Week-end: YELLOW CROWN IMPERIALS (and crimson roses)

Yellow bell-shaped flowers in flat light

Absolutely everything is going under ‘mixed’ this week.

The mixed

My manager retired yesterday. I’m going to miss her. She’s been my manager for ten years of the thirteen I’ve worked for the union, three at the beginning and then seven after we ended up in the same team again, and she’s been supportive and encouraging ever since I was a temp who couldn’t say boo to a goose.

Anyway, that meant a team meal out on Tuesday, and a party last night. I caught up with some people I haven’t seen in years, and I danced. I haven’t danced that much since… probably before the pandemic. My feet were complaining on the walk to the station last night, and I’ve spent most of today doing absolutely nothing.

What’s working

Allowing for nap time.


Finished These Violent Delights, which ended with some blatant sequel bait. I don’t think I shall search out anything further. It had a fantastic premise but really needed much more editing. (Also, reading it in the current climate it was somewhat galling to have a strike presented as an incident of disaster, though I realise that at least part of that was the appropriately warped worldview of the protagonists.)

Then I moved onto Plain Bad Heroines (emily m. danforth) and finished it in three days. This was what I’d been missing: a slick, confident prose style. It had the kind of assertive narrator my friend Kit calls an Oi Pal; they’re always intruding themselves into the page to point out something they think you should be looking at, or to give their own take on events, or make some kind of sarcastic interjection. In some books this grates, but in this case it worked; it strengthened the sense of being in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing. This was mostly fulfilled, with the two timelines (early twentieth century boarding school and present day Hollywood) unfolding in tandem and a delicious sapphical-gothical feeling across both. It faltered a little at the denouement, with what should have been the climax taking place offstage, and (I thought, anyway) an unnecessary diversion into the backstory. I also hadn’t much time for Mary Maclane, the Not Like Other Girls author of the book that drives a lot of the plot. Very readable, though, and I’m glad it’s not wasp season.

And I have started Wildfire at Midnight (Mary Stewart) for the romantic suspense bookclub. Very different, but equally skillful, prose.


Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City) – English National Opera. I knew pretty much nothing about this beyond the fact that it was set in Bruges and based on a book called Bruges-la-Morte, so bought a programme. I do wonder if it’s one that might in fact be better watched unspoiled. So all I shall say is that it’s a very twentieth-century opera; it couldn’t have existed before Freud, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mental breakdown put on stage in quite the same way. It does have the perennial opera problem of being sold as a timeless tale of love and loss and actually turning out to be about a creepy entitled man, but there we go. The music is gorgeous, and also loud, and you can see why Korngold was so good at film music later in his career.

Looking at

I went to the V and A yesterday and, after pausing to look at a fantastically detailed micromosaic panorama of Rome, went round the exhibition on musicals – costumes, set designs, and an awful lot of LP covers. Plus a long reel of extracts from archive recordings from the last couple of decades, which made for a nice excuse to sit down. Must go back another time to look at the model theatres.


Pork chops with cabbage (the cabbage comes out very soggy, but very tasty).


Italian, mostly. We went to Wildwood with the in-laws on Sunday (bruschetta, chicken and asparagus risotto, panna cotta with a pleasantly tart blackcurrant compote); then Tuesday’s lunch was at Albertini’s (fusilli with tomato, sausage, and greens, followed by tiramisu).


Quite a few rabbits out in the fields. And pheasants.

In the garden

The tulips are beginning to show what colour they’re going to be. The plum blossom is out and the apples and pears are on the way. The grape hyacinths have gone a gorgeous deep blue.

In the conservatory, the cosmos seeds have sprouted very satisfactorily; so have some of the beans, and something is going on in the big herb pot, though the tarragon seems to be doing nothing at all. The cat grass has come up and been put into service.


All the excellent people I have in my life.

Deep red roses with dark green leaves; general clutter and a cat's paw just visible around the edges


Flowers! Along with the pram, which was the official purpose of the visit, the in-laws brought one of those lovely tiny rose plants. It has four crimson blooms and is doing well despite the best efforts of the cat. And at the market on Sunday I bought a yellow crown imperial and planted it in the garden. It wasn’t very impressed by the wind and rain, so I’ve tied it to the trellis for support.


I’m still thinking about that teapot dress. It’s occurred to me that a lot of my summer dresses are not going to be much use to me this year.

Line of the week

There were several contenders this week. Here’s one from Plain Bad Heroines:

The night was drunk on the liquor of late spring, on wet grass and pale moon, on air still warm even after the sunset, air now scented by the rain-smacked lilac bushes planted at the back of the theater, their branches so heavy with blooms and moisture that several were bent against the ground.

Saturday snippet

Started adding to Starcrossers again:

[I was still on Crew territory.] Even if I hadn’t known that, I’d have been able to tell from the broad street that gave me nowhere to hide. When I’d ridden through earlier it had been crowded with the booths and stands of the ten-day market, and I’d had to be careful. Now I wished they were back.

This coming week

Holy Week. And getting to church at all will be an improvement on last year.

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

December Reflections 8: gold

Gilt-heavy mosaic wall decoration featuring classical figures playing musical instruments

I’ve been to the opera this evening (this photo shows the ceiling of the lobby at the London Coliseum). It was the fourth time this year, which might be a record. I’d only just begin to cotton on to the fact that English National Opera exists, and is very cheap, and I was already in London on many days of the week, when coronavirus hit. I got to Carmen in February 2020, and then there was no more opera.

Until this May, when we went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a converted tram depot in Frankfurt. It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that we planned our entire Rhine trip around this, but it certainly made a handy peg to hang it off. I wanted to see my cousins in the children’s chorus and my aunt in the orchestra. Tony does not really go in for opera but was sold on the promise of a countertenor.

We both had a fantastic time. I’d always thought of Britten as being difficult, and while it’s true that his music is often a real pig to sing, it’s actually very listenable. (And it was a great production, and very funny.) When I saw that the ENO was doing Gloriana (one night only!) I booked a ticket very fast indeed. More on that this weekend. And then I thought it really was time I saw Tosca. And then I took one of my brothers to see The Yeomen of the Guard for his birthday.

I already have one ticket booked for next year. I am not sure that I am going to match this year, but you never know. It all depends on how efficient I am. And, I fear, the whims of the Arts Council.

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.


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.


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


Mystery patchwork. One down, five to go.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!