Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Good News Roundup

Well, this was going to be a Good News roundup but then events overtook me and, instead of being able to trawl the internet for happy stories, I've been distracted by setting up an office at home, managing the volunteers I work with, trying to keep the museum I work in feeling alive and relevant to a (now totally) digital audience etc etc etc. So. Not much time for trawling. 

The middle section of the elder by the canal side of the allotment fell down.
On the plus side, this gives us a nice handy bench for those important coffee and progress chats.  

I'm deliberately keeping away from the media - we don't watch a news program and I only read the Guardian once a day, just to try and keep some sanity and a sense of proportion. It's so easy to get carried away, hitting refresh, getting into arguments online, checking your temperature in the manner of a fragile Victorian heroine (back of hand against the brow, a weary sigh etc) and fretting that every little niggle in the throat is the start of IT. I'm keeping my anxiety levels low by keeping my exposure to hysterical media low. 

Mind you, we'd have to check for fungi before sitting. I don't imagine these black frilly types, 
nice as they look, would leave your jeans in a good state. 

I'm also not pushing myself to feel like I have to have written a novel, learned to draw like Michelangelo, inspired a whole new internet trend, become super-yoga bendy, repainted the whole house, sculpted the new centrepiece for the Venice Biennale etc etc etc. It is okay not to have done any of those things. It is okay to have managed just one blog post (here it is!), a couple of hours at the allotment and the occasional bike ride. 

Providing I get through this with an intact relationship, my family and my own sanity, I will be happy. It is nice not to feel so tired after work that I don't want to cook. It is nice to cycle through almost deserted streets (although when this is all done, I'm having a word with the damn saddle manufacturer). It is nice to do a spot of yoga now and then. It is nice to dig and chat on the allotment at the end of the day. It is nice to plant seeds. It is nice to plan our Paris-Bordeaux trip for next year. It is nice to have more time to read in bed in the morning. 

I will take your nice and raise you. 

See, holiday planning for next year. Paris to Bordeaux by train, baby. 
These are posted to the wall in front of my temporary desk and bringing
some sanity. Plus hope. Hope is good. 

Just two links to good news this week, because I'm finding that focusing my mental energy on farming and ecology is more of a help than focusing it on the lack of flour in my local shop.

Ecology is a feminist issue. Why taking a feminine approach to the current world crisis may be the approach that stops our house from burning.

Urban areas can be farms too! I love the idea that once bleak and divided places can be made communal, productive and a force for good. 

Keep yourselves well and sane. Remember to get dressed properly, eat what you feel like, move around a little. Remember to be kind. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Reading for Healing

Because sometimes you don't need your downtime to be challenging, especially at the start of the year. You need comedy, nourishment, things to make you smile or a chance to catch up with an author you've enjoyed previously.

January, in an attempt to stave off the winter blues (it worked only while reading), I hit the Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym pretty hard. Spark is sharp as a knife and comedic with it, her characters never over-egged but perfectly encapsulated in a few telling phrases or actions. From the alternately fastitious and chaotic batchelors to the careless, slightly ruthless, young women fighting for their place and purpose in the world.

Pym is so often overlooked as a "tea and curates" author, producing the sort of books where nothing much happens, spinsters lose their heads over men of cloth and emotions are kept firmly in check. In truth, she can be as sharp as Spark, unpitying and clear-sighted, her characters in the unyeilding crosshairs of her gaze. A sentence will slip in as cleanly as a blade. There is a reason Philip Larkin rated her so highly.

Yes, I was fit enough to take a walk along the canal, and it was good. 

Cockfosters was disappointing. Not as funny and riotous as Helen Simpson's first collection, Four Bare Legs in a Bed. Now, that's a joyous read.

January Reading: the final chapter of Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting; Cockfosters by Helen Simpson; The Batchelors and Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark; Excellent Women, Jane & Prudence and An Academic Question by Barbara Pym.

More Pym, more comfort, more funny in February as I read my way through the strorms and floods that hit our region. Luckily, we live far enough away from the river to not be affected, and the relentless rain gave a decent excuse to curl up on the sofa and read away. All the way across to America in fact: Armistead Maupin is a big favourite of mine. Funny, irreverent, delighting in shocking the reader but always with heart firmly engaged. 

  Just a pair of feet, standing in front of a major project at work, begging it not to fuck up

Fish Bowl is hilarious: scenes from a city high rise seen by a goldfish falling from a bowl. Touching, thoughtful, well paced and a thorough joy. Thoroughly recommended. 

However, not every book was a joy and I was disappointed in Devil's Day, especially as I had high hopes of it. Hurley's The Loney was utterly brilliant, the tension ratcheted up page by well written page. However, Devil's Day irritated me with the narrator's treatment of his wife. And he was supposed to be the good guy! Finished but was angry for most of it. Doesn't make it a bad book, just makes it an irritating one, like an itchy label inside your top.

February reading: Compton Hodnet by Barbara Pym; Further Tales of the City and Significant Others by Armistead Maupin; The Wild Places by Robert McFarlane; Devil's Day by Andrew Michael Hurley; The Dry by Jane Harper; Fish Bowl by Bradley Somer. 

 Daffys. Just because they pretty. 

And March has started strongly with Wilding by Isabella Tree and the new Ann Cleeves. Currently reading The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. Finding a nice balance between fact and fiction. If only I could find as good a balance on my feet.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


It is fair to say that, for many people, the first 2 months of 2020 have sucked an enormous amount of donkey butt. Floods, family illnesses, relationship issues forced to the fore by the Christmas break (this is not unusual), worries about pandemics and the general awfulness of the news. It has seemed, like the grey skies, unrelenting and unremitting. 

There was blossom in February. That was worth stopping the car for. That sounds sarcastic when it wasn't meant to. It REALLY was worth stopping for. 

I haven't been immune to this: an injury to one foot in November led to tendon damage in the other as it tried to compensate. Days when I didn't know which foot to limp on and my knees registered complaints. My gait rendered shuffling and slow. Average standing time of 20 minutes only. Pain so bad I'd get home, sit on the stairs to remove my shoes and then cry. No yoga, no allotmenting, no winter walks to chase the blues away. We've been lucky enough to avoid the flooding but work and the world have flooded us with issues that seemed too big to do anything about. 

Loki and his soft belly fur. And incredibly sharp claws. Fuss at your own risk. 

Luckily, 3 months, 2 doctors, a podiatrist and a physiotherapist later, I've finally received a treatment that worked well enough for me to be able to walk down the stairs this morning without wincing. The sun is warm and benevolent. There is the smell of homemade museli, fresh from a mild baking, scenting the air with delicate cinnamon wafts. I've just spent a couple of minutes finely chopping basil for a goats cheese and basil pasta dish, the punchy green smell of the herb making my mouth water. 

Thor. Even softer belly fur, less intimidating claws. One eye open in case I start crocheting and some wool teasing is to be had.

What else, what else, for the past 2 months? Unpicked my Attic 24 blanket and then started again with a smaller hook and better results. Read books. Found Percy Pigs in unexpected places. Stroked the cats soft angel-hair bellies. Met up with friends. Became a mother-in-law in waiting (the Kid newly engaged). Soft-launched my heritage consultancy. Swam in the calm warm blue waters of my nearest swimming pool 3 mornings a week. Made a dress. Watched the 2 projects I'd launched at work take flight and grow. 

March is good. March feels like plans can be made. March feels hopeful. 

 Percy Pigs, my most favourite sweet, hidden by a very considerate person, in unexpected places. Little smiles after arguments over the dishes.
Goats Cheese and Basil Pasta
Take one packet of soft goats cheese (at room temperature) and mush with a fork. 
Add a tablespoon of olive oil - the good stuff - and a few grindings of black pepper to the cheese. 
Finely (or roughly, it's up to you) chop some fresh basil. 
Pause for a moment to fill your nostrils with the smell of it. 
Add to the goats cheese mix. 
Cook your pasta. Drain and keep a little back to add to the mix. 
Put pasta back in the pan and add the goats cheese mush. 
Stir through, adding the pasta water a little at a time, until the appropriate amount of sauciness has been achieved. 
Serve in bowl with chopped cherry tomatoes and a slice of crusty bread to get up the last of the sauce. 
Eat with a good view, a good book or a good companion. 

Optional Extras: 
pine nuts for crunch
garlic for vampire protection
gran padano or parmesan for added cheesiness

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under...