December Reflections 19: something I love


I love this.

I love the thing itself. My best friend embroidered it for my husband a few years ago. I love the fact that she took him up on a throwaway comment and actually embroidered Maxwell’s equations in blackwork. I love the way that it subverts the cutesy and the pious overtones that one generally finds in samplers.

I love the way that this manages to capture the friendly respect that both religion and science command in this household. After all, one of us grew up attending the church where Russell Stannard is a lay reader. (It wasn’t me. I’m jealous.)

I love the way that religion and science collide in this, and the way that neither of them quite manages to convey the essence of what light is. And once again, it seems, I’m talking about the inadequacy of all sorts of ways of representing things.

I am beginning to suspect that one of the challenges of 2017 is going to be moving beyond metaphor. But how, then, can one possibly talk about anything? Let’s say, then, of recognising metaphors for what they are.

December Reflections 18: reflection


I’d been hoping, of course, for one of those perfect days that we had at the end of November, for a blue sky and a still river, for reflections as in a mirror. No such luck. Low clouds, ruffled water, a blurred picture.

Yesterday I sang at a wedding. Now we see puzzling reflections in a mirror (or, if you prefer the King James version, Now we see in a glass darkly); then we shall see face to face.

Perhaps it’s as well to remember that the image is not, after all, the reality.

December Reflections 15: best decision of 2016


This hasn’t been a year for huge decisions. The most obviously significant one was deciding to go for what’s now my current job; and yes, that was a good decision. It must have been at some point this year that it flipped from ‘not my scene’ to ‘obvious next step’. All I know is, by the time the job advertisement appeared, the decision had made itself.

The purple fabric in the background is my interview dress. Rather like the interview itself, I had to talk myself into it, and then was glad I did. (I note that 75% of my new dresses this year have come with pockets. It’s been a good year for dresses.)

The best decision, however, the decision that made the most immediate difference, was going on holiday to Lyme Regis back in April. I was very tired and very stressed, and a couple of days with a stiff sea breeze, a hilly stretch of coast path, and an excuse to read Persuasion, made things very much better very quickly.

And it left me with an obsession with ammonites that shows no sign of letting up, and has been very useful in ways that I can’t quite explain.

December Reflections 14: texture


I didn’t know what to photograph for this prompt. Everything has a texture, I thought: how to choose one particular object, or one particular object’s texture?

Then I noticed what I was wearing.

This is my favourite scarf. It came from a charity shop, and is possibly the best quid I ever spent. I like it because it is so uncompromisingly bright. It has a bit of a Ballets Russes vibe, with that orange butted up against the purple and black; indeed, today I was wearing it with a short, full black dress, opaque magenta tights, and black suede ballet flats. (Appear to have been possessed by a Babysitters’ Club narrator for a moment there. Sorry about that.)

But the textures are almost as much fun as the colours. The velvet; the silk; the gentle prickle of the sequins.

December Reflections 13: soundtrack of 2016


These were the last three CDs I bought. They’re part of the soundtrack of 2016, but not all of it. Abba, Taylor Swift, Billy Joel… I saw Billy Joel live this year, a Christmas present from my middle brother, and a fantastic night. (It clashed with the Last Night of the Proms. Billy Joel played Rule Britannia, whence he found his way to Ode to Joy and finally into My Life. It was epic.)

What’s missing? Things I’ve sung, for a start. With work choir, Take That’s Shine; Katrina and the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine; David Bowie’s Life on Mars?; a song called Together we are strong by our conductor.The biggest audience of my life was at national delegate conference in June. I have no way of knowing numbers, but it would have been somewhere between five hundred and fifteen hundred. A lot of people, anyway.

For church choir, Elgar’s Ave Maris Stella; Rubbra’s Missa Sant’ Dominici; Poulenc’s Quem vidistis pastores; Howells’ Magnificat in G (we haven’t got to the Nunc Dimittis yet)… the most difficult ones turn out to be the most memorable, though I would be hard put to it to hum some of them. My one solo this year was in the quartet in Stanford’s Te Deum in B flat.

I was aiming to find a reliable top F and top G this year, but haven’t managed that. That’s a goal for 2017. I continue to try to teach myself the piano. Drink to me only with thine eyes and The Rose of Tralee have been much heard around these parts, very slowly and with some swearing.

As always, I get to know music best from the inside; if I can play something, if I can sing it, I can appreciate it, far more easily than if I just listen.

December Reflections 12: precious


This prompt was the one I was looking forward to the least. My mind flitted between ‘twee’, ‘Gollum’, and ‘that African detective series I haven’t read’, which would probably have circled back round to ‘twee’. All of which suggests that I am far too cynical to be allowed on Instagram, but there we go.

So I proceeded down the Tolkien track, got to ‘dragons’, and concluded that dragons would do. The first dragon I found had banded with a rhinoceros, a Wild Thing (just visible behind the rhinoceros), and a teddy to guard an empty Martini bottle, souvenir of my university days, and hoard nail varnish.

Let us assume that the nail varnish is precious, and see what it tells us. Some are just clear, and some don’t have names. And not all of them made it into the photo. But the rest, oh my.

  • Double Decker Red
    • Well, this is clearly about buses, which are a huge part of my life. I am not, as it happens, hugely interested in red double deckers, though that doesn’t stop them queueing up outside my officer window. I suspect there’s also a message about twice as much red being twice as good.
  • See Through Ivory
    • Ivory is precious, yes, but its preciousness is something that needs to be seen through.
  • Neptune
    • A cold blue planet, made of gas. Or the god of the sea.
  • Nebline
    • Exists as a) a newsletter in Nebraska; and b) this nail varnish. Nothing else. I put it into an anagram solver, which couldn’t suggest much either. Ben Line (a steamer company), and his friend Ben Lien (a Minnesota politician). Blennie – a family dog, several generations back, I believe. Perhaps it’s the Neb Line. You take the Neb Line to Neptune.
  • Zeitgeist
    • I am wearing this at the moment; it’s fantastic. It’s purple in some lights and greeny gold in others. Zeitgeist: the spirit of the time. The spirit of the time can be looked at from different directions, and it will look very different depending on your perspective. And of course it’s Advent (purple) looking towards Christmas (gold).
  • Plum Seduction
    • Mmm, plums. There’s some plum jam in the fridge. One of the things I’ve been working at on and off over the past year or so has been really enjoying food.
  • Copper
    • Not a precious metal, but a very useful one. A good conductor. Tarnishes to a rather nice green. And have you read Pigeon Post? ‘Gold dissolves in aqua regia…’ It may turn out that one is actually looking for copper, not gold. This colour is actually quite a bit darker than real copper.
  • Queen of Hearts
    • Well, we know all about her. This one is a really deep crimson which comes out beautifully glossy.
  • Deeply Dusk
    • An annoying one; it’s not deep at all and you have to apply several coats to make it remotely dusky. Meanwhile, dusk falls fast and is gone to darkness just as quickly.
  • Raspberry
    • Raspberries are definitely treasure. The best fruit in the world, if you ask me. When I was little we had a whole fruit cage full of raspberries. Those were good days. Come to think about it, there’s raspberry jam in the fridge, too.
  • Ferris Wheel
    • I call it a Big Wheel, myself. I’ve been thinking about different terms for fairground rides in the context of You’ll Never Walk Alone. I would call the ride with horses and brass poles ‘gallopers’, ’roundabout’, and ‘merry-go-round’ before I’d call it a ‘carousel’; but they’re all talking about the same thing. This feels significant. Meanwhile, there’s a Wheel at Parker’s Piece; and Cambridge is so flat that you can see it from a long way away.

December Reflections 11: biggest lesson from 2016


I wrote a little yesterday about how some projects have to be carried over from year to year; they are just too big to be fitted neatly into an arbitrary twelve-month period.

Lessons, in my experience, are like that but even more so. They aren’t like projects. You can’t stick a cover on them and pronounce them done, because it always turns out that there’s more to learn.

There are different levels of learning. There’s understanding the theory. There’s knowing how to carry out the practice. There’s the slogging away without being able to see any change or development. There’s the moment of revelation when you finally get what everyone’s been trying to explain to you all the while you’ve been learning this. There’s the moment of revelation when you finally get it, and understand how much more you have to learn, that everything that you’ve learned up to this point is – not wrong, but incomplete, a sketch map that’s got you this far, but isn’t actually the landscape itself.

I started learning the biggest lesson of 2016 in 2015, if not in 2012. And my goodness, it’s a big one. I haven’t finished learning it yet. In fact, I’ve barely started.

In 2012, I learned what burnout felt like. Full ahead. Hitting the wall.

In 2015, I remembered what burnout felt like. Full ahead. Hitting the wall.

In 2016, I started wondering whether it was possible to get out of the cycle; wondering if there was an alternative to either working full-tilt or being embedded in the wall. Wondering if I could stop a stage or two earlier, before I hit the wall.

Wondering if I’d got things wrong altogether. Wondering if it was really about work after all. Wondering if I was, after all, a decent human being even if I wasn’t knee-deep in some project to change the world.

In 2017, I plan to explore different ways of interacting with work, with activism, with writing, with church, with all the other things that request my time, my involvement, my effort.

December Reflections 10: I made this!


I’ve made lots of things this year. Here’s one from each end of it.

Speak Its Name appeared officially on 2 February, the culmination of eight years of thinking and dreaming and writing. It’s been well-received, and I’m immensely proud of having finally got it out into the world.

Making the necklace was sort of a meditation on being the Queen of Hearts. This is something I do quite a lot, when I’m exploring a new persona or project, or want to remind myself of some aspect of myself. I made some of the beads themselves – the black ones with hearts, the large red and white one, and the red, black, yellow and white ones are all polymer clay.

There has been other jewellery this year. Mostly for myself, though I made a necklace in rose quartz, moonstone and freshwater pearls for my stepmother-in-law. Sewing, I’ve only been doing patchwork: I got a couple of baby quilts finished this spring, before their recipients grew too large to fit under them.

And, of course, there are still works in progress. Those curtains. A Spoke In The Wheel. Another quilt. I’d like to get that one finished before I see the baby in question at the end of the month, but the rest of it is going to carry over into next year. And that’s fine. Making things takes time; and the things are the better for it.