December Reflections 15: yellow


My brother cut this Easter chick out from hardboard with a jigsaw sometime in the nineties, and painted it yellow. Originally it was attached to a cocoa tin with some masking tape, and the tin filled with chocolate eggs. Twenty years on, it does service as a coaster. I shouldn’t be surprised if it’s still somewhere around the house in another twenty years. It’s the sort of thing that sticks around. ‘Your uncle John made that, you know.’

I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy this year. Sometimes it’s about physical things. Last year I read The Hare with Amber Eyes, which got me thinking about family history and the significance of objects. Things like what this yellow chick will be in fifty years, if nobody’s thrown it away by then, or the ivory crucifix that a first cousin twice removed left me, or my camp blanket. Things that are significant because who made them or bought them or gave them, or how long they’ve lasted.

Sometimes it’s about the various campaigns and organisations I’ve been involved with over the years, although I’ve managed to become reasonably good at moving on from them, and at letting them move on.

Sometimes it’s about the question of children, which could (still) go either way.

And sometimes it involves me giving myself a stern telling-off, because two books deposited at the British Library ought to be enough legacy for anyone. Oughtn’t it?

It occurred to me the other day that really legacy is about immortality, about retaining control. It is about trying to ensure that somebody else will care about the things I care about now, when I’m not there to care about them any longer. And whether that’s ‘there, at that particular university’, or ‘there, in that county’, or ‘there, on this earth’, I have no way of guaranteeing that. I could, through bribery or emotional blackmail, induce somebody to take care of them, but I cannot make somebody care about them.

I know that in the long run none of it is important at all. Things change, everything ends, and many of the things that are important to me now won’t matter at all in a hundred years’ time, and in a thousand none of them will matter.

So what do I do with that? I suppose I just have to let things be important to me, if that’s what they happen to be at the moment, and to accept that the things that are important to me may not be important to other people, and to trust that somebody will see their importance if they’re as important as all that.


December Reflections 14: 2018 taught me…


… that Stockholm is beautiful, but looks even better after a nap;

… that Bratislava is delightful, but not until you’ve had a shower;

… that carrying too heavy a bag detracts from one’s enjoyment of the great art in the Zwinger at Dresden;

… that nothing is fun if I’m hungry;

… to travel first class, check my suitcase into left luggage wherever possible, and wear comfortable knickers.

In short, to attend to my bodily needs in a timely fashion. And travelling alone meant that I had to take responsibility for all that myself. I had no companion to suggesting that we go to bed, or to decide which café we ate in or what sandwich I wanted. 2018 taught me to take care of myself.

December Reflections 13: comfort


‘Comfort’ is another of those concepts that has me going, ‘yeah, I wish’, before berating myself for being ungrateful. At the moment I’m sitting slightly skewed, and my hands are too high, and my thighs are up against the kneehole of my desk, which isn’t actually a desk, and there’s a draught around my ankles, and no, I’m not entirely comfortable. At the same time, I’ve got a cup of tea and have eaten a cheese omelette and am feeling generally well-disposed towards the world. And, thanks to my giant padded jacket (£6 from a charity shop, and worth every penny), most of me is deliciously warm.

But it feels appropriate that the image that’s expressing ‘comfort’ is this jacket. It feels appropriate that the image shows me wearing it. Portable comfort, comfort that I’ve organised for myself, comfort in response to a particular physical need, comfort that doesn’t address all of the discomfort.

I could get myself a new desk, one that really was a desk. That would solve a lot of the problems. And shut the door to keep the draught out. One’s a project for the new year. The other I could do right this minute.

December Reflections 11: blue


A rather trying morning. It began yesterday evening, when I forgot to buy milk, and continued when I remembered that one isn’t allowed to post things like power banks to France.

But then, cycling back from the post office and the supermarket, I happened to look up, and I was struck by the cool, clear, blueness of the winter sky.

I postponed my plans of ‘getting on with things’ and went for a walk alongside the river. Sometimes I find living in such a flat area uninspiring, but today, with a huge dome stretched from horizon to horizon above me, I hummed ‘The spacious firmament on high’ and had no complaints.

December Reflections 9: shadows


I’ve remarked before how having a camera in my hand makes me pay more attention to everything. I’ve been on the lookout for good shadows over the last couple of days. And the thing that I’ve noticed particularly is that the best ones come when the sun is particularly strong. Inside the house, where there are multiple light sources (overhead lamp, desk lamp, candle) there are shadows all over the place, but outside you don’t get any shadows to speak of unless the sun’s out. And it’s the rich, golden, slantwise sun that makes the really good ones.

My youngest brother has been staying with us, doing a bit of work experience at my office. It’s prompted me to think a bit about the way that I live my life, to remember that early mornings and long journeys aren’t necessarily the way things have to be. I don’t see anything much changing in the next few years. But it’s been good for me to remember that things look different in different lights.

December Reflections 8: biggest surprise of 2018


The biggest surprise of 2018 had to be the moment when the creative writing workshop I was leading turned out to be not, as I’d assumed, adult learners, but a group of thirteen and fifteen year olds. That was a bit of a shock!

More generally, though, I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed teaching and tutoring. And by how much less intimidating it’s been than I would have expected. Then again, my own learning style is very much, ‘read around the subject a bit, and then jump in and have a go’, so I’ve found that it’s really been a question of equipping other people with the confidence to do that.

I’ve led a few creative writing workshops now, and undergone four days of tutor training. It turns out that ‘read around the subject a bit, and then jump in and have a go’ is an approach that lends itself fairly well to learning how to teach adults. Which is fortunate.

And I find myself thinking about how I could apply what I’ve learned in other settings, which in turn seems to be prodding at questions I thought I’d stopped asking years ago… Well, we’ll see what, if anything, happens there. If anything does, it’s going to take its time about it. Long enough for it not to be a surprise. And I’m fine with that.

December Reflections 7: home


Home. It’s a touchy subject for me at the moment – both the concept as a whole, and also the way it currently exists in my life. We have a house inspection tomorrow, and I’m on edge. Part of it’s the whine of the vacuum cleaner, and the way that I keep seeing cobwebs, and dead leaves, and things that I should have washed up. Part of it’s just the knowledge that there’s going to be somebody in my house and there’s nothing I can do about it.

And all the time I’m very aware of how lucky I am compared to others – having a steady job, having a landlady who’s very – pardon the pun – accommodating, having a roof over my head at all. Sometimes, hoping for anything more than that feels flat-out greedy. Sometimes, I’m furious that I haven’t sorted it out yet. In the meantime, I’ve got a place to sit down with a cup of tea.