Saturday, October 30, 2021

October, where did you go?

I mean, who decided that time could speed itself up? I would have liked to savour this month, my favourite, but it wasn't to be. It moved at it's own sweet merry pace and I clung onto the sides.

A lot of it has disappeared into the hecticness of work. There have been more than a few working-late evenings and early-start days. Given that I mainly work from home, this is hardly down-the-coalmine stuff. The busiest contract is coming to an end in December and while I shall miss the people and the income, I'm looking forward to having the time to develop ideas I've had for a while. Courses and resources I want to develop may actually see the light of day. 

Speaking of courses, the RHS Level 2 that I started is...okay. The other students are great and I've learned how to take a softwood cutting, and mark out a square with perfectly straight edges and right-angled corners. The module the lecturers selected for us is "Vegetable Growing" and that feels a bit redundant as I already do that. I think I was hoping for something more challenging than an assessment on how well I double dig. But I will probably still learn new things as well, so I'm trying not to be bad-tempered about it. 

 Aware of my general lack of exercise and movement since working from home (I used to easily clock up 20k steps or more when I ran a museum), I brought myself a cheap pedometer and am pleased to report that every day this week, I've broken my target with room to spare. 

This morning, I woke to the sound of rain drumming its beat against the roof. It's quite a comforting sound on a Saturday when I have no plans, limitless tea and a warm Mabel leaning against my leg. I have a couple of candles lit, which I've been doing most mornings this month - sometimes, I sit and stare at the flickering, thinking of nothing. It's the nearest I come to meditation. 

 This week, I had to be in Birmingham for a meeting and it was fab. I do love that city, for all it's faults. We met at the extraordinary Library, ate lunch at the beautiful Ikon gallery after wandering up and over the canal. Shopped at Muji for my favourite pens (0.78 navy blue, thank you) and read on the train home. 

I have been reading Barbara Comyns' Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, but the desire to reach into the pages and soundly smack her selfish, self-serving husband is too great for my peace of mind. A friend came to the rescue with a copy of Luckenbooth, so that's my Halloween reading sorted. 

 I said goodbye to my lovely nutritionist at the start of the month. My excema, while under control, is still here despite blood tests, a veritable alphabet of supplements and nearly a year of restrictive eating. When she suggested yet another limitation, my brain snapped and went "Nope, can't do this any more." So I refused the next blood test, put my 2 remaining appointments on ice till next year and watched my bank balance breathe a sigh of relief. 

Not sure what to do about the excema now. It's still here like a flaky, aggravating pal who doesn't know the party is over. N suggested seeing a doctor. I probably should but can't yet face dealing with the receptionist that guards the appointments. 


Still working verrrry slowly on the Attic 24 Meadow blanket. The rest of the world finished theirs in February, it seems. It always takes me a year to finish one, what with one thing and another.

I managed to get the majority of the shallots into the ground at the allotment, and the last of the brassicas in. Now will come afternoons of pruning, weeding, planning and generally tidying up, especially inside the shed. I haven't created the little nest in there that I'd hoped, but maybe winter will be the time to do it. 

In N news, we got engaged. I should have led with that, shouldn't I?? The ring is just about the shiniest piece of kit I've ever worn and I've been married once before, in another lifetime. I do not have a photogenic enough hand for this ring. Plus, I can hear generations of Northern ancestors telling me to Know My Place. But lookit, pretty.

Waiting until it arrived to tell people was the hardest thing: I wanted to run through the streets with a cow bell yelling "Engaged! Engaged!"

The wedding will be next September, hopefully. I am too old for long engagements - they have a habit of drifting on for years with no resolution and I am of the age where 50 is hovering just on the edge of the horizon. I want to feel present. Anchored in a way I haven’t felt since Dad died. 

Plus, I want to gather everyone I know and love and vaguely tolerate together in a field, with wellies under the dress if necessary, and say thank you for being here despite everything, now raise a glass to my Dad, who would have given a better speech.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Bluest of Skies, the Leekiest of Leeks

Time at the allotment has been somewhat lacking recently. Work work work, socialising, weather. They've all conspired to keep me stuck indoors, feeling disconnected from the plot. So much so that I actually woke in a panic at midnight the other night, saying out loud "what will it do without me?". 

Yes, mad. 

The answer, obviously, is that it will keep on growing and doing it's own thing. After that midnight awakening, I took an hour off and headed up to the site. The sun was shining from an innocently blue sky that seemed to say "storms? What storms? Yesterday? Oh no, that couldn't have been me, look how blue I am."

Indeed, it was very blue. The sun shone right in my eyes all the way down there, forcing a squint. When I could open my eyes fully, it was just lovely. The still-wet grass shone, beaded cobwebs sparkled and I felt my spirits lift. 

What does work matter when there is this? 

I walked the boundary, as is my habit after reading The Garden Awakening by Mary Reynolds. I'm not much of a one for fey, wafty thinking, but for some reason, this book really stayed with me and I'm slowly adopting some of her tactics. The beating of the bounds is my favourite. I walk slowly round the plot, drinking my coffee and just looking. Since doing it, I feel like I've properly seen the space for the first time since getting it. 

After doing that, I set to the buddleia with the pruning saw, taking it right back to the ground. I am not, I confess, much of a fan of buddleia: I don't like the smell or the look, but I let it stay because the insects blinking well love it. Then, once October rolls round, I hack it right back to the ground. It's not died from this treatment yet, and comes back strong every spring. 

Whilst up there, I harvested the leeks. In truth these had probably been in the ground too long but like I said, life gets in the way. We haven't eaten them yet but given the smell, I think these may be the leekiest leeks ever. 

Whilst up there, I could hear buzzards screeling through the sky above my head. This is the first year I've seen buzzards in the city and it makes me feel like this is the place I'm settled in now (sorry N, sometimes it takes more than a mortgage). They are my favourite raptors ever since I stood on a hill and watched them ride thermals beneath the overhanging hilltop. The patterning on the tops of their wings are just beautiful.

Since then, I’ve managed another hour to take the beans down and put some onions in. I’m hoping to carve out some time later this week but the weather may conspire against me: downpours, not just showers are predicted. 

Still, it will tick along until I get up there. And I’ll walk the boundary and feel grounded again.   

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

What Happened to all the Books?


Asked nobody. 

But as there hasn't been a book update since...yikes...June, you're getting a sort-of-one anyway. 

You see, I am still reading - lots - I'm just not recording it anywhere. For the first time since 2014, I've stopped keeping my book diary. I rarely Instagram (when did that become a verb?) what I'm reading and I don't often mention it to anyone. 

It's not that what I've been reading has been unmentionable! More that I was beset with a whats-the-point feeling. What is it I'm trying to do with the diary? I don't mind re-reading books, in fact I've been known to actively seek out books I've already read just to enjoy them again. 

Nor am I embarassed by what I read. It's not like I've got all the works by EL James or Jeffrey Archer on the shelves (although I would ditch the Game of Thrones series if they were mine or I thought N wouldn't notice - I have tried covering them with Armistead Maupin instead) hiding on the shelves.

Do I think the Kid or any descendents of mine will be interested? No. And knowing the Kid, descendents are very unlikely, apart from my niece and nephew who surely won't care what Mad 'Burn the Patriarchy!' Aunty T read back in May 2017. 

I had to face the fact that I was probably really only keeping it to, well, show off. Mostly to myself, some to anyone lovely enough to stop by here and read stuff. A little to those mythical descendents who I imaged saying (in binary because all language will be obsolete by then and we'll just be brains in carbonite structures with electrical impulses for senses) "Gosh, look how well read our illustrious ancestor, Mad 'Burn the Patriarchy' Aunty T was! And she was right to burn it all down. May we forever deify her with this digital, virtual structure of a tree because there are no real trees now."

Maybe I should write dystopian fiction?

Anyway, the point of this is that the diary has been ditched and I am a much freer reader for it. There is an absence of pressure, a reduction of ego, a lack of assumed judgement at reading 4 Allinghams in a row. 

But what about the promise I made myself last August, when the world was breaking into tiny angry pieces and this small something became the tiniest raft of hope? I must confess that events of early this year derailed me for a little while, but I'm back on it and see no reason to stop. It has brought open new worlds for me and, I tentatively think, new thinking. I'll keep going.

Just finished: 

  • The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller - cutting through the sentimental nonsense that surrounds the Brontes, although there's a huge gap where Anne should be.
  •  Bessie Smith by Jackie Kay - enjoyable psychobiography rather than conventional biography.
  • Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham - because she's aces and I'm in love with Albert Campion

Ditched: the Patrick Melrose books because, fucking hell, who needs that toxicity in their lives?

 Top image of the Shakespeare & Co bookshop, Paris. Courtesy of The Guardian. Support independent bookshops! And burn the patriarchy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Of Breads and Beds

 The Kid went back up to Sunderland last Friday, leaving me feeling somewhat bereft - there have been too many goodbyes this year. At least I sent him home fully stocked with casseroles, train snacks, carrot cake and my flask with coffee in it. I can't fix his relationship or make the government properly fund his work or change the housing market so there's the slightest possibility he won't be at the mercy of shitty landlords all his life, but I can make sure he's nourished while he copes with it all. 
While he was here, we played at tourists in our own city for a day. We took a long walk along the canal, all the way to where it opens out into the river, pausing to watch a barge navigate a lock, which I like watching but which also gives me the weirdies. 

From there, we wandered up to the cathedral to look at Arthur's tomb, the tiny carved fantastical creatures on the misericords and incredible ceilings. Then to lunch where I had the nicest lightest gluten free focaccia I have ever had. Bit of a treat and makes me wonder why so much gluten-free bread is so bloody awful. I once ordered some from a company that claimed they had been developing their recipe for their own gluten-free needs. 
All I can say is that their needs must have been of the battering-thine-enemy-with-baked-goods kind. Not a heavier bread have I ever lifted or attempted to chew my way through. Never mind avoiding swimming after eating, I was avoiding puddles. 

Today is the day I phone the vet for the Great Boo's test results. A week before we went down south, he went missing. Having owned many cats over my lifetime, I didn't think we'd ever see him again but N was more determined and through the concerted use of Facebook Lost & Found pet pages and the Next Door app (no, me neither), he was found 3 miles away, about 100 yards from the M5. 
THREE miles away? This is a cat we had to cut a hole in the fence for because he couldn't manage to jump over it and we were tired of our neighbours ringing the front door bell to tell us he was sat outside the gate waiting to be let in. He did not travel 3 miles under his own steam.

Regardless of means (and I have dark suspicions), he was found safe and well after an hour of scouring the streets yelling "Boo! Come on Boo!" like idiots (thanks to Dylan and Emily for joining in the shouting with gusto and providing a cat box at short notice). A little thinner, he generally seemed fine. 
But he is not fine. Patches of bald skin are appearing in his fur, his pupils are dilated 80% of the time (the time he's awake anyway) and he's clearly on high alert all the time. The vet thinks stress ("Hello! I'm here to diagnose the bleeding obvious and then take £90 from you!") but ordered some tests anyway. Results are overdue. 

Also overdue is a response from a company I'm now referring to as The Worst Bed Company in the World. Their name begins with B and ends with S, which is ironic as that's the same as the word I've been shouting every time their crappy, over-hard, completely unyielding mattress has woken me with cramp, pins and needles and general discomfort so great that at 4am, all hope of sleep is lost. I've pretty much given up sleeping on it and moved into the spare room. 

If anyone likes mattresses that feel like it's punishing you for a misdemeanour in a past life, let me know. It's yours for £600 and an incantation of evil directed at B_____S

'At sunrise, hope; at dusk, peace" - unless your mattress
comes from B_____S, in which case, no.


Friday, October 8, 2021

The Continuing Tale of Small Adventures

Decided to make the most of today's bout of insomnia (take that brain! Won't let me sleep? Fine, you can do some work instead) and post about my recent trip to London to see the Paula Rego exhibition at the Tate. 

I don’t spend much time in the capital, so I tend to go with a friend to make sure I don't get lost/run over/corrupted to the dark side while I'm down there. This friend used to work a lot there, so she headed from the station with confidence, me scurrying behind like a country mouse, albeit one with a huge rucksack (flask and train snacks, space for buying of many books and things) and red trainers. 


By the simple act of turning right out of Paddington, she opened up a whole new world for me. One of parks and sculpture, where the air felt clean, the traffic noise dropped and London revealed itself to be rather spiffy indeed. 

Everything sparkled in the sunshine. Even the barista in the park sparkled with good will to humankind, especially those that are ladies of a certain age in need of strong coffee and plentiful napkins to mop the damp seats with. 

 Refreshed, we set a pace through Kensington Gardens (which I hadn't known was there!), past Wellington's house - No. 1 London, which is a pretty cool address to have, even for an old warhorse - through Marble Arch, past the astonishing memorial, along the outside of Buck. Palace (lots of spiky topped walls and signs warning oiks to Stay Away), and along to Vauxhall Bridge for lunch. 

I ate a plate of gnocci in a gorgonzola sauce and it was Good. Admired the backs of the MI's 5 and 6 - they don't exactly try to blend in, do they? Then hotfooted it to the Tate. 


The first thing to strike you as you enter the Rego exhibition is just the sheer scale of her work. They are huge. Vast canvases that command your attention. So often her work is seen through social media, which democratises art, but also, I thought in this context, diminishes it. How can you possibly feel the raw energy and power of work like this through a tiny phone screen?

Anyway, I will shut up for a minute, so you can see for yourselves (yes, I'm aware of the irony)...

Each canvas was as large as a man, and contained all the power in the world. I loved how the Tate were showing a whle life retrospective, so you really got an idea of how her work had progressed throughout the decades. 

I also really appreciated that she and her regular model really collaborated on the works together. So often models are ciphers or, perhaps worse, muses. Silent and passive things. Not this time and the combination of minds creates something strange and other.  

Her drawings are delicate things, beautifully executed, that then transform into these storms on canvas. You're left with the impression of a woman who learned to become uncompromising, who was politically engaged from an early age, and who will have no truck with mealy-mouthed "niceness". 

I'd quite like to sit at her feet and listen to her talk.

And now I’m going to sign off. The Kid returns to Sunderland today and I’m already a little wibbly about it. Come on Collett, stiff upper lip, straight back. You got this. 

Till next time. 

ps N says the last Rego portrait is my spirit painting. I’m good with that. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

How is it October?

I distinctly remember, as a child, moaning about how dreadfully long the days could be, a long drawn out whine of “I’m booooored”, especially if it was raining and the prospect of nothing but playing Monopoly with my sister was on the cards.

I still can’t play Monopoly without smelling Sunday lunch cooking in the background.

Of course, now as a grown assed adult, with my own house to maintain and lunches to make, I completely understand the bitter laugh that invariably came from an adult in the room. 


Days are simply not long enough any more. And it’s not all down to my Instagram habit. 

Anyway, here we are in my favourite month, despite it feeling that the start of September was only a blink away. Mornings are nippy, blankets are out and I have made 3 soups in the past 2 weeks.

Thank god I no long have to pretend that I’m perfectly happy with salad, thank you very much, could you pass the coleslaw and cheese, and the dressing and the other thing to smother it in. It is much easier to eat healthily in Autumn and Winter, I find. Soup needs no dressing and ice cream casts no spell when it’s cold outside. 

If I could, I’d live in perpetual October with brief forays into June and July for birthdays. 

But enough fantasising about squash, ginger, coriander and lime soup with garlic flatbread to dip, back to the matter in hand: my disappearing September. 

Most of it went in work and the start of college (my return to education following a 27 year break), but we also had a trip to Surrey for a friend’s wedding. I have only been to Surrey once and can confirm that it’s roads are as badly surfaced now as they were 15 years ago. 

But we had a splendid time at the wedding which was nice. Even nicer (sorry Charlotte), was the church in Chaldon that a friend of mine had suggested we visit in the morning to see the Doom painting (second photo). 

I'm sure you'll agree that as wall paintings go, that one is I mean. Seriously. Can you imagine being an illiterate 14th Century peasant with no scientific knowledge, and that's the image that confronts you the minute you walk into church, and when you leave? 


Enough to frighten the beezus out of anyone. 

It was also home to one of the most unintentionally hilarious monuments I've ever seen (not shown). Along the lines of "she survived a shipwreck on the way to somewhere foreign, sailed out there again, suffered disease and the birth of eight children far from home, bore with fortitude all the inconveniences of life there, died on the way back home". Well honestly, wouldn't you? "That's it, I told you I'd had enough. You men and your bloody ships."

We visited Brighton while we were down there. Umm, sorry Brighton, but I think you've probably seen better days than a humid Monday out of season and post-pandemic. Nice graffiti in places though, although I did think they could have opened their museum. Boo.

There were some excellent trees and equally excellent views from the balcony of our AirB&B. There was delicious pizza, fish and chips, and a wedding buffet that transcended the once standard pork pie and cold chicken legs. There were friends, laughter and, almost uniquely for an AB&B, a very comfortable bed.They got a good review for that alone. 

Certainly not for the fact there were only 2 tea bags and 1 toilet roll in the property.

There was a big old moon, sea gulls in their rightful place (i.e. by the sea and not attacking moorhen chicks along the canal back home). There was rest and relaxation and a not entirely hideous return journey along the M25 - it was no picnic, but I expected worse.  You can't help thinking of Crowley and his M25 shenanigans in Good Omens when you think of the M25. 

No demons were summoned during the course of our journey. I think.

This week, the Kid is home from Sunderland for his own slice of rest and relaxation. Working as a carer for adults with complex (and sometimes undiagnosed) mental disabilities and needs during the pandemic has been an exercise in fortitude, grit and sheer determination to see they suffer as little as possible despite the shit show going on outside the doors. 

I've never been prouder and have made all his favourite meals this week. He all but cried at the sausage and bean casserole that was a childhood staple when he was growing up. Yes, I am sending him back with masses of filled tupperware and, hopefully, a renewed vigour for the challenges ahead. He'll need it. 

Back to work next week but hopefully I'll find time to catch up with my trip to London before then. 

If not, rest assured I shall be composing never-to-be-written blog posts while I dig manure into my plot. Kudos to all those taking part in Blogtober. I am enjoying reading your posts. More power to your typing fingers.

Adjusting to summer

The absolute blowsy nonsense of peonies.  Rewatching a favourite film in the oldest cinema in the UK.  What happens when no mow may gets out...