Week-(endings and beginnings)

Two wheelie bins, one of which is decorated with a selection of faded stickers, against an ivy-covered brick wall

The good

Approximately a week before the world changed three years ago I spent a weekend in Bristol. My stated purpose in being there was to help a friend attend her brother’s wedding, but that turned out to be only a few hours of it. Bristol isn’t a city that I know at all well, but even so, wandering around it on a Sunday morning, meeting up with other friends, I found it reflecting back layers and layers of myself and my past and, in the process, beginning to make sense of a disorientating change of direction that had happened to me a month or so before that.

Something similar happened this weekend, except I wasn’t in Bristol, I was in Winchester. Which is the city of my birth, and one to which I used to return every year in my childhood. It’s been less frequent recently, but this time round it had a lot to say to me. We were there for a ‘just over a year since the funeral’ memorial gathering for my father, but I had fortitously discovered that the Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature was going on at the same time, and we arrived with so much time in hand that I was able to go and look at my childhood home (not that I remember it) too. And once again there was that same sense of gathering up everybody I am and used to be and bringing them together into the same person. So many little messages. The bin, which has somehow survived thirty-four years (and the accompanying reflection that my father was such a personality that even his wheelie bin is identifiable as his thirty-four years later). A Progress Pride flag on the pavement. A labyrinth in the university chapel. Witty and erudite conversations about faith and literature, and remembering that I am after all a person of both. And also bringing that person back into contact with the disreputable bus crew member that I was born and still am. And the sense that my brain is working again. And being able to walk up and down the hills of Winchester without being completely exhausted.

Then the gathering itself was excellent. And I was not as exhausted during it as I feared I might be.

The mixed

I didn’t get really, really tired until South Mimms services on the way home. However, I have been really, really tired today.

The difficult and perplexing

Tedious physical symptoms of the ‘You really don’t want to know’ variety.

What’s working

Exercising my particular skill set in the job for which I am the right person.


This has been a good week for reading! First there was Hood – a very early Emma Donoghue, from back before she started concentrating on historicals. I found the depiction of the 1990s Irish lesbian scene, of which the narrator both is and isn’t really a member, fascinating; the prose was gorgeous; and the whole thing was satisfyingly messy in ways it’s difficult to do these days without someone on Twitter calling you ‘problematic’. Then I read Golden Hill because one of the speakers at one of the FaithLit sessions I had tickets to was Francis Spufford, and that was just tremendously fun.

I must also mention this delightful paper: Jurassic Pork: What Could A Jewish Time Traveler Eat?


I darned a hole in the elbow of a pyjama top; another, smaller hole has appeared next it, and another one on the other arm. I’ve done some of the holes in one of Tony’s fancy merino T-shirts too.

Listening to

Catherine Fox and Francis Spufford talking about ‘Real faith in imaginary places’ (which made me think that I really must finish off the Reader’s Gazetteer series) and Jay Hulme and Rachel Mann talking about ‘Mapping a landscape of (un)holy desires’ (which made me think that I really must write about the epiphanies of 2020-date; for the moment I would like to express my gratitude to the audience member who made the point about how desire, in the very broadest sense of the word, is basically seen as unseemly for and therefore irrelevant to Christian women – sing it, sister!) Anyway, I really enjoyed both sessions, and failed to take any notes at all.

Mattins at the cathedral on Sunday morning: a modern but quasi-plainsong Benedicite that I can’t say I really enjoyed, but a Stanford Benedictus and a nice depressing Tudor anthem to make up for it (complete with a story about how the composer of the latter attempted to murder the Dean).

Looking at

The Chinese and British exhibition at the British Library. Predictably, I was most taken by a beautifully detailed dolls’ house Chinese restaurant. Yesterday, aside from significant addresses already mentioned, some new King Alfred buses; the most gloriously impractical family car the six of us ever piled into (before it was returned to its spiritual home); and my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ grave.


A most excellent Sunday lunch (I had roast beef) at the Running Horse in Littleton, courtesy of my godfather.


Not much to report beyond walking around various bits of Winchester.


Two horse-drawn vehicles (minus the horses) on the back of a rescue truck. Hares, from the train. A pair of tractors waiting to cross the railway line. Quite a few deer in various Hampshire fields. An advertisement for ‘new almshouses’, which feels most Trollopian. A fox running across the road somewhere north of Royston. I have already mentioned the bin.


My fabulous family and bus crew (this is how my family spells ‘found family’).


A carful of second-hand baby stuff.


Various books I liked the look of but didn’t buy.

Line of the week

From Hood:

The wind was a black cat outside, rattling the chimney and spitting at the windows.

This coming week

I am going to attempt to recover some energy, catch up with some admin, and tidy some more of my study. Looking forward to seeing a friend on Friday.

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

Week-end: blooming

A branch of pussy-willow in a bare hedge

The good

Generally encouraging outcome from Monday’s appointment. All seems more or less as it should be.

The days are getting longer, and the mornings are getting lighter, and there are crocuses and winter aconites and pussy willow and one brave daffodil.

The difficult and perplexing

I am not much less tired than I was. It is meant to be passing off by now!

What’s working

Protein, particularly at breakfast. I had cottage cheese on my toast and was amazed by the way I didn’t need to head straight to the canteen for a sausage sandwich upon arrival at work. Now I am investigating protein-rich snacks.

And I’m really enjoying being in the garden.

Experimenting with

Different configurations of pillows. (Tonight: three under my head and one under my top knee. We’ll see how that goes.)


Notes on ‘Camp’ (Susan Sontag), mostly to see if I had enough brain for theory. On the whole, yes, although I think Sontag is one of the more accessible critics anyway.

I have found several interesting blogs to add to my RSS feed reader. Some of them have not been updated in a while, but the great thing about RSS is that if they are it will show up.

Continuing with These Violent Delights and Death in Cyprus. And I did reread Persuasion, as I’ve been threatening for a few weeks.


Apparently the book that wants to be written is the book about writing a book when you have a job. So I’m going with that. I’m accumulating a lot of longhand that needs typing up, though I’m not sure when that’s going to happen.

I also saw a call for submissions I liked the look of and wrote a first draft of a poem, which hasn’t happened for a long time. Really not sure if it’s any good or not.


Continuing to catch up on: Four Continents; Alpine skiing world championships; biathlon world championships.

Looking at

Well, I meant to visit the exhibition on Alexander the Great at the British Library, but I’ve missed it. A combination of meetings running into lunchtime, not being able to remember my password to the online booking system, and general disorganisation.


Not a huge amount: a pleasantly stodgy cheese and broccoli pasta bake earlier in the week, and then stuffed peppers (couscous and tomato with harissa) with grilled halloumi yesterday. That was extremely nice.


Since we were both in Cambridge on Monday, we went to the Haymakers in Chesterton, which used to be our designated local, and had pizza. Mine was a Capricciosa – artichokes, ham, olives, and probably other tasty things I’ve forgotten (it says mushrooms on the menu, but I asked for them to be left off).


I wish to note that I managed to get my bike all the way up Back Hill without having to get off to push it for the first time in ages. (I often feel that I could do it more often if I only tried a little harder, but by that time in the evening I’m usually short on willpower as well as energy.)


Attempted an escape room with colleagues; we failed miserably but had fun.


A hare, lolloping across a frosty field.

In the garden

The loveliest thing happened yesterday: I was getting the washing in, and three small long-tailed tits came and started pecking away at the suet block, maybe a metre and a half away from me, tops. I waited to get the last few things down from the line until they’d finished.

I finished pruning the last apple tree and had a go at taming the wisteria. Maybe tomorrow I’ll look up what I need to do to plum trees, other than get the vines out of them.

I’m beginning to think about what I want to plant this year. Tarragon, certainly. Maybe I’ll finally manage to keep some parsley alive.


Increased light and warmth. The return of the idea-generating bit of my brain.


Tickets to a couple of events at the Church Times Faith and Literature festival. I had no idea this was happening until I looked on Winchester Cathedral’s website to see when Evensong was going to be next weekend, since I’m going there for something completely different. The programme is slightly frustrating, in that there are several things I’d like to hear all on at the same time, but since this was an entirely unexpected opportunity I’m not going to complain too much. I just hope I’ll have the energy for it. (Also wish to note that it didn’t even occur to me until several hours later to consider myself a failure for not having made enough of a name as a faithful litterata to have been invited. A couple of years ago it might really have got to me.)

Two cookery books: The Roasting Tin (this might have been last week) and The Pressure Cooker Cookbook. And a recipe binder in the Paperchase closing down sale.

More food containers.


Well, I still have the rest of the cupboard to organise.

Line of the week

I really liked this blog post by K. J. Charles.

We see holiness—wonderful things—everywhere, if we only look. Because life is everywhere, although time passes, and babies age, and people and things and ways go and are forgotten. No, not ‘though’. Because the tide is always going out.

Saturday snippet

For the writing a book book:

This is one of those irritating inner voices that is never satisfied. It will move the goalposts to the other end of town if you give it a chance. You? Writing a book? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s for people with… You can fill in your own blanks.

This coming week

More travelling than is really ideal, but not much I can do about that.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here! Or recommend me protein-rich snacks (I don’t like milky drinks, though).

Daily Decoration: St Etheldreda

Textile Christmas tree ornament representing a woman in a purple robe, holding a book and a sceptre, and with a gold halo

Saint Etheldreda here is my second-newest decoration. (The newest one is the latest in the now-traditional I-can’t-be-with-you-for-Christmas-but-this-ornament-can series, and will probably appear in a later post.)

The St Nicholas decorations are great fun, very beautifully made, and rather expensive. Expensive, I think, because they’re beautifully made, but nevertheless outside what I think of as a sensible price for a Christmas tree ornament. I bought several of the Alice in Wonderland ones a couple of years ago, week by week, and had to write them into my budget.

However! I went into the cathedral shop several months ago, and there was an Etheldreda in the sale, so I bought her.

St Etheldreda was a princess of East Anglia and, after a vow of chastity, two marriages, and no children, founded the monastic house that became, several hundred years later, Ely Cathedral. Of course it’s difficult to pick one’s way between histories and hagiographies, and this is the period of English history where plenty of rulers ended up as saints. I’ve devoted very little time to research, but I get the impression that she was a formidable woman. All her sisters ended up as saints. I think they must have been quite formidable, too.

I’ve lived in a few cathedral cities in my time – Winchester, Exeter, Guildford (look, I’m not going to be picky), and now Ely. We left Winchester before I could read, and almost every time we’ve gone back it’s been to ride on buses. In Exeter, I lived most of my life on the university campus. Guildford’s only had a diocese since the twentieth century, and the cathedral is somewhat set apart, up on a hill.

In Ely, though, I get the sense of a city that exists because of its cathedral and because of its market. Ely is tiny as cities go: it can’t get much bigger because most of the land around it is below sea level. The big expansion has happened fifteen miles south, around Cambridge. In Ely I get the sense of a city that exists in very much the same way that it has for centuries. These days the cathedral brings in tourists as well as pilgrims and the market… well, the market attracts people wishing to buy stuff, some of which the medievals would have recognised and some of which they wouldn’t.

In some ways, Ely feels like everywhere I’ve ever lived, all at once: the rich light on old stone of Winchester and Exeter and Cambridge, the proximity to agriculture (tractors!) of the Welsh borders and the Isle of Wight, the excellent rail connections of Woking, the hills and the cobbles of Guildford. In others, it feels like nowhere else.

Etheldreda wouldn’t recognise the lush farmland and the complex system of drainage ditches that supports it. She’d be completely boggled by the railway, the fact that I can get to London in little more than an hour. She’d be bewildered by my bicycle, come to that. But there’s not much you can do to that big wide sky. Contrails aside, she’d recognise that.

One last thing: it took me a little while to catch on to the fact that St Etheldreda was also, later, known as St Audrey. St Audrey as in St Audrey’s Fair. St Audrey as in tawdry. The absolute blinginess that the designers have endowed her with her is really rather fitting.

While I’m on the subject of cathedrals, I loved Dr Eleanor Janega’s latest piece. (Even if she doesn’t talk about Winchester, Exeter, Guildford or Ely.)