Week-end: lounging

A fluffy black and white cat sprawls across the top platform of a floor-to-ceiling grey plush cat tree, like a lazy gargoyle

The good

Two days off! And another one on Monday. I have been napping, writing, watching figure skating, planning a holiday and getting my hair cut. It’s much less straggly now, although if I don’t blow dry it then it still curls the wrong way at the bottom. Also the plumber came and replaced the kitchen tap. The new one doesn’t drip. It’s wonderful.

The mixed

I have the time to write. Where is the energy? And the motivation? I’m doing my best to trust that all this napping and skating-watching (and napping while skating-watching, sorry again Roman Sadovsky, though since that free skate turned out to have dropped him out of the medals when I woke up again maybe he’d rather I didn’t watch it) is going to get me to a place where I can write enthusiastically and freely, but that’s advanced practice.

The difficult and perplexing

Still tired.

What’s working

Well, the new kitchen tap. The shower is still temperamental, though cleaning the head with vinegar has helped a little.

Reading

I started The Paris Apartment (Lucy Foley) on the train home from York (did I say that last week?) but haven’t got any further with it. I got slightly irritated by the sheer profusion of unnecessary cliffhangers (oh no! she has been hit by something heavy and sharp! two chapters later, it turns out to have been a cat jumping on her!) but will probably pick it up again on another train journey sooner or later. I’ve been dipping into Atlas of Imagined Places (Matt Brown and Rhys B. Davies), which is great fun, even if it’s making me painfully aware of my lamentable lack of pop culture knowledge. This is bound to feature as a Reader’s Gazetteer special when I’ve done a bit more dipping. And, in Sunday afternoon Christian reading, I’ve just begun Intimate Jesus: the sexuality of God incarnate (Andy Angel).

Writing

I finished the first draft of Starcrossers. Hurrah! It’s three and a half thousand words too long and I could easily make it longer. Oh dear. I’m going to let it sit for a month and see what’s to be done about it in December.

I also began a blog post about the Belgian Coastal Tramway, which I’m hopeful you’ll see sometime in the next few weeks.

Making

Return of the mystery patchwork (finally remembered to look in the fabric box in daylight, allowing me to cut out the last six patches and the wadding.

Mending

Darned some different bits of my black jeans. And one of Tony’s T-shirts.

Watching

The Sheffield Grand Prix. One of my friends got tickets to be there in person. I’m very jealous.

I would say, Twitter imploding, but actually I’ve only been following it at a distance. I haven’t really enjoyed being on Twitter since 2016 or so: this may be a prompt to step away. My favourite time on the internet was really round about 2009 or 2010 when LiveJournal was still thriving and Dreamwidth was just taking off so there could be two versions of the exact same post with two equally interesting conversations happening in the comments, and when blogs were still where it was and nobody had yet invented the algorithm. You can probably tell.

Cooking

I made a really good macaroni cheese on Friday. Using actual macaroni helps: it has that lovely squidgy schlick-schlick texture, which you just don’t get with penne. (I usually use penne, but I picked up a packet of macaroni from the side of the path a few weeks ago – I would be disowned if it ever came out that I left good food lying on the ground – and have been working my way through that.)

At the moment I have a turkey carbonnade in the slow cooker. I can’t see that this is any different from an idiosyncratic bolognese sauce, but never mind that. We’ll see how it tastes in a couple of hours. I have made polenta to go with it.

Eating

Our corner shop has become a Co-op and stopped selling plain Bounty bars. Disgraceful. It does, however, sell rather good orange chocolate.

Noticing

A flock of gulls flying overhead in a shallow V-formation.

In the garden

My Japanese anemone is attempting to bloom!

Appreciating

Lie-ins. Naps. Sleep in general, basically.

Acquisitions

Tickets to Avignon (on y danse, on y danse). The idea is that we get a bit of winter sunshine when I really need it, and in the meantime it’s something to look forward to.

And Molke had a sale so I’ve ordered some more bras.

Line of the week

We’ll be taking the TGV to Avignon, but I enjoyed Slow Travel: Europe by Train in the January 2008 issue of Hidden Europe.

We really mourn the passing of Eurostar’s old route into London where the train crept through Brixton on an ancient viaduct, screeched round tight curves past Battersea’s back gardens and trundled through a metroland full of bourgeois comforts: shiny Ebbsfleet will surely never be a match for Penge East, Sydenham Hill or sedate Shortlands.

Sunday snippet

From the end of Starcrossers:

We went beyond the farmland. We went all through the delta down to the sea, and then turned towards the moonrise until we caught sight of the high mountains. Then we returned to the city, Crew and Containment alike talking of where we might go next, and all of us were welcomed into the homes of our new acquaintances, where those who’d stayed at home were eager to hear what we’d seen.

This coming week

Another day off. Two days of tech support. Thursday, an appointment in Ely and a night at the opera in London (the appointment was scheduled two days ago and has stymied my beautiful plans, but I can still do both). And that’s as far ahead as I care to think for the moment.

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

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.