December Reflections 4: if I were an animal… and Week-end

Fluffy black and white cat asleep with all her legs stretched out in front of her

The animal I know that’s currently spending as much time as I am asleep on the sofa is the cat, so there we go. Since having Covid in March I’ve been much more conscious of my body’s needs and desires; the thing is; it usually seems to want a nap, particularly at the moment. The next challenge is to roll with this as gracefully as the cat does. I am hopeful that I will have more energy come next year, but I would also like to continue to know what I want and need and to act on that.

The good

Tony’s work Christmas do last night; excellent fun. Let us hope that nobody has caught Covid. Last weekend, reading at both the morning service and the Advent Procession, at which I also served. Also, a very pleasant few days with family on the Isle of Wight. The sun came out on the last day and it was absolutely glorious.

The mixed

Going through boxes of family papers – letters, diaries, sketchbooks, and so forth. It’s fascinating; it’s a chance to get to know relations I barely knew or never met at all; and it’s surprisingly tiring. I more or less gave up for the day when I found my great-aunt Kathleen’s note of what she wanted all her siblings and friends to have after she died (which she did, aged 13 or so, in 1917).

The difficult and perplexing

Cold. Cold and tired. I don’t seem to have many suitable winter clothes at the moment and I’m not sure whether I ever did.

What’s working

Honestly? Napping.

Reading

I demolished Paris Daillencourt Is About To Crumble on the train south on Monday and then regretted it, the way one might regret a slightly-too-large cream cake. It was a bit issueficcy for my taste, though I did appreciate the section where Tariq explains that it is perfectly possible to be a person of faith who is also queer. (This, in my experience, is a conversation that often does have to be had in words of one syllable.) Then I read Poirot Investigates (short stories; Hastings particularly insufferable) and Truly Madly Guilty (Liane Moriarty) when I was on the Isle of Wight. I enjoyed that one; I think it’s the most psychologically plausible of Moriarty’s books that I’ve read so far, even if it isn’t so conventionally suspenseful.

Writing

Absolutely nothing (apart from these blog posts, obviously). I spent the train journey home looking out of the window and not feeling remotely guilty about it. I’m sure my brain will come back sooner or later and in the meantime I’m not going to worry about it.

Making

I took the tacking stitches out of the secret patchwork (the papers are staying in, for support). Pictures coming up in a few days.

Listening to

A couple of bands at the party last night – one dressed as Game of Thrones characters and doing an eclectic variety of covers (Take On Me, I Wanna Be Like You, Proud Mary…) and the other, The Captain’s Beard, dressed as pirates and doing folk rock, generally Irish or seafaring. Extremely good fun.

Cooking

Winter vegetable stew with cheesy dumplings. I cheated magnificently with the vegetable component – found a yellow-stickered bag of pre-prepped casserole veg in Tesco and chucked it into the pan with some oil while I made the dumplings. Worked very nicely.

Eating

There were some very nice canapés last night. Beef with horseradish sour cream. Cauliflower and beetroot. Tomato and feta.

Playing

Rummikub and Scrabble with my mother. We weren’t terribly impressed by Rummikub.

Noticing

An excessive (even for the Isle of Wight) quantity of roadworks. A waxing moon flirting with the clouds. Christmas decorations (today I saw that our opposite neighbours have hung big silver baubles in the bare trees outside their house).

Appreciating

Family, the connectedness of it, and the opportunity to know a little more of who and where I come from. Tony’s employer’s extravagant hospitality. Live music.

Acquisitions

I came home with a little packet of green beads my mother had been saving for me.

Hankering

Some sort of leg covering that keeps my legs warm, that I can cycle in, that fits me comfortably around the abdomen… I have never found trousers that fit me sensibly, and most of the time this isn’t a problem because I live in skirts instead, but at this time of year it doesn’t quite cut it. /goes off to look at woolly tights on Snag.

Line of the week

I’ve been looking at Polish Cooking (Marianna Olszewska Heberle), trying to work out how much of the traditionally meatfree Christmas Eve dinner can be fully veganised. She has this to say about carol singers:

If they sing in front of your house and you don’t give them food or vodka, they might pull your sleigh five houses down, or remove your fence gate, all in good humor.

This coming week

Back to work. I’m hoping to get quite a lot of loose ends tied up before Christmas.

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

Week-end: fantastic Tangfastic

A packet of Haribo Tangfastics with one sweet that appears to be composed of four individuals stuck together

The good

Co-tutoring a Speaking With Confidence course on Thursday. Helping people feel more able to do their thing and being able to enthuse about how writing works.

The difficult and perplexing

Ugh, the trains home from London afterwards. Apparently there was a bomb scare at New Southgate. Anyway, I didn’t get home until nine at night, and because the train was pretty crowded I couldn’t take my mask off and was getting more and more antsy.

The cat brought up a hairball on my computer keyboard. At least it wasn’t on the laptop, I suppose.

Far more serious than any of that, this week saw a difficult anniversary for some of my in-laws. I’ve been thinking of them a lot.

What’s working

Napping. Tangfastics.

Make-up. I can’t usually be bothered, but I like to put a game face on when I’m delivering training, and I got three separate compliments.

Taking my bike on the train to an appointment on Tuesday evening meant that what would have been a twenty minute walk on an unfamiliar road became a five minute ride on an unfamiliar road, and I was able to get things done and get the next train back.

Reading

I finished Destination Unknown, which I hadn’t exactly meant to do, but the cat was on my lap and there was nothing else within reach. Continuing slowly with Meet Cute. And I got to the Council of Elrond and out the other side.

I forgot to mention last week that I finished The Paris Apartment. Certainly twisty, but I don’t think it’s Foley’s best.

Writing

A tiny, tiny bit on the Romeo and Juliet thing. If I have very little reading brain, my writing brain is barely there at all.

Making

Secret patchwork project is 5/6 done, and I’ll be able to share pictures very soon.

Watching

Eurosport’s winter sports offerings; today, in particular, the Grand Prix Espoo.

Cooking

Supper today was pancakes stuffed with a sausage, tomato and cabbage filling, a bit like bigos except using fresh cabbage instead of sauerkraut. Except I can’t do pancakes, so the filling was on the side.

Eating

I had a really nice piece of Bakewell tart on Thursday. Kudos to the work canteen and whoever they get their cake from.

Noticing

A magnificent mutant Tangfastic (see picture). It seems to have been made of three dinosaurs and a dummy. I’ve eaten it now.

In the garden

The Japanese anemone is flowering. And I really need to sweep up some leaves. And prune the fruit trees.

Appreciating

My big Chinese quilted jacket. I got it for a few quid in a Cambridge charity shop several years ago and it is just the thing for winter.

Acquisitions

A few ebooks that were on sale in Kobo. Today I picked up two Chrestomanci books (Diana Wynne Jones) and a couple of Eva Ibbotsons too in the Ely charity shops. My inner twelve year old is very pleased.

Line of the week

Because the hotel in Destination Unknown sounds heavenly, or, one shoud say, paradisiacal:

This was what a garden was meant to be, a place shut away from the world – full of green and gold.

Saturday snippet

Here’s a bit from the Romeo and Juliet thing:

He slung his kitbag over the shoulder and crossed the footbridge, the noise of his boots on the iron treads drowned by the yell of the whistle. He paused for a moment at the middle. An express train was hurtling towards him on the up fast line, seeming to gather speed and detail as it approached.

This coming week

Advent starts tomorrow! I seem to be on all the rotas at once, but am departing for the Isle of Wight on Monday morning.

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

Week-end: particularly rapid unintelligible patter

The right hand front wall of a large wooden dolls' house stands open. A fluffy black and white cat is sitting in the first floor room

The good

Very enjoyable evening watching The Yeomen of the Guard with one of my brothers (and seeing his partner and son, hurriedly). More on that distributed through this post. Also, a work thing I’d been dreading turned out to be surprisingly fun.

Meanwhile, the Society of Authors’ AGM (for which I’d submitted my proxy vote) saw off two motions, one mealy-mouthed faux-motherhood-and-apple-pie maundering about free speech, one gloves-off nasty attack on Joanne Harris, the chair of the management committee. I think the most useful summary of what actually goes on in the SoA is this thread by Dawn Finch.

The Torygraph (and, to a lesser extent, the Grauniad) is of course reporting this as a victory for cancel culture. Interesting how it’s only cancel culture when it’s a particular set of views that encounter a robust rebuttal.

I often feel like a bit of a fraud as a SoA member, because writing isn’t and probably never will be my main source of income, but I came by my membership honestly and I’m very glad that the Society can continue to standing up for my fellow authors with, I hope, less of this infuriating distraction from a tiny but loud single-issue pressure group.

The mixed

Thursday got dreadfully complicated. It should have been a London day, but I ended up with a mid-morning appointment in Ely. That was positive and useful (and I didn’t particularly mind the half hour walk each way in the rain; I’d have cycled if I had) but it meant a dash down to London at the end of the work day, which meant cycling through an unholy combination of school run and Christmas fair traffic, again in the rain. And a late night, but that was always going to happen (and Tony had forgotten to leave the latch down for me, so I had to phone him to get him out of bed again).

Pleasingly, I got to Wagamama just as J and family got to the front of the queue.

The difficult and perplexing

My horrible noisy front mudguard. I must take a spanner to it. Again.

And I have very limited brain at the moment, and I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. I can get one or two useful/creative things done per day and that’s it.

What’s working

Well, not the bit of string that’s holding my mudguard in place, I can tell you that much. Hmm. Canned soup is proving very useful, though.

Reading

Not a huge amount (see: not much brain). I’m leading the readthrough of Destination Unknown (Agatha Christie) for my online romantic suspense reading group; it’s good fun and extremely of its time (touchingly naive about the McCarthy initiatives, for example). I started reading Meet Cute (ed. Jae), an anthology of extracts from various sapphic books; unfortunately it’s often more like Meet Cringe and hits my embarrassment squick hard. Although it has reminded me that I’ve occasionally thought of giving Vicki and Gianna from A Spoke In The Wheel their own book.

Writing

I returned to the Romeo and Juliet thing on Monday, but haven’t done much since.

Making

Mystery patchwork. One down, five to go.

Watching

The Yeomen of the Guard (English National Opera, London Coliseum) with my brother J. We were rather tight on time (Wagamama took a while to serve us) and got there half way through the welcome, and excoriation of Arts Council cuts, from the director. Which is not bad timing really.

Yeomen isn’t my favourite of the Savoy operas, but this production mitigated most of the reasons I don’t like it. They’d taken most of the thees and thous out of the dialogue (pastiche Tudor: not one of Gilbert’s strengths) and set the action in the febrile post-war period, with Colonel Fairfax a brilliant scientist and suspected spy. (I couldn’t help thinking of Destination Unknown.) This made sense both as an update on his alleged dalliance with the dark arts and of his character: he remains terribly poor stuff, but the ‘asshole genius’ treatment makes sense.

Most importantly, I think, they let it be what it always has been when you scratch the surface: a show about miserable people making terrible decisions. Pretty much everybody would end up happier if nobody took any of the actions they take. Except Fairfax, and he is, as I say, an asshole, not to mention pretty philosophical about dying until someone gives him an alternative.

They threw in the patter trio (except they somehow made it a quartet) from Ruddigore as a replacement for Rapture, rapture. I can’t say that Rapture, rapture is much loss. If they’d just skipped it altogether I might have got home half an hour earlier. On the other hand, I’m probably never going to object to the patter trio from Ruddigore.

There was some excellent singing (I was most impressed, I think, by Sergeant Meryll, and he was an understudy), some clever staging, some good acting (Jack Point, in particular), and, in among the misery, a lot of genuinely funny moments.

Cooking

Tagliatelle con cipolle, out of the Diane Seed book. I somehow managed to cook about half the tagliatelle that two reasonable people would want, so we ate in two phases.

Eating

Ginger chicken udon at Wagamama. Not bad, though I had to eat it too fast. Gingerbread fudge from the fudge shop in Ely (very nice; there’s black treacle, or something like it, in there, which makes it taste definitely like gingerbread as opposed to just like ginger). Last night I was too tired to cook so we got Indian delivered: I had chicken tikka makan palak with Bombay aloo.

Playing

Duolingo. Well, I’ve been doing it for ages and have a 600+ day streak, but this week I got the update that everyone’s been whingeing about. I don’t hate it, actually. It’s not as disheartening as the one that added five levels to every skill. I did in fact stop using it for a few years after that one, and then picked it up again when I was bored in lockdown.

Noticing

Long-tailed tits in the pear trees. A squirrel munching away on a bunch of ash keys.

A strange sound from the dolls’ house, which turned out to be the cat getting into the loft. I got a picture of two green eyes peering through the top window, and another of the descent of Ceiling Cat, but neither of them was as good of the one of her in the bathroom, at the top of this post.

Appreciating

The NHS. Affordable opera tickets, dammit (here’s the petition to get the ENO’s funding reinstated). The fact that you can phone people up and pay them money and they will bring you food.

Acquisitions

New bras arrived.

Line of the week

I subscribed to The Marginalian recently. This week they sent me some John Muir:

The scenery of the ocean, however sublime in vast expanse, seems far less beautiful to us dry-shod animals than that of the land seen only in comparatively small patches; but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Saturday snippet

From the Romeo and Juliet thing:

‘I’ve seen him before. Only once, I think.’ She glanced at the closed door, drew a packet of cigarettes from her skirt pocket, and lit up.

This was promising. ‘When? Where?’

Rosa thought that it might have been at somebody’s party, though, now she thought about it, perhaps it was at some club somewhere. ‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m afraid he didn’t make as much of an impression on me as all that.’

‘Do you know who he is?’

‘Haven’t the foggiest.’ Rosa inhaled deeply and blew the smoke out again before she continued. ‘The odd thing is, he does seem familiar, but I can’t think how I would know him. We’ve certainly never been introduced.’

This coming week

Tidy things up at work before I take a week’s leave. Apart from that, not much. I might try to get to the Alexander the Great exhibition at the British Library. And maybe I’ll move the dolls back into the dolls’ house. Will Twitter fall over?

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

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!

Week-end: return to Yorkshire

A pedestrianised shopping street on a rainy day. Neon lights strung across the street read: Dear Leeds, we are your people/Past present and future

The good

I’m writing this on the train home from York: I’ve had a lovely weekend, using the fact of delivering training in Leeds as an excuse to stay with my friend A (and spare my employer the expense of a night in a hotel). We’ve been drinking tea and chatting and playing board games.

The mixed

Still very tired. But it could be worse: it could have been long COVID, and it isn’t. Another couple of months and I’ll start feeling more human. In the meantime there’s the sofa and a blanket and the cat.

The difficult and perplexing

The awkwardness of mistaking a traffic light for a bus stop and trying to get through a crowd of people who, it turned out, were also trying to get off the bus…

What’s working

New standing desk thingy, though I’m spending some of the time seated, with everything moved down a shelf or so.

Reading

It’s been a week for finishing books. Coastliners (one of those books that took a while to get into and then got gripping); Sisters of the Vast Black (continued to be excellent all the way through; a book about doing the right thing despite everything including the futility of it all; had to spend a few minutes staring into space when I got to the end); Changing Planes (Ursula Le Guin; a Gulliver’s Travels for the jet age; started ages ago, but it’s more a collection of vignettes than a single narrative, so bore dipping into). Then I reread The Moving Finger on the train up to York on Friday evening.

Writing

None, but I’m counting the Leeds excursion as research for the Romeo and Juliet thing.

Making

Secret patchwork things.

Watching

Eurosport. Mostly skating.

Looking at

Hear My Voice: an exhibition of art by refugees at Ely cathedral.

Cooking

Spaghetti Vesuvio.

Eating

Half a Fat Rascal (apparently a Yorkshire thing, maybe specifically a Betty’s thing: a sort of spiced scone with dried fruit and almonds on the top). Just the thing for a Sunday breakfast. Today we went to Trinacria on Bishy Road for lunch; I had an extremely large pizza Vittoria (fennel, tomatoes, sausage, mascarpone).

Playing

Pandemic. We made a pretty good team.

Noticing

Fireworks in the sky as I looked back over Leeds, with a sunset squashed under black rainclouds. Square grey stone housing and elaborate Victorian red brick Gothic. Rainbow in the east. Deer in the fields outside Ely.

Appreciating

Seat reservations. Friends.

Line of the week

From Changing Planes:

The people sing at the campfires, and the quiet singing hovers in the darkness between the little fires and the stars.

This coming week

A couple of days of work and then a few days off. Maybe I’ll do some writing. Maybe I’ll catch up on sleep.

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

Week-end: one with the sofa

A cresent moon against a pale peach-coloured sky in the gap between silhouetted bushes.

The good

I didn’t come remotely close to crying at work. The Bicycles and Broomsticks Kickstarter is fully funded, and I had fun watching the numbers go up. I’ve spent a lot of time lounging on the sofa alternating novels and the skating on TV, with the world’s fluffiest cat. Life’s not bad.

The mixed

Still tired, mind you. And a fifty-minute walk leaves me needing a sit-down instead of waking me up, the way it used to. But it is beautiful outside.

Hence the Guilt. I’d meant to be down on the Isle of Wight this weekend, to help out with the continued house clearing. Staying at home was the right decision, but I’d still like to be helping, and I’m still not. And clearly my family don’t need me wailing at them, so I’m not. I’m just wailing over here instead.

The difficult and perplexing

A nasty combination of self-doubt and jealousy of my contemporaries.

What’s working

I got myself a fancy Sicilian soft drink and a packet of pistachio nuts and sat down with a clearer-headed, wiser version of myself who doesn’t give a damn what other authors of my generation are up to. We discovered that what would actually help would be clearing my study up a bit.

Reading

Continuing with Sisters of the Vast Black, which is so lovely that I’ve been saving it for moments when I can devote my attention to it and enjoy it. Coastliners (Joanne Harris) floated to the top of the TBR pile and I read the first few chapters. #ChristieBracket prompted me to reread first The Pale Horse and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? In both cases I’d remembered part, but not all, of the solution. In The Fellowship of the Ring I’ve just got to Rivendell.

Writing

Some more on Starcrossers (now two and a half thousand words too long…) and an explanation for my pitiful absence of sales strategy.

Making

A new mystery patchwork project. This one’s rather smaller than the last. Good job too: it has a tight deadline.

Watching

Doctor Who! Having rather fallen out of the most recent series, I really enjoyed that. It was ninety per cent fanservice and I’m not thinking too hard about the plot, but it was a load of fun.

Also, lots of skating.

Cooking

I have a pancetta and blue cheese risotto going in the slow cooker at the moment. We’ll see how it turns out. (You cook the whole lot and throw the cheese in at the last minute.)

Noticing

A low young moon.

In the garden

Still two white roses. This is always the first bush to bloom, but it’s not usually the last to stop. Lovely, anyway.

Appreciating

Fluffiness of cat. Fit of new tights.

Acquisitions

Some frippery from Paperchase – a stamp set and washi tapes. The parcel I missed turned out to be, as expected, a hoodie from Quires & Places Where They Meme (look, if other people can have Christmas jumpers then I can have an Advent hoodie). A new shredder (had nearly been running out of shredded paper to feed to the compost bin since the last one broke!) and a plywood contraption to raise my laptop to shoulder height. It’s bigger than I’d expected. We’ll see how it goes: work days will be the real test.

Picked up Golden Hill (Francis Spufford) and a DVD of Chorus Line in Oxfam this morning. And a solar lantern in Mountain Warehouse. This is of course prepping for the threatened power cuts this winter, but it’s already proved useful for picking thyme in the dark.

Line of the week

This is from Sisters of the Vast Black:

The moon was just spinning into springtime, but the wine warmed her straight through from her tongue to her fingertips.

Saturday snippet

Still on Starcrossers:

I’d seen the news pieces. I knew that there’d been a lot of clearage and repair. And I’d reminded myself that I would have to go in at the citizens’ gate. All of which is to say, I expected it to be achingly familiar and horribly changed, and I was right, and I don’t think expecting it helped at all. I couldn’t go into the inner hall (though if I was going to be Leader we were going to have to work something out) but looking from the promenade I could see the shimmering cover that patched the hole where there had once been a column and a graceful arching roof…

This coming week

The clocks go back; we move into November. Usually I count this as the beginning of winter, but it’s still so warm that maybe I won’t just for the minute. But it’s going to be quite a busy, social week, with a milestone (a transition, perhaps?) to be marked and negotiated as well.

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

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.

Reading

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.

Writing

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.

Watching

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.

Cooking

Not entirely successfully, stuffed peppers.

Noticing

A fox trotting across the road this evening.

In the garden

Well, I took the compost out…

Appreciating

Having an afternoon with nothing to do.

Acquisitions

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!

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!

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!