Week-end: the higher the brow the harder they fall

A stone sill a great height over a city has arrows and town names and distances carved into the it; one of those is '230 - Londen'

The good

The Kickstarter for Bicycles and Broomsticks is live and is nearly half-way funded only a few days in. I have written a story! My story will be published! People will read my story! In a year when I have more writing-imposter syndrome than usual, this is a good feeling.

We had a lovely time in Belgium, with a further two and a half days in Brugge, an hour people-watching in Brussels, and the comparative glamour of Standard Premier class on the Eurostar home.

Today, by contrast (but equally good), I’ve cycled ten minutes up the hill and slightly less down again (eating croissants and discussing questions of theology in the middle), and walked 5km in one hour, and watched Filippo Ganna cycling 57km in one hour, and pottered in the garden, and generally had a nice quiet day.

The mixed

Home trains. We got off the Eurostar to find that nothing was running to Ely, so we got on a slow train to Cambridge, then discovered that the next train to Ely was in fact running. And on Tuesday I miscalculated my tickets and had to buy a single to go with my super off-peak which I’d left it too late to use. Plus the fact that as things turned out I didn’t really need to go to London on Tuesday after all, except by the time I knew that I’d booked tickets to something I actually did rather want to go and see, so…

But! The Ely-King’s Lynn line is finally fixed, and the timetable restored, so I can get a train straight through to work in the morning, and I have two through trains per hour in the evening. Which is all marvellous.

The difficult and perplexing

My RSS reader came up with an error for Cate’s Cates this week. Catherine was a joyous, kind, witty, and eclectic internet presence; she died very unexpectedly earlier this year; and now a little more of what was left is gone.

Being eaten alive by mosquitoes in our room at Brugge. The bites are fading now, but at one point I had three on my right cheekbone. Fortunately the place also had a very flattering mirror and I could pretend it was a tripartite beauty spot, a mark of distinction, rather than untimely acne. The ones on my arms and feet were really itchy, though.

And I continue to be a zombie outside daylight hours.

What’s working

Well, not doing things outside daylight hours, but that gets increasingly difficult. I’m not even doing terribly well during the daylight hours, though Radio 3 is helping.

Promising myself I’d do an hour of admin and then stop (and setting a Forest Focus tree to enforce both).

Snag tights (the only snag, ha, is that all my other tights are infuriatingly ill-fitting by comparison). I was particularly pleased by the white-fishnets-over-black-opaques combination.

Reading

Very intellectual this week. I had put The Master and Margarita on my e-reader some time ago, and began that on the Eurostar home; I’m about a quarter of the page count and two decapitations in. Then I finished Art and Lies yesterday. Very good, impressionistic, visual, disquieting. (Note: all the content notes.) I couldn’t quite face going back to The Master and Margarita and more potential decapitations, so I started Sisters of the Vast Black (Lina Rather) which is delightful so far. (Nuns! IN SPAAACE!) Last night I was feeling too exhausted for anything new at all, so put on my pyjamas and lounged on the sofa with The Fellowship of the Ring (and the cat on my lap). I’m pretty sure I fell asleep like that.

Sewing

I got five badges (see Acquisitions, below) onto my camp blanket despite the best efforts of the cat.

Watching

Today, Filippo Ganna’s Hour Record, the end of the Lombardia, and highlights from the Singapore Grand Prix. At other points in the week, the keyboard finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and quite a lot of quiz shows from BBC iPlayer.

Looking at

Art in the Groeningen Museum in Brugge. I will never now be able to unsee The Judgement of Cambyses. There was some Bosch in there too, about which all I can say is ‘it was smaller than I expected’. But there were also things that I remember and enjoyed looking at: St Luke Drawing The Virgin Mary, for example, where the poor Madonna is trying to feed the baby Jesus, who is distracted by St Luke in the way that babies are. And a couple of really striking late nineteenth-century landscapes.

Then on Tuesday I went to see the Fashioning Masculinities exhibition at the V and A. A few of my friends had been to this and enthused. And it’s closing soon, and I can’t get to the V and A and back in a lunchtime (I’ve tried), so I thought that since I had to go to London to pick up my laptop, I might as well make an afternoon of it. And a fascinating afternoon it was. Although in some ways it was just as interesting looking at the other exhibition-goers; some of them were dressed very strikingly indeed.

Cooking

Caldo verde, sort of, and an attempted Black Forest sponge pudding from the remains of a chocolate tray bake and the end of a jar of cherry jam. I think I might have done better to bash the cake up more and mix in a little milk. But it was perfectly edible.

Eating

The most delectable waffle I have ever tasted. It was most beautifully light and it came with cream, ice cream, and kirsch-soaked cherries. I ordered a pot of coffee alongside it and that came with a macaron and a hard almond biscuit. This was at a café in Brugge called Carpe Diem.

We also ate some mussels and shrimp croquettes, and I had a thing called Croque Boum Boum for lunch on our last day (it’s a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with bolognese sauce on the top), but it’s that waffle that I’ll remember.

Drinking

Beer. I am a bit thrown by the way Belgian menus don’t tend to include the alcohol percentage, and tended to stick with known quantities for that reason. I did, however, risk a Tripel Karmeliet knowing that it was going to be pretty deadly.

And a lot of coffee.

Moving

I climbed the belfry at Brugge. Over three hundred steps. On the whole I prefer the one at Ghent, which has dragons, but I’m glad to have done it. I ended up at the top when the carillon was going for the hour, which was quite a thing. Couldn’t help but think of The Nine Tailors

Noticing

Golden sunlight and long shadows, and the sharpness of the demarcation. A tiny two-spotted ladybird landing on my hand. The stars, when I went out to pick some rosemary last night.

In the garden

Apples, loads of them. Pears, quite a few of them. Today I pruned one of the apple trees and cut a load of wisteria and the vine back.

Appreciating

The fluffiness of the cat. The honesty and curiosity of the Way of Breakfast group. A weekend in which I don’t have to do anything much.

Acquisitions

I was very pleased to find cloth badges for Oostende, Wenduine, De Haan, and Littoral Belge at a flea market stall in Brugge. Then, in a souvenir shop, I found a Brugge badge that I preferred to the one that I’d already got, so I bought that one. Anybody want a Brugge badge?

Picked up Susan Sontag’s Notes On Camp from the V and A.

Hankering

More Snag tights. And I am still thinking about jeans. (Both my pairs of jeggings have worn through, too.)

Line of the week

I said last week that it ought to be Art and Lies. This week it is, although it was hard to find a single best line; so much of it is short, bright, fragments that don’t look like so much on their own, but cumulatively are utterly dazzling. However:

The crescent curve of the train mows the houses as it passes, the houses disappear behind the moon metal blade of the silver train.

This coming week

I have finally got all the ducks lined up in a row for a work project that’s needed doing for a long time. On Monday I’m beginning another writing stint. Saturday we’re going to see friends. I want to have the energy to enjoy all those things in their different ways.

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

Week-end: Pride and preliminaries

Bouquet of flowers in shades of pink, blue, mauve, and pale green, against a red wall

I’ve been wanting to post more on this blog, and also wanting to record more of what I’ve been up to and what I’ve enjoyed. So this is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series of weekly… check-ins? reports? I like neither of those terms. But I know what I want to do, even if I can’t describe it. So I’m just going to start doing it. Expect varying length, disparate headings (stolen from various people across the internet), and weeks where nothing happens at all.

The good

Ely Pride. This started last night with a talk at the cathedral from Rev Dr Charlie Bell. I am not sure that I can convey how very good it is to have one’s church say in so many words that LGBT+ people are welcome, so you’ll just have to take it on trust. The main event was today, and it was joyous.

Gorgeous flowers from my in-laws, extending my birthday a little further.

The mixed

Sad to see a great colleague go, but her leaving do was brilliant. A couple of ex-colleagues turned up, too: good to see them again.

The difficult and perplexing

A load of internalised biphobia (this has been going on for a while, and nearly stopped me going to Pride today; I’m glad it didn’t succeed). And a stubbed toe. And an hour of (unfounded) family panic.

Noticing

Dragonflies whizzing around the green spaces. Sunflowers in the allotments (you can see the Royston ones from the train). Starlings.

Reading

Wanderlust: a history of walking, Rebecca Solnit. This was one of the two books I got from the Book Bus. (I am, this year, a model of restraint.) I’m enjoying this: Solnit talks about walking as a political act as much as anything else, and she talks about all sorts of walking. Some things I did know already and a lot that I didn’t.

Rough Music, Patrick Gale. My mother’s been recommending this author to me for ages, largely on account of the Isle of Wight connection, but I finally got around to reading him in this book from the sale at Ely library, and it’s mostly set in Cornwall. Very readable; one of those dual timeline narratives. A potential entry for The Reader’s Gazetteer – B for Barrowcester. Reading the notes at the end, it’s based on Winchester. I didn’t pick that up at all despite having been born in Winchester, but then I’m usually there to look at buses.

Husband Material, Alexis Hall. Well, this was where my Tuesday evening went. I lounged on the sofa, chuckling away. Delightful. It felt a little strange, because it felt very, very familiar. Hardly surprising: when I was writing The Real World I spent quite a lot of time wondering if after all Richard Curtis hadn’t said it all better in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Husband Material is very much riffing on that seminal romcom. Anyway, it is refreshing to see something else that really digs into the question of marriage. Even if it did get me thinking that it is as well that Issues in Human Sexuality has nothing to say about lemon sorbet. (There’s one other person in the world who’ll find that funny. Oh well.)

Making

Patchwork. Secret project.

Cooking

Pickled plums. And an improvised sort of pie made of plums and very old filo pastry from the freezer. The rest of the plums got frozen, though I should probably go and see what else I can harvest before the wasps get it.

Writing

A post for the Ely Cursillo site.

Looking at

Summer Open Exhibition at Babylon Arts. This was fascinating for the sheer range of artists and styles on show, and my reactions to them. I like bright textiles but not bright acrylics. I like moody pastels of Fenland skies. I dislike the self-consciously quirky except where it was made of steel. I am fascinated by the intricate. I am predisposed to like linocuts. It takes a lot to impress me with a photograph. I did know that @smolrobots is based somewhere in the vicinity, but I’d forgotten. And so on. Eavesdropping on other people’s reactions was also fun.

Listening to

I’ve been to Evensong three times this week (another of those things that I could do far more often than in fact I ever do). There’s been a visiting choir, and they really got into their stride today. Jackson in G (used to sing it at Guildford, but haven’t done it for years) and then something called Song to bring us home by Tamsin Jones.

Drinking

Sidecars. Or, as they somehow ended up getting called, Sidehorses. Don’t ask, or, at least, don’t ask me. I also had a strawberry slushie today, the first in a very, very long time.

Line of the week

This is from the Rebecca Solnit:

Imagine it doing seventy on the interstate, passing mesas and crumbling adobes and cattle and maybe some billboards for fake Indian trading posts, Dairy Queens and cheap motels, an eight-cylinder Sistine Chapel turned inside out and speeding toward a stark horizon under changing skies.

This coming week

More patchwork more patchwork more patchwork.

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.

Daily Decoration: blue and white and gold house

Flat ceramic Christmas tree decoration representing a tall house with Dutch gables, with doors and windows picked out in blue and gilt

This one came from an art shop in Cambridge. I think I’d just gone in to look at the art, with the intention of buying a card or two as the price of admission, but I saw this and I couldn’t not buy it. There was a whole street’s worth of houses, but I couldn’t really justify buying more than one. I bought this one. I love blue-and-white china (there’s more to come in this series), and the addition of gold makes it really lovely.

Of course, I was so terrified of breaking it that I wrapped it up very securely and tucked it away in my handbag and had forgotten all about it by the time I got home. I’m not sure that it actually made it onto the tree that year; if it did, it was at the very last minute.

I try to go and look at something once a week. (Blame Julia Cameron, probably.) Sometimes I manage it; sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s an exhibition; sometimes it’s a show; sometimes it’s a concert or a film. Sometimes, as here, it’s a shop that sells particularly beautiful things. Sometimes it isn’t really looking at something: it’s trying something new (an interesting looking cake, a different kind of tea, a book of poetry). Often I bring something away with me. Usually it’s something that can be stuck in my diary: a flyer, a bookmark. Sometimes it’s something that will allow me to explore the subject further: a book. Sometimes it’s something more substantial, something that’s part of the the something itself. Even if it’s tiny.

December Reflections 4: red

This year we moved into the first place we’ve owned, and we brought plenty of stuff with us. The curtains, for example. My mother made them for the high Victorian windows of my childhood home; I used them to cheer up the horrible bedsit I rented when I first moved out; turned them up to fit the french windows in the 1960s maisonette that was our last rented property. They’ve always been comforting: good for hiding behind when I was small; good for keeping the draughts out now; bold and cosy.

A glass-fronted wooden cabinet. Behind it, floor-length wooden curtains in a pattern of blue and red curlicues on a gold ground.

Then there was the pig picture, inherited from my beloved godmother Héloïse. Her house used to be full of vibrant, mischievous pictures: this was my favourite. And there, at the middle of it, is that bright red lobster.

A print of a painting featuring a large pig nosing at a bright red lobster on a picnic cloth while a boy sleeps

This was not the only picture we brought with us. It wasn’t even the only one with a red element to it. We also had a drawing of the two of us that we’d had done, in true tacky tourist fashion, at Montmartre, on our honeymoon.

A drawing in red pencil of a man in glasses and a woman in a headscarf

The new house had its own contributions to make. Most of the fanlights in the conservatory were decorated with a stained glass red rose.

A fanlight with a red rose of Lancaster in stained glass

With all that, it became obvious pretty quickly that the dining room wall – an insipid lavender when we moved in – needed to be red. We bought a pot of paint in our first week, on 17 March. We painted the wall on 25 May, bank holiday Monday.

Room, seen through an arch, with one red-painted wall, dark wood dining table and chairs, just a corner of the curtains from above, and the whole of the print with the pig and the picnic

My new book goes beautifully with my red wall, though in fact I didn’t plan it that way. That started with stained glass flowers rather than with domestic decor. I’d had my eye on the passion flowers in one of the windows of the south aisle at my previous/current church (it’s complicated!) for ages, wanting to replace the more realistic one on the cover of my first book. But if it was going to be a series then I was going to have to find other stained glass flowers to match. I knew I wanted this one to be red, but it was surprisingly difficult to find ones that weren’t roses (made it look too much like a historical novel) or poppies (also made it look too much like a historical novel). I eventually found these ones at a church I popped into on last year’s narrowboat holiday. I’m not sure what they’re meant to be – maybe carnations? – but anyway, I’m really pleased with them.

Really, when it comes to it, I’m just very, very fond of red.