Week-end: red plush seat season

Ornate theatre auditorium with a lot of gilt and red plush, seen from high up in the gallery

The good

A serenely joyful Monday. Visiting friends. A night at the opera. Red and yellow trees. Ripe pears. There have been some lovely moments this week. And there is encouraging progress on the Bicycles and Broomsticks Kickstarter.

The mixed

You know, I really could enjoy autumn if only I didn’t have to do so much. And by ‘have to’ I mean ‘want to’, ‘feel obliged to’, and ‘be contractually obliged to’. As it is, I find myself simultaneously getting irritated by the memes about the joy of crunchy leaves and pumpkin spiced lattes, while enjoying the crunchy leaves. (I have never tried a pumpkin spiced latte. I have never tried a plain latte, not being overly fond of milk.)

And! I finally finally finally got up to date with my accounts (I use You Need A Budget). It took an awful lot of coffee, but I did it, and nothing is telling me reproachfully that it was last reconciled nine months ago.

The difficult and perplexing

I’m boring myself here, but I’m tired. I’m beginning to wonder, actually, whether I’m not so far over Covid as I thought I was. But it may still be the time of year, combined with the nasty shock of things actually happening.

What’s working

High drama, sequins, lounging on the sofa, hot baths, soap made with coffee grounds.

Reading

I progressed a little further with The Master and Margarita. The Master has now shown up. In The Fellowship of the Ring we have reached the Old Forest and Tom Bombadil has shown up. In non-fiction, I read the introductory sections of Philip’s Guide To The Night Sky (see Acquisitions) and very much enjoyed the general Sir Patrick Mooreness of the writing. I will return to the seasonal specifics later.

Writing

Some editing on Book Bus Stories. Some connections in Starcrossers, which continues to head north towards ten thousand words. I’m going to finish joining it all up and then see what I can cut. Or throw myself on the editor’s mercy. Maybe both.

Mending

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the darning loom this week. I’ve darned a pyjama top (it’s very obvious that I mostly sleep on my right side), a pair of walking socks, a pair of ordinary socks, two pairs of jeggings, and one of Tony’s merino T-shirts.

Watching

Tosca (English National Opera, London Coliseum). I’d never actually seen Tosca and felt it was about time, and really, when you can get tickets for a tenner and I’m in London anyway, why not? So I did. It was an enjoyable show, very trad production (bicorne hats and all), good singing, understudy (?) Scarpia acquitted himself very well, Tosca herself was great, though I think Caravadossi ran away with it. My formative Tosca is Agatha Christie’s short story Swan Song, so (without spoilers) I’m always slightly surprised when the opera keeps on going for another forty minutes after Vissi d’arte (or Love and Music in this case, as ENO do everything in English). I am glad I did not accidentally leave at the interval.

Although I will say that the ten pound seats are proportionately tiny, front to back, and I was glad it wasn’t a full house and there was space for us to spread out.

Another three episodes of Heartstopper with my friend N, with popcorn and everything. It’s very charming, but my overwhelming reaction is relief that I never have to go to school ever again.

Also, what I need to get me through the dark evenings is a bucketload of sequins, unconvincing musical cuts, and dodgy scoring, and since figure skating doesn’t hit Eurosport until this coming Friday I’ve been watching Strictly Come Dancing.

Cooking

Bubble and squeak (accompanied by fierce debate as to whether you can really call it that when it isn’t made with leftovers); upside down chocolate pear pudding (experimenting this time with adding ground almonds and more milk than I’d meant to). I’ve just peeled and chopped up all the time-limited apples for apple sauce. I filled a saucepan with apples, resulting in half a saucepan of apple sauce, and there is still most of a bowl of (more durable-looking) apples left.

Eating

Pears. Some of them have been divine. The trouble with pears is that they so often go straight from rock-hard to rotten. I had one on Sunday that was both at once. I cut the rotten end off and sliced up the sharp remainder and ate it with Comté cheese. Very good.

I had a very nice paneer kebab at Le Maison Bab in Covent Garden before the opera. And a cocktail called a Paloma Pomegranate to go with it. Very nice. Very pink.

Playing

Ticket to Ride with N and M (not the Agatha Christie ones), followed by Labyrinth and Funny Bunny with M.

Noticing

How quickly the leaves are changing. And they really are lovely this year.

In the garden

As you might have guessed, apples and pears.

Appreciating

Pure distilled emotion. Lie-ins.

Acquisitions

It is always great fun to explore the charity shops of a town you don’t live in. I did very well, and came away with a knitted top, a Friedrich Hollaender/Marlene Dietrich songbook, the vocal score for Cowardy Custard (never heard of it, but it is a way to acquire a lot of Coward music all at once), Consider Phlebas, Philip’s Guide to the Night Sky as mentioned above, The Woman Who Stole My Life (I do like Marian Keyes), By Royal Command (Charlie Higson made a very entertaining interviewer; I’m interested to see what the Young Bond books are like), The Star of Kazan (to replace an copy with a snot stain – not mine), and all five acts of Mireille. Which I think I have only ever encountered on a pianola roll before now.

Hankering

Well, I was looking at a couple of leather jackets, but neither of them fitted well enough to convince me. This reminded me of my intermittent desire for a proper bomber jacket with a sheepskin or knitted collar. And I was very tempted by a darning loom with twenty-one hooks and a long board (the hooks more than the board, if I’m honest). Plus things I’ve mentioned in previous weeks and may buy now I’ve sorted out my money and payday has arrived.

Line of the week

In the Old Forest:

In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked by fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves.

Saturday snippet

A currently load-bearing bit of Starcrossers:

She used a word I didn’t know. “I suppose you’d call it a guess, though it’s more than that. You’re obviously from the Containment, you enjoy a certain level of rank, though perhaps enjoy isn’t the word, and none of the other Heir’s heirs have a reputation for venturing into Crew territory.” For the first time, she smiled. “And yes, they do also show me the news pieces.”

This coming week

A relatively quiet one at work. I think. I’d like to get the first draft of Starcrossers done and maybe even move on to working out what can come out. A Cursillo event on Saturday, which I am hoping will come together. And there’ll be some figure skating to watch.

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

Interlude

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: the higher the brow the harder they fall

A stone sill a great height over a city has arrows and town names and distances carved into the it; one of those is '230 - Londen'

The good

The Kickstarter for Bicycles and Broomsticks is live and is nearly half-way funded only a few days in. I have written a story! My story will be published! People will read my story! In a year when I have more writing-imposter syndrome than usual, this is a good feeling.

We had a lovely time in Belgium, with a further two and a half days in Brugge, an hour people-watching in Brussels, and the comparative glamour of Standard Premier class on the Eurostar home.

Today, by contrast (but equally good), I’ve cycled ten minutes up the hill and slightly less down again (eating croissants and discussing questions of theology in the middle), and walked 5km in one hour, and watched Filippo Ganna cycling 57km in one hour, and pottered in the garden, and generally had a nice quiet day.

The mixed

Home trains. We got off the Eurostar to find that nothing was running to Ely, so we got on a slow train to Cambridge, then discovered that the next train to Ely was in fact running. And on Tuesday I miscalculated my tickets and had to buy a single to go with my super off-peak which I’d left it too late to use. Plus the fact that as things turned out I didn’t really need to go to London on Tuesday after all, except by the time I knew that I’d booked tickets to something I actually did rather want to go and see, so…

But! The Ely-King’s Lynn line is finally fixed, and the timetable restored, so I can get a train straight through to work in the morning, and I have two through trains per hour in the evening. Which is all marvellous.

The difficult and perplexing

My RSS reader came up with an error for Cate’s Cates this week. Catherine was a joyous, kind, witty, and eclectic internet presence; she died very unexpectedly earlier this year; and now a little more of what was left is gone.

Being eaten alive by mosquitoes in our room at Brugge. The bites are fading now, but at one point I had three on my right cheekbone. Fortunately the place also had a very flattering mirror and I could pretend it was a tripartite beauty spot, a mark of distinction, rather than untimely acne. The ones on my arms and feet were really itchy, though.

And I continue to be a zombie outside daylight hours.

What’s working

Well, not doing things outside daylight hours, but that gets increasingly difficult. I’m not even doing terribly well during the daylight hours, though Radio 3 is helping.

Promising myself I’d do an hour of admin and then stop (and setting a Forest Focus tree to enforce both).

Snag tights (the only snag, ha, is that all my other tights are infuriatingly ill-fitting by comparison). I was particularly pleased by the white-fishnets-over-black-opaques combination.

Reading

Very intellectual this week. I had put The Master and Margarita on my e-reader some time ago, and began that on the Eurostar home; I’m about a quarter of the page count and two decapitations in. Then I finished Art and Lies yesterday. Very good, impressionistic, visual, disquieting. (Note: all the content notes.) I couldn’t quite face going back to The Master and Margarita and more potential decapitations, so I started Sisters of the Vast Black (Lina Rather) which is delightful so far. (Nuns! IN SPAAACE!) Last night I was feeling too exhausted for anything new at all, so put on my pyjamas and lounged on the sofa with The Fellowship of the Ring (and the cat on my lap). I’m pretty sure I fell asleep like that.

Sewing

I got five badges (see Acquisitions, below) onto my camp blanket despite the best efforts of the cat.

Watching

Today, Filippo Ganna’s Hour Record, the end of the Lombardia, and highlights from the Singapore Grand Prix. At other points in the week, the keyboard finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and quite a lot of quiz shows from BBC iPlayer.

Looking at

Art in the Groeningen Museum in Brugge. I will never now be able to unsee The Judgement of Cambyses. There was some Bosch in there too, about which all I can say is ‘it was smaller than I expected’. But there were also things that I remember and enjoyed looking at: St Luke Drawing The Virgin Mary, for example, where the poor Madonna is trying to feed the baby Jesus, who is distracted by St Luke in the way that babies are. And a couple of really striking late nineteenth-century landscapes.

Then on Tuesday I went to see the Fashioning Masculinities exhibition at the V and A. A few of my friends had been to this and enthused. And it’s closing soon, and I can’t get to the V and A and back in a lunchtime (I’ve tried), so I thought that since I had to go to London to pick up my laptop, I might as well make an afternoon of it. And a fascinating afternoon it was. Although in some ways it was just as interesting looking at the other exhibition-goers; some of them were dressed very strikingly indeed.

Cooking

Caldo verde, sort of, and an attempted Black Forest sponge pudding from the remains of a chocolate tray bake and the end of a jar of cherry jam. I think I might have done better to bash the cake up more and mix in a little milk. But it was perfectly edible.

Eating

The most delectable waffle I have ever tasted. It was most beautifully light and it came with cream, ice cream, and kirsch-soaked cherries. I ordered a pot of coffee alongside it and that came with a macaron and a hard almond biscuit. This was at a café in Brugge called Carpe Diem.

We also ate some mussels and shrimp croquettes, and I had a thing called Croque Boum Boum for lunch on our last day (it’s a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with bolognese sauce on the top), but it’s that waffle that I’ll remember.

Drinking

Beer. I am a bit thrown by the way Belgian menus don’t tend to include the alcohol percentage, and tended to stick with known quantities for that reason. I did, however, risk a Tripel Karmeliet knowing that it was going to be pretty deadly.

And a lot of coffee.

Moving

I climbed the belfry at Brugge. Over three hundred steps. On the whole I prefer the one at Ghent, which has dragons, but I’m glad to have done it. I ended up at the top when the carillon was going for the hour, which was quite a thing. Couldn’t help but think of The Nine Tailors

Noticing

Golden sunlight and long shadows, and the sharpness of the demarcation. A tiny two-spotted ladybird landing on my hand. The stars, when I went out to pick some rosemary last night.

In the garden

Apples, loads of them. Pears, quite a few of them. Today I pruned one of the apple trees and cut a load of wisteria and the vine back.

Appreciating

The fluffiness of the cat. The honesty and curiosity of the Way of Breakfast group. A weekend in which I don’t have to do anything much.

Acquisitions

I was very pleased to find cloth badges for Oostende, Wenduine, De Haan, and Littoral Belge at a flea market stall in Brugge. Then, in a souvenir shop, I found a Brugge badge that I preferred to the one that I’d already got, so I bought that one. Anybody want a Brugge badge?

Picked up Susan Sontag’s Notes On Camp from the V and A.

Hankering

More Snag tights. And I am still thinking about jeans. (Both my pairs of jeggings have worn through, too.)

Line of the week

I said last week that it ought to be Art and Lies. This week it is, although it was hard to find a single best line; so much of it is short, bright, fragments that don’t look like so much on their own, but cumulatively are utterly dazzling. However:

The crescent curve of the train mows the houses as it passes, the houses disappear behind the moon metal blade of the silver train.

This coming week

I have finally got all the ducks lined up in a row for a work project that’s needed doing for a long time. On Monday I’m beginning another writing stint. Saturday we’re going to see friends. I want to have the energy to enjoy all those things in their different ways.

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

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.

Reading

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

Mending

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

Watching

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.

Eating

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.

Noticing

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

Appreciating

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.

Acquisitions

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.

Hankering

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!

Week-end: equinoctial

A broad sky dappled with white and, nearer, pearly grey clouds

The good

A small family gathering: my mother stayed overnight on her way back south, and the in-laws are staying just up the road. I don’t think we’ve seen them all in the same place for the best part of a decade. We had a very nice morning chatting and eating cake, celebrating Tony’s birthday.

The mixed

A palimpsest of red letter days: the equinox, Tony’s birthday, Bi Visibility Day, the uncompromising autumnal nature of it all and the corresponding wondering about where this year has gone (answer: same as it’s been every time I’ve wondered this).

The difficult and perplexing

I’m really feeling the diminished daylight. It’s difficult to get up in the dark for my office days (and the Great Northern line still isn’t running properly, adding an extra half hour to change at Cambridge in the mornings) and on my work-from-home days I haven’t managed to get out of bed early enough to get a morning walk in.

What’s working

A little at a time. A picture a day. Or, at least, every day that I can.

Reading

Barely anything this week, though I am keeping up with Clorinda. As compensation, I’m going to mention a couple of things I read earlier and then didn’t write about. Firstly, Dust Tracks On A Road, Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography. I get the impression that this was not the best place to start, though I also feel the writer of the introduction (this is a Virago paperback edition) wanted it to be a book that it was never going to be. Also, Tristan and Isolde (Gabriel Bise), a rather odd book which took as its starting point illustrations from a manuscript version in the Duc de Berry’s library and then tried to tell the story with explicit reference to what was going on in the pictures. Sometimes this felt rather like reading a medieval Hello! (“Wearing golden crowns the royal couple stood side by side, Mark wearing a full red cloak lined with vair, Isolde in a pink robe embroidered in gold. Between them, the priest in his blue cape blessed their joined hands while reading from the ritual of the sacramental texts. Behind the king, in a green coat, Tristan shared with Curvenal the anguish which afflicted him…”) and occasionally went all the way into unintentional farce (“disguised as a pilgrim, [King Mark] went with his retinue to the land of Logres. Wearing his gold-crowned helmet he easily disposed of those knights who happened to obstruct his path…”). Really I’d have preferred a straight translation of the actual text in the Duc de Berry’s book.

Writing

More on Book Bus Stories, which is really starting to come together, and a light pass over Starcrossers, which I now know how to cut down to fit into the word limit.

Mending

A visible darn on the elbow of a short stripy blue dress and an invisible mend, picking up a ladder in a little gold cardigan. A couple more subtle darns on one of Tony’s T-shirts and another one on the dress with constellations.

Listening to

The Queen’s funeral. Rather a pedestrian selection of hymns, I thought (much as I love The day thou gavest, I associate it more with Evensong, possibly coupled with an address by Reverend Whatsit from the Missionary Society, and I’m really not sure about descants at a funeral) but the choral stuff was excellent.

Watching

The world road cycling championships, selectively and rather behind the times. Getting up to watch it live isn’t really an option this week, but I’ve enjoyed seeing it in chunks during the evenings. I really do like the mixed relay time trial; it’s a pity it only happens once a year. Now I’ve got the women’s road race on in the background and am enjoying glancing up to see pleasant views of the Australian coastline.

Household

Hanging some family pictures: two of my great-grandmother’s watercolours featuring the great-aunt I’m named after (she doesn’t seem to have painted anybody except her own children; everything else is landscapes); a painting of Kirkstall Abbey which has on the back a list of every address where it’s hung since 1915; a painting of a great-great-great-aunt as a child (and about time: that one’s been sitting on top of the piano for months). Of course I’d forgotten about a framed prayer and a shield of Trinity College Cambridge, and will have to get some more picture hooks.

Cooking

A very large apple crumble.

Eating

Cake. Also Tony cooked venison on Sunday, which made quite a change.

Moving

Special arrangements for the Period of National Mourning meant that Sunday’s regular communion service happened at 4pm, so for once I got a Sunday morning ride in. My usual route heads out to the north-west and proceeds along a series of right-angles. When I get fed up I turn around and go back again. Consequently I am bound to get both headwinds and tailwinds at some point in the trip; this time it was a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back, which, because of the way the hills work, is by far the most fun, and I beat all my Strava numbers in an entirely undeserved manner. Also there was some excellent fenland sky going on (see photo at top of post).

Noticing

Cyclamen under the hazel trees. I do love cyclamen – only the tiny mauve wild ones, though.

In the garden

Still apples, still pears, and a handful of runner beans.

Appreciating

Tailwinds. Family. The comforting delicate web of internet connections.

Acquisitions

The Ffern Autumn 22 perfume arrived. It doesn’t particularly seem to work on my skin, though: pleasantly citrusy for an hour or so, and then gone. I think I’ll work through the sample and return the full bottle.

Hankering

I want one of those plywood contraptions that you put on a table to make it into a standing desk, with your laptop on the highest shelf, your keyboard and mouse halfway down, etc. Not sure that this would actually work with any furniture I actually own, but still, I note this. I also have a hankering after hand-knitted socks, being jealous of my knitting friends. I don’t want to get into knitting socks, though. Etsy may be the answer here. And opera tickets.

Line of the week

From the latest Hidden Europe:

Just south of the estuary of the Adige we come to the Po Delta, where a braided maze of waterways has over the centuries shifted position, leaving spits, sandbars and brackish backwaters where the low line of the horizon is broken only by myriad migrating birds.

Saturday snippet

Having some fun with one of the Book Bus Stories:

He had toiled down to the Riviera, and meandered around Juan-les-Pins and Antibes and Nice in a state of mind as blue as the famous train that had taken him there.

This coming week

A busy work week, and then the Eurostar to Brussels for Brugge and the Belgian Coastal Tramway. I’d like to catch up with Embroidered Sunset, keep going with the drawings, and maybe listen to some music in the evenings.

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

Week-end: in hell

Only in terms of media consumption, though. This hasn’t been a bad week for me.

Cot quilt in patchwork diamonds, mostly blues and greens.

The good

A really lovely meeting yesterday morning with the current spiritual director and the previous lay director of Ely Cursillo. We all turned up in pink tops, entirely coincidentally, and ate delicious brunch, and had the proper catch-up and said the proper thank-you that’s really been waiting since the spring.

And my ma stayed over Thursday night, en route to The North. I like having people to stay.

The mixed

Glamorous as it is to travel to work by hovercraft, the early start that staying on the Isle of Wight implies does leave me very tired at the end of Monday, and then there’s the rest of the week to get through.

The difficult and perplexing

Life would be easier if I didn’t have to turn round half way up the hill and cycle back home to make sure I actually have shut the garage door (of course I had), meaning that I didn’t have time to lock my bike up at the station, meaning that I then couldn’t get the train I’d said I’d catch because it didn’t have room for me and my bicycle. I’m getting better at trusting myself to have done this sort of thing, but I’m not nearly there yet.

And the cat puked extensively over the ground floor this morning. Of the approximately three million things I’d wanted to get done today, cleaning up cat sick wasn’t exactly top of the list. But it had to be.

What’s working

Putting the current ‘to do’ page of my Filofax in between the current two pages of the ‘week on two pages’ diary. I’ve been refining this with different coloured pages for work tasks, immediate priorities, and small steps towards big projects. I watched the official Bullet Journal introduction video and, while I now get how it works, I still don’t think it’s ever going to match the way my mind works. This, however, will do for the moment.

Reading

I’m already behind on The Embroidered Sunset. Yesterday I bought four books in a charity shop and read two of them: The Wire in the Blood (Val McDermid) – very self-consciously darker and edgier, almost approaching self-parody in some places. Anybody who looked like they might die horribly, did; any prospect of justice being served was undermined; and the hero is the saddest sack in the history of sad sacks. And The Climb Up To Hell (Jack Olsen), an account of a 1957 attempt on the north face of the Eiger and the ensuing rescue attempt. The phrase ‘play stupid games, win stupid prizes’ comes to mind. I’ve been interested in the NFotE since 2016 or so, though the closest I have been, and the closest I intend to get, is the railway up to Jungfraujoch. I can’t say that this felt entirely unbiased, but it was certainly absorbing.

Meanwhile, on the subject of hell, cycling through the poetry bookcase brought me back to Inferno, canto VI to be precise.

I started The Voyages of Cinrak The Dapper (A. J. Fitzwater) and will see how twee it gets. I’ve been dipping in and out of A Desire of Tramcars and the French half of De buurtspoorweg|Le vicinal. And also A View To A Kill, Paris Is Well Worth A Bus, and a 1970 guide to Paris that I found in an Ely junk shop. For reasons.

Writing

Book Bus Stories! I printed this off to take down to the Isle of Wight and discovered that it’s almost done! Eighty per cent, I’d say. This looks like it really is going to happen for Ventnor Fringe 2023. Of course, I’d been putting off the trickiest bits, but filling in the gaps has come easier than I’d expected. Next thing is to get out the lino cutters.

Making

As the photograph at the top of this post indicates, I got the mystery patchwork done, and indeed it is no longer a mystery and is now with its recipient. I was up at seven o’clock on Sunday morning getting the edge finished, though.

Watching

Ventnor Arts Club put on a Bicycle Film Festival to mark the passage of the Tour of Britain, and carried on regardless of the cancellation of the race. This meant that I was able to watch A Sunday In Hell, the film about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix race. It’s very good. Sure, on one level it’s just another documentary, but it’s beautifully shot and beautifully paced. And it captures something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on television: the experience of watching a race from the side of a road, waiting and waiting and waiting (there are a couple of people with a card game laid out on a picnic blanket) as well as the more familiar start-to-finish television race.

It’s fascinating to watch it in 2022 and see what still endures (mechanics hanging out of team car windows to fix bikes on the move, for example) and what doesn’t (mechanics riding on team car roofs).

This concludes the … in hell section of this post.

Cooking

Baked apples, with a bit of sliced crystallised ginger in with the sultanas.

Eating

Extremely good scampi at Besty and Spinky’s at Ventnor Haven. I’m quite fond of the little balls of breaded pink paste you get in pubs, but this was something entirely different. This had a coherency and a flavour that I’d never encountered before, and interesting seeded breadcrumbs. The menu promised me that I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I wasn’t.

And extremely good French toast at the community café in Duxford.

Noticing

A just-over-half moon and Mars in among Aldebaran and Elnath (I had to look them up), with Jupiter a little further to the east. Several deer in the fields, and, also, one field with Canada geese followed immediately by a field with the ordinary brown sort.

In the garden

Apples and pears. I need to do some pruning.

Mending

I took my brown leather handbag into the shop where I bought it, and got the handle sewn back in. And there’s a growing pile over the banister that needs attending to…

Appreciating

Photos shared by two of my brothers, who are off on separate heritage transport expeditions.

Acquisitions

I went slightly overboard in Cambridge yesterday (I haven’t been for ages, OK?) – paper tape, a pair of embroidery scissors, some turmeric and a cork yoga brick in Flying Tiger, some DVDs from Fopp, and the aforementioned books from the hospice shop (the other two were A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and one of the Ruth Galloway series).

Hankering

Today I have tried out Tony’s nice German leather pannier bag satchel, and I like it. He’s going to give it to me if he can’t make it fit his bike.

Line of the week

There are some gorgeous descriptions in The Embroidered Sunset: how about this one?

The houses are stone, rising up the steep cliff in tiers, and they have those red pantile roofs, marcelled like mother’s hair in old photographs; smoke rushed hastily from the chimneys, there’s always a strong wind blowing, and the gulls never stop making a row.

Saturday snippet

One of the Book Bus Stories, which is now considerably more of a story than it was:

There was a little eddy of movement inside. She froze; then it was too late to flee. Two of them were coming out, arm in arm, laughing together, but not too absorbed in each other to spare a glance at Althea.

All she could do was endure the disinterest on one striking face and the pity on the other.

This coming week

Ma returns on her way back to The South. The in-laws stop by to celebrate Tony’s birthday. Bi Visibility Day. Some more Book Bus Stories.

And I might listen to the Queen’s funeral (I really don’t like watching church services on TV; it feels terribly intrusive). Or I might go out for a bike ride. Or both.

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

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!

Week-end: back on the round world

Stack of books topped with a model bus and two rubber stamps

The good

Two more days of Discworld. And a really useful meeting with my Cursillo secretariat this morning.

Some more rain: the water butt is now full again. Also, my legs are feeling an awful lot better. The left knee’s still a bit dodgy, but the pain in the calves is gone. Hurrah.

The mixed

I seem to have picked up some sort of con crud. But every lateral flow test so far says it isn’t Covid, so that’s something.

The difficult and perplexing

Tuesday and Wednesday were still Too Hot. I’m grateful for the coolth we have at the moment, but I don’t like wishing the year away.

What’s working

Plimsolls. Everything else leaves my feet feeling really weird.

Reading

I picked up Broken Ground (Val McDermid) in a charity shop on Tuesday, and then spent the afternoon reading it. It’s the one with the miners’ strike. I’ve read it before. I thought I might have done. Still worth a reread, and I’m hoping that it’s not going to end up being as prescient as it feels. Then I moved onto Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness (Dorothy L. Sayers). Also rereads, though I don’t turn to them nearly so often as I do some of the other Wimsey books. That’s because I’ve only just got hold of my own copy of Whose Body? (thank you, Nicky!) and Clouds of Witness isn’t really terribly good. I was rather pleased to have been able to read the whole of the French bit in Clouds of Witness without really thinking about it, and certainly without having to refer to the translation. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case last time.

Writing

More on this space opera thing. It’s not going to get done inside the word limit, but I’ll worry about that when I’ve got everything in there that needs to go in there. More on Households’ Rancour. And a rather overdue review of The God Painter.

Listening to

Really interesting talks on bees and why the BBC America The Watch didn’t work. And the ridiculously wide-ranging open mic night that is Toast and Jam. All at DiscworldCon.

Making

Slow progress on the mystery patchwork.

Eating

The last Friday of every month is Foodie Friday at Ely market. We managed to be there for the first time. I had spinach and cheese gozleme followed by a pumpkin dessert with tahini and walnut. This was my first time trying gozleme, and I’m a fan. Next time we might try to arrive earlier, though.

Moving

More hotel swimming. I am pretty sure this is what sorted out the calf pains.

Singing

I’ve had dreadful impostor syndrome around singing these last few months. Lockdown didn’t help, and then I overreached myself badly post-Covid and knocked my confidence. But I sang the Hippopotamus Song at Toast and Jam on Sunday night at the Discworld Convention, and it was fine.

Noticing

A hare lolloping across a stubble field in the morning mist.

In the garden

We came back to find greengages and tomatoes going great guns, and the first pears just about ready.

Appreciating

Two days off work after the con to get my breath back and to get things together for today’s meeting.

Acquisitions

Apart from the Val McDermid, I picked up Without My Cloak (Kate O’Brien) and Dust Tracks on the Road (Zora Neale Hurston) – there’s just something about a green Virago spine – One Pair of Feet (Monica Dickens), about which I keep hearing good things, Seven Ages of Paris (Alistair Horne) – doesn’t appear to say anything about open rear-platformed buses, clearly the most important age of Paris, but one can’t have everything – and Go Spy The Land: being the adventures of I. K. 8 of the British Secret Service (Capt. G. A. Hill), published 1932, with a lovely map of Russia on the endpapers, and which I will have to read with the part of my brain that reads John Buchan. I will be interested to see if Arthur Ransome makes an appearance. I also got two rubber stamps and a stripy vest. With grateful thanks to the charity shops of Ely.

Hankering

Somebody on the DWCon Facebook group is making Society of Chicken Polishers fabric patches. I want one. I’m going to get one when they restock.

Line of the week

And if the pool wishes, let it shiver to the blur of many wings, old swimmers from old places.

River Roads, Carl Sandburg

Saturday snippet

This is from the space opera thing:

I shaved myself and went in for decontamination, stood under the cold pink lights and scrubbed my body under the fierce pulse of the liquid until I wanted to scream. The fingers that had touched the contamination had to be held in a current that burned and licked at my skin like flames. It’s never what you might call a pleasant experience, but it’s usually satisfying, in its own strange way. This time it felt as if I was trying to tear my mind from my body.

This coming week

A short working week, with the bank holiday on Monday and a day off on Friday. Saturday is Ultreya GB (a national Cursillo gathering) hosted by London and Southwark dioceses, and I’m really looking forward to crossing the Millennium Bridge with other rainbow people. I also want to catch up with the Vuelta a España and get that patchwork project closer to done.

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

Week-end: from Discworld with cats

Name badge for Kathleen Jowitt on lanyard with text 'Discworld Convention 2022' and a red pompom

The good

I’m at the Discworld Convention! This hasn’t happened in four years, and it’s a joyous thing to have it back again. I often say that I married into Discworld fandom; this is the family reunion. My approach to conventions is going to every panel I can squeeze into my weekend; my husband’s is sitting in the bar catching up with old friends. This is probably the best way round (see Difficult and Perplexing, below). I’m having a lot of fun admiring people’s costumes and listening to, and occasionally engaging in, erudite literary discussions. Plus fowl jokes about chicken polishing.

Also, rain. I woke yesterday morning and heard the lovely sound of water pattering on the conservatory roof. (I don’t sleep in the conservatory, you understand: the sound comes in through the bathroom window.)

Edited to add: also, less than a week ago is a foreign country and the portal effect is strong. I had a lovely Sunday afternoon with friends and Tuesday evening with extended family. Was that really this week?

The mixed

Well, the con is great, but it is an awful lot of people in the same place, and…

The difficult and perplexing

… there is something about the acoustic of this hotel that captures and intensifies sound, and there is something about my brain that is really not coping with this. Certain areas – the lobby, the bar, the breakfast room – just get so loud that my head short-circuits. It got particularly bad at breakfast this morning and I had to walk out and cry outside. The staff were incredibly kind and sorted me out with a plate of beans on toast in the bar area (not crowded at half past eight in the morning, obviously).

And, continuing the tedious chasing of symptoms around my legs, my left knee is very achey and so are both calves. I often wake up with aching calves, but it’s going on most of the day at the moment.

What’s working

The three-three-three rule of eating. Three meals, three snacks, no more than three hours apart. I think I got this from the Fat Nutritionist. Either way, it’s worked at work (when I breakfast – reluctantly – at six in the morning, it then makes perfect sense to have an apple at my desk at nine) and at the con (mealtimes are a somewhat nebulous concept, but events tend to happen on the hour, so it’s reasonably easy to keep track of whether or not I’m due some food). Early days, but this does seem to be keeping me happier and saner. Making sure that I do eat, rather than trying to power through to whenever the next meal might happen to be, is a definite shift in practice, but one that I think might be worth sticking with.

Reading

I reread Lords and Ladies ahead of the con. I’m sure I heard somewhere that it’s the one that got Terry Pratchett the most hate mail, more even than Small Gods. Apparently some fantasy fans can’t cope with the idea that elves might not be nice.

Also picked up CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space, which I started reading when I got my author copies last year and then never got round to finishing.

And the new Jill Mansell was 99p on Kobo this week, so I picked that up too.

Writing

Three thousand words of space opera. I’m as surprised as you are. A bit on Households’ Rancour too. (I’m playing around with using the working title in casual conversation, like this, to see whether it sticks.)

Making

Still working on the mystery patchwork. I had hoped to get the top finished in time to take the whole thing to the con and do the quilting there, but it hasn’t happened. I probably wouldn’t have got around to it anyway.

Watching and listening to

All sorts of diverting performances and interesting panels. Highlights so far: Queering the Discworld (I am an English graduate; I will queer anything you like); Bedtime Stories (this turned out to be the unofficial and the official biographers of Terry Pratchett swapping notes, and went on until getting on for midnight); Staging Discworld: the challenges of dramatising Terry; and A Night at the Discworld Opera. (Disclaimer: my husband was in that one. It was genuinely very good, though. There was a lot of appropriately modified Gilbert and Sullivan, and Rossini’s Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti, aka the Cats’ Duet, which I haven’t heard in a long time. We sang that at our wedding. I’m not kidding. It’s probably still on YouTube somewhere.)

Cooking

Greengage chutney. This is probably a bit of a waste of greengages, which are good raw, but I wanted to deal with them before we went away.

Eating

On Wednesday I had a falafel wrap from my favourite falafel stand (the one in the garden at St Pancras new church). The queue was so long that I then didn’t have time to do the other things I’d meant to do that lunchtime, but it was worth it.

Watching

Sunday afternoon included the first two episodes of Heartstopper (me: ‘Is that the one about vampires, or is it something about doctors? No! I do know! It’s the queer teen rugby players, isn’t it?). Now I’m invested! But I don’t have Netflix! Options: buy the comics (but I haven’t yet read any of the books I bought the last time I went to Gay’s The Word); obtain Netflix (but we are already subscribed to a different streaming service); go and see my friends again (clearly the best option).

Moving

Swimming, again! This hotel has a pool.

Noticing

On my train journeys, I’ve seen quite a few deer sloping across harvested fields.

In the garden

Greengages, as noted above, and a handful of tomatoes and french beans. The pears are looking good; the apples seem to be more of a mixed bag. The drought has killed a lot of the weeds and, I think, the ornamental ginger I bought a couple of months back.

Appreciating

Wonderful kind hotel staff. Impressive intricate costumes. Rain.

Line of the week

Has to be Lords and Ladies, really. The way that Pterry stacks allusions three high and then pulls the tablecloth away to show that it’s just chipboard underneath when you realise who he’s talking about

But that was a long time ago, in the past1. And besides, the bitch is…

… older.

1 Which is another country.

This coming week

Three days off! One to travel home and two to recover, do laundry, and prep for a planning meeting on Saturday. I’d like to have a safe and stress-free journey, for all to be well at home, and to be able to devote some of those two ‘free’ days to making some real progress on Households’ Rancour.

How was your week? What are you hoping for from the next one?