Week-end: l’on y danse

The surviving arches of the bridge at Avignon, on a bright winter day)

The good

We are on holiday! We are staying in Avignon and visiting other towns in the vicinity as well. There is a great deal to see and the food is excellent. Also, the sun has mostly been out, and getting more sun was the object of the exercise.

The mixed

There is, inevitably, not enough time to do everything and see anything, and I am compiling a mental list of things we didn’t get round to this time/that were closed for the winter/would have needed a car/etc. So we will just have to come back and take slow trains along the Côte d’Azur/see the Pont du Gard/look for flamingoes in the Camargue.

The difficult and perplexing

It is cold. The place we are staying at is called La Vie de Bohême and my hands are doing the Che manina gelida bit. The mistral is blows straight through me. Just like home, really. But why do all the hand driers in the public lavatories insist on getting in on the act?

What’s working

Trousers over tights. Having a lie-down in the afternoon. Accepting the fact that really any establishment with a menu outside will feed me adequately and will be happy to do so.

Reading

I forgot to mention Winters in the World (Eleanor Parker) – following the cycle of the early mediaeval year and quoting a lot of literature along the way. I’m really enjoying it.

On the e-reader, I have These Violent Delights (Chloe Gong) – Romeo and Juliet, except older and more jaded, in 1920s Shanghai, with monsters and possession (sort of). I’m enjoying the story; the prose tends towards the clumsy (but see below). I’m also continuing with Death in Cyprus and returned to The Master and Margarita (the latter has now shown up). I’m not sure I’m really getting it.

Looking at

Lots of Provençal monuments! We went around the Palais des Papes, and out as far as you can along the famous bridge (there was an exhibition, with quite an interesting film about how they have worked out where the rest of it originally was). This morning in Nîmes we went around the Roman arena and I learned a lot about gladiators, and into the Maison Carrée. This afternoon in Arles we looked at the outside of the Roman arena (two in one day seemed excessive) and through the railings at the theatre.

My favourite thing, though, has been the crib scenes in the churches. The one in the cathedral at Avignon is currently showing a Candlemas scene; the one in Saint-Trophime in Arles is a magnificent multi-level edifice occupying an entire chapel and featuring locals in traditional dress coming to visit the crib. It even has a windmill at the top of the hill.

Eating

I said there’d be pancakes. There have, in fact, been three: one with chilli con carne at My Old Dutch (Chelsea) on Wednesday night; one with ham and Gruyère and an egg on top yesterday lunchtime, and one (‘crêpe Mont Ventoux’) with chestnut and whipped cream and chocolate sauce for pudding yesterday night. That may be enough to be going on with. I have also eaten onion soup (very, very effective when I was tired and cold the night we arrived), lamb stew, and quiche with leeks and bacon. It’s all been delicious.

Moving

Climbing up and down a lot of steps of various antiquity.

Noticing

A set of gallopers with black bulls alongside the usual horses. Young men with a shopping trolley full of puppies (I don’t know why; I hope they meant them no harm). Goats in a garden next the railway. Snow on the ground as we crossed the middle of France on the TGV. Two swans and a cormorant in the Rhône.

Appreciating

Having an apartment to ourselves. The SNCF app (when it’s been working). The friendliness and patience of pretty much everyone we’ve spoken to.

Acquisitions

Badges for my camp blanket (though not, so far, one saying Avignon).

Hankering

I keep passing shops full of soap and hats and shoes, and haven’t gone into any of them. Yet.

Line of the week

One really good one from These Violent Delights:

He was born with pride stitched to his spine.

This coming week

A little longer in France, and then home. I have quite a lot to sort out before next weekend, the beginning of a very busy February.

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

Week-end: cold and beautiful

A street corner on a bright wintry day. Above the houses a cathedral tower rises, hazy in the mist, and surrounded by white-frosted trees.

The good

I dragged myself out of the house this morning and was glad I did: a heavy, spiky frost had turned all the trees white, and the cathedral was wearing a misty veil and looking like an enchanted castle from another dimension.

I have had a little more go, and even managed a bit of piano practice on two days. (I have been teaching myself to play the piano, very slowly, for the last five years at least.)

Lots of post on Thursday: my author copy of Bicycles and Broomsticks (Tony got his on Friday, so I think most people should be getting their Kickstarter rewards soon); cotton mending yarn in jolly bright colours…

The mixed

… and the probate application form, which has been doing the rounds of us executors. It is a sad thing, but it is good to keep things moving.

The difficult and perplexing

Never mind Blue Monday, Wednesday was an actual depression day. I am looking on the bright side and thinking that it is useful to know that I can in fact tell the difference between being knackered and being depressed.

Mixed news from the Church of England, and as usual I’m having trouble working out what I feel about it and feeling hesitant about expressing that, whatever it is.

Also, I shrank my favourite jumper. I’ve stretched out out again over the drying rack, but it is not what it was.

What’s working

Alternating activity with lying on the sofa.

Reading

I seem to be starting loads of books and finishing none of them. Yet. I continued with Sisters of the Forsaken Stars. My romantic suspense book club is now reading Death in Cyprus (M. M. Kaye) – satisfyingly awful characters, including the ones who are meant to be sympathetic, and some gorgeous descriptions. I also returned to Switzerland’s Amazing Railways, which had the entirely predictable effect of making me want to go to Switzerland and ride on (more of) the railways.

Writing

Not a huge amount, but I did type up all the longhand I did on the train last Monday. I still haven’t worked out a routine or set-up that works in my current state, and I’m not sure whether there is a routine or set-up that would theoretically work, or if I just need to wait things out and write little bits when I have the energy.

Mending

Two of Tony’s tops and a pair of my tights.

Watching

As in the rest of the month: Detectorists, Our Flag Means Death, quizzes and winter sports. I am not all that invested in the sports, but I enjoy looking at the snowy mountains.

Looking at

Small but Perfectly Formed: an open exhibition at the local art gallery. There were a few pieces I really liked, quite a lot that were just Not My Thing, and several that I would have liked had they not been given horrific twee names. (I am much more a ‘willows with heron’ person than a ‘gone fishing’ one.)

Cooking

I continue to experiment with the Instant Pot. Last Sunday I made a stonkingly good boeuf bourguignon on the slow cooker setting. Yesterday I did lamb tagine with the pressure cooker. I like this thing.

Eating

As above. Also, yesterday I had a falafel and halloumi wrap from the market; it was not as good as the ones from the stall in St Pancras new churchyard, and was also more dribbly than I’d have liked, but was still not at all bad.

Drinking

Tony and I tackled the mocktails menu at Poet’s House yesterday, considering all four items on it (I noticed too late that there was a Dry January blackboard with several other options) before going for a Virgin Mary (him) and a Galaxy (me). The latter is made of pineapple juice, and I think soda water, and made partly purple with butterfly pea powder (sole function of latter seems to be making things purple). Then I was falling asleep again so went home.

Moving

Swimming on Friday morning: probably a bad idea, in retrospect, even if I was careful and did about half what I’d usually attempt. Still, I’ve managed to walk into town and back, or further, every day since Thursday, so maybe that’s progress. People keep assuring me that the fatigue will pass. But why does nobody mention it alongside the sickness and the forgetfulness?

Playing

Home on the Range. Repeatedly.

Noticing

A goldfinch.

In the garden

Finally got all the pear trees and all but one of the apple trees pruned. And obtained an enamel soup plate to replace the birds’ water bowl, which cracked in the last frost.

Appreciating

Long johns. Hot shower. Bed. All the organising I did in November.

Acquisitions

The copy of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Rebecca West) that’s been tempting me in Oxfam for months got sufficiently reduced for me to buy it. And I got Arsenic for Tea (Robin Stevens) and Unseen Things Above (Catherine Fox) while I was in there too.

Hankering

I wanted to get a peanut feeder for the birds with an anti-squirrel cage, but such a thing was not to be had in Wilko. I want interesting socks, but not enough to learn how to knit them for myself. And I am still tempted by a 21-hook darning loom.

Line of the week

Loads of candidates this week! Either I am reading some very good writers or I am reading more attentively and appreciatively. Both good. This is from Death in Cyprus:

Amanda’s hair – a deep golden brown with glints in it the colour of the first chestnuts in September – was a glorious anachronism.

Sunday snippet

This is from the ‘don’t quit your day job’ workbook thingy.

One of the great gifts of all this has been that I have ceased to feel guilty about the things I’m not doing, whether that be writing, or washing up, or piano practice, or getting cat hair out from under the TV stand.

Things happen when they happen. I am actually pretty good at getting things done, but I get them done when I have the time and the energy, and when I don’t I don’t waste time and energy worrying about them.

This coming week

The long haul south. Pancakes. And what looks like it’s going to be a very frosty cycle to the station tomorrow morning.

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

Week-end: Twelfth Night, somehow

A paper 'stained glass' window shows the Magi offering gifts to the child Jesus and Mary

The good

Lunch out with friends. Sharing good news. A really interesting discussion about John the Baptist.

My brain is coming back! Slowly, but it’s on the way. I have been reading things. I have been writing things. I have been watching things.

The mixed

It’s just as well that I’ve been working from home all week, because I’ve been collapsing into bed as soon as I clock off. I’m a bit worried about how I’m going to cope next week.

The difficult and perplexing

I’m becoming increasingly aware that for my next trick I need to become much better at delegating. But at this stage I’m still very much in the ‘it’ll only take five minutes; might as well do it myself’ phase, and delegating (and chasing the people I’ve delegated to) is also work. Improvement needed.

What’s working

Going for the easy option. Zoom rather than a dash to the South (this is tomorrow but I’m already glad I’m not taking a train to Guildford). Lunch in the pub that is nearest. And so on.

Reading

Lady B- is back! And I’ve just started Snow Ball (Brigid Brophy): cynical and scintillating.

Writing

Most of an interview for my alma mater, and a little more on the blog about the Belgian Coastal Tramway. Coming soon. I hope.

Mending

I got the darning loom out again and mended holes in: my favourite navy Guernsey jumper; one of Tony’s long-sleeved T-shirts; a pyjama top.

Watching

Charade: a self-consciously silly caper film starring Audrey Hepburn and the Parisian urban transit network. Mostly the Métro, but there was an excellent moment where Cary Grant leapt onto the back of a bus, as is entirely correct. I guessed the solution of the mystery quite early on, but there were plenty of other twists to keep me amused.

Continuing with Detectorists. I also started Our Flag Means Death. I’d been rather put off by hype backlash (a constant weakness of mine) and the earnestness of the fandom discourse, but it turns out to be delightfully silly (as well as Good Queer Rep and, what I hadn’t heard so much about, a clever commentary on the place of pirates in popular culture). I continue to get earwormed by the Horrible Histories Blackbeard song.

Cooking

An extremely bland and comforting tuna pasta bake. And then the thing with pearl barley, chorizo and kale (the only way to make kale interesting that I have yet discovered).

Eating

Today at the pub I had a chickpea curry (forgettable) followed by peach tarte tatin (very nice).

Moving

It feels rather depressing to be noting what used to be my standard morning walk as an incident of record, but there we go.

Playing

This afternoon I was taught to play Bears vs Babies. Rather fun.

In the garden

The squirrel has discovered the peanut feeder. I shall rearrange the feeders and leave the nuts out of it for a bit.

Appreciating

Intelligent theological conversation. Friends. Being able to nap.

Acquisitions

Merino wool long johns in the Mountain Warehouse sale. Will it get cold enough again to wear them? We shall see.

Line of the week

Almost every line of The Snow Ball has been quotable. What about:

He was short, and hollowed out by middle age; and his sporran leapt hectically, leapt breathlessly, up and down, not keeping time with the lighter leaps of his jabot.

Saturday snippet

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.

This coming week

Four days in the office. Will I manage to stay awake? And will I get the hang of the (heretofore unmentioned) Instant Pot? Stay tuned!

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

Week-end: and year-end

Morning sun and bare trees seen through a glassless window

The good

I’ve enjoyed these first seven days of Christmas. We’ve seen lots of family, and a few friends, and I’ve been alternating between cooking, reading, and doing absolutely nothing. Now we’re back home with the cat.

And I think I’m getting my brain back.

The mixed

I could do with fretting less when we’re both away from home. I’m better now that we have a cat – because that means that we have someone coming in to feed her, and surely if the house burned down they would let us know – but I’d really like to be not quite so on edge until that first check-in.

The difficult and perplexing

Had to see some of the family from a distance, as they were struck down with the lurgy.

What’s working

Letting other people do things. Though I still need to work on this.

Reading

Wintering (Katherine May). I bought this because a lot of people on the DecemberReflections Instagram hashtag named it as their book of the year. I have to say that there wasn’t a whole lot in there that felt revolutionary to me: the central idea, that some periods in one’s life are just bloody difficult and to deal with them one needs to take a step back, is one that I first encountered in Lesley Garner’s Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked back when I was a student, not to mention something that has been brought home to me by experience this year. And the concept of living in season is something that’s explored in far greater depth in Waverly Fitzgerald’s Slow Time. I was unimpressed by the uncritical repetition of the factoid about Hallowe’en being ‘when the veil between the worlds grows thin’ (anyone who follows @Cavalorn on Twitter will know that this is an idea that dates back no further than the twentieth century) and was consequently preprared to distrust anything else May wrote about wintry festivals; fortunately she didn’t, much. However, there were some lovely bits of observational writing, and I’m glad to have read it even if I didn’t get my mind blown. And I have Winters In The World (Eleanor Parker) to read next, and I have much higher hopes of that.

Agatha Christie: a very elusive woman (Lucy Worsley) was a Christmas present: very readable. I found the constant use of the first name (Agatha this, Agatha that) rather uncomfortable, although since Worsley’s point was very much that Agatha Christie was a complex mixture of personalities, not all of them called Agatha Christie, I can see why the choice was made.

Watching/listening to

The Neujahrskonzert on BBC4 is on in the background while I write this.

Cooking

Simultaneous soups, one vegan and one from the remains of the Christmas chicken.

Eating

What haven’t I been eating? Turkey, I suppose. I have not eaten any turkey this Christmas. I have eaten many other things. Roast lamb. Macarons. Smashed avocado and poached egg on sourdough toast. Fishfinger sandwiches with chips. Vegetable curry. Shepherd’s pie. Chocolate cake. Many types of cheese. Stollen fudge (just seems to be standard fudge with dried fruit in so far as I can tell).

Playing

Two different railway-building games: TransAmerica and Ticket To Ride. I lost spectacularly in TransAmerica and won Ticket to Ride by three points.

Noticing

A huge Newfoundland dog – first peering under a gate, and then out for a walk with its owner. Various birds of prey I couldn’t identify (I am rubbish at birds of prey; they were probably all very common). The lovely sign on the A421 that points to Toseland Yelling Graveley.

Appreciating

My green corduroy trousers. People helping me with things and/or doing them so I didn’t have to.

Acquisitions

I did pretty well in the sales in Milton Keynes. Brushed cotton pyjamas. A nice floaty top. Starry pants. And – in the rather incongruous charity shop – a gorgeous blue dress that might do for my brother’s wedding.

Hankering

Several things in LionessElise’s sale. But I don’t need any of them.

Line of the week

From Wintering:

Encountering the extremes of cold drew us both into that most clichéd space, The Moment, forcibly pulling our minds away from ruminating on the past or future, or tilling over an endless to-do list.

This coming week

Lots of thank you letters to write. News to share. Bank holiday. Back to work.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here! And I hope 2023 brings you many good things.

December Reflections 24 (stillness) and 25 (today is…), and Week-end

Grey sea and grey sky fading into each other at the horizon
Discarded wrapping paper

The good

I am more or less over my cold and was able to sing most of the Christmas carols as I would have wished.

The mixed

Christmas with the family, the first time we’ve made it since Covid happened. It’s been good. Tag-team organised chaos. Missing Pa. Ended up in charge of two major meals. Slightly overreached myself with the Wigilia and had a cry midway through making the pierogi (need to get better at coopting minions, particularly when it’s just a case of following a recipe in a book).

The difficult and perplexing

Being ill has meant I haven’t been to nearly as much church as I normally would, and having melted brain and general fatigue has meant I haven’t been able to do as much in-depth Advent study as I usually would, and really all I could do was turn up at midnight mass and hope it was doing its thing somewhere deep under the surface.

What’s working

The shower! At least, better than it was before. I think I must have knocked the temperature control at some point.

Reading

I finished Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. Holy cliffhanger, Batman! I suppose I’ll have to read the next one now, but I disapprove. Picked up The Master and Margarita again; I continue to find it rather heavy-going. Started Sisters of the Forgiving Stars. And also Letters from Tove [Jansson], which I can see I’m going to enjoy immensely.

Watching

I finished the first season of Detectorists and enjoyed it. Quite a lot of skiing. And we watched a programme featuring Susan Calman taking a Christmas cruise down the Danube, which provided me with an opportunity to try to recognise bits of Vienna and Bratislava.

Cooking

Almost an entire Wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve) meal, modified to account for two vegans and one vegetarian. I was particularly pleased with how the pierogi (three flavours – mushroom, sauerkraut, and potato, onion and ‘cheese’) turned out, even if it would have been better to make it in advance.

The barscz came out of a Tetrapak and the uszkas came out of a bag. I made a sauerkraut salad and a cucumber and ‘yoghurt’ salad, and got Tony to do a tomato one. Lidl ready to pan-fry sea bass for the carnivores. Stuffed tomatoes for everyone else. And I had made the cake ahead of time.

Ended up mostly in charge of Christmas lunch, too, until I got the timings out by half an hour and gave up with a howl of despair. There were plenty of other adults to take over.

Eating

See above.

In the garden

Finally got around to unloading compost from the Hotbin.

Noticing

Arundel looking impossibly fairy-tale in the declining winter sun.

Appreciating

Family. Friends, not least the online ones. And the hovercraft coming back into service just as we got to Portsmouth, cutting an hour off the journey.

Acquisitions

Other than Christmas presents, a lot of sewing thread.

Line of the week

From the verse of O Little Town that’s only in the New English Hymnal:

Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

This coming week

More seasonal shenanigans.

If you’ve been celebrating Christmas today, I hope it’s been a very happy one. Otherwise, I wish you a nice peaceful day and hope it all doesn’t get too annoying.

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

December Reflections 11: best decision of 2022, and Week-end

A blanket and a cushion in the corner of a sofa

I think it’s a bit early to call the best decision of 2022. I don’t know how a lot of them are going to work out. Although I can say that I’m glad to have made them, rather than vaguely hoping that they’ll sort themselves out without any input from me.

In the meantime, I can report that taking a nap has pretty much always turned out to be a good move.

The good

Lunch with friends today. Hadn’t seen them in ages and it was very good to catch up.

The mixed

Yesterday I took a long walk around Ely delivering Christmas cards. It was absolutely beautiful in the frosty sunlight – at one point I turned a corner and saw the cathedral all lit up in rose gold – but it really brought home how tired I’m getting, because I had to sit on a bench for a long time before I felt up to walking the last twenty minutes home, and then I was falling asleep on the sofa and had to take a nap.

The difficult and perplexing

Things got a bit much for me at work. I’ve been feeling like rather a fraud lately – largely down to the fatigue and the accompanying lack of focus.

What’s working

Thermal leggings. Double socks.

Reading

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Rosamund Hodge) – a fantasy take on Romeo and Juliet with zombies and blood magic. Enough has been changed to keep me guessing, and the generally gothic atmosphere fits beautifully.

And today, Licence To Queer’s Queer Re-view of Skyfall – long and fascinating. (Also it quotes me, which is gratifying, particularly since I’m about to delete the ‘Writing’ heading in this post, on account of I haven’t done any.)

Watching

Gloriana (Benjamin Britten) – English National Opera. This was billed as a ‘concert performance’, which in practice meant that the chorus was on a stepped platform and the principals moved and acted and sang in front of them. This worked reasonably well, although I think the big set pieces suffered from a lack of movement – particularly the dance at Whitehall, where the so-called volta wouldn’t have raised so much as a ladylike glow.

I found it sad and moving and, as I said on Thursday, very listenable. I can see why it was a flop in 1953, though, and I wonder what on earth Britten was thinking. It’s not a coronation piece. You really need an audience who’s watched Glenda Jackson demythologise Good Queen Bess.

Anyway, it’s probably the only time I’ll ever get to see it, and for that reason alone I’m glad I did. (And Willard White was in it, singing two bit parts. Easily the biggest opera name I’ve seen live.)

Otherwise, winter sports. Having tracked biathlon down to Eurovision Sports Live (it’s all but disappeared from Eurosport) I’ve had that on in the background while I’ve been doing various tasks, and it’s been the Grand Prix Final this weekend.

Looking at

Forgot to mention last week: I looked into St Mary’s, Ely, to see what it looks like post-refurbishment. I was impressed – it feels much lighter and airier, there’s more that can be done with the space, and the more interesting features are showcased rather than hidden away.

Cooking

A thing out of Jack Monroe’s tin can book involving chickpeas and spinach, except I used cannellini beans and leftover cabbage. Worked fine.

Eating

Delicious turkey lunch cooked by the friends we were visiting, and most excellent mince pies made by the friend who gave us a lift there. We have good friends.

Moving

Long Christmas-card-delivering walk, as mentioned above.

Appreciating

An extremely productive Friday. And an instant freezer meal for when I hit the wall at seven o’clock.

Acquisitions

I did very well in Oxfam and picked up an omnibus of Joan Aiken’s Armitage stories and a couple of the Bagthorpes series.

In internet shopping: one pair of teal corduroy trousers, one pair of burgundy corduroy dungarees, one box of perfume samples.

Line of the week

From Queer Re-View: Skyfall:

And even when the story is over, many of us perpetuate the fantasy in a multitude of ways: playing the film soundtracks allows us to enact our lives as spies, even when we’re just commuting to work; we can pretend we’re experiencing the luxurious existence of an agent on a generous expense account by making cocktails at the weekends in our kitchens; we can literally walk in Bond’s shoes (or a pair that look like them if we can’t afford Crockett & Jones).

This coming week

Is going to be very cold (by UK standards) and I’m glad to be mostly working from home.

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

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.

Week-end: fantastic Tangfastic

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

The good

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

The difficult and perplexing

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

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

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

What’s working

Napping. Tangfastics.

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

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

Reading

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

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

Writing

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

Making

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

Watching

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

Cooking

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

Eating

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

Noticing

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

In the garden

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

Appreciating

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

Acquisitions

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

Line of the week

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

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

Saturday snippet

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

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

This coming week

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

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

Week-end: particularly rapid unintelligible patter

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

The good

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

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

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

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

The mixed

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

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

The difficult and perplexing

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

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

What’s working

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

Reading

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

Writing

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

Making

Mystery patchwork. One down, five to go.

Watching

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking

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

Eating

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

Playing

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

Noticing

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

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

Appreciating

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

Acquisitions

New bras arrived.

Line of the week

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

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

Saturday snippet

From the Romeo and Juliet thing:

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

This was promising. ‘When? Where?’

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

‘Do you know who he is?’

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

This coming week

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

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