Week-end: blooming

A branch of pussy-willow in a bare hedge

The good

Generally encouraging outcome from Monday’s appointment. All seems more or less as it should be.

The days are getting longer, and the mornings are getting lighter, and there are crocuses and winter aconites and pussy willow and one brave daffodil.

The difficult and perplexing

I am not much less tired than I was. It is meant to be passing off by now!

What’s working

Protein, particularly at breakfast. I had cottage cheese on my toast and was amazed by the way I didn’t need to head straight to the canteen for a sausage sandwich upon arrival at work. Now I am investigating protein-rich snacks.

And I’m really enjoying being in the garden.

Experimenting with

Different configurations of pillows. (Tonight: three under my head and one under my top knee. We’ll see how that goes.)


Notes on ‘Camp’ (Susan Sontag), mostly to see if I had enough brain for theory. On the whole, yes, although I think Sontag is one of the more accessible critics anyway.

I have found several interesting blogs to add to my RSS feed reader. Some of them have not been updated in a while, but the great thing about RSS is that if they are it will show up.

Continuing with These Violent Delights and Death in Cyprus. And I did reread Persuasion, as I’ve been threatening for a few weeks.


Apparently the book that wants to be written is the book about writing a book when you have a job. So I’m going with that. I’m accumulating a lot of longhand that needs typing up, though I’m not sure when that’s going to happen.

I also saw a call for submissions I liked the look of and wrote a first draft of a poem, which hasn’t happened for a long time. Really not sure if it’s any good or not.


Continuing to catch up on: Four Continents; Alpine skiing world championships; biathlon world championships.

Looking at

Well, I meant to visit the exhibition on Alexander the Great at the British Library, but I’ve missed it. A combination of meetings running into lunchtime, not being able to remember my password to the online booking system, and general disorganisation.


Not a huge amount: a pleasantly stodgy cheese and broccoli pasta bake earlier in the week, and then stuffed peppers (couscous and tomato with harissa) with grilled halloumi yesterday. That was extremely nice.


Since we were both in Cambridge on Monday, we went to the Haymakers in Chesterton, which used to be our designated local, and had pizza. Mine was a Capricciosa – artichokes, ham, olives, and probably other tasty things I’ve forgotten (it says mushrooms on the menu, but I asked for them to be left off).


I wish to note that I managed to get my bike all the way up Back Hill without having to get off to push it for the first time in ages. (I often feel that I could do it more often if I only tried a little harder, but by that time in the evening I’m usually short on willpower as well as energy.)


Attempted an escape room with colleagues; we failed miserably but had fun.


A hare, lolloping across a frosty field.

In the garden

The loveliest thing happened yesterday: I was getting the washing in, and three small long-tailed tits came and started pecking away at the suet block, maybe a metre and a half away from me, tops. I waited to get the last few things down from the line until they’d finished.

I finished pruning the last apple tree and had a go at taming the wisteria. Maybe tomorrow I’ll look up what I need to do to plum trees, other than get the vines out of them.

I’m beginning to think about what I want to plant this year. Tarragon, certainly. Maybe I’ll finally manage to keep some parsley alive.


Increased light and warmth. The return of the idea-generating bit of my brain.


Tickets to a couple of events at the Church Times Faith and Literature festival. I had no idea this was happening until I looked on Winchester Cathedral’s website to see when Evensong was going to be next weekend, since I’m going there for something completely different. The programme is slightly frustrating, in that there are several things I’d like to hear all on at the same time, but since this was an entirely unexpected opportunity I’m not going to complain too much. I just hope I’ll have the energy for it. (Also wish to note that it didn’t even occur to me until several hours later to consider myself a failure for not having made enough of a name as a faithful litterata to have been invited. A couple of years ago it might really have got to me.)

Two cookery books: The Roasting Tin (this might have been last week) and The Pressure Cooker Cookbook. And a recipe binder in the Paperchase closing down sale.

More food containers.


Well, I still have the rest of the cupboard to organise.

Line of the week

I really liked this blog post by K. J. Charles.

We see holiness—wonderful things—everywhere, if we only look. Because life is everywhere, although time passes, and babies age, and people and things and ways go and are forgotten. No, not ‘though’. Because the tide is always going out.

Saturday snippet

For the writing a book book:

This is one of those irritating inner voices that is never satisfied. It will move the goalposts to the other end of town if you give it a chance. You? Writing a book? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s for people with… You can fill in your own blanks.

This coming week

More travelling than is really ideal, but not much I can do about that.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here! Or recommend me protein-rich snacks (I don’t like milky drinks, though).

December Reflections 3: best book of 2022

'Double or Nothing' by Kim Sherwood, 'Wanderlust' by Rebecca Solnit', and 'Art and Lies' by Jeanette Winterson

I haven’t had much brain for reading this year. This stack could just as well have been made up of Agatha Christie and K. J. Charles books, if you interpret ‘best’ as ‘most readable’, and why not? Although since all the K. J. Charleses are on my Kobo it wouldn’t have made such a pretty picture. Also on my Kobo is Light Perpetual (Francis Spufford), which was the first work of litfic I managed to read after Pa died, and I could see how it was put together, which suggested that my writing brain hadn’t entirely deserted me either, and which possibly was my best book of 2022. Maybe Sisters of the Vast Black, too.

Anyway. Double Or Nothing was a really interesting development of the Bond tradition. Wanderlust was history and politics and walking and some really gorgeous prose. Art and Lies was hazy and beautiful and I’m still not entirely sure I really followed it but it doesn’t matter. I could make a case for any of those three being the best of the year, although of course Double Or Nothing was the only one actually published this year.

I Did Not Finish Hamnet, because Magrat!Anne Hathaway was just too much for me. I also gave up on The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, which was just too twee. The most disappointing book that I finished was The Embroidered Sunset, because WTF was that ending?

Week-end will follow tomorrow. I have a cab in ten minutes.

The library routine, comfort reading, and what I read for: six months of books

A brightly coloured striped deckchair with a book in the seat, on a grassy lawn

When I’ve finished writing this post, I’ll be off to the library to return A Place of Greater Safety and, very likely, pay a small fine. I have had it on loan for ages and run out of renewals on it. Granted, it’s a very thick book. I started reading it on the fourth of June. Then I put it down. Then I picked it up again when I got the email to say that my books were due. I lost the game of chicken, but only just.

My usual practice when I visit the library is to choose something light, something heavy, and some non-fiction. The first two categories are pretty subjective, it has to be said. The current something light is Val McDermid’s Broken Ground, which I’m expecting to get quite dark, actually. Something heavy is, of course, A Place of Greater Safety.

I don’t think I was entirely over Covid when I got it out, and as best I recall my thought process went something like: oh yes, a big fat Hilary Mantel book. I’m not sure that I remembered that it was actually about the French Revolution until I got it home and started reading it.

(If you’re wondering about the non-fiction, it’s usually pop history, often about some bit of Europe I’m vaguely meaning to visit. Or travel writing about some bit of Europe I’m vaguely meaning to visit. At the moment it’s Lotharingia: a personal history of Europe’s lost country.)

The last couple of months have been incredibly busy. I got over Covid, I went on holiday, and since then I’ve been up to my eyes. Some of that’s been work stuff, but I’ve also become a lot more involved in the Cursillo movement this year and that’s meant that a load of my Saturdays have disappeared. And of course there have been the ongoing emotional and practical after-effects of bereavement, though Covid did a number on my capacity to cart boxes full of family papers/beer mats/model railway track and, in the early days, to travel at all.

But I have been reading. I’ve spent a lot of time on trains, and I’ve spent a lot of time on the sofa, and both of those are good environments for reading. In the early part of the year it was K. J. Charles: I got through most of the Sins of the Cities series on the way to and from the Isle of Wight, thinking I don’t know how she’s going to get them out of this, but I am confident that she will find a way and I can’t wait to see what it is. Which was pretty much what I needed at the time.

I’ve read loads of Agatha Christie. I’m counting some of this as research as well, since getting into the head of over-privileged 1920s rich kids is very much on point for the current book.

I’ve read my grandmother’s memoirs, also for research, but found them fascinating in their own right.

I was greatly reassure to discover that my brain hadn’t melted away entirely when I tried Light Perpetual and found that, not only could I read it, I could also see how it worked as a book.

I’ve read two Persuasion retellings in which Frederick Wentworth is an ice hockey player (very different, but both good).

I’ve read The God Painter, which will get its own post sooner or later.

I have followed along with The Company of Heaven.

I’ve started Hamnet and got stuck on Magrat Garlick’s ideal self, sorry, I mean Anne Hathaway. I might go back to it, but then again I might not.

I’ve done that thing where you pick up a book because the premise looks really intriguing but the execution isn’t quite there but you keep reading because it’s not quite bad enough to stop and you want to know how it’s going to work out and there’s only a little bit more to go and then it’s one in the morning and you hate yourself because, as it turns out, it wasn’t even a good book.

I’ve also been thrown out of a historical novel by the mention of broccoli in about 1830. Personally, I would consider broccoli daring and exotic in 1930. Maybe it isn’t, maybe it’s the Tiffany problem in action, but anyway, I was thrown out.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort reading, because my goodness, has this been the year for it. Mind you, I’ve been thinking about it on and off since 2020 at least, when I read A Prince on Paper and came away with a profound feeling of gloom. If only the monarchy really were like that, I thought. But it isn’t. And the disconnect between fiction and reality became, for me, painful in itself. I note that I followed it up with Fair Play, which was a better fit for my mood. Crotchety lesbians in Helsinki or a cabin on an island, working around each other’s artistic temperaments. It hit the spot. For me, anyway.

Of course, books hit you differently at different times. I reread We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea last October and surprised myself greatly by crying all through the second half. Because… because my head always does weird things in autumn, and there’s something about knowing that it’s all going to turn out OK? I don’t know. We’ll see what happens next time. Maybe this wasn’t the moment for A Place of Greater Safety, as much as my library card whispers, if not now, when?

Rachel Manija Brown says, of horror:

Sometimes we want to hear that everything will be fine. But sometimes the only way anything can ever be fine is if we admit that everything isn’t fine right now. Horror tells us that everything isn’t fine, and we should start listening to the people who’ve been saying so all along. And if we are those people, it tells us what we most need to hear: “I believe you.”

On Horror

Horror fiction doesn’t do much for me, but I recognise that mindset. The message I need/want to hear is, I think, something like:

No, everything is not fine at the moment, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise. And you are human, and so you too will contribute to its not being fine. Nevertheless, it is worth hoping and striving for a world in which things are better. And you can begin now – not, perhaps, in huge, heroic acts, not by single-handedly bringing about revolution, but by doing the best you can in the life that you have.

Is that what I read? I think so, though it doesn’t always look the same. Sometimes I want genre fic that follows the rules all the way to the happy ending. Sometimes I want litfic that breaks them in interesting ways. Either way, I want it to acknowledge the fact that actually things aren’t easy, not at all. And it’s certainly what I write.

Maybe it’s time I reread Middlemarch. It usually is.

And as it turned out, A Place of Greater Safety was a very appropriate read for the last few days. And the contrast between the current clown-car succession of resignations (and the clown-in-chief’s inability even to resign properly) and the Terror’s queue for the guillotine is one that I can live with quite happily.