Week-end: Euston, we have a problem

Bookshelf with copies of: 'Bicycles and Broomsticks: Fantastical Feminist Stories about Witches on Bikes' (ed. Elly Blue); 'Free to be Me: An LGBTQ+ journal of love, pride and finding your inner rainbow'; 'All the things she said: everything I know about modern lesbian and bi culture' (Daisy Jones); 'I will not be erased: our stories about growing upas people of colour' (gal-dem)

The good

Cherry blossom. Mozart. Seeing a book with one of my stories in on a real shelf in a real bookshop. The fact that I do not have to deal with any of the difficult stuff on my own.

The mixed

Chaired a meeting yesterday. It seemed to go OK – at least, other people keep telling me so – but I am feeling very flattened.

The difficult and perplexing

This has really not been a good week in terms of physical and mental health. I’ve been feeling gloomy and depressed, lonely, and tired. On Friday night I tripped over a paving stone (I assume) on the Euston Road and scraped my left knee and twisted my right ankle, both very painfully, and had the usual crowd of concerned bystanders asking ‘Are you all right?’ one after another when I wasn’t at all sure and none of them had anything actually constructive to offer. And of course when one is pregnant there is a whole load of worry about potentially having hurt the baby on top of the consciousness that I’m going to be a dreadful liability when I’m a little old lady. (Baby is flailing around happily, so far as I can tell.) Today I was tired and headachey.

What’s working

Remembering to pump up my bicycle tyres. I also wrote down all the projects I theoretically have on hand, from the review of Ely Cursillo’s printed publications to clearing my father’s house to three novels and producing a baby. I’m not sure that I can say this worked, as such, as very few of them are much forrarder as a result, but it did put it all into perspective and made me feel better about the fact that they aren’t all done yesterday. I genuinely do have an awful lot going on.


Got caught up on Wildfire at Midnight. Started Bad To The Bone (James Waddington). Gave up on several articles because they were just too depressing (this says more about me than it does about them). Today I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.


A little bit on Starcrossers.


I finished Our Flag Means Death; it is good fun.

Listening to

Ely Choral Society singing the Mozart Requiem and Haydn’s Salve Regina. (The latter was a little awkward because nobody in the audience seemed to have heard it before, and we didn’t know when to clap. But I very much enjoyed the concert overall.)

More Maintenance Phase, mostly for company on lone WFH days.


Chicken drumsticks glazed with honey/mustard/curry powder.


Friday was going to be a takeaway night even before I did my lower limbs in; I had some very nice fried sea bass in a lemon/chilli/cashew nut sauce from one of the two Thai places.

This afternoon I walked into town to go to a shop which turned out not to be open on Sundays; so I made up for it with a cornet of cassata siciliana (candied fruits) from the gelato shop instead.


The cherries are doing their thing (well, it is still Eastertide, so they are only a little late). I keep seeing goldfinches.

In the garden

Things are blooming away with very little help from me. This includes a load of dandelions, but at least they’re cheerful.


The people who do things. I am not, after all, making all of this – any of this – happen by myself.


I have a new mouthguard to keep me from grinding my teeth in my sleep. I also get a very accurate model of my lower teeth. I am not entirely sure what to do with this, but it’s quite impressive, particularly since it was created by the dentist waving a camera round my mouth. For the moment I’ve put it in the bathroom cabinet, from which it will no doubt fall and scare me at the worst possible moment.

When I went to pick it up I popped into Gay’s The Word, and came away with Tales of the City and Illness as Metaphor.


I have reached a state of dissatisfaction with most of my shoes (this before I fell over, too) but don’t really know what I want to replace any of them with.

Line of the week

From this article from The Road Book:

If you didn’t see it, well, after 267km of a typical Amstel route – apparently based on the trajectory of a very angry fly trapped against a small window – the final was clearly boiling down to a sprint between Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang.

Sunday snippet

I’m enjoying the chance to let Starcrossers have some breathing space, and to put in some backstory and worldbuilding that there just wasn’t space for when it was going to be a short story. Though I’m not sure yet which of those this bit’s going to be:

Alone in my quarters, I let myself think of the one who could no longer be named. This was an infringement in itself. I ought to have forgotten her already. That, I’d been told as a child, would ease the pain. It was the only way.

This coming week

A lot of dashing around, mostly family-related. And then (whisper it) absolutely nothing over the bank holiday weekend.

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

Week-end: I think the cover was blue

White pear blossom and young green leaves against a red brick wall

The good

It’s been an excellent week. I have slept a lot; I got a load of cat-herding and yak-shaving done on Monday and Tuesday and am now much less stressed about all the things that were formerly stressing me; I had a long phone conversation with one friend and went out for tea with two others. I logged into my work email once to see what the news was, and I liked it. I had my hair cut and I liked the result.

The mixed

April showers! Only one of them seriously inconvenienced me, though, and I got a lift home.

A visit from a hedgehog! (I was very glad to see the hedgehog, and it’s certainly good news that it’s got through hibernation, but it shouldn’t have been in the garage.)

I’m still slightly despairing about the state of the study. And I would have liked to have got more writing done.

The difficult and perplexing

Honestly, it’s mostly been good. Woke up too early this morning. That’s about it.

What’s working

Setting deadlines (for other people). Just doing things. And, on occasion, not doing things.


I was very zonked on Wednesday morning, so collapsed first on the bed and then on the sofa with After the Funeral (Agatha Christie). (My copy has a cover consisting of stills from the – very loose, by the looks of it – adaptation Murder at the Gallop, starring Margaret Rutherford. It looks bizarre.) Yesterday I read through all of the Heartstopper webcomic (Alice Oseman) that currently exists. I shall now do my best to forget about it for six months, as I know from bitter experience that waiting eagerly to read three panels once a fortnight (or whatever) is the quickest way for me to fall out of love with a canon. (It happened most spectacularly with Check, Please!, though I think Heartstopper is more coherent in tone and certainly less eyebrow-raising in its attitude to coming out. All the same, I’m not going to take the risk.) Anyway, I read the Nick and Charlie novella today and that ties things up nicely.


I wrote 700 words of what’s probably going to turn out to be a blog post on wanting things. I moved some things around in and made some additions to Don’t Quit The Day Job. And I typed up a bit of Your Household’s Rancour that I’d apparently forgotten about. As I said above, I’d have liked to have got more done. Pa used to swear that he couldn’t write if he didn’t smoke, and I’m half-tempted to wonder if I’d concentrate better if I were back on the coffee. (But I have rather gone off coffee.)

Most definitely not writing: The Long Lent, which would be the Stancester gang versus early Covid. I am not sure that anybody wants to read about early Covid. And it would mostly be about Will, and I’m not sure that anybody wants to read about Will, either. It doesn’t have much of a plot. It occurred to me that it doesn’t have to be a full-length novel. All the same, I found myself rereading a lot of The Real World when I was awake too early this morning, and trying to work out what jobs people would have been doing by 2020, and then at lunchtime I was looking for the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, which I think would form a sort of structure. I couldn’t find it. I’m sure it has a blue cover.

But anyway, I have two novels on the go, another one to expand from a short story, and the workbook that is in theory my principal project. I’m not convinced that this isn’t a ploy by some twisty part of my brain to stop me finishing anything.


I finally got through the world figure skating championships. I was glad I left the ice dance until last; it just got better and better and better through the last couple of groups.


Indian masala carrots with coconut lentils.


Leftover bigos for lunch through the first half of the week. (It was OK, but it really needed belly pork; the meat was a bit dry.) Pizza, with various meat products, on Wednesday night. (Apparently my blood pressure is a bit low, which may explain my recent preoccupation with ham sandwiches.) Easter chocolate. Yesterday I got some rum and raisin fudge from the fudge shop: a rare treat.


Swimming. My new bathing suit arrived and seems perfectly satisfactory.


As mentioned above, a hedgehog in the garage. (I was not, in fact, the first person to notice it; it triggered the motion sensor and Tony saw it. But I was the person to see it in its prickly reality and, protected by a pair of gardening gloves, get it out.)

There have been a lot of goldfinches around lately. Robins and blackbirds, very vocal. And one of our resident woodpigeons has discovered that it can sit in a bush and eat from the seed feeder just above it, which looks most comical, like a student doing a yard of ale.

In the garden

The tulips are most definitely out and it’s all got a lot brighter. The pear blossom gets more luxuriant by the day. I chopped some dead bits off the palm tree (it’s not a real palm tree, but I can’t remember the name of it). I’m not convinced it liked the cold weather earlier this year. Can’t blame it.


Friends who have been in my life for getting on for twenty years. A week to do more or less exactly what I wanted.


Theatre tickets! We are going to see Opera della Luna’s Sweeney Todd. It is not often that you get to hear your great-great-great-grandfather’s music done live by pros (well, depends on who your great-great-great-grandfather was, I suppose, but mine has slipped into obscurity). I am very excited about this.


I still have my eye on the teapot dress, but there’s no point buying it yet. As it is, I’ve been trying on various dresses in my wardrobe and doing calculations along the lines of if I expand by one centimetre every week and the wedding is in a month was it worth paying a tenner for a dress that was a size too big in January and how much extra time do I have to allow to go shopping in Portsmouth and what on earth do I do about a bra?

Line of the week

From After the Funeral:

It was a nice painting of white satin and pearls. The human being round whom they were draped and clasped was not nearly so impressive.

Saturday snippet

From Don’t Quit the Day Job

The challenge is remaining in that [writer’s] mindset when I’m back in London and the phone’s ringing and I have five spreadsheets to convert into a report. Writing on the commute helps. So does reading in my lunch break. I also like to wear one or other of the pieces of jewellery that I associate with my writing identity. (A current favourite is a pair of earrings featuring glass beads in the shape of coffee beans.)

This coming week

Back at work. In fact, it’s a perfectly normal week before things start getting absolutely ridiculous next Saturday, and remain so for the subsequent month.

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

Week-end: happy new year, Lady Day

Cowslip plant with many small yellow flowers

Up until a few centuries ago today would have been the first day of the year. I believe in celebrating as many new years as possible, so let’s count it. Actually, there have been a couple of anniversaries lately that I only noticed after the fact: three years since we moved into this house (and the country promptly shut down); a year since I caught Covid. It’s quite encouraging to compare where I am now with where I was then, particularly when I’m feeling frustrated about lack of energy.

The good

I do not have gestational diabetes! (Or, presumably, any other sort.) And I went to the dentist yesterday and my teeth and gums are in pretty good shape. So hurrah for health and for things being less complicated than they might be.

Then there was a long phone call with a friend and a streak of energy that lasted most of the week and got a lot of things sorted out. I’m really enjoying the spring flowers, too.

The mixed

Tony was away this week, cycling across the Netherlands. I missed him rather, though the cat was not bad company, and I got more done than I’d expected, and I am a little bit jealous and considering what the next adventure might be (beyond the obvious one).

The difficult and perplexing

The hob has repaid us for cleaning it by refusing to work (or, rather, tripping the breaker every time we turn the circuit back on). We are hoping it will get over itself.

What’s working

Planning meals (though I think this was particularly successful this week just gone because I was cooking for myself and only myself all the time). Telling myself that if other people are worrying about me, then I don’t need to (this was remarkably helpful).


I finished Michel the Giant (An African in Greenland), coming away with the sense that life in Greenland is not for me, though he seems to have enjoyed himself there. There’s a real feeling of openness and candour about the way he writes, and his sheer determination to get to where he wants to be is impressive. Nearly finished These Violent Delights.


Mostly updating policies. And I finally got round to uploading my post about the Belgian Coastal Tramway, only six months or so after the event.


I darned a couple of pairs of socks, and tidied up the cuff on my navy linen summer coat – which has needed doing for a very long time.


I have returned to Our Flag Means Death, and have very nearly finished it. But now it’s the world figure skating championships.


The Instant Pot has been working hard this week, in its pressure cooker and its slow cooker guises. ‘Mediterranean fennel with nutty crumble’ (the ‘crumble’ is in fact croutons) from The Ultimate Slow Cooker Cookbook: the wrong combination of vegetables, I think – the inclusion of carrots meant it had to cook for a long time, too long for the fennel and particularly for the pepper, which became bitter. Black beans from The Pressure Cooker Cookbook – tasty but more faff than I could really be doing with. Lentil and Swiss chard soup (same) – very good.


Mostly the above, with rye bread and seeded sourdough. Yesterday I went to my favourite falafel stand for lunch, though.


Cowslips! Primroses! More daffodils! Two goldfinches in the plum tree! Another hare!

In the garden

The grape hyacinths are out. On Sunday I sowed cat grass and cosmos and tarragon seeds and some elderly beans; the first two of these are sprouting. I also pulled up the old leggy lavender and wallflowers that were sprawling across the path. Then on Tuesday I pulled up the wallflowers that had self-seeded in the cracks in the path and moved them into the vacated space. We’ll see how they do; there are plenty of other wallflowers if these don’t make it.

I accidentally brought a ladybird in with the laundry; unfortunately it flew away while I was trying to get it out of the window and is probably still in the house somewhere.


Having energy! (And, as today, when I don’t have so much, the fact that I can just nap all afternoon and then go to Evensong.)


I got a load of bamboo socks off the local free group to see if they’re worth the darning. Initial signs are promising.


There is a dress that I very much like the look of on the Joanie site. And I still want a bigger darning loom.

Line of the week

Tété-Michel Kpomassie (translated by James Kirkup) on a Greenland sunset:

The purple disc sank little by little below the line of the horizon; for a few moments longer the brindled sky was still painted with wide and luminous streaks, flaming on the face of the waters, turning to violet on the mountain tops, orange or grey above our heads.

Saturday snippet

A tiny, tiny bit from the Romeo and Juliet thing:

The train slid southwards, the carriage rocking gently, into a future they had set up recklessly and joyously. Neither of them quite knew what it might hold, except for each other.

This coming week

My manager is retiring; there are various things planned to mark the occasion. Also I’m going to the opera. Somewhere in between all this I need to finish the Cursillo annual report, but there really is only a very little left to do.

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

De Kusttram: the Belgian coastal tramway

There is one country in the world in which you can travel almost all the way along the coast in a single tram journey. It’s Belgium.

This is made possible by the fact that the Belgian coastline isn’t actually very long. If you were to think of Belgium as a cartoonish stegosaurus with its head facing north-west and its spines interlocking with the Netherlands and Germany and its tail slipping under Luxembourg, only the smooth top of its saurian skull would be up against the sea. You can travel from one end to another in a couple of hours. It doesn’t go quite all the way to the frontier at either end; you could, if you were feeling particularly pedantic, walk the extra bits. We weren’t, so we didn’t.

We were staying in Bruges (Brugge, to the locals): a city built for trade and now operating almost entirely for the benefit of the tourists. The Kusttram is, if anything, the opposite. While its website makes some attempt to sell it as a tourist experience, the material on the ground and, above all, the clientele, make it clear that it’s now used pretty much exclusively by the locals.

We started in Knokke, at the Dutch end of the line, bought day passes from a machine, and got onto a waiting tram just as it started to rain. Result. It swung around a turning circle (the middle planted with sunflowers and cosmos) and I caught a sight of some of the older trams hibernating in a shed. I believe they come out sometimes for heritage days. After a brief glimpse into back gardens, we joined the main road along the coast.

A green space with pink cosmos and yellow sunflowers, seen through rain-speckled glass

We ran behind the docks at Zeebrugge, seeing various interesting looking cranes and boring lorries. Then we got into sand dunes. For a long way, the dunes were between us and the sea and mostly blocked the view of it; every now and again there were footpaths with signposts pointing to the strand. The exceptions were the towns: a wide open square at one end of Blankenberge; a marina at the other.

Tony was falling asleep as we approached Oostende, so we got off and found a health food café where we bought a distinctly unhealthy coffee (me) and Diet Coke (him). There was also a market of the sort that sells cheap socks and garish T-shirts, clustered around a bandstand decorated with the names of illustrious composers of bygone centuries. We glanced at this briefly, then, finding that there was quite a wait until the next tram, looked into a sportswear shop.

West of Oostende we finally got to see some beach. The road and the tramway ran on the north side of the dunes here, and there were campsites and wartime fortifications to look at too.

After that there were a lot of high-rise seaside flats, mostly between us and the sea. These were a running theme all the way along. I can’t say I thought much of them. They blocked the view when we were on the tram, and when we got off they made textbook urban canyons and sent the sea breeze hurtling along the streets. Towards the end of the line the flats shrank down to detached houses, and then the buildings gave out altogether and we were into trees.

A crooked photo of a deliberately crooked art nouveau building with sign 'Plopsa Hotel'

The penultimate stop was Plopsaland, which is a name to conjure with. It’s a theme park. From the tram we could see an artfully crooked house and various roller coastery things. It looked quite fun, as theme parks go. And the car park was full, so it’s obviously popular.

A tram waits under a three-arched canopy with bright yellow poles

The way back was an opportunity to stop at all the places that had looked interesting on the way through. Also to get some lunch in central De Panne, which hadn’t looked particularly interesting, but which had looked as if it might sell food. It did. We found various options on the seafront and ended up eating omelette and chips in, whenever the door was opened, a stiff breeze. I realised too late for it to be of much use that we were back in French-speaking Belgium. Our waiter was called Guillaume; it said so on the bill.

A tram runs down the middle of a street lined with boxy blocks of flats

Then we got back on the tram. Niewpoort had looked interesting. The trams stopped under a big glass roof and there were a couple of restaurants I’d noted as possibilities for lunch. We were no longer in need of something to eat, but we wandered a few blocks inland and found that it was a very pleasant little town, mostly built in the 1920s for, one supposes, the obvious reason. There wasn’t much going on at that time of day, though as we approached the main square the bells were ringing cheerfully. Tony went into Carrefour and came away with a commemorative notebook. I never found out what the occasion was. Meanwhile, I ate an apple and tested myself on the flags of EU nations that were flying alongside the tramway.

1920s brick building with stepped Dutch gable, and circular devices in the window frames
Through a tram window are seen tram rails with sand blown up across them, a sign saying 'Dumain Riversijde', and a woman with three dogs walking next the sea

We stopped again in Oostende, this time getting off at few stops before the city began in earnest so that we could walk a little way along the beach. A tall ship was darting about a little way offshore. The beach was a generous sweep of pale sand, scattered with seashells. I thought about paddling, but decided against it. The sea was quite a way out, and the wind was cold.

We hopped back on the next tram and then off again closer to the city centre, walking up toward the casino and through the streets, often coinciding with a couple of women trundling enormous suitcases. It was a pleasant wander through Oostende, looking at fantastic twiddly art nouveau buildings, and ending up at the railway station, where we got back on a tram.

Imposing railway station building with two square towers, one each side of a gently arched central hall, all seen from across a stretch of water with yachts moored.

Our next stop was De Haan, and it was magnificent. We got off at the main stop – which preserves some beautiful cast-iron signs and a fantastic little hut – and walked seawards. The 1930s had gone to town here. The 1930s had built a town here.Stockbroker’s Tudor, but by the beach. Kingston-upon-Sea. My only regret was that it was getting late and so it didn’t make sense to stop for an ice cream.

An improbably gabled station building with 'Coq sur Mer' written on the roof. A tram is pulling up.
A large mock half-timbered building against clear blue sky in evening light

I looked with envious eyes upon someone who had brought a pizza box on the tram with them, and the rest of the journey was taken up with thoughts of dinner. Night was falling when we reached the end of the line. It took longer than we’d expected to find somewhere to eat in Knokke, if only because I wasn’t in the mood for giant lumps of meat. We did in fact end up at somewhere that called itself a grill, but they served me a huge dish of seafood pasta, and very nice it was too.

And that, apart from the train back to Bruges, was the end of the day.

Why do this? Well, obviously the main reason to do this is because you can. ‘The only reason’, my neighbour said when I told him where we’d been, but I think that’s a little unfair. There are other coastlines traversable by public transport with far better views (the bus around Land’s End, for example). But why not? It’s a cheap day out, you get a unique snapshot of a nation in a few hours, and it makes a change from the boat trips around the Bruges canals. (To be clear, we also took a boat trip around the Bruges canals.) You could even paddle.

Week-(endings and beginnings)

Two wheelie bins, one of which is decorated with a selection of faded stickers, against an ivy-covered brick wall

The good

Approximately a week before the world changed three years ago I spent a weekend in Bristol. My stated purpose in being there was to help a friend attend her brother’s wedding, but that turned out to be only a few hours of it. Bristol isn’t a city that I know at all well, but even so, wandering around it on a Sunday morning, meeting up with other friends, I found it reflecting back layers and layers of myself and my past and, in the process, beginning to make sense of a disorientating change of direction that had happened to me a month or so before that.

Something similar happened this weekend, except I wasn’t in Bristol, I was in Winchester. Which is the city of my birth, and one to which I used to return every year in my childhood. It’s been less frequent recently, but this time round it had a lot to say to me. We were there for a ‘just over a year since the funeral’ memorial gathering for my father, but I had fortitously discovered that the Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature was going on at the same time, and we arrived with so much time in hand that I was able to go and look at my childhood home (not that I remember it) too. And once again there was that same sense of gathering up everybody I am and used to be and bringing them together into the same person. So many little messages. The bin, which has somehow survived thirty-four years (and the accompanying reflection that my father was such a personality that even his wheelie bin is identifiable as his thirty-four years later). A Progress Pride flag on the pavement. A labyrinth in the university chapel. Witty and erudite conversations about faith and literature, and remembering that I am after all a person of both. And also bringing that person back into contact with the disreputable bus crew member that I was born and still am. And the sense that my brain is working again. And being able to walk up and down the hills of Winchester without being completely exhausted.

Then the gathering itself was excellent. And I was not as exhausted during it as I feared I might be.

The mixed

I didn’t get really, really tired until South Mimms services on the way home. However, I have been really, really tired today.

The difficult and perplexing

Tedious physical symptoms of the ‘You really don’t want to know’ variety.

What’s working

Exercising my particular skill set in the job for which I am the right person.


This has been a good week for reading! First there was Hood – a very early Emma Donoghue, from back before she started concentrating on historicals. I found the depiction of the 1990s Irish lesbian scene, of which the narrator both is and isn’t really a member, fascinating; the prose was gorgeous; and the whole thing was satisfyingly messy in ways it’s difficult to do these days without someone on Twitter calling you ‘problematic’. Then I read Golden Hill because one of the speakers at one of the FaithLit sessions I had tickets to was Francis Spufford, and that was just tremendously fun.

I must also mention this delightful paper: Jurassic Pork: What Could A Jewish Time Traveler Eat?


I darned a hole in the elbow of a pyjama top; another, smaller hole has appeared next it, and another one on the other arm. I’ve done some of the holes in one of Tony’s fancy merino T-shirts too.

Listening to

Catherine Fox and Francis Spufford talking about ‘Real faith in imaginary places’ (which made me think that I really must finish off the Reader’s Gazetteer series) and Jay Hulme and Rachel Mann talking about ‘Mapping a landscape of (un)holy desires’ (which made me think that I really must write about the epiphanies of 2020-date; for the moment I would like to express my gratitude to the audience member who made the point about how desire, in the very broadest sense of the word, is basically seen as unseemly for and therefore irrelevant to Christian women – sing it, sister!) Anyway, I really enjoyed both sessions, and failed to take any notes at all.

Mattins at the cathedral on Sunday morning: a modern but quasi-plainsong Benedicite that I can’t say I really enjoyed, but a Stanford Benedictus and a nice depressing Tudor anthem to make up for it (complete with a story about how the composer of the latter attempted to murder the Dean).

Looking at

The Chinese and British exhibition at the British Library. Predictably, I was most taken by a beautifully detailed dolls’ house Chinese restaurant. Yesterday, aside from significant addresses already mentioned, some new King Alfred buses; the most gloriously impractical family car the six of us ever piled into (before it was returned to its spiritual home); and my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ grave.


A most excellent Sunday lunch (I had roast beef) at the Running Horse in Littleton, courtesy of my godfather.


Not much to report beyond walking around various bits of Winchester.


Two horse-drawn vehicles (minus the horses) on the back of a rescue truck. Hares, from the train. A pair of tractors waiting to cross the railway line. Quite a few deer in various Hampshire fields. An advertisement for ‘new almshouses’, which feels most Trollopian. A fox running across the road somewhere north of Royston. I have already mentioned the bin.


My fabulous family and bus crew (this is how my family spells ‘found family’).


A carful of second-hand baby stuff.


Various books I liked the look of but didn’t buy.

Line of the week

From Hood:

The wind was a black cat outside, rattling the chimney and spitting at the windows.

This coming week

I am going to attempt to recover some energy, catch up with some admin, and tidy some more of my study. Looking forward to seeing a friend on Friday.

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


A green tree with sunlight shining through the leaves

Today is an absolutely beautiful day. It pelted down with rain first thing; now the sky is clear blue and the sun is shining from behind me and illuminating the leaves of the plane trees.

And I am feeling very calm and present and thankful. I have been able to apply intense focus to my work this morning. It feels very easy to step inside into the walled garden of the heart/mind and to remain there without hurry or guilt.

Today I am very conscious that this is a gift. This is a miracle for today; there might or might not be another miracle tomorrow. It feels as if it has sprung directly from what we were talking about on Saturday morning; and on Saturday morning we were talking about how the miracles aren’t the point. You saw five thousand people fed on five loaves and two fishes yesterday? Don’t ask to be astounded again by the feeding of another five thousand; turn up and eat the bread that’s in front of you. You can’t live on chocolate mousse, and you can’t stay on the mountain top.

I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know whether this is a sign that the equinoctial gales are done with for the moment or whether it’s just a brief summery respite in the long grind of autumn. I don’t know whether I’ll find the same sense of flow when I get home tonight, whether I’ll be able to apply the same focus to all the lists that aren’t work-related, or whether I’ll just want to cry and go to sleep.

I used to think that not being able to sustain (or, indeed, attain in the first place) this kind of presence was a huge personal failing. Now I begin to understand what an impossible expectation that was to have of myself. It wasn’t ever anything that I could create for myself, because it wasn’t ever mine to give. All I could ever do was to turn up.

Art month

Four glass beads on a page of pencil drawings of stones and seashells, on a collage of flyers and stickers

I like July. It’s my birthday month. There’s plenty of daylight. Granted, I am not particularly keen on the heat, but I much prefer it in July, when there’s the imminent prospect of a retreat to the coast and a difference of five degrees or so.

And even now, long after I left full-time education, there’s a glorious sense of end-of-termness about it. Holiday. I can do as I like.

Sometimes that takes more work than you’d think. Sometimes inertia and life in general and notions of extravagance combine to stop me doing as I like. Sometimes I have to make quite an effort, buy myself tickets so that I have to use them rather than talking myself out of going to whatever it was. Prompted by Julia Cameron’s concept of “artist dates” (not a term that comes naturally to me; I have renamed them “rendez-vous”, which strikes the right balance of glamour and self-mocking pretentiousness for me) I try to take myself out once a week for something entertaining or thought-provoking or indulgent.

It’s not as if there’s nothing out there. I work in London, where if it turns out the Somerstown People’s History Museum is closed (it always has been when I’ve tried to go to it, and it’s always open when I dash past on the way to catch my train home) I can look at an exhibition about cancer treatments at the Crick, or if I daren’t go to Gay’s The Word for fear of accidentally spending forty quid I can go to the British Library and stay away from the shop. I live in Ely, which has plenty going on in its own right and is only a quarter of an hour away from Cambridge to boot. I ought to be able to manage something every Thursday (or maybe Friday), even if it’s only an ice cream flavour I haven’t tried before (Ruby Violet in London; Hadi’s Gelato or Ely Fudge Company or Cherry Hill Chocolates in Ely). And when I do, I’m glad I did. I’ve learned something, or seen something differently, or tasted something new. If it hasn’t been fun (and it very often is) or moving, it will at least have been interesting.

July feels like a whole month of that. Somehow, it’s all much easier in July.

In the last few years – let’s say, six – I’ve been visiting some of the artists who take part in Cambridge Open Studios. The definition of ‘Cambridge’ turns out to be rather loose, and there are a dozen or so in Ely too. (One of them, Andrée Bowmer, made the lovely glass beads in the picture at the top of this post.) July 2022 was busier than either of the last two years, but I got around about half the artists in between my other weekend commitments.

Last week I was down on the Isle of Wight for Ventnor Fringe. I spend all year looking forward to Fringe and it always passes in a gorgeous haze of seeing things (art, shows) I might otherwise pass by and also lounging around at the Book Bus doing nothing. (This year I sold two books despite doing nothing.) It’s like people put on an entire arts festival just to celebrate my birthday. It’s brilliant. This year I went to two circuses, a drag show, an improvised Importance of Being Earnest, two small solo gigs (one in a barber shop, but not barbershop), no, hang on, I forgot about the vicar singing Dylan (very well), and a concert featuring a Scottish harp and a Finnish kantele.

But now Fringe is over and it’s August. I’m feeling a bit flat, I have to admit. Mind you, I was expecting to. But I’m also feeling the urge to read more, read more of the books that make me stop reading and look out of the window and think, go to the theatre more, and listen to more live music. I could do that. I could do all of that. The house is full of books, some of which I brought home from the Book Bus last week, or last year. There are free organ recitals at the cathedral every Sunday all summer… Last year I managed to get to all six Cambridge Shakespeare Festival shows. Well, this year I’ve missed all the July ones, but August’s still there, and I seem to have a lot more evenings free this month. And it’s still ice cream weather.

Sixteen years (without driving)

A vintage Delage car with the number 116 painted on the side
A car I have not driven. Lovely, though, isn’t it?

Today it is sixteen years since I last drove a car on the road.

That wasn’t deliberate. I only remember the date because it was the day before my graduation, and how could I forget that such an occasion happened on quatorze juillet? I failed my second driving test the day before I graduated, therefore I must have driven for the last time on the thirteenth of July. (In actual fact, I drove a Routemaster around a field a couple of months later, but that’s another story.)

I hadn’t meant that to be the last time I took my driving test. But I was moving out of the city where I’d learned to drive, and that meant that for the next test I’d have to learn a whole new set of test routes. And I’d just graduated and I didn’t have a job, and I never got round to sorting out lessons. My grand plan that year was to walk to Santiago de Compostela, and I didn’t need a car to do that. Then I spent two months in Germany and was thoroughly spoiled by the public transport system.

At the end of all that, seventeen months after failing my second driving test, I moved to Guildford. This is a notoriously expensive place to live and, even though I was living in a horrible bedsit, and even though I signed up with a temp agency fairly promptly, I didn’t have the money to spare for driving lessons.

I moved in with my fiancé. He had a car. I never drove it, though. I think I probably assumed that I would, sooner or later, but money was still tight. He was a PhD student and I was a temp, and we were living in Guildford.

I inherited a car from my godmother, but I swapped it for a piano. (The piano was left to my mother, but she already had one. The car ended up with my father, I think.) I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t play the piano, either.

We moved to Woking, which was marginally cheaper than Guildford, where I was still working. We managed to move everything except the piano in (or, in the case of the double bed, on) the car. Not long after that move, Tony started a different PhD. In London.

Nobody drives into London. Not without a very good reason – disability, say, or actually living there. We did not have a very good reason to drive into London. In fact, we had no good reason to drive at all. I could take the train to Guildford. Tony could take the train to London. We could go pretty much anywhere else we fancied by train, because Woking, while not terribly interesting in itself (unless you’re a Martian invader), is very well-connected. And the car was sitting on the road costing us £600 a year before we’d even put fuel in.

The car went to a couple of affable blokes from somewhere in Wales. Looking back, that was probably the moment that confirmed my non-driving path. Up until then, driving occupied a slot in the ‘get around to it some day’ filing cabinet in my head. If I ever needed to, I’d told myself before, I’d learn to drive. Now I had to ask myself: but what? Tony could, and did, hire a car if he wanted to go somewhere off the public transport network. That wouldn’t have worked for me, because I didn’t have the familiarity with driving that would let me leap into a strange car and go somewhere safely, and now we didn’t have a car I wasn’t going to get it.

We adjusted very smoothly to life without a car. We walked to the shops. We commuted to work by train. We visited family by train. We started getting a veg box delivered. I bought a trike and started cycling. Tony had been cycling for years. We didn’t need a car. Not in Woking, anyway. It would have been a different story in the place where I grew up (a mile to the nearest village).

Not being able to drive might have been career limiting, but I was never terribly interested in the career track that would have required it. (A decade older and a billion times more confident, I think now that I wouldn’t have made a bad stab at it, but I don’t think it would ever have been my ideal future.) That problem disappeared when I moved to my employer’s head office and a job where nobody expected me to drive.

If we didn’t need a car in Woking, we certainly didn’t need one in Cambridge. (That move involved six months in separate temporary addresses, and Tony moved all the furniture except the piano in a hired van.) It is only slightly more advisable to drive into Cambridge than it is to drive into London. And I told myself that if I didn’t start riding a standard, two-wheeled, bike in Cambridge, I’d never do it at all. I did. Suddenly I could get to everything I needed to.

Life works perfectly well for me without driving. Of course, that’s because I’ve managed – first by luck, and later by design – to set it up that way. If I were still in a tiny hamlet in the Marches, I think I’d probably have to drive, or else get used to a very limited existence. As things are, we choose places to live based on walking and cycling distance from the amenities, and we are fortunate enough for that to be financially and logistically feasible.

More recently, I’ve developed intermittent vision loss (very occasional, but inconvenient in its very unpredictability) which makes me wonder whether I’d actually be safe behind a steering wheel. I don’t much like the thought of being suddenly unable to see out of my right eye while bowling down a motorway. Though I’ve heard of someone with the same thing who just pulls over when he notices it coming on.

Not driving does make it harder to visit other people. I have friends whose house I can see from my morning train, yes, but I have family in villages where the bus comes twice a week, or never. There is no point in our getting a National Trust membership, because the great and the good tended to build their stately piles a long way from anything so plebeian as public transport. And I might have been on a retreat in the last decade if so many retreat houses were not buried deep in the countryside with no bus service. (To be fair, the last retreat I went on was a five minute taxi ride from Godalming station, so it may also be that I just haven’t got around to it.)

I fret a lot about Putting People Out. Usually they are lovely and think nothing of going five miles out of their way to get me home. It turns out that five miles isn’t all that far, in a car. Or, in the case of my husband, hiring a car. Of course it does get awkward sometimes, if I’m very tired and would rather be by myself on a nice quiet train. More often, though, I get to know them a lot better, and, as someone to whom socialising doesn’t come naturally, that’s very valuable.

Of course, the longer my not driving goes on, the more it becomes about the environment. I came across The Jump a few months ago, and found it a lot more encouraging and less annoying than a lot of climate rhetoric. It identifies six broad ‘jumps’ (lifestyle changes, I suppose you could call them), one of which is ‘get rid of your personal vehicle’, but is very reassuring about not expecting perfection. Well, the cars we hire these days are electric, and if we ever do buy one (and my eye stops playing up and I learn to drive) it’ll be electric, but there’ll still be cobalt in the battery and rubber particulate to fret about. I fret less these days – or, rather, I have a more realistic sense of my own ability to effect large-scale change and consequently a more realistic sense of my own responsibility – but, having accidentally forged a lifestyle in which I don’t drive and don’t have to, it seems a bit silly not to keep it going.

And it’s gone on a long time. Next year my existence as a non driver will be old enough to drive.

Robert E. Jowitt, 1942-2022

A man in a green cap and jacket leans o the radiator of a 1930s bus with a protruding nose and boxy cab

My father died sometime in the night of 7-8 January, about as peacefully as it’s possible to do it, and I still don’t quite know what to say.

Not because there’s nothing to say: everybody I hear from who knew him has something lovely to say, some delightful memory to share. Not because there’s nothing to talk about: there are 79 years to talk about, and I was around for slightly less than half of that.

It’s such a cliché to begin by saying that one doesn’t know where to start that I almost don’t want to admit it, but in this case it’s true. My own tactic to deal with that very real dilemma is to start with whatever first comes to mind, and to worry about reordering it later.

So, in that spirit, here are some things that I want to say about my Pa.

  • He always was Pa, not Dad or anything else.
  • We lived in more or less the same wordscape, sharing hymns and trashy Victorian songs and Shakespeare and quasi-mythological family anecdotes and using quotations as shorthand.
  • I wouldn’t be writing something set in modern-day Ruritania now if he hadn’t read me The Prisoner of Zenda when I was nine or ten.
  • I’m sure that many people who come across this post will be looking for Robert E. Jowitt the transport author and photographer, and that was indeed very much part of who he was. Both his writing and his photography were as eclectic and idiosyncratic as his reading matter. He liked digressions and very long sentences and quotations.
  • If you’d told him that real men don’t read Jilly Cooper he’d have laughed at you.
  • There is still a card on the fridge with a list of the OS maps that he was missing from his collection and which I might have wanted to give him for his birthday.
  • He had a strong sense of whimsy and, I suppose, sentimentality.
  • He was, above all, interested in people. He would quite often ask me about friends of mine who he’d met perhaps twice, five years ago. He could make friends with pretty much anybody. He annoyed transport photography purists by taking pictures with a nun obscuring the numberplate, or a tramp in front of a tram, a shopper or a copper in the way of a tree-lopper. He liked to show public transport in, well, public, putting it in the context of the public it was built to serve and the landscape across which it transported it.
  • He claimed not to be terribly interested in buses, though he would take them in the absence of trams, trolleybuses, or steam locomotives. The one exception was Paris buses, the open-platformed 1930s Renaults. He photographed his first one in 1960 and brought it home in 1970. It’s still running.
  • He gathered the most extraordinary group of people around the buses, a sort of found family before anybody called it that. Bus people, art people, music people, all sorts of people.
  • He never did anything he didn’t want to do.
  • He couldn’t sing but he didn’t let that stop him.
  • He really was impossible to live with.
  • He was interested in birds and ships and architecture and bel canto opera and all sorts of things.
  • He was immensely proud of his children and of our achievements, though if he found something where there was room for improvement we’d hear about it.
  • He was an entertaining raconteur. I can’t tell the stories half so well.
  • The last time we saw each other face to face we talked about We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and teamed up in a family game of Settlers of Catan. The last time we spoke on the phone he thanked me for his Christmas present – the 2022 calendar from A Cambridge Diary – and told me that his favourite picture in it was the housemartins.

Is that everything? No, not at all. I could go on and on and on. But it is something. There’s a big gap in many people’s lives now.

Edited to add: the funeral will take place on Wednesday, 2 February – please see the funeral director’s site for details of how to watch online.

Meanwhile, in the real world…


Do you remember how, back at the beginning of lockdown, various obnoxious productivity types were telling us all that if we didn’t come out of it with a new skill or a novel then we were all pathetic failures? I haven’t heard so much from them recently. That may have something to do with my spending less time on Twitter. Or the obnoxious types may have discovered that in fact it’s not so easy to get things done with a global crisis going on outside, and have shut up.

As it happens, I’ve learned a few new skills – painting walls, making curtains, changing taps – but they’ve had more to do with having just moved house than with enforced leisure. I’ve continued to work full time, so, apart from the commute (which I’ve gleefully replaced with an additional daily hour in bed) I haven’t had much in the way of enforced leisure. Anyway, I went into lockdown with a novel, or, at least, 93,000 words of one, so it would be a bit of a cheat to claim that it had anything to do with coronavirus. If anything, I was hoping to make it shorter. As it is, I’ve now got 94,661 words. They’re better, though. They’re quite a lot better.

They’re good enough for me to say, tentatively, that this book’s going to come out this year.

I’m aiming for a release date in November. Of course, this means that I need to have everything done in September, which means that I’ve only got a couple of months to get things done. But that feels achievable, now, in a way that it didn’t at the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, my existing books will remain free to download from Lulu until the end of this month. After that they’ll go back to full price. Consider this fair warning, and, if you haven’t grabbed them already, you can find them here: