Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Chuntering Nonsense

I'm currently writing this from underneath my duvet, my trusty red scarf around my neck and a Small Wee Mabel stretched out over my toes. Why this level of decadent comfort and unusual cat closeness? The boiler has packed up. 

Oh yes, just in time for unspecified "spell of winteriness" (genuine quote from local weather forecast). 

I went out for a walk with a friend, leaving N and the boilerman chatting happily about annual service, bleeding radiators, blah blah temperature controls blah, and returned to find the house cold and N chatting less happily on the phone about circuit boards, replacement parts blah blah, soon as you can blah.

"Soon as you can" turns out to mean £350 quid for a replacement circuit board and we'll see the man in 2 days time to fit it. Marvellous. 

Although it's annoying to be wearing scarves and 4 layers indoors, it's not really an inconvenience. We have hot water still, thanks to the immersion heater. The oven still works so a decent bout of stew making means the downstairs is warm in the evening. We have 2 portable electric heaters that warm our offices during the day and there's a shop down the road selling hot water bottles if I get really desperate. 

I once sat a mock exam in an unheated school gym in the middle of winter during a particularly vicious cold snap. My friend and I took in 2 hot water bottles each: 1 for our feets and 1 for our middles. I am not at that stage yet. 

That old Christmas thing is looming ever closer into view from the Titanic that is life right now. In what is surely the closest sign that we are engaged and Officially Committed, N has asked me to buy him clothes. 

Oh the pressure!

Is the wool of that jumper too itchy? Will I upset him if I buy a shirt a size up to cover the wee paunch of lockdown belly he's proudly sporting? Is that colour going to make him look jaundiced or in fine fettle? Are the necklines on those t-shirts going to fit just right or make him feel like he's being strangled? Am I buying things that would suit a middle aged man and not the young thing he still envisages (until he has to dig on the plot when age suddenly bites)?

Obviously, I'm aware of the honour presented to me like it was my own Christmas gift ("buy me clothes - I haven't had anything new for years and you like buying clothes"), but still. Pressure. And before you ask, no. He does not get to buy me clothes. 

I've been very much enjoying finding new routes around my city. On Sunday, I needed the library but instead of taking my usual main route, I turned off down what I'm now renaming Urine Alley (okay, that bit was not enjoyable) and walked some back streets, enjoying the feeling of being sort of not sure where I was but also vaguely sure I was going in the right direction. And if I got completely off track, I could Google Map my way out of trouble. 

Found: little micro-breweries I didn't know were there, curious houses with odd angles to them, ghost signs for long gone businesses, intriguing front gardens with yellow painted doors, wrought iron lampposts that brought Narnia to mind and the delicate tracery of ivy roots on brickwork. Someone had piled books on their garden wall and a sign in wonky black pen told us to "help yourself!". By another front gate, there was a grate of mouldering apples with a similar sign but in crayon. 

I took one to fortify myself for the return journey. It was a cooker, not an eater. 

This month I have read Wintering by Katherine May - an exploration of our physical and emotional reactions to times of stress and difficulty. How our natural reaction is to hunker down, retreat, hibernate, winter. I liked very much the concept and the book is gently written, plus it's always nice when a book validates how you are feeling/behaving.  

On the topic of books, I'm very much enjoying a foray into essays and thinking by women. Next up is Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust, an exploration of walking. Which may sound silly but I love an aimless amble (as you've just read) and there can be something very profound and powerful about the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other... "Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned..."

The clock on the nearby church has just chimed to remind me it's time to get on with some real work. Spoilsport. I'm enjoying writing more and more these days, excited for the minutes I can snatch away from proper, paying work and spend them chuntering on about nonsense. I'm not sure there's a career in that though. 

Certainly not one that pays for unexpected boiler bills. 

I posted this on Instagram the other day and then spent HOURS worrying people would 
ascribe hidden meaning to it. There is no hidden meaning, I just like the way the smoke looks against
the blue of the walls. Sometimes a blown candle is just a blown candle.  
Other images: blue skies over the allotment. Sometimes November really pulls it out of the bag. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

November on the Allotment

The sighs of relief when I’ve taken myself up to the allotment at odd times this month have been deep and genuine. Half an hour snatched at lunchtime, early in the morning before a busy day, the last hour before dusk falls too heavily to see. This November is difficult. It would have been Dad's birthday month. It is Dad's birthday month.

What an I doing? Not a lot. Pacing. Looking. Thinking. I harvested the last of the potatoes. Planted the first of the bulbs. Dug out some deep rooted dandelions. Shook my head in despair at the slug-damaged brassicas. 

So much for nematodes. 

Amazingly, there are still flowers blooming. Marigolds, Cosmos, the climbing rose and the last sweet pea. They’re refusing to admit that their time is done. 


At the canal end of the plot, the sparrows are clattering and chattering around in the oranging knotweed. Their antics make the bare stems rattle. Another type of rustle makes me look up at the larch in time to see a squirrel racing from one branch to another. 

The robin comes along to check what I’m doing. Investigating the ground I’ve dug over for tasty bits. 

I come home with a good inch of mud on my boots, and at least another inch in the turn ups of my jeans, under my fingernails and, on one occasion, in my hair (I blame a particularly tough root that gave way with a snap and arched over my head, sprinkling me with mud as it went). 

I’ve gathered seed heads, shaking them over the ground before bagging them to come back home with me. I’ll put them in the airing cupboard to gently dry before shaking the last of the seeds into brown envelopes. 

The sun on Wednesday was strong in a blue sky, forcing the removal of jacket and scarf. I dug out weeds quickly, pruned back the wineberries, stood and watched the magpies shout insults at each other. 

Made some more plans. Went home and dropped an eye-watering amount of money on seeds. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Bimble in the City

At the beginning of November, in what I'm hoping is the last big excusion of the year*, we headed to London (twice in one year!). N had work and I was going for an explore. We were meeting up for the leaving do of one of his colleagues later in the day. 

The weather was perfect: cool, sunny and with that lovely tingle in the air that autumn brings. With strict instructions on how to cross the road (I once was nearly run over in London and only saved by N's quick reflexes...and better road sense), we parted ways on the tube and I headed to St Pancras Old Church

Old as in, it is the OLDEST site of worship in London. Tucked away behind the British Library, down past the Francis Crick Institute (where I muttered some rude words on behalf of Rosalind Franklin), and in a clean quiet spot of London, it's rather lovely. 

The church itself is mostly Victorian. Inside it's all whitewashed and sterile with some cracking iconography. Gilt images of saints that flicker in the light of the dozens of candles that people set out. 

I'd been reading about this place and Hardy's Tree and a particular grave, but before I put myself to the task of finding them, there were some substantial monuments to admire...

You've got to hand it to the Victorians, they give good monument. Not for them the discreet little plaque on a bench. At least, not for those that can afford something more splendid. And whilst it might not be practical, it does at least announce "THIS is how much I loved this person. THIS is how much I miss them. THIS is how much money I have to tell you all about them."

Mostly, of course, it's about status and showing off. Our man Morris, back in Kelmscott, kept his and his wife's affectingly simple but then, he doesn't strike me as an ostentatious man, more one that keeps his grief close and private. 

Hardy's tree is fenced off nowadays, so this is as close as I could get to it, which is annoying but I’d mostly come to see a different grave. 

This is the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. She of  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the key feminist text (not that I've read it but, you know, one day I will. That and the Second Sex). Her youngest daughter, Mary (she of Frankenstein) would meet Shelley, who her father disapproved of (and rightly, in my opinion) there. Scurrilous rumour would have it she lost her virginity to him there. I'm not sure what to believe but a "sublime and rapturous moment" is rare in first-time stories, so I'm not totally on board. 

Mind you, it is exactly the sort of thing Shelley would do. *insert eye roll*

Anyway, back to our girl, Mary W G. I'm pleased to say that after a rackety start which saw her tearing around an unstable Europe after a bloke who was the definition of Not Worth It, she found a like mind, a supporter and a short-lived happiness (she died shortly after M S's birth) with William Godwin

I love that Godwin was considered an anarchist, but not where his daughter was concerned. He was furious about her liaison with Shelley and came across all Conservative Papa. I suspect he'd met chancers like Shelley before and had the measure of him. 

Today, people leave offerings on her tombstone. There was a motley but touching collection of small pebbles, shells and flowers on the top. Yes, I did add my own small pebble. Yes, I do always have a small pebble in my pocket. 

Then it was back through London via the British Library and Regents Park, to meet up with N to party the night away, up until the point all that walking caught up with my arthritis and I stopped, like a horse refusing a jump. 

I do need to get better at managing it and, in hindsight, clocking up 30,000 steps in one day is not a better way. Part of it is my refusal to let it stop me doing anything (until it most emphatically does) and part of it is sheer bloody mindedness. Actually, all of it is sheer bloody mindedness. 

But there, that was my last trip to London for a good long while. Now is the time to make soup laden with giner and turmeric, to crochet blankets under more blankets, to drink coffee from a flask at the allotment and watch the winter sun come up. 

Keep well everyone.

*I mean, it's absolutely aces to see everyone again and see things and go places but I'm quite tired now and my allotment needs me.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Of all the Morrises in all the World

I got to visit this one and class it as “work”. 

This one is the beautiful Kelmscott Manor, owned by William Morris, and found all the way down in the deepest wilds of south Gloucestershire, through twisty lanes, down steep hills and around tree-lined corners. 

I am a very lucky person. 

Morris brought this when it was still a farmhouse and set about filling it with beautiful things, including his own, hand blocked wallpaper, which the team are busy recreating. 

This was his weekend retreat, a place he described as “heaven on earth” and he populated it not only with things he loved but also people. His family came with him, the Pre-Raphelite crew (including Rossetti, who I suspect was actually quite mean and spiteful. He was definitely full of himself), anyone he took a shine too. 

I’ll confess here that I have a bit of a crush on Morris, the big beardy bear of a man that he was. He comes across as a gentle, yet passionate man. Deeply loyal and, of course, a bloody design genius. 

The more I read about him, the more I wish I could sit down with him, share some pints, and listen to him talk. 

I basically spent the entire visit fan-girling over him, being generally over excited and giddy with spinning my head around to look at everything. 

So much detail. In fact, I got so absorbed in those, I mostly forgot to take whole room pictures. Morris probably would have understood. 

I also spent much of the visit with my jaw open, saying “wow. I mean. Just. Wow.” like the professional I am. 

This eloquence especially came into it’s when when I walked into a room, peered at a painting and said “that looks like a Bruegel.”

“Oh yes,” said the curator. “It’s an original.” As casually as if it were cheese. 

I mean. Just. Wow. 

But my absolute favourite thing was the screen below. Morris painted this and would cart it around to lectures, standing in front to tell students and audiences his design principles, the elements of it. 

Can you imagine being in that audience? The screen, in an odd way, felt more personal than any of the paintings or tapestries. I can’t really explain why. It just did and I would have liked to take it home with me. 

Sadly, there are rules against that sort of thing. 

Morris himself, below. Look at those sad eyes. Don’t you just want to give him a hug and tell him it’ll be okay? Or at least prescribe him something for his gout. 

And it was just nice driving around my old stomping ground again. When I lived in Cheltenham, I was but a mere callow youth, who preferred burning the candle at both ends, providing one of those ends was a rave or a club, to doing anything cultural. So I missed this. 

But that was another life and besides, the wench is older and, a little wiser, now. 

Kelmscott reopens in the spring. Hard recommend. 

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...