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!

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!

Bicycles and Broomsticks – Kickstarter live now

Bicycles in a museum display

Bikes in Space is back! This is a more-or-less annual publication by Microcosm Publishing, and aside from the bicycles and the speculative fiction implied by the series title there’s always a strong feminist theme. This issue’s theme is bicycles and broomsticks.

And I am back in it. My story is called Layings Out and Lyings In, and features a couple of no-nonsense witch-midwives, one of whom is an early adopter of that marvellous invention the safety bicycle. I had a good deal of fun writing this one.

This is all, well, kicked off by a Kickstarter campaign, and backing the Kickstarter is certainly the quickest and probably the easiest way of getting hold of the book. I should also say that, the more the Kickstarter campaign raises, the more I get paid for my story – so, if you were planning to get it anyway, getting it earlier is more profitable for me.

Unfortunately international shipping is getting ever more ruinous and prohibitive, but readers outside the US can at least get the book itself posted to them, and liaise directly with the publisher to work out other add-ons. Those inside can add on all sorts of goodies (personally I’m casting an envious eye at all the Bikes in Space back issues). Either way, here’s the campaign page. Take a look.

(The bicycles in the picture are in the transport museum at Dresden, which is well worth a look if you’re ever in that neck of the woods.)

Week-end: equinoctial

A broad sky dappled with white and, nearer, pearly grey clouds

The good

A small family gathering: my mother stayed overnight on her way back south, and the in-laws are staying just up the road. I don’t think we’ve seen them all in the same place for the best part of a decade. We had a very nice morning chatting and eating cake, celebrating Tony’s birthday.

The mixed

A palimpsest of red letter days: the equinox, Tony’s birthday, Bi Visibility Day, the uncompromising autumnal nature of it all and the corresponding wondering about where this year has gone (answer: same as it’s been every time I’ve wondered this).

The difficult and perplexing

I’m really feeling the diminished daylight. It’s difficult to get up in the dark for my office days (and the Great Northern line still isn’t running properly, adding an extra half hour to change at Cambridge in the mornings) and on my work-from-home days I haven’t managed to get out of bed early enough to get a morning walk in.

What’s working

A little at a time. A picture a day. Or, at least, every day that I can.

Reading

Barely anything this week, though I am keeping up with Clorinda. As compensation, I’m going to mention a couple of things I read earlier and then didn’t write about. Firstly, Dust Tracks On A Road, Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography. I get the impression that this was not the best place to start, though I also feel the writer of the introduction (this is a Virago paperback edition) wanted it to be a book that it was never going to be. Also, Tristan and Isolde (Gabriel Bise), a rather odd book which took as its starting point illustrations from a manuscript version in the Duc de Berry’s library and then tried to tell the story with explicit reference to what was going on in the pictures. Sometimes this felt rather like reading a medieval Hello! (“Wearing golden crowns the royal couple stood side by side, Mark wearing a full red cloak lined with vair, Isolde in a pink robe embroidered in gold. Between them, the priest in his blue cape blessed their joined hands while reading from the ritual of the sacramental texts. Behind the king, in a green coat, Tristan shared with Curvenal the anguish which afflicted him…”) and occasionally went all the way into unintentional farce (“disguised as a pilgrim, [King Mark] went with his retinue to the land of Logres. Wearing his gold-crowned helmet he easily disposed of those knights who happened to obstruct his path…”). Really I’d have preferred a straight translation of the actual text in the Duc de Berry’s book.

Writing

More on Book Bus Stories, which is really starting to come together, and a light pass over Starcrossers, which I now know how to cut down to fit into the word limit.

Mending

A visible darn on the elbow of a short stripy blue dress and an invisible mend, picking up a ladder in a little gold cardigan. A couple more subtle darns on one of Tony’s T-shirts and another one on the dress with constellations.

Listening to

The Queen’s funeral. Rather a pedestrian selection of hymns, I thought (much as I love The day thou gavest, I associate it more with Evensong, possibly coupled with an address by Reverend Whatsit from the Missionary Society, and I’m really not sure about descants at a funeral) but the choral stuff was excellent.

Watching

The world road cycling championships, selectively and rather behind the times. Getting up to watch it live isn’t really an option this week, but I’ve enjoyed seeing it in chunks during the evenings. I really do like the mixed relay time trial; it’s a pity it only happens once a year. Now I’ve got the women’s road race on in the background and am enjoying glancing up to see pleasant views of the Australian coastline.

Household

Hanging some family pictures: two of my great-grandmother’s watercolours featuring the great-aunt I’m named after (she doesn’t seem to have painted anybody except her own children; everything else is landscapes); a painting of Kirkstall Abbey which has on the back a list of every address where it’s hung since 1915; a painting of a great-great-great-aunt as a child (and about time: that one’s been sitting on top of the piano for months). Of course I’d forgotten about a framed prayer and a shield of Trinity College Cambridge, and will have to get some more picture hooks.

Cooking

A very large apple crumble.

Eating

Cake. Also Tony cooked venison on Sunday, which made quite a change.

Moving

Special arrangements for the Period of National Mourning meant that Sunday’s regular communion service happened at 4pm, so for once I got a Sunday morning ride in. My usual route heads out to the north-west and proceeds along a series of right-angles. When I get fed up I turn around and go back again. Consequently I am bound to get both headwinds and tailwinds at some point in the trip; this time it was a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back, which, because of the way the hills work, is by far the most fun, and I beat all my Strava numbers in an entirely undeserved manner. Also there was some excellent fenland sky going on (see photo at top of post).

Noticing

Cyclamen under the hazel trees. I do love cyclamen – only the tiny mauve wild ones, though.

In the garden

Still apples, still pears, and a handful of runner beans.

Appreciating

Tailwinds. Family. The comforting delicate web of internet connections.

Acquisitions

The Ffern Autumn 22 perfume arrived. It doesn’t particularly seem to work on my skin, though: pleasantly citrusy for an hour or so, and then gone. I think I’ll work through the sample and return the full bottle.

Hankering

I want one of those plywood contraptions that you put on a table to make it into a standing desk, with your laptop on the highest shelf, your keyboard and mouse halfway down, etc. Not sure that this would actually work with any furniture I actually own, but still, I note this. I also have a hankering after hand-knitted socks, being jealous of my knitting friends. I don’t want to get into knitting socks, though. Etsy may be the answer here. And opera tickets.

Line of the week

From the latest Hidden Europe:

Just south of the estuary of the Adige we come to the Po Delta, where a braided maze of waterways has over the centuries shifted position, leaving spits, sandbars and brackish backwaters where the low line of the horizon is broken only by myriad migrating birds.

Saturday snippet

Having some fun with one of the Book Bus Stories:

He had toiled down to the Riviera, and meandered around Juan-les-Pins and Antibes and Nice in a state of mind as blue as the famous train that had taken him there.

This coming week

A busy work week, and then the Eurostar to Brussels for Brugge and the Belgian Coastal Tramway. I’d like to catch up with Embroidered Sunset, keep going with the drawings, and maybe listen to some music in the evenings.

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

Week-end: in hell

Only in terms of media consumption, though. This hasn’t been a bad week for me.

Cot quilt in patchwork diamonds, mostly blues and greens.

The good

A really lovely meeting yesterday morning with the current spiritual director and the previous lay director of Ely Cursillo. We all turned up in pink tops, entirely coincidentally, and ate delicious brunch, and had the proper catch-up and said the proper thank-you that’s really been waiting since the spring.

And my ma stayed over Thursday night, en route to The North. I like having people to stay.

The mixed

Glamorous as it is to travel to work by hovercraft, the early start that staying on the Isle of Wight implies does leave me very tired at the end of Monday, and then there’s the rest of the week to get through.

The difficult and perplexing

Life would be easier if I didn’t have to turn round half way up the hill and cycle back home to make sure I actually have shut the garage door (of course I had), meaning that I didn’t have time to lock my bike up at the station, meaning that I then couldn’t get the train I’d said I’d catch because it didn’t have room for me and my bicycle. I’m getting better at trusting myself to have done this sort of thing, but I’m not nearly there yet.

And the cat puked extensively over the ground floor this morning. Of the approximately three million things I’d wanted to get done today, cleaning up cat sick wasn’t exactly top of the list. But it had to be.

What’s working

Putting the current ‘to do’ page of my Filofax in between the current two pages of the ‘week on two pages’ diary. I’ve been refining this with different coloured pages for work tasks, immediate priorities, and small steps towards big projects. I watched the official Bullet Journal introduction video and, while I now get how it works, I still don’t think it’s ever going to match the way my mind works. This, however, will do for the moment.

Reading

I’m already behind on The Embroidered Sunset. Yesterday I bought four books in a charity shop and read two of them: The Wire in the Blood (Val McDermid) – very self-consciously darker and edgier, almost approaching self-parody in some places. Anybody who looked like they might die horribly, did; any prospect of justice being served was undermined; and the hero is the saddest sack in the history of sad sacks. And The Climb Up To Hell (Jack Olsen), an account of a 1957 attempt on the north face of the Eiger and the ensuing rescue attempt. The phrase ‘play stupid games, win stupid prizes’ comes to mind. I’ve been interested in the NFotE since 2016 or so, though the closest I have been, and the closest I intend to get, is the railway up to Jungfraujoch. I can’t say that this felt entirely unbiased, but it was certainly absorbing.

Meanwhile, on the subject of hell, cycling through the poetry bookcase brought me back to Inferno, canto VI to be precise.

I started The Voyages of Cinrak The Dapper (A. J. Fitzwater) and will see how twee it gets. I’ve been dipping in and out of A Desire of Tramcars and the French half of De buurtspoorweg|Le vicinal. And also A View To A Kill, Paris Is Well Worth A Bus, and a 1970 guide to Paris that I found in an Ely junk shop. For reasons.

Writing

Book Bus Stories! I printed this off to take down to the Isle of Wight and discovered that it’s almost done! Eighty per cent, I’d say. This looks like it really is going to happen for Ventnor Fringe 2023. Of course, I’d been putting off the trickiest bits, but filling in the gaps has come easier than I’d expected. Next thing is to get out the lino cutters.

Making

As the photograph at the top of this post indicates, I got the mystery patchwork done, and indeed it is no longer a mystery and is now with its recipient. I was up at seven o’clock on Sunday morning getting the edge finished, though.

Watching

Ventnor Arts Club put on a Bicycle Film Festival to mark the passage of the Tour of Britain, and carried on regardless of the cancellation of the race. This meant that I was able to watch A Sunday In Hell, the film about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix race. It’s very good. Sure, on one level it’s just another documentary, but it’s beautifully shot and beautifully paced. And it captures something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on television: the experience of watching a race from the side of a road, waiting and waiting and waiting (there are a couple of people with a card game laid out on a picnic blanket) as well as the more familiar start-to-finish television race.

It’s fascinating to watch it in 2022 and see what still endures (mechanics hanging out of team car windows to fix bikes on the move, for example) and what doesn’t (mechanics riding on team car roofs).

This concludes the … in hell section of this post.

Cooking

Baked apples, with a bit of sliced crystallised ginger in with the sultanas.

Eating

Extremely good scampi at Besty and Spinky’s at Ventnor Haven. I’m quite fond of the little balls of breaded pink paste you get in pubs, but this was something entirely different. This had a coherency and a flavour that I’d never encountered before, and interesting seeded breadcrumbs. The menu promised me that I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I wasn’t.

And extremely good French toast at the community café in Duxford.

Noticing

A just-over-half moon and Mars in among Aldebaran and Elnath (I had to look them up), with Jupiter a little further to the east. Several deer in the fields, and, also, one field with Canada geese followed immediately by a field with the ordinary brown sort.

In the garden

Apples and pears. I need to do some pruning.

Mending

I took my brown leather handbag into the shop where I bought it, and got the handle sewn back in. And there’s a growing pile over the banister that needs attending to…

Appreciating

Photos shared by two of my brothers, who are off on separate heritage transport expeditions.

Acquisitions

I went slightly overboard in Cambridge yesterday (I haven’t been for ages, OK?) – paper tape, a pair of embroidery scissors, some turmeric and a cork yoga brick in Flying Tiger, some DVDs from Fopp, and the aforementioned books from the hospice shop (the other two were A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and one of the Ruth Galloway series).

Hankering

Today I have tried out Tony’s nice German leather pannier bag satchel, and I like it. He’s going to give it to me if he can’t make it fit his bike.

Line of the week

There are some gorgeous descriptions in The Embroidered Sunset: how about this one?

The houses are stone, rising up the steep cliff in tiers, and they have those red pantile roofs, marcelled like mother’s hair in old photographs; smoke rushed hastily from the chimneys, there’s always a strong wind blowing, and the gulls never stop making a row.

Saturday snippet

One of the Book Bus Stories, which is now considerably more of a story than it was:

There was a little eddy of movement inside. She froze; then it was too late to flee. Two of them were coming out, arm in arm, laughing together, but not too absorbed in each other to spare a glance at Althea.

All she could do was endure the disinterest on one striking face and the pity on the other.

This coming week

Ma returns on her way back to The South. The in-laws stop by to celebrate Tony’s birthday. Bi Visibility Day. Some more Book Bus Stories.

And I might listen to the Queen’s funeral (I really don’t like watching church services on TV; it feels terribly intrusive). Or I might go out for a bike ride. Or both.

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

Week-end: sudden standstill

Model San Francisco cable car, with box, in front of a window through which can be seen the sea

The mixed

I’m doing this on my pone so it’s all going in tgether. I am on the Isle of Wight. (This piture shows Ventnor, not San Francisco.) I was meant to be watching the Tour of Britain, which was meant to be crossing the Island and coming through Ventnor tomorrow. However, the Queen died (and that’s quite a thing to get one’s head around in itself) and so it’s cancelled. So it’s turned into a regular Island-weekend-with-family, which is very good in itself, but it would have been even more fun to watch the cycling together.

And because regular Island weekends with family tend to mean clearing my father’s house, we’ve been doing that, and it’s slow going. Yesterday I was close to despairing. Today I took a load of shelves to bits and felt better. But yes, it’s not an easy process. Often aggravating. Occasionally poignant. Sometimes hilarious. We found a little card on which was recorded my first visit to a pub. I was less than a month old. And I have to say that should I have need of a 1950s model San Francisco cable car (this will become relevant later), I have a far greater than average chance of finding one.

Plus the trains have been awful and I’ve been knackered.

What’s working

Pumping up the tyres on my bike. Made it much easier to get up the hill, even with a holdall, a satchel, and a tote bag with a cork yoga block.

Reading

Madame Clorinda is back! Not that she’s been Madame Clorinda for a long time, of course, but she’s been brightening my mornings.

Started The Embroidered Sunset (Joan Aiken) with an online readalong.

Finished Double or Nothing: very good, twisty, introduces some engaging new characters and had me looking forward to seeing more of them.

I also read, and loved, Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Malinda Lo), and I would rave about it if I weren’t typing in this hideous mobile interface. Amazing sense of time and place. Let the cable car speak for how much I liked it.

Making

Up against it with this patchwork thing.

Watching

The Tour of Britain, or what there was of it.

Cooking

Beef olives, for the first time ever, and baked figs.

Listening to

Jeremy Wilson talking about Beryl Burton at Ventnor Exchange. Very difficult to stop Beryl Burton, even when all other cycling stops.

Playing

Scrabble, with my mother. I won, largely because I drew J, Q, Z and K.

Appreciating

The full moon over the sea.

Acquisitions

Beryl. Will also be taking some things home from my father’s house…

Hankering

Various dresses on the Joanie site. I don’t really need any new dresses.

Line of the week

From Last Night at the Telegraph Club:

The door was propped open, and inside she saw Shirley’s baby-blue party dress on a hanger hooked over the edge of a locker door, like the shell of a girl floating in midair.

This coming week

Back to the writing. An early bus and an early hovercraft. And a nice quiet Saturday, I hope.

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

Week-end: doubly literary

Hardback copy of 'Double or Nothing' by Kim Sherwood, paperback copy of 'CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space' edited by Elly Blue, small metal cat with crystal eyes

The good

On Thursday night I went to the launch (or at least the second night of it – it seemed to be a multi-day event) of Double Or Nothing at the British Library. So did a lot of James Bond fandom. I got to meet David of Licence To Queer in person for the first time, and some of the other LtQ contributors and other denizens of Bond Twitter. Bond fandom is great. We are all well aware that our fave is problematic as all get out, and that saves a lot of time and bad feeling and lets us get on with the actually interesting conversations. And these conversations were very interesting indeed. In one of the non-Bond-related ones it turned out that two of us had stories in the same small press feline feminist cycling anthology. (What are the odds? Double or nothing on that one if you dare. There are only eleven pieces in the thing!) So I ended up feeling even more literary than I’d expected to.

The mixed

One of these days I’ll manage to find the balance between the things I want to do, the things I need to do, and accounting for my limited capacity. None of the days this week was that day.

Today was Ultreya GB, the gathering of Cursillos from across the UK, hosted by London and Southwark Cursillos, beginning at St Paul’s and ending up at Southwark cathedral. It was a great day, and I was very proud to carry the banner for Ely, but I was tired when I left this morning and am very tired indeed now.

The difficult and perplexing

Monday was grim. At one point I said, ‘There is nothing that I want to do, and everything that I should do is BORING.’ Then I sulked in bed for an hour or so, then did some things. The most memorable one was paying the council tax.

What’s working

Making sure I eat something every three hours. Though this is a bit double-edged, as I’m really noticing when I fail to do that now.

Reading

I finished Wanderlust. And (presciently, it now appears) CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space. Began Double or Nothing, obviously. And Havi’s new post.

Writing

Half a blog post on my pet cover copy peeves. You might get the whole thing next week.

Making

Good progress on the secret patchwork, in spite of the cat’s best efforts.

Watching

Only Connect is back on! And so is Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Looking at

Some lovely pieces by Ely Guild of Woodturners, who had an exhibition at the Lamb over the bank holiday weekend.

Cooking

Orchard fruit (i.e. apple, pear and greengage) crumble.

Eating

Crumble. Good for pudding and breakfast. Beef rendang from Borough Market this lunchtime.

Moving

I took the road bike out for the first time since I had it serviced in the summer. It turns out that hauling a town bike up Back Hill twice a week has made tackling the Coveney hill on a road bike a mere triviality by comparison. Maybe I should start logging my commute on Strava. Or not.

Noticing

I saw Hodge the cat when we arrived at Southwark cathedral, but he scarpered pretty quickly.

In the garden

The roses have returned for a second round. The vine has produced a load of very small pippy bitter grapes. I can’t face attempting home winemaking, so it’s a free for all for the birds. We continue to get tomatoes and French beans and greengages.

Appreciating

The little leather bag I got in Heidelberg. Into this I can fit my phone, my ridiculous bunch of keys, and a cereal bar, and it buckles under the saddle of my bike. I was hoping it would go over the handlebars, but the straps aren’t quite long enough. Never mind. It does very nicely under the saddle.

Planning

Christmas. Expedition to Belgium. Expedition to the South of France. Keeping some weekends free for Pete’s sake.

Acquisitions

A nice metal mop bucket to replace the plastic horror from Tesco that I’ve been cursing for the last seven years. (Every time you squeeze the mop out in the strainer thingy and then try removing the mop, the strainer comes with it. It’s infuriating.) Double or Nothing.

Hankering

There was a rather lovely carved stone nativity set in the gift shop at Southwark cathedral. But it was more than I would want to spend on a nativity set, and I might be at the point where my Playmobil one has become the correct one and doesn’t need replacing.

Line of the week

Oh, Babette, you cool kid sprawling in your honest cotton-shirted grime, boy, I never had a chance. I wasn’t from your neighborhood, where everything had pockets: coarse pants, softball gloves, subway corners, airshafts between women’s bars, where delis sat at the edge of high-rises feeding siren music to the pavement. All-night groceries with strong meats, girly calendars, an angry wilderness of empty lots and broken family hearts.

This is from a story called ‘Tank Top Tomboy’ in an anthology called 52 Pickup by Bonnie Morris and E. B. Casey. Honestly, I don’t know why I was still reading this, because most of the stories are dire. The last one had a romantic interest with ‘ebony pools’. And then suddenly I run up against this. Sheer poetry. Will I finish the book now? Probably. Will I be disappointed? Inevitably.

This coming week

Tour of Britain! Some in-person training. And I could really do with an early night or three.

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

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.

The limits of capacity: post-Covid and writing chronic illness

A fluffy black and white cat on a blanket on a sofa
The view from the sofa

On Easter Monday I reread A Spoke In The Wheel. ASITW, as I shall refer to it henceforth, was my second novel, which dealt with the coming to terms of a disgraced cyclist and a disabled cycling fan. Easter Monday was day 18 of my convalescence, if we’re counting from the first day I tested negative for Covid, and was, like many of the previous 25 days, spent mostly lying on the sofa.

While my main reason for rereading was being in a mood for more cycling after watching both Paris-Roubaix races in the afternoon of Easter Day, and also to see if there was any mileage in a spin-off story for the B couple, it was quite an interesting experience. This is, if not the most ill I’ve been in years, certainly the longest duration of illness I’ve had, and I couldn’t help looking out to see what I’d got wrong.

Of course I’d done my homework at the time, getting two ME sufferers of my acquaintance to check and double-check for errors and faux pas, but this is as close as I’d want to get to experiencing chronic illness for myself. I’m very thankful indeed that I do seem to be getting steadily better. I’m noticing tangible improvements from week to week, if not necessarily from day to day. On Monday I went into the office for the first time since the middle of March. Yesterday I had to have a lie-down as soon as I’d shut down my laptop. Tomorrow I’ll try riding my bike to the station.

So what did I find? Actually, not all that much that spoke directly to my comparatively short experience of illness. The whole point of ASITW was that it was talking about long-term conditions. I was writing about two people who spent most of their lives at the limits of their physical capacity, who were intimately familiar with that territory. It’s new ground for me. Anything I might have added from my current experience would be part of a prequel, or, just about conceivably, a flashback.

My limits are changing all the time. Not, perhaps, so fast as I’d like, certainly not so fast as the Protestant work ethic thinks they should be, but they’re changing. I know about as much about chronic illness from a month of post-Covid as the person who does a one-night fundraising sleepout knows about what it’s like to live on the streets. Which is to say, not much at all. If I were writing ASITW now I’d still need my specialist editors. Maybe even more so than I did before, lest I think I know it all now. (A little learning is a dangerous thing…)

And the other thing is that it came from the point of view of someone who had been disabled and now wasn’t, with all the assumptions that implies. Ben’s experience of disability is far in the past even if his experience of not being able to do everything he wants to do is very recent. He was always going to start out as a clueless git, and being a clueless git is, I would argue, not something that one needs personal experience to write. (I have often been clueless. I have tried not to be a git.) If I’d had this month of fatigue when I was writing ASITW I wouldn’t really have had anywhere to put it. Or, if I had, it would have been a very different book. And, you know, rereading the one I actually wrote, I’m pretty happy with the way it ended up.

Some links

Autistic on Wheels – Katherine’s advice and comments were immensely helpful to me when I was writing ASITW. She’s doing important advocacy work.

The rise of sensitivity readers – an article from Independent.ie quoting the formidable Susan Lanigan

A Spoke in the Wheel

Me and Warren Barguil [filk]

Stained glass artwork showing a cyclist in a yellow jersey traversing a hilly, sunlit landscape, with text 'Yorkshire Grand Depart'

So, the Tour de France. As usual, there seem to be at least two races going on, except one of them isn’t really a race any more. I’m enjoying the other one.

Anyway today’s stage ends in Carcassonne, and this prompted me to spend yesterday lunchtime scrolling back through Facebook to find the following filk, which wrote itself gently over the course of the 2017 and 2018 tours. It didn’t start out being about the 2018 Carcassonne-Bagnères de Luchon stage, but it rather ended up that way. Enjoy.

Busted flat at the flamme rouge, caught up by a train,
feeling cooked as I approached the line,
The peloton came past me while I fumbled with my chain
And I followed them a minute ten behind.
I'd been in a break of two for two hundred K of mountains,
The bunch had let us go because they knew
I was twenty minutes down on that shining yellow jersey
And the other guy was out for mountains too

Stage win's just another word for nothing left to lose
Nothing, I mean, honey, if it ain't GC,
Feeling good was easy when I was in that break of two
Feeling good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and Warren Barguil

From the walls of Carcassonne to the slopes of Col de Menté
Me and Warren shared the brotherhood of the road
Through all kinds of weather, riding hard to get away
We shared the pace, yeah, took turns to bear the load
But once we'd cleared the summit he let me slip away
He wants the KOM and I hope he finds it
But I'd trade all of my stage wins for one shot at the GC
And to wear that yellow jersey 'cross the line

Oh, stage win's just another word for nothing left to lose
Nothing, I mean, honey, if it ain't GC,
Feeling good was easy when I was in that break of two
Feeling good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and Warren Barguil

Credit for the Stage win’s just another word for nothing left to lose line ought to go to my partner, but since he didn’t actually know the rest of the song I’m assimilating it.

Apologies to Kris Kristofferson. And to Warren Barguil, obviously. And to the narrator: actually I think this is a little unfair on him.

Other things I have written about cycling include: a story in the next Bikes In Space anthology, a story in the one after that, and an explanation of how I got into cycling in the first place. And a novel.