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!

That or the priesthood: new post at Licence To Queer

Shelf of books, many of them Pan paperback copies of the James Bond series. A church is visible through the window behind.

I emailed David at Licence To Queer several months ago to see if he’d be interested in a post about the religious imagery in the Bond books and fans and what that means for me, as a bisexual Anglican Bond fan.

It took me so long to rewatch everything and write about it that it got to the point where I thought I might as well hang on for No Time To Die (which, by the way, I recommend wholeheartedly), in case it contradicted all of my points. (It didn’t, really.) So there are a couple of spoilers in there, if that bothers you.

Apart from that, there’s a lot about Bond’s religious background, such as we get of it, and more about Bond’s relationship with MI6, and what that has to say to the Church of England. There’s my own experience of vocation as a queerness (and what The Night Manager had to say to me about vocation). There’s the sublime Bond Responses.

I had a good deal of fun revisiting the Bond canon and writing the post, and I’d like to thank David for the space to explore this somewhat unlikely topic, and for his patience while I disappeared off the face of the earth to write it up.

That or the priesthood: Bond’s queer calling

Visibility, possibility: links for bi visibility day

I put the finishing touches to The Real World a week ago, and since then I’ve been doing my best to do very little. Writing this book has taken an awful lot out of me, and I’m trying to make up for that by sitting in a deckchair on the lawn, reading other people’s books.

But I do also write things that aren’t 94,000 word novels, and I’m very pleased to have two pieces to share for Bi Visiblity Day. As I wrote in one of these,

my experience of being bisexual has been the ever-present consciousness of other possibilities. I’ve made a particular series of choices, my life has unfolded in a particular way – but I’m always aware that I could have made other choices, that my life might look very different today if… If I hadn’t grown up under Section 28. If I’d heard the word ‘bisexual’ before the age of 20. If, if, if.

I might have taken the road more travelled by, but that doesn’t mean all the other roads disappear from existence. (They closed the road through the woods…) Both of these pieces explore that sense of possibility, in fiction and in non-fiction (A merry road, a mazy road…).

The first one is perhaps more bi audibility than visibility, as it’s a podcast. This is the second story I’ve had featured at A Story Most Queer (the first was Prima Donna), but my first to be premiered there. I’ve added a PDF version too. It’s a fairy tale about a young woman who sets out to look for her friend who’s gone missing…

Daisy’s Yarn (podcast)

Daisy’s Yarn (PDF download)

The second piece is a guest post at Licence To Queer, where I wander all over the 007 canon, both book and film, looking for bisexual possibilities and revisiting my Eng Lit past. I even gave it a proper Eng Lit essay title with a colon in the middle. If that sounds a bit dry, I should also warn you that I fail to answer the question of what Felix Leiter was doing in Bond’s hotel room, and that I do pick up on a surprising allusion to the Book of Common Prayer. Fortunately David’s added some pictures.

“What makes you think this is the first time?”: assumption, possibility, and bisexuality in Bond

If you’re at all interested in James Bond and queer themes I recommend the whole Licence To Queer site heartily: it’s a joyful deep dive into the world of 007 – with some intriguing cocktail recipes too.

Interestingly, while The Real World has turned out to be an extremely bi novel in other ways, the sense of possibility isn’t nearly so present. Except, perhaps, as a sense of something missing, something distorted… Ah, you’ll see.

The Reader’s Gazetteer: R

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Ruritania is, for me, where it all started. My father read The Prisoner of Zenda to me when I was perhaps ten or eleven, and it’s stuck.

Anthony Hope presents the kingdom of Ruritania as if we already know about it, introducing his narrator, Rudolf Rassendyll, and the Rassendylls in general with reference to

an highly interesting and important kingdom, one which had played no small part in European history, and might do the like again

The journey to Ruritania occupies the first half of chapter 2. Rudolf goes via Paris and Dresden – a city from which, in the reality we currently inhabit, one can go east into Poland or south into Czechia. (The train in the photo at the top of this post is waiting at Dresden Hauptbahnhof before heading south to Prague.) South feels more likely to me. Ruritania is implied to be, if not huge, reasonably expansive in terms of territory: Zenda is ten miles from the frontier, and Strelsau, the capital, fifty miles further than that. And there’s no suggestion that Strelsau is very close to any other frontier.

In fact, Hope uses a pretty light touch all round. The descriptions in The Prisoner of Zenda are reserved for smaller geographical features – woods, castles, cities – which I’ll come to later in the series. Paradoxically, that’s part of what makes Ruritania feel real. You don’t need to be told what it looks like. It isn’t Anthony Hope’s fault that you weren’t paying attention in Geography. Or History. But the imaginative landscape is huge.

Philip Pullman doesn’t stray so very far either from this locale or from this model for Razkavia, in The Tin Princess. He shies away from doing anything drastic to the map of Europe, squeezing it in between Prussia and Bohemia, and making it ‘hardly bigger than Berkshire’.

But he has put some thought into other aspects of geography:

The country wasn’t especially prosperous. There had once been rich mines in the Karlstein mountains, producing copper and a little silver, but as long as two centuries before they had begun to run out, at least of copper. There was plenty of some ore that looked like copper but wasn’t, and which poisoned the miners who worked it. It was so useless and unpleasant that they called it Kupfer-Nickel, or devil’s copper, and left it well alone. Much later someone discovered that Kupfer-Nickel was a compound of arsenic and a new metal, which they called nickel,  and by the beginning of the nineteenth century they’d found some uses for it, so the mines of Karlstein began to work again.

This will, of course, be important later, but in the meantime:

The people milked the cows that grazed on the upland pastures, made wine from the grapes that grew on the slopes of the Elpenbach Valley, and hunted the game in the forests. In the capital, Eschtenburg, there was an opera house, where the composer Weber had once conducted; there was a theatre and a cathedral and a pretty baroque palace, all fantastic columns and fountains and icing-sugar plasterwork; and there was a park with a grotto-pavilion built by Razkavia’s one mad king, who had been fairly harmless, as mad kings went. In the 1840s, the younger set of the aristocracy, tired of the stuffy life around the king and his conservative court, tried to establish a little spa called Andersbad, down the Elpenbach Valley, as a centre of fashion. There was a casino; Johann Strauss had played there with his orchestra and they’d even paid him to write an Andersbad Waltz, although it wasn’t one of his best.

I should have used this book for A and E, as well. Never mind. Here’s Weber, in Dresden again.

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I’ve mentioned Heather Rose Jones’s Alpennia a few times in this series, but it seems remiss not to talk about Rotenek and, in particular, the Rotein. The river shapes the city, and the society, and, quite often, the plot. The social calendar is driven by the flooding; so is religious observance; so is public health (or lack of it).

High in the mountains to the east and south of Alpennia, spring rains and warming winds wash the winter’s snow from the peaks and send it tumbling down the valleys. The melt gathers in rivulets; rivulets turn to streams; streams feed rivers. The Esikon, the Tupe and the Innek swell the Rotein, which flows through the heart of the city of Rotenek. And the city flows through the Rotein: in barges bringing goods up from French ports, in riverboats rowing passengers along the banks and up the narrow chanulezes that thread through the neighborhoods of both the upper and lower town.

They celebrate floodtide in Rotenek when the waters turn muddy and rise along the steps of the Nikuleplaiz as far as the feet of the statue of Saint Nikule, who watches over the marketplace. Sometimes the floods come higher and wash through Nikule’s church and along the basements of the great houses along the Vezenaf. Then the streets of the lower town merge with the chanulezes, and all the putrid mud from the banks and canals is stirred up, bringing the threat of river fever. For those who can leave the city, floodtide signals an exodus to the pleasures of country estates. Those who remain light a candle to Saint Rota against the fever.

But sometimes floodtide fails to come. […]

This ambivalent relationship between the river and the citizens is so central to the books that it took me a while to find a passage that encapsulated it. It makes the series. And it makes the city.

Finally, I’m heading back north and west. I commented over at Licence To Queer how muted in tone Casino Royale feels in contrast to the rest of the Bond books – a result, I think, of its being the first of the series, where Fleming’s still finding his way in, and its having been written and published so soon after the end of the Second World War, in a Europe that was still working out how it was going to rebuild itself. And Royale-les-Eaux typifies that. This isn’t the Côte d’Azur, it’s the opposite side of France, and it’s grey and shabby:

Royale-les-Eaux, which lies near the mouth of the Somme before the flat coast-line soars up from the beaches of southern Picardy to the Brittany cliffs which run on to Le Havre, had experienced much the same fortunes at Trouville.

Royale (without the ‘Eaux’) also started as a small fishing village and its rise to fame as a fashionable watering place during the Second Empire was as meteoric as that of Trouville. But as Deauville killed Trouville, so, after a long period of decline, did Le Touquet kill Royale.

At the turn of the century, when things were going badly for the little seaside town and when the fashion was to combine pleasure with a ‘cure’, a natural spring in the hills behind Royale was discovered to contain enough diluted sulphur to have a beneficent effect on the liver. […]

It did not long withstand the powerful combines of Vichy and Perrier and Vittel. There came a series of lawsuits, a number of people lost a lot of money and very soon its sale was again entirely local. Royale fell back on the takings from the French and English families during the summer, on its fishing-fleet in winter and on the crumbs which fell to its elegantly dilapidated Casino from the table at Le Touquet.

Here Fleming uses not only familiar names and places in which to ground his fictional town (some of them with ominous resonances), he gives it a mineral water too. And, more importantly, a plausible past. I always have a soft spot for a run-down seaside town. Though the 2p machines are more my level.

Books mentioned in this post

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming

The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope

Alpennia series, Heather Rose Jones (passage quoted is from Mother of Souls)

The Tin Princess, Philip Pullman

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