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!

Week-end: Pride and preliminaries

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

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

The good

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

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

The mixed

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

The difficult and perplexing

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


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


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

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

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


Patchwork. Secret project.


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


A post for the Ely Cursillo site.

Looking at

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

Listening to

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


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

Line of the week

This is from the Rebecca Solnit:

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

This coming week

More patchwork more patchwork more patchwork.

December Reflections 16: plant love

the trunks and branches of four bare pear trees growing against a red brick wall

The pear trees were what caught my imagination when we viewed this house. The first time, back in November last year, I think I only noticed that there was a garden that someone had clearly worked hard with. The second time, I noticed that the bare trees that had been trained against the garage wall were still wearing their tags: Williams Bon Chrétien; Concorde. Pears. The Twelve Days of Christmas went round my head well before and long after the twelve days.

We moved in half way through March, and things were beginning to happen in the garden. There were no bulbs (there are now) but there were plenty of other things to find. I discovered plum trees at the back; the trees growing up against the trellises turned out to be apples. I found a self-seeded holly and decided to let it stay. The pear trees blossomed. I took photos of everything I didn’t recognise and asked Facebook for identification.

I planted out the faithful herbs that had come with me in their pots from the old flat. I sowed nasturtium seeds in a pot. I know how nasturtiums can get. The garden centres were shut, but I wouldn’t have been able to get to them anyway. I bought plants from tables with honesty boxes (or letter boxes): cosmos, lady’s mantle, passionflower, foxgloves. I started runner beans off in eggboxes in the conservatory.

Digging a hole to plant the foxgloves, I found another label. Morello. The thing I’d written off as a boring shrub turned out to be a rather sad little cherry tree. Growing up around an actual boring shrub were some raspberry canes. The thing that was climbing up over the pergola was a wisteria. The other thing that was climbing up over the pergola was a grape vine.

The thing that I’d thought was a hart’s tongue fern flowered and was an arum lily. The things that Facebook had told me were Peruvian lilies flowered and were red and beautiful. The wisteria and the grapevine climbed everywhere, making the whole back wall startlingly bright green. I pulled ivy down from the back wall. I planted out the runner beans.

The cherry tree yielded just enough fruit for a sauce. The raspberries ripened a few at a time: some I froze, some I ate. The plums went into crumbles and chutneys and the freezer. Apples became apple sauce and crumble and chutneys. The pears came later: more puddings, more chutneys, and the occasional one that was so perfect that the only possible response was to eat it. The grapes were small and sour and full of seeds. I considered a home winemaking kit. Maybe next year.

The roses came in ones and twos, one bush with white flowers, two with pink. The white one put out a shoot from its rootstock and shot up skywards. The ladybirds came and marched along the leaves and the stems.

I bottled the last of the pears and blew the fuse on the oven.

The dark shiny leaves of the pears turned to astonishing reds and yellows. The apple leaves were quieter about it. I trimmed back the wisteria and the grapevine, the apple trees, the pear trees, the spiky shrubs.

Now it’s almost back the way it was when we first saw it. Except for the extra rosemary bush. Except for the tubs planted up with bulbs. Except for the decrepit greenhouse which isn’t there any more. Except for the Peruvian lilies, which are determinedly continuing to bloom, even after the snow and the frost we had the week before last.

One would assume that after the first year there won’t be anything new to discover, but this garden has surprised me enough times for me not to be too sure of that.

deep red lilies with green leaves