I feel more kinship with the Magi than with anybody else in the nativity set: you spend a long, long time getting anywhere, and you go to the wrong place, and then you finally get there and you’re only just in time, everyone else has packed up and gone home, and you get maybe a day before you get put back in your box and put away. And then you do the whole thing again next year. (I wrote a poem about that a few years ago.)

I was thinking this evening about the gifts that the Magi bring: the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the primary school nativity plays I participated in they were represented by cardboard boxes covered in shiny paper. It doesn’t go very far in conveying the weight and gleam of gold, the heavy scent of myrrh or frankincense; it doesn’t do much more than the plastic containers the Playmobil figures are carrying.

This Advent I – along with much of the rest of the Church of England, no doubt – read Music of Eternity, a curated and adapted collection of writing by Evelyn Underhill, the twentieth century mystic. I found it, by turns, thought-provoking, gently challenging, and really quite difficult, and at some point it managed to press some buttons which then stayed pressed all the way through Christmas. I’m not sure it was even the fault of the book; it just managed to convey to me the impression that there is a right way and there is a wrong way, and you, not doing it the right way, are doing it the wrong way. And that took me back to all the churches that have not been the right church for me, but which managed to convey me that I was doing it wrong. Whatever it was.

Evelyn Underhill talks a lot about being self-oblivious and, while I know in my head what she was getting at, me attempting to be self-oblivious summons a persona who really shouldn’t be running the show. (The key word here is, of course, attempting, but this was the kind of response that I observed myself having.) She ran it from when I was about fourteen up until my late twenties, and it was very tiring being her. She was always trying to fit in, she was always trying to be right. She was trying to please, she was trying to protect, but the only way she knew how to protect was to suppress (herself and others) and she did as much damaging suppressing as she would have done by leaving people unprotected. And she ran on weapons grade, grudging, effort. She was trying. She really was trying. She was very trying.

One of the most humbling and delightful discoveries of the last decade has been that God isn’t at all interested in her. God is interested in me. And other people have seen through her to me, and liked me. One of the things that I discovered when I stopped putting all my energy into being her was that other people also had trouble with not being XYZ enough, whatever XYZ was for them, and actually admitting to being human and having trouble with stuff was a far better way to make friends than whatever it was I’d been trying before.

The trouble is that when this persona gets hold of an idea like being self-oblivious as something that is desirable to be, and sees the current-me, who has a much better idea of who she is, well, there’s trouble. Because I can’t be doing with her yelling you’re doing it wrong!!!! at me all the time, I haven’t been doing much at all. And probably I should have a conversation with her and see if she wouldn’t rather be off-duty with a pile of comics and a glass of lemonade, because she shouldn’t have had to be on duty all those years, that wasn’t fair, but I’ve only just recognised her modus operandi.

Anyway, she quietened down this evening, maybe just because I went to church. Epiphany. We got there. Just in time. (Metaphorically, that is. Literally I had five minutes to spare.) And I thought about how tactile, how sensory, the gifts of the Magi were. How very material the Incarnation is. That, while I can conceive of a reality that is so real that compared to it flesh and blood is plastic and gold and myrrh are cardboard boxes, I can only get there through this reality. The way in for me is through who I am and through what is there.

Daily Decoration: bead star

Christmas tree decoration in the fomr of a five-point star made from clear bugles and seed beads and blue bicones

I bought this little star, and a few others like it, from a member of the regional women’s committee back in the day when I was looking after the regional women’s committee.

Working for a trade union, you meet all sorts of people. It’s one of the really interesting things about the job, and it’s been particularly good for me. If I am less stand-offish, shy, or socially awkward than I was a decade ago, a large part of that’s down to the people I’ve worked with and for, union staff and union members. (And a lot of the rest of it is down to my fellow weirdoes on the internet.)

I’d meant to write more, but I’m feeling woozy and achy after yesterday’s jab, and my thoughts are wandering all over the place. So this short and sweet post will have to do, together, of course, with a solid day’s work tomorrow. Side-effects permitting.

Daily Decoration: augmented

Gold plastic Christmas tree bauble ringed with a strip of diamanté trim. Reflected in the bauble is a woman holding a mobile phone.

Nothing special about this bauble: it’s a bog-standard plastic thing. The diamanté trim, however, has a story of sorts. Originally it was attached to the little clutch bag I bought to go with my going-away outfit. I felt that it was a bit too gaudy for the occasion and removed it. After that it hung around the place doing nothing very useful until it occurred to me that I could add it to a Christmas tree bauble, and did. I think I might have had to snip off a couple of jewels from one end to make it fit properly. If so, I chucked them. Even I’m not that much of a hoarder.

I had my booster vaccination this afternoon. Consequently I am feeling somewhat less sparkly than usual, particularly around the left shoulder. Nevertheless, I trust that I will shortly be augmented with enhanced immunity, and will therefore be able to partake more fully and more confidently in life.