Remembering Summer in Brighton

Back in August, Emily and I took a trip to Brighton. We only went for a few days, but this was our first trip away in years and the first time for both of us in Brighton. I usually prefer to travel somewhere a little more off the beaten track, but was pleasantly surprised by how quiet Brighton was despite it being the middle of the school holidays.

Our favourite things to do were to walk along or sit on the beach and read, or talk, or listen to the waves crash and see who could throw their pebbles the furthest. We had the beach almost to ourselves some of the time in the early mornings and late evenings.

We walked along the pier at night, which was also very quiet, although there were plenty of people inside playing on the games and fruit machines. Needless to say, we won and lost countless 2p pieces. At the end of the pier all the fairground rides were closed down for the night and it was quite spooky to see them all in the dark.

We had the most delicious very posh cream tea for Emily’s special belated birthday treat. It was a struggle, but we managed to polish off the lot between us, and I fell in love with a beautiful cast iron teapot, which has made it on to my Amazon wishlist.

Away from the beach, Brighton seemed a little tired and run down, but maybe this is because we visited the week after Pride. There is some refurbishment work going on to revive the seaside town, and I felt in parts it was sorely needed. But it didn’t much affect our trip as, like I said, we preferred to stay on the beach anyway.

There is something about the atmosphere in Brighton that is very relaxed and welcoming. I definitely plan to visit again one day.

Orange and Rust

There are so many orange and rusty burnished tones around right now. I know it is said often, but it is a beautiful time of year and it never gets old for me. We have delved into autumn here with enthusiasm. Emily carved a pumpkin after school on all Hallow’s Eve, and I made pumpkin pie. We’ve never had pumpkin pie before, it is just not a thing in the UK and you’d be hard pushed to find a can of pumpkin purée in a supermarket around here. I made my own in the blender and the pie turned out better than expected for the novice pie-maker that I am. I used ‘this’ recipe. Not too sweet and set perfectly. The rest of the pumpkin purée was used up nicely in a vegetable curry and the seeds in this recipe.

Hanging the washing out on the line today was a risky business – will I be racing out in half an hour to bring it all back in? The skies are grey, but a slip of blue is seen momentarily. I don’t want wet school uniform, tablecloths and towels strewn about the house. So I say a little no-rain prayer, and do a little no-rain dance.

I pick a handful of spinach for  lunch and rinse off the dirt and a tiny grey slug washes down the drain.

The butterfly I saw yesterday, may be the last of the year. It looked black under the leaden skies. I think it may have been a red admiral, and I just caught its underside. It was bittersweet to see this symbol of another dying year.

Today we have leftovers of mushroom, lentil and ale pie that I made yesterday from this recipe. So delicious it was too. I used the rest of the pastry for a quick blackberry and apple tart. The kind of autumnal fare that defines the season.

I am still getting used to the evenings. The darkness falling so early now, it feels like midnight at half past five in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll never get used to the speed at which this happens. I enjoy the dark evenings though. My library books are overdue so I will catch up with them this evening. I am reading Neil Gaiman’s short stories ‘Trigger Warning’ right now. He is a perfect writer for this time of year. What are you reading on these dark autumn evenings?

Station Eleven ~ Emily St John Mandel

 

This was a book I took to Brighton in the summer. Borrowed from the library after a recommendation from Sarah (read her enchanting blog here).

I’m so glad I chose this to read as it was an engrossing journey from start to finish, though it raised many questions. The story-line follows the events as the world’s population is ravaged by an infectious disease leaving only small groups of survivors to weather the subsequent collapse of civilisation.

The focus is less on the cause and details of this apocalypse than the after-effects and new meanings it brings to relationships between people and to their things. Objects we might give little significance to in our current world, a paperweight perhaps, or a couple of science fiction comics (from which comes the title) take on a whole new value in this irrevocably changed world.

I loved the way the author played with time throughout the novel. It was masterfully done, and I can’t imagine the kind of planning that went into crafting the constant to and fro between the past, present, and future. And also the way a minor character comes to the fore to play a key role at one point in the novel then recedes or disappears again at another point. The most consistently main character is Kirsten. She is a child at the beginning of the novel, acting a small role in a play of Shakespeare’s King Lear. After the apocalypse she joins a travelling group who perform Shakespearean plays and musical entertainment for the small settlements that have evolved out of the dying civilisation.

The author Emily St John Mandel was extremely courageous to attempt such an ambitious tale. It is not a long novel, but it is intricate and daring. At no point did this novel feel like a work of fantasy. This scenario is a real, if very unlikely possibility. Can you imagine a world without electricity or electronic devices; no cars or planes or the vast populations and the complex infrastructures they uphold including the food system, but still knowing what we know? It is horrifying to read about and to imagine, yet there were elements of it that were appealing. Life might not be better, but it is simpler when surviving is all you have to think about.

Inscribed on the front of the caravan in which the travelling group tour from settlement to settlement are the words ‘survival is not sufficient’, a quote from a long forgotten Star Trek episode. What is sufficient? What does make life worth living. What would be worth saving? Despite my sometimes love often hate relationship with technology, computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, like the characters in Station Eleven I know I would miss them. And I know I too would turn to books (I’d be lugging around a suitcase full of ’em), art, poetry, music, dancing and friendship for in these I find meaning in what often feels like a meaningless world.

It was a thought-provoking read and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Berry Weird Weather

Rosehips

Blackberries

Autumn Leaves

These photos were taken a few weeks ago as the summer turned to Autumn. We’ve been blackberry picking and leaf collecting and appreciating this beautiful time of year.

Today however, it feels like we have gone back to summer. Now it is hot and humid as I sit reading the news about impending ex-hurricane now storm Ophelia. It should not get more than a bit windy where I am in the UK. Poor Ireland is forecast to receive the strongest winds and rain.

Right now here the light is a very strange yellow hue and everything is quite still. There is no birdsong. The humidity is high and I have a summer dress on in mid-October with the windows wide open, while all around me the ground is covered in fallen leaves. I remember the days when you could rely on October to be scarf and gloves and wellies weather. It’s weird to say the least.

If you want a giggle to cheer you up this odd Monday morning the Irish humour over hurricane Ophelia on Twitter is hilarious and had me in stitches.  ‘Always look on the bright side of life’… and take care xx

 

In the Garden

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been enjoying the cooler wetter September days. I got fed up with watering so it’s a relief not to have to do that everyday.

I mowed the lawn for its last cut of the year and cut back some of the dying and overgrown foliage: the mint, fennel, and ivy which were starting to swallow up everything else. I also harvested the rest of the tomatoes, mostly green unripened ones. I don’t think they’ll ripen much more in the garden now and a couple of them were starting to show signs of the dreaded blight. A week or two on the kitchen windowsill and they’ll soon turn red. If not I’ll make green tomato chutney.

There seem to be more potent fragrances intensifying at this time of year. The sharp tang of tomato leaves. The smoky evenings when the neighbour’s burn their garden waste. It lingers on my clothes and on the cat’s fur. The fragrant herbs – mint, rosemary, chives, marjoram, lavender that I cut and bring inside to dry.  Occasionally, there is the familiar thud of an apple as it falls and hits the soft damp ground. A carpet of mouldering fruit… the air is thick and sweet with it.

There are few garden birds around this time of year. There is a pair of collared doves who live nearby and settle in the trees, and on chimneys and my neighbour’s fruit nets. And the robin has been visiting daily throughout the summer. Sorry for the picture quality taken through the glass window, but I thought he looked photogenic on the lawnmower handle.

I have not done such a great job with the garden this year. The plot has been a bit neglected and I have no worthy excuse other than perhaps laziness and putting other things first. I have grown some vegetables besides the tomatoes, there is kale, beetroot, leeks, lettuce and potatoes. But they are difficult to find between the weeds. I can only hope to do better in the future.

I’m going to scale back a bit next year and plant less. Focus on clearing some of the invasive plants and dividing the larger perennials. It is easy to get enthusiastic about all the plans in the spring – I know next year will be no different – but I shouldn’t make more work for myself than I can sensibly sustain.

I do not want a garden that is too neat and pruned, and soulless. I much prefer the cottage garden style, which seems to be a lot freer way of gardening, but it actually takes a lot of work.

It is a careful balancing act. One person can only do so much. I would like the garden to be a pleasurable space rather than one I’m constantly struggling to keep under control.

I wish you all a peaceful weekend. Weather permitting, I’ll be spending most of it in the garden 🙂

Best-Loved Poems, A Treasury of Verse by Ana Sampson

“Poetry is personal.The poet tells us about love, grief, faith, doubt, fear or courage as they have felt it, and a receptive reader – sometimes centuries later – discovers that the verses strike a chord, and that scraps of the poem catch in their memory for ever.”

I was lucky to receive an advance copy of this poetry anthology, because of a blog post I wrote on another of Ana Sampson books (the wonders of the Internet!). What a pleasure it was to open the package and see the beautiful and striking cover. A cover which reminds me of those aged books I consider treasure when I find them in a second-hand bookshop. It perfectly reflects the timeless quality of the poems inside.

The poems are divided by theme. Chapters include Love, Relationships, Songs of War, Birds and Beasts, Poems Remembered from Childhood, ‘The Dying of the Light: Elegies and Epitaphs’ and many more.

I enjoyed revisiting old favourites like Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’, Wendell Berry’s ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ and especially those which made me smile like ‘Daddy Fell Into the Pond’ by Alfred Noyes, and ‘Yes, I’ll Marry You My Dear’ by Pam Ayres.  

I also discovered some new ones too, like this tender romantic sonnet by Carol Ann Duffy: 

 

Hour

Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour,

bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich.

We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers

or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.

 

For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair

like treasure on the ground; the Midas light

turning your limbs to gold. Time slows, for here

we are millionaires, backhanding the night

 

so nothing dark will end our shining hour,

no jewel hold a candle to the cuckoo spit

hung from the blade of grass at your ear,

no chandelier or spotlight see you better lit

 

than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor,

but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.

 

This book comes out today, a week before National Poetry Day on the 28th September. I can’t think of a nicer way to celebrate it than putting my feet up and reading some poetry along with a cup of tea to restore my sanity. I’d love to know – what would be your favourite poem to include in a treasury of verse?

The Secrets of Pistoulet

An enchanting fable of food, magic and love…

“Far away in the remote, untraveled southwestern French countryside, en route from the enchanting old city with an ancient cathedral to the mystical Pyrenees which appear like a mirage at the most unanticipated moments, there is a small village which contains two homes, an eleventh-century church, and a very special farm known as Pistoulet.

Hidden from most everything, Pistoulet is an unknown paradise with magical powers. There are unusual creatures inside and out. Everyone who passes through Pistoulet has a story which unfolds during their visit to the farm. All who spend time at Pistoulet leave with their hearts transformed.”

… and so begins a magical tale of transformation.

Not a children’s book, but rather an exploration into a children’s way of seeing the world. It is delightfully full of hope and healing through fiction and food, beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, letters, mysterious maps and diary entries.

The recipes are on little pull-out cards with titles like ‘Potage of Spirit’, and  ‘Potage of Strength’.

Because we all need a little extra courage sometimes, and Borage flowers are plentiful at least in this area of the world right now, here is a recipe for you:

TEA OF COURAGE

For those shy souls who are afraid of their own potential

When the summer sun rises high in the sky and the star-shaped borage flowers turn from pink to blue remove the flowers and the youngest leaves. Acquire water from the clearest spring which has traveled many miles from the tallest mountains. Bring the mountain water to a boil and place the borage flowers and leaves in the bubbling water. Cover and let steep until the magical power of the flower has infused with the spirit and strength of the water.

CAUTION: Serve only to those who are truly in need. This infusion has been known to turn the meekest souls into BRAVE HEARTS. Be prepared for a complete transformation of personality.

This a stop off in France on my journey ‘Around the world in 80 Books’. Published way back in 1996, this book must have been a real joy to create for Jana Kolpen and Mary Tiegreen. It is a feast for the imagination, and I defy anyone not to feel at least a little bit better about the world after reading it.

Raindrops on Roses

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The weather is so changeable at the moment it’s hard to keep up – from the deepest blue sky with flecks of cloud, to the darkest grey, thunderclaps and torrential downpours. I have been doing a kind of rain dance with the laundry – peg it out, run to bring it all in, peg it out once again – on repeat all day long.

Besides the raindrops on roses, a few other favourite things right now:

  • sifting through old photographs
  • a bundle of reserved books collected from the library
  • planning and packing for a trip to Brighton
  • juicy ripe yellow tomatoes picked from the garden
  • summer walks
  • a flurry of blue butterflies on the common (apparently the collective noun for butterflies is ‘swarm’, though I think I prefer flurry)
  • listening to J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations: “a miniature study in elegance and other-worldly serenity” and trying to absorb some of that serenity via osmosis.

Have a lovely week. xx

Dubliners ~ James Joyce

My ‘Around the world in 80 books’ is taking its leisurely course. This stop is in the city of Dublin, Ireland. A place I’ve long wanted to visit, and the setting for one of my course texts, James Joyce’s Dubliners.

The fifteen short stories close in on the ordinary lives of Irish people in varying stages of their lives in an early twentieth-century city that is being both pulled back by its past and forward by the future. The people are all stuck in some way, held back by their individual and collective histories, their environments and their own personal limitations.

This is my first encounter with Joyce, and having heard that much of his other works are not easy reads, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these short stories. Even though there is a pervasive sense of melancholy throughout the collection, there is also this sense that things could change at any moment.

Favourite stories include – Eveline, Araby and A Little Cloud. The latter about a man ‘Little Chandler’ who dreams of becoming a poet:

‘The glow of a late autumn sunset covered the grass plots and walks. It cast a shower of kindly golden dust on the untidy nurses and decrepit old men who drowsed on the benches; it flickered upon all the moving figures — on the children who ran screaming along the gravel paths and on everyone who passed through the gardens. He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A gentle melancholy took possession of him. He felt how useless it was to struggle against fortune, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages had bequeathed to him.

He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room off the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves. At times he repeated lines to himself and this consoled him.’

The familiar stereotype of the Irish, who love to drink and to laugh, is here too, but this is portrayed as an escape valve from the claustrophobia of their everyday lives. Chandler goes to a public house to meet an old friend who has long since moved away from Dublin. As he walks to meet his old friend Chandler is filled with the hope and possibility of escape:

‘Every step brought him nearer to London, farther from his own inartistic life. A light began to tremble on the horizon of his mind. He was not so old – thirty-two. His temperament might be said to be just at the point of maturity. There were so many different moods and impressions that he wished to express in verse. He felt them within him. He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet’s soul. Melancholy was the dominant note of his temperament, he thought, but it was a melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy.’

Sadly, the stories do not end on a positive note. Joyce himself found his creative freedom, not in his beloved university city of Dublin, but instead once he had moved away from Ireland. Yet it seems Dublin held a special place in his heart as all his work is set in and around this city. He says:

‘For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal’.

For me, this goes not only for the city itself, but for the people in it, whose lives I became particularly attached to the more I read Joyce’s beautiful prose.

Time to Breathe… and Paint… and Read

Cobweb illustration, spiral spun
Spiral Spun – Watercolour on Paper

Each season brings its own wonders, and there is much to enjoy at this time of year. The weather has been changeable here, but often warm enough to work in the garden or just sit with a cup of tea and enjoy the peonies and celandines that are flowering right now.

Today is my daughter’s 15th birthday, so we had a special breakfast of warm bagels, frothy coffee and cloudy apple juice while she opened her presents this morning. She received a lot of books as she reads almost as much as I do, and I have planned a trip to Brighton this summer – our first time away for several years.

Then my youngest son’s birthday is on Saturday and he will be 18! I can barely believe that I will have 2 adult children. (I’m still struggling to be a grown up myself).

I am relieved to have finished my last assignment of this school year. Apart from an exam in a couple of weeks (best not think about that), there are no more essays until October. I do, strangely perhaps, enjoy writing essays. But at the same time, they do tend to take over your life, so I am glad of the break. I will have more time to paint and do other non-course related things for a few months.

Has anyone watched the new Netflix series ‘Anne with an E’? Emily and I have finished all the episodes and thought it was absolutely wonderful – the cast and writing is superb and the opening credit sequence is one of my most favourite ever. I do wish there were more uplifting films and shows like this available. As evident in the unspeakable events in Manchester last night, there is enough horrific violence and heartache in the world without being constantly bombarded with it in our entertainment.

I just wanted to say thank you, dear readers, for continuing to stop by here and for your kind comments. My posting has been erratic lately due to many obligations, but I hope to settle into a better rhythm over the summer months and I do appreciate every single word from you. Have a lovely week x