Week-end: in the dark

A window decorated with an illuminated design showing a family cycling through a wood (silhouettes on pale greens, above) and a person being chased through a wood by some sort of monster (black and orange, below)

The good

Well, after I spent the week worrying feebly about today’s Cursillo event, it went off terrifically. We had to put out more chairs! People turned up who I’d never met! We sang ‘Will your anchor hold?’, which was a favourite of my Pa’s (also at least one person this week told me that ‘The Lord will provide’, which was a common, occasionally infuriatingly so, line of his). And that was my last big commitment before the clocks go back, so I could go home and flop on the sofa. And I did.

The mixed

I got through the week at work without crying in the kitchen, which is good going for this time of year.

On the subject of the work kitchen, it has a new Zip tap (the sort that dispenses quasi-boiling water at the touch of a button). It isn’t terribly well-designed, though: you have to bend your finger at a really weird angle to be able to press down both the safety release and the hot water button.

The difficult and perplexing

I was not made to get up before dawn. Tuesday – a work from home day – I was still in bed perilously close to should-be-at-my-desk time. Office days, I have to leave the house in the dark. I managed it this week, but I hate it. I’d intended to go down to the Isle of Wight this coming weekend, but I have cancelled, and therefore have the Guilt.

What’s working

Putting the next day’s clothes out the night before. And knowing when to call it a day and order pizza.


I finished The Embroidered Sunset and am rather wishing I hadn’t. What on earth was that ending? In the immortal words of Adam Savage, I reject your reality, Joan Aiken, and substitute my own.


Some more work on Starcrossers, but I’ve been too tired to do as much as I’d hoped. I did do a little interview for the Bicycles and Broomsticks Kickstarter (five days left!) though.


Skate America (except for the bits where I fell asleep. Apologies to the first two men in the second group). And, increasingly belatedly, the track cycling world championships.

Also the government imploding, but the less said about that the better. All hail the lettuce.

Currently I have Strictly on in the background. Do none of these people know that it’s a very bad idea to let a Weeping Angel touch you? And that dancing a tango with one would therefore be a very bad idea indeed?

Looking at

Window Wanderland. This is a community art project where people decorate their windows to entertain other people who wander around and look at them. I saw a couple as I cycled home last night (didn’t stop for photos as I was trying to beat the next rain shower) and then went out on a more leisurely walk this evening.

There weren’t as many as last year: I suspect the Return To The Workplace has cut into people’s time and energy. We wouldn’t have had one ourselves if due to terminal inefficiency I hadn’t left last year’s decorations hanging over the banisters all year. They’ve suffered a bit and don’t look nearly as good as any of the others I’ve seen. I particularly liked the one shown at the top of this post, but there was a lovely set of pot plants, a TARDIS, some morris dancers, and something which I initially parsed as a weirdly coloured Slovenian flag but which was of course a tribute to Wonder Woman. I told you I was tired.


Not entirely successfully, stuffed peppers.


A fox trotting across the road this evening.

In the garden

Well, I took the compost out…


Having an afternoon with nothing to do.


Some tights arrived. Some of them are purple. Some of them are pink, purple and blue. Some of them are other colours. There’s also a parcel for me at the delivery office.

Line of the week

Anna Turley on Twitter:

Never has so much been owed by so many to tofu.

Saturday snippet

More from Starcrossers:

In the end I chose it because I’d already chosen it, and I wanted a more positive symbol of my choice than the dry bureaucracy of the notice of contamination.

This coming week

Honestly, if I can get through it without crying at work I’ll count it as a success. And then I shall sleep.

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


A green tree with sunlight shining through the leaves

Today is an absolutely beautiful day. It pelted down with rain first thing; now the sky is clear blue and the sun is shining from behind me and illuminating the leaves of the plane trees.

And I am feeling very calm and present and thankful. I have been able to apply intense focus to my work this morning. It feels very easy to step inside into the walled garden of the heart/mind and to remain there without hurry or guilt.

Today I am very conscious that this is a gift. This is a miracle for today; there might or might not be another miracle tomorrow. It feels as if it has sprung directly from what we were talking about on Saturday morning; and on Saturday morning we were talking about how the miracles aren’t the point. You saw five thousand people fed on five loaves and two fishes yesterday? Don’t ask to be astounded again by the feeding of another five thousand; turn up and eat the bread that’s in front of you. You can’t live on chocolate mousse, and you can’t stay on the mountain top.

I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know whether this is a sign that the equinoctial gales are done with for the moment or whether it’s just a brief summery respite in the long grind of autumn. I don’t know whether I’ll find the same sense of flow when I get home tonight, whether I’ll be able to apply the same focus to all the lists that aren’t work-related, or whether I’ll just want to cry and go to sleep.

I used to think that not being able to sustain (or, indeed, attain in the first place) this kind of presence was a huge personal failing. Now I begin to understand what an impossible expectation that was to have of myself. It wasn’t ever anything that I could create for myself, because it wasn’t ever mine to give. All I could ever do was to turn up.

Week-end: don’t Knokke it

A tram showing destination 'Knokke' passes a station built with a steep roof and text 'Coq Sur Mer'

The good

I have fulfilled a reasonably long-held ambition and travelled almost the entire length of the Belgian coastline by tram. (Belgium is as far as I am aware the only country where this is possible). This is part of a most welcome long weekend away. I’ll write more about it when I’m back.

The mixed

I really do like tutoring, and I had the opportunity to do some this week. But my goodness, it doesn’t half take it out of me, and I spent the evening swaying gently to and fro and conversing in monosyllables.

The difficult and perplexing

Tired. Tired all the time. Really feeling it at the moment, particularly when I encounter too many people and too much noise, and had an embarrassing tearful delayed introvert meltdown in the high street on Sunday.

Plus, of course, The News.

What’s working

A warm bath. With a bright green jasmine-scented bath room. Also the WordPress app is a great improvement on trying to do this in the mobile browser.


Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson. Not sure what’s going on but I’m enjoying it.


I started darning a sock but didn’t get very far.


I forgot to mention Dune last week. I didn’t fall asleep, which is an improvement on all my previous experiences watching any adaptation of Dune (Tony’s university tendency to start showing it at eleven at night after a bottle of wine really didn’t help here) but it’s still somewhat slow. This week, I managed to watch the end of the women’s world championship road race (really cheered me up on my miserable Sunday afternoon) and the beginning of the men’s.

Looking at

The Gold exhibition at the British Library. Some beautiful manuscripts there. I was charmed by a beetle in a gold margin, and spent some time looking at golden cross-hatching on a picture of Our Lady.

Plus bits of Brugge from a boat, and bits of the North Sea from a tram.


I’ve just had some excellent spaghetti with seafood. Yesterday I had Flemish beef stew. No waffles yet; this feels like an omission. And on Thursday night we went for sushi in London. Very tasty. I’m not sure I’d ever tried green tea ice cream or sesame ice cream or indeed chestnut ice cream before now.


Some gorgeous Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture (in among some dismal high-rise seaside flats). A lot of dogs.


Our attic bedroom across the road from Brugge cathedral. Continental coffee. I like being able to order plain ‘coffee’ (or koffie, café, Kaffee, etc) and receiving something really nice, no further questions.

Public transport. I travelled from one end of a country to another in two hours for €7.50.


I got a Brugge badge for my camp blanket. Spent far too much money on books in Ely cathedral shop on Sunday. (One was something I’d intended to buy in August, but still…) And ordered and received some new underwear from Molke.


As I notice a hole at the edge of the last patch but one on my black jeans, I once again consider acquiring a pair without elastane, and possibly with an expensive brand name…

Line of the week

Ought to be from Art and Lies, but I didn’t bring it with me. Have a line from Cyclist magazine instead:

I could stand here all morning, lost in a sea of beauty, the mountains tugging at the very fibres of my soul. But yet I am man, I have simple needs, and it doesn’t take too much talk of coffee and cake at the bottom of this descent to lure me from my reverie.

This coming week

I return home, go to London both more and less than in an ideal world I would, and probably do some laundry.

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

December Reflections 15: difficult day in 2020

 network of bare tree branches, lit up greenish in winter sunlight, with clear blue sky beyond

I used this photo earlier, posted it as number 350 of my 366 days of delight.

If my difficult day is today, it’s because 2020 has been kinder to me than it has to many other people I know, or know of. And it’s because I can be sad and slow even on beautiful sunlit afternoons with clean blue skies. If this is as bad as 2020 gets, then I will have got off lightly. And I would also have liked to have been able to take a shower this morning without crying about it. No morning walk for me today. No morning prayer. If today has not been very difficult, it has not been easy.

It may be that strange thing that depression does to memory, by which I can only bring to mind a very narrow now and the current emotion convinces me it’s permanent. I went back through my diary, looking for other difficult days. There were plenty in which I felt more or less like this – 16 July, for example, reads:

presumably this day happened? (i was not happy)

reading all of the internet

Zoom mimealong to Steal Away

I didn’t write, but I remember, that I had to go and cry on the stairs halfway through that.

On 17 June there’s:


which I think was fatigue rather than anything to do with mental ill health.

There was a Monday in which I broke my phone and a kitchen knife and received an unsolicited review request for a deeply distasteful lesbian Nazi mystery novel followed by a Tuesday in which I had to deal with an ant infestation. There was the week clouded by worry when my father was in hospital back in March.

(And I know all of that’s very small beer compared with what some people have had to deal with, this year in particular.)

But today, because I’m in it, feels like a difficult day, if not the most difficult day. A slow day, a sad day, a day in which it took me an hour to get out of bed and tears to get me into the shower. The first day in a long time it’s been as bad as that. A day in which I did some little work, but also read a lot of irrelevant Tweets.

A day in which I wore silver shoes to go to the postbox. A day in which the sky was a clean clear blue and the trees were as lovely without leaves as they were with them.

December Days 19: tasty


Terrible photo; very tasty chocolates. It’s the time of year for very tasty chocolates.

I always find this time of year a little difficult: how to balance my need for sleep with my desire to get involved with things and have fun? How to avoid getting burned out and cynical about the whole Christmas thing before we’ve even got to December? How to honour my need for solitude without being a miserable cow? How to acknowledge the fact that the short days and the long to-do list make it very difficult to be cheerful? How to keep a holy Advent without becoming sanctimonious?

There are some things that I always do. I take the first week of Advent off work, to catch up on sleep. I do some kind of observance: I have an Advent calendar and I read an Advent book. And I don’t sing with any group that requires me to start rehearsing Christmas music before mid-November.

(I really do like Advent. It acknowledges the fear and despair that annoyingly seem to be longstanding guests in my head, while refusing to let me stop with them.)

There are some things that I experiment with. This year I’ve given up alcohol, except for a couple of glasses of prosecco before the work disco, because in that moment refusing it would have felt sanctimonious, and declined to participate in Secret Santa (too bloody awkward). But I’ve also sung carols at a Christmas lights switch-on and ridden on gallopers while the organ was playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (in mid-November, at that), and danced until my knees hurt at the aforementioned disco.

I haven’t got it right yet. I was reluctant to get out of bed this morning. But I have had fun today. I drank lemonade and jumped around with a tambourine and sung along with Wombling Merry Christmas. And I ate a very tasty lunch.

100 untimed books: lighting

63. lighting
63. lighting

The nights are drawing in. I’ve been using my daylight lamp every day since the beginning of August, and I have to say it’s helped. I’ve been very tired, but on the whole I haven’t been experiencing the low moods that I usually get in these early autumn months.

So here we go. Five stories of music and nightfall.

100 untimed books

Giving up, and giving up on giving up

This year I’ve been doing Lent differently; by which I mean that I’ve not been doing very much differently at all. I haven’t given up anything, partly in an attempt to disconnect the idea of virtue from that of self-deprivation, and partly to see if there’s any correlation between Lenten discipline and the seasonal depression that tends to land early in March and lift around Easter.

It turns out that not giving up meat, not giving up alcohol, not giving up coffee, not giving up tea, not giving up biscuits, and not giving up anything else, has made precisely zero difference, and March has been as much of a slog as it always is. This has, oddly enough, made me feel rather optimistic. It would have been annoying to discover that I’d brought all my misery on myself by trying too hard to be ‘good’. Next year I can do what I feel like doing and not worry about it. And I also know for next year not to schedule any social events during March, because I’ll either flake out and disappoint people, or turn up and then cry and embarrass them.

I keep meaning to write about the structure of the Church year, and how useful I find it. Firstly, there’s the way that it keeps turning on and on with or without my involvement. I can fail to get out of bed three Sundays running, work a weekend away, and then go on holiday, and when I come back I can still reorient myself by the colour of the altar frontal, the readings, and the anthem. And then there’s the fact that there is actually an officially sanctioned time for feeling dreadful, followed by a time of feeling a huge amount better and being thankful for that. That bit’s coming up soon. I’m looking forward to it.

December Reflections 8: on the ground


On the ground. Grounded. Down to earth with a bump.

This is new ground, or, rather, what is on top of the ground hasn’t been there long. Pavement and fallen leaves; much of the ground in London looks like this at the moment. It all feels a bit artificial: neat, and new, and even the trees have been put there by somebody.

It’s Thursday, and things are difficult again. It’s dark when I get up now, and it’s dark when I leave work, and in between it’s grey. I pour music into my ears and light into my eyes, and it helps a little bit, but not enough, and I’ve got to do it all again tomorrow. I’m taking comfort in the fact that, for the moment at least, I retain enough of a sense of humour to appreciate ‘Greenleaf 1’.

Morning people, morning pages (I’m not one and I don’t do them)

Season of bike lights
Season of bike lights

Last week I bought two things – well, I bought several things, but among them were:

I’d flicked through the book in the shop, as you do, but it was only when I’d brought it home and started at the beginning that the irony struck me.

I remembered the problem – my problem, I should say – with Julia Cameron.

Morning pages. Or, rather, her insistence that morning pages are essential, that, before you do anything else, you should dump the contents of your head into a notebook, and that if you have to get up early to do it, then that’s what you should do.

I understand the theory, and I am perfectly willing to admit that dumping the contents of my head into a notebook has been very useful to me on more than one occasion. I just can’t do it every day, and I definitely can’t do it first thing in the morning.

I am not a morning person. I am particularly not a morning person when it’s dark when I have to get up. And I have to get up at six thirty as it is. September hits me like a steamroller, every year, when the morning retreats that little bit further and whatever it is in my head that gets me out of bed stops working. If I were to set the alarm for 6.10am, I would spend the twenty minutes between it going off and my having to start getting ready for work lying in bed hating myself. I’ve tried it.

In fact, I was very happy to realise this morning that it’s now October and therefore not too depressing to look forward to the clocks going back.

And so morning pages are not an option for me. I am not even tempted. At this time of year, any sort of ritual that asks me to get up earlier than strictly necessary is not an option for me. So I’m not doing them.

I will, however, read the rest of the book with interest and an open mind.

It is not exactly news to me that some techniques work for some people and don’t work for others. What’s changed is my reaction to discovering that this is one that didn’t work for me. In past years I’d have given up on the whole thing in disgust. Now I’m prepared to pick and mix.

What I am working on at the moment is retaining the baby – in this case, Julia Cameron’s otherwise humane, compassionate and patient approach to the artistic process – while ditching the bathwater. She runs the bath too hot for me.


Déjà vu

Massive progress
Massive progress

Major existential crisis vs minor annoyance

A friend asked me the other day how things were going with the current book. This was my reply:

I’ve dragged it kicking and screaming to 16K and have hit the stage where I think it’s all terrible and the characters are cardboard and I haven’t done enough research and it shows and I’ve got everything wrong and should just dump the entire project.

Interestingly, this state of affairs didn’t particularly bother me. Because, as I went on to say, I remember this happening last time round. In fact, I officially gave up on Speak Its Name at least twice because I thought it was all terrible and the characters were cardboard and I hadn’t done enough research and it showed and I’d got everything wrong. So I just dumped the entire project.

Except I didn’t, obviously, because twice – or more – I came back to it, dug in again, and sorted out what was wrong.

This time round, I see exactly what’s going on. I recognise the stuckness as a minor annoyance rather than a major existential crisis. I also see why it’s feeling stuck.

Massive mess vs massive progress

The picture at the top of the page shows the sitting room of the flat we rented in Woking, during the process of packing up almost everything to move it to Cambridge. For tedious work-related reasons, I did most of the packing while my partner started his job out east (he did all of the driving, so it worked out more or less even).

I hate moving house. It’s commonly said to be one of the most stressful experiences of modern life, and I’ve done it far more times than I ever wanted to. What that means is, I’m getting better at it.

Here, an extract from our chatlogs:

K: the packing is getting me down
I think it gets worse before it gets better

T: yeah

K: I am hoping that you will come back and see Massive Progress
I am just seeing Massive Mess

T: That is what progress usually looks like

K: heh

T: One hundred percent of them

K: yes
and they all need to be in boxes
or somewhere else that is not in the flat

The more often it comes, the easier it is to recognise it

The first time I got depression, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know there was an ‘it’ to know: it works by erasing all your previous frame of reference, so you start believing that this grey expanse of meh is all there ever was and all there ever will be.

The first time it went away was because of a change of scenery and Bruckner’s fourth symphony. It was as if someone had switched the lights on; and that was when I learned not to mistake a low mood for a loss of faith. I can forgive myself for having been mistaken, though: it was a very, very ongoing low mood.

The next time was when several awful things (two bereavements, a bedsit with leaks and mice, a temp job in a cellar) all showed up in a bandwagon and depression jumped on.

The time after that I went to see the doctor about it and he said, yes, depression. My brain lying to me about the way things are, not the way things actually are.

A while after that, I started recognising the feeling that I should break up with my partner for his own good as not just a very bad idea, but a symptom of the returning visitor.

These days, it comes and goes, and I get better and better at recognising it. I’ve got to know its little ways so well that I could almost mark it on the calendar, and when it turns up say, ‘oh, yes, August’.

Twenty-four per cent

The current wordcount for Wheels (I thought briefly about changing the title to Bonk this morning, but I fear I’d disappoint a lot of Jilly Cooper fans) is 19,354. Assuming I’m aiming for eighty thousand words, that puts me just under a quarter of the way there.

Actually, it puts me nowhere near a quarter of the way there. I’m not expert enough yet to guess how much editing and reading and re-editing and re-reading I’m going to need to do once I’ve got the first draft down, but I know it’s going to be a lot. I can tell that from looking at what there is of the first draft.

That’s why I’m thinking it’s all terrible and the characters are cardboard and I haven’t done enough research and it shows and I’ve got everything wrong.

You don’t realise how much stuff you have until you try to put it all into boxes, and then you have boxes everywhere and also stuff everywhere. Moving is always horrible. Depression is always horrible. The more often you have to deal with either, the better tools you pick up and the quicker you are to recognise what’s wrong, but at no stage does this make them fun.

At twenty-four per cent, the book is terrible and the characters are a bit thin, and I do need to do more research, and I probably have got some stuff wrong. And, yes it does show.

The vital information that I was missing at this point in the last book is that this is all true, but nothing is wrong. This is just the way that things look at sixteen thousand or nineteen thousand words into the first draft. Massive progress looks like massive mess. It can’t possibly look like anything else, not until I get a long way further in.

I’ve been here before, and it’s much less scary this time around.


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