Thursday, 21 August 2014


It's probably the autumnal weather that has prompted me to write here again after so long. That and the fact that there are at least two other things that I should be writing which are both important and urgent.

A lot has happened since May 2012 - I finished one course and then started and finished another, I moved to Swindon and Syd the cat retired to the seaside, where he is indulged with frequent meals and near-constant company. 

I had a three hour coach journey yesterday and saw gigantic tractors harvesting crops in the dark. This end of summer the days are shortening and it's getting cold. I had an enormous book with me but ended up listening to the reassuring voice of Donald Macleod telling me about Handel and looking out of the window. After it was dark I started listening to A Brief History of Being Cold, which is one of my favourite things ever - if it was a book I'd keep it by my bed in the emergency/insomnia pile. One to listen to again, in the deep winter.

The job I moved for will end soon (as anticipated) and new plans are underway. There are jumpers in the shops again, proper ones, in dark colours and made of wool, and there are enormous blackberries in the hedge by the path to where the bats are. A good time to begin.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


I recently collected a load of books from my parents' attic.  There was an odd collection of my things left up there.  I thought I'd already cleared out all my school and college notes but I unearthed yet more, which demonstrated that once I could, up to a point, understand chemical equations of blast furnaces and translate Latin poetry, all of which has since become mysterious again.  The best thing I found was a short story neatly written in sparse French, which was the kind of thing designed to demonstrate the competent use of several tenses, but pleasingly included a wandering chicken, an unlikely coincidence and a moral at the end.

I also found my English Lit A Level books, heavily marked with cryptic notes and, on 'Wuthering Heights', bat drawings.  One of the books I wrote my coursework on, half my life ago, was 'City of the Mind' by Penelope Lively.  This is where I learned the word 'palimpsest'.  I fished it out of the bookshelf on Sunday, after the search for where Miss Silvester's house used to be.   

Matthew Halland, an architect in London, takes his daughter on weekend expeditions, visits building sites of office blocks and half-renovated Georgian terraces, reflects on the death of one relationship and the tentative beginnings of another, his past and the long turbulent past of the city.  Other stories appear, in snippets, of other people at other times in the same places.

"He is alone, and at the same time less alone.  He sees that time is what we live in, but that it is also what we carry within us.  Time is then, but it is also our own perpetual now.  We bear it in our heads and on our backs; it is our freight, our baggage, our Old Man of the Sea.  It grinds us down and buoys us up.  We cannot shuffle it off; we would be adrift without it.  We both take it with us and leave ourselves behind within it - flies in amber, fossilized admonitions and exemplars."  Penelope Lively, 'City of the Mind'   
I lost the essay long ago, I think, unless it is under another layer of old magazines, posters, notes and letters.  Are they worth keeping because they are worth keeping, or only because they have been kept for so long now?  Some of the books I gave away, One particularly destroyed book went into the recycling box.  Mostly I kept them, to read again in other places, later.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


I've lived in 9 houses and flats in Brighton and Hove, over 14 years, with 16 different people. Because Brighton is so small, I'm constantly re-treading old ground.  Friends move into streets where I used to live.  Shops and cafes change names and menus but are in the same places, visited by the same people.  My local now was the pub round the corner from my friends' house where we drank sometimes in 1999 and I work 100 yards from my university halls of residence.  My memories are set off like neural tripwires, so I smile when I walk by that wall over the railway line and take the long way round past that place where that thing happened that time. 

The 'My Brighton and Hove' site has tours which people have constructed out of their own experiences of the city, and also guides to the past city.  Past Brighton is familiar and unexpected.  Probably as elegant and squalid as now, but in different places and in different ways.  Some things that seem to be old and timeless turn out to have had a mid-life crisis with some 20th century remodelling and restoration, streets of what are now colourful and desirable houses were dark and soot-encrusted 90 years ago.  There were horses stabled in the North Laine into the 70s and nissen huts on the (much leafier) Level in the 40s and 50s.

The James Gray collection is an incredible record of past Brighton and Hove, and is worth devoting a fair bit of time to rummaging about in.  This photo, of Waterloo Place, is just excellent.  
"Developers bought most of the 1820s houses to build fresh offices, but Miss H. Silvester who had lived at No. 9 for 50 years refused all offers for her property and refused to budge. The new blocks were built either side, and her house shored up. She was in the house when the photograph was taken on 15 February 1970, some years after the offices were built. She died in March 1974, aged 89. Her house was then demolished and the offices linked up." Note by James Gray

I love the overlapping time layers and Miss Silvester's determination.  It's also pleasing that there is a bus named after James Gray.
This is what it looks like now (with scaffolding and a decorative covering): 
(Photo taken by Mr Listingslightly, who kindly perched between a flowerbed and the traffic to get the right angle on this and without any passing cars)

At the moment I am....
Listening to: Radiolab. On every bus journey to work. It is magnificent. 
Knitting:  this jumper...

....very slowly.   (If you're on Ravelry it's here)
Eating: Ginger biscuits, made from a recipe in Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book. Yum.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Rememberance of rain past

Bucketing rain makes me think of an afternoon in 1999 or early 2000 when I lived in an old, tall house near Brighton seafront with 7 other people.  When there was weather about you could see it rolling in from the sea and hear it buffeting against the front door.   My room was the smallest (I’d answered an ad for the last one available) and at the back, overlooking a tiny yard.  The half that wasn't the bed was mostly books and a huge hi-fi, and I'd put a purple patterned curtain of the 70s over the tatty wardrobe.

There used to be a bookshop on St James St called Tall Stories, and I bought a book about time which I don’t have anymore and made some scones which turned out badly, as they always did.  I listened to Charlie Parker and enjoyed being indoors.  It’s more an impression than a full memory, and there’s nothing remarkable about it.  The only reason it might stand out is that there weren’t many weekend days which I spent alone.  Quite often I worked one or other of them, and I spent a lot of the rest of the time at my boyfriend’s house, who lived with other friends.  Standing on the bus this morning, squashed into a silent deck with sleepy, damp people, it was good to remember a time of feeling exactly like myself.  

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Seasonal poetry

Poetry is one of my big cultural gaps.  Although there are poems I can recite from memory, they tend to be of the rhyming and amusing variety.  (If we ever meet and conversation flags, you can test me on Matilda, Who told Lies and was Burned to Death by Hilaire Belloc.)  It's probably that it's mainly a bit much for me - I have a particular aversion to anything poignant, which pretty much writes off a great deal of all art, and particularly poetry.  When I think about changing seasons, though, I do think of Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I have tried to learn copperplate calligraphy, which is as pesky to do as it is lovely to look at.  One of my efforts was to write out the last section of this beautiful poem, which Coleridge wrote for his son, Hartley, in which he describes how Hartley's rural upbringing will make him a child of nature, and influence his imagination:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Richard Holmes, who wrote one of my favourite books, The Age of Wonder, wrote a two-part biography of Coleridge.  It is very sad, but incredibly interesting and very moving.  I recommend it heartily. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Listing / Learning

It would be nice to think that we are due an Indian summer, but at the moment I'm sitting in front of a light box, which will hopefully convince my body clock that it is not a time for hibernation.  September is a time of new beginnings, new stationery, new projects and excellent food, but this year it is feeling damp and cold.  I want to make pumpkin soup and knit, and not do much else.   

Over the summer I read "The Sword in the Stone":

"But in the Old England there was a greater marvel still.  The weather behaved itself.
In the spring, the little flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang.  In the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed.  In the autumn the leaves flamed and rattled before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory.  And in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned into slush."  T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

This is a great description of how we sometimes imagine the past to have been, although the winters certainly used to be colder in the Little Ice Age.  And this year there has been some kind of summer, albeit sporadically.  In 1816, 'the year without a summer', volcanic eruptions and low solar activity led to a cold, damp year.  Food shortages followed, leading to famine, civil disruption and disease.  Taking an umbrella on a day out is hardly that bad really. 

(The gardens at Arundel Castle, August 2011)

One of the reasons why I wanted to read The Sword in the Stone (apart from the Disney film), is that I read a quote from it in an interview on Gretchen Rubin's great site the Happiness Project.

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something.  That is the only thing that never fails.  You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.  There is only one thing for it then - to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."  Also T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

And learning is what September is all about.   

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Begin the Beluga

Yesterday there was glorious sunshine and it was hot and Augusty.  I spent yesterday indoors knitting.  Today it bucketed down for several hours.  Today I walked into town for a haircut. 

Nonetheless, I now have better hair, I have a complete mini cardigan, I have jars in which to bottle home-made passata (recipe from the excellent River Cottage Preserves book by Pam Corbin), and I had lunch with a lovely friend.   

Sometimes it is hard to know where to start.  I forget sometimes that it's not as important to know where you're going as it is to set off in the first place. 

Douglas Coupland is amazing.  Do you follow him on Twitter?  Do you use Twitter?  It's worth it if only for Mr Coupland's occasional remarks.  This morning he had posted this: "Life is beautiful: ".  As days go, this is a good way to start. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Novel Ideas

I’ve been reading mainly non-fiction for a while now.  I have bad fiction-reading habits – for a long time I would read half a book and become distracted.  Once I did this with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and left a character down a well for six months.  At least I did come back to it.  I never finished The Blind Assassin, because I knew Something Awful was going to happen. 
Emotionally intense though non-fiction can also be, it doesn’t really have the same effect on me.  Last year I read Richard Holmes’ two part biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The second book, Darker Reflections, (and, therefore, the second half of Coleridge’s life) was full of disappointments, financial and emotional difficulties, addiction and pain, but even though he was actually a real person who experienced these things, rather than a fictional character, it didn’t make me want to stop reading.
It’s been quite a long time since I’ve read a novel that I couldn’t stop reading*.  When I love a book I read it all the time, and also very fast indeed.  My all-time favourite novel is Under the Net by Iris Murdoch.  It is incredibly funny and cleverly plotted, and one of those books that I keep buying for other people in the hope that they will like it as much as I do.  I read it about once a year, and sometimes in 3 or 4 sittings.    
A representative sample of the books currently on my desk are:

What novel could get me back into a fiction habit?    

* Has anyone seen the film of Norweigan Wood yet?  Is it good??

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


The photos are fixed...... and in fixing them I have found a way of ensuring that should they, by some disaster, disappear again it will be easier to reinstate them.  I also noticed that I don't add photos very often, and that I don't talk about knitting either, which is odd.  So by way of starting to address both gaps, here are photos of the most recent item to leave my needles, a quickie cowl (designed by f.pea), knitted in Rowan lima yarn, which is gorgeously soft stuff in a stunning colour.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes....

I have eaten pancakes, pancakes and pancakes. Later I will eat more pancakes. I like Spring festivals. Particularly the eating.

(The photo isn't great - my phone's camera is pretty poor - but the message is a happy one.)