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: 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: 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: 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: 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?

Notes to self

Green apples growing on a tree

I think I’ve mentioned before that the project I’ve been calling ‘the Romeo and Juliet thing’ is my first attempt at a full-length historical novel. I’m rather enjoying it. Apart from digging around to find out things like how many staff a typical upper-middle class household would have and how many of them would be addressed by their surnames, and what all the relevant railway companies were called, there’s the deeper task of getting into the mindset of a different age. It’s fascinating. (It’s also an excuse to reread a whole load of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries.)

I am well used to writing characters who are simultaneously stuck in their own heads and detached from their own emotions, whether by shame, depression, or the closet, but this is another level: a whole population that just isn’t talking about anything. My hero is slightly more articulate than the type described by George Mikes in How To Be An Alien:

If he wants to marry a girl, he says:

“I say… would you?…”

If he wants to make an indecent proposal:

“I say… what about…”

But not very much more so. It is 1919, after all.

All this sort of thing is surprisingly fun to write, but it leaves a lot to be done by the narration. If the characters aren’t talking, I have to talk for them. If they can’t talk about feelings, I have to show that those feelings exist – because they do, they’re powerful, maybe even dangerous, and perhaps even more so because they’re not fully expressed. I’m using third person omniscient, though it’s pretending to be third person limited most of the time. (That is, I know everything, but I don’t tell it all, and most of the time I restrict myself to what’s going on inside a particular person’s head.)

Anyway, the proposal does happen in actual words. But in a moment of writing cowardice I chickened out of writing the first kiss – which prompts the proposal – and instead left myself a note in square brackets:

[this has to be really hot]

Helpful, no? As the old Nicorette adverts used to say, don’t tell me, tell me how. Of course I rolled my eyes at myself on every subsequent readthrough until eventually I wrote the damn thing and, yes, made it really hot. The current readthrough, however, has prompted the uncomfortable reflection that it hasn’t really been earned. Not yet. If the kiss needs to be really hot, so does everything leading up to it, otherwise it doesn’t work any more than the proposal, and then the decision to accept doesn’t make any sense either. And then the remainder of the book – about four fifths of it, I’d guess – don’t work at all.

And I think I also need to bring in my second point of view earlier, and do more from her perspective. It’s feeling a bit one-sided at the moment, and it’s vital that both parties are seen to be invested.

Time to write myself some more notes.

[this bit also needs to be really hot]

and

[this bit too]

I’m sure I’ll thank myself for it later.