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

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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

Darling Buds

Snow and hail in late April – I stand outside to feel the white flecks of ice fall and watch the tulips nod their forlorn heads at the onslaught.

High above them, the apple blossom is juxtaposed on the darkest grey of storm filled sky. Just those particular shades of pink and grey that complement each other perfectly.

Then, just a few days later, it is May, and with it comes the sun, and the lawnmowers, and the laughter of the neighbours’ children on their scooters.

The tulips pose regally, charming all who take the time to admire their velvet buds and blooms.

Noticing these small doses – healing doses – of reality. To capture a shape, or a sound, or a colour that lifts the spirit, if only for a moment.

Hope you are all well, and enjoy some healing moments this coming weekend.

Kim x

 

Nature’s Art

Watercolour Leaves

Years ago when I first started blogging, I did so because I had started to learn to draw and paint and I wanted to share my attempts as a way to encourage myself to keep going as well as sharing some of the beauty of nature as much as my beginning efforts allowed.

I’ve kind of veered away from making art over the last year, and I’ve noticed my life is the lesser for it. I miss collecting small treasures of leaves, acorns and stones from the garden or while walking and trying to present what I see with paper, line, shape, colour. Lately I’ve been returning to the practice. I have some beautiful books on botanical and natural history illustration by Rosie Martin that I am working through. It takes continual effort to not get frustrated with my lack of skill and to focus on the process, but I’m getting there.

I intend to return to sharing more of my drawings and paintings here, along with a few words in the form of a nature journal or a poem or short story. I’d like to keep notes on the weather, wildlife, flora, and other aspects of the natural world. There is so much happening that we miss if we don’t pay attention. And life’s too short not to pay attention.

Thank you!

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Happy February morning to you, and a belated happy new year as well!

I’ve had a long break, done a lot of soul-searching, or soul-dredging more like, and made a decision to put confusion and despair behind me. Not because I am burying my head in the proverbial sand, but because I am most useful in my everyday life when I am positive, calm and clear.

Like many people, I am overwhelmed with the state of things. I care. I care so very much about things that matter and have been feeling overwhelmed at my helplessness. There is so much anger, fear and hate about right now. It’s like an epidemic. I do think it has the effect of a disease by infecting anyone who gets too close too often. And this disease is spreading everywhere. I can feel it when I’ve spent too long on a news site or social media. It’s like a car crash that you can’t look away from. I’m rubbernecking so as not to miss anything, and I get swept up in the mocking, nasty, to and fro of snark and condescension. So I’m stepping away from all of that for the most part. Focus on where I can make a difference and thinking about what that might be.

When I think about the people that have had the most influence on my life, it is those who are living in a way that I want to live. Those people who are wise, kind, gentle, creative, care about the natural world, are contented with their life but at the same time stretch themselves to grow and improve their own lives and the lives of others. People who compose a life on their own terms, whatever that may be. I do want to know the facts about important issues, but I’m rarely influenced by those who shout the loudest, retort the wittiest, or debate the smartest.

There is a quote by Socrates that I read years ago on the Internet (in the days before it became saturated with inspirational snippets), that has always stuck with me. It reads:

‘ The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new’

I think he was on to something. And although, of course, the world needs activists and people to speak out for what they believe in, I think that we especially need people who are focusing on building a better world in whatever small way they can. And it is doubly difficult because it does seem like a small and ordinary thing. There are no Nobel prizes for it. But to live the best life you can is an immense inspiration and incentive to others to do the same.

There are so many wonderful bloggers, writers, artists, film-makers, cooks, musicians and more… who have unknowingly encouraged me to lift myself out of depression and begin again, and again, and again. To persevere. There are too many to name, but I just wanted to say thank you to all the creative people of the Internet and wider world. I think you are building a new world within the one that is burning. At the very least, you are giving people like me hope… in goodness and in beauty, and that is what’s sorely needed at the moment. So Thank you. xx

Winter Project ~ December

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It is that time of year, when cosying up on the sofa with yarn and needles is the perfect activity for increasingly frosty days. The cream-coloured socks were a request from Emily, and will be added to her Christmas stocking in a few weeks. I can’t believe that time is creeping up already! I thought I would still be knitting them at the last minute, but because they’re made of a thicker wool they were a lot quicker to knit up than I anticipated.

I do enjoy knitting socks. I like using the double-pointed needles. I like that you can watch them forming completely before your eyes as you knit, with no fussy making-up to do afterwards. I’ve already started on this bright multi-coloured self-striping pair… this time for myself.

I am linking this post with Jenny from Thistlebear, who is hosting a Winter Project Link Party. Do pop along to her blog to see her beautiful rainbow  of crochet butterflies, and maybe join in too.

x

Thistlebear

Candide ~ Voltaire

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This is a set book for my studies this year and also a book for my Around the world in 80 books challenge. Written in the Eighteenth Century by the French writer Francois-Marie Aroet, known as Voltaire. (Spoilers follow)

Candide, is a breezy, drag you along by the hair kind of read, full to the brim of energetic life. It is darkly humorous, sharply witty, absurd, as well as horrifying in places. Clever without a doubt, but not really the kind of thing I would generally read out of choice.

As a young man, Candide departs on his travels from the German town of Westphalia having previously been indoctrinated with the philosophy of optimism – that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’. Yet, as he soon finds out on his travels, the author has created a world in which there is all manner of suffering.

While the subject matter is often shocking, Voltaire’s simple flowing prose style is a joy to read. I have to admire a book that dares to try to influence us in this way, to shake us roughly by the shoulders and say ‘wake up’, despite the exhausting ordeal a reader has to go through.

At the end of his journey it is ‘labour’ that is the saving grace for Candide and his friends. Each of the characters find their own particular role to play on their small farm using their particular talents such as pastry-chef, embroiderer, launderer, carpenter. Through his disillusionment and maturing, Candide discovers that through honest work a person can avoid the evils of boredom, vice and poverty. His final words that we ‘must cultivate our garden’ is free to interpretation. We might do well to pay attention to our own business, to do what needs to be done in our own little corner of the world, and/or to literally get out there and ‘cultivate our garden’ – maybe not to reject optimism outright, but that a more practical approach to living may be our best option.

Candide - Voltaire Penguin Classics Edition

Blackberry-Picking

Blackberries

Blackberry Picking
~ Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


The day started cold so we wrapped ourselves in woollies and scarves. It was a little late in the season for berry-picking and I thought all the juiciest fruit might be long gone. It was clear many hands had been here before us, but we were lucky to come away with several bowlfuls.

The dry summer meant the berries were small and bead-like without the rain to plump them up. What remained were mostly ripe though. They fell from the branches as quick as we could catch them, hanging trapped in cobwebs or disappearing into the long grass. Trying not to get our fingers and arms scraped by the thorns we gathered as many as we could leaving the highest – a late summer feast for the birds.

One of my earliest memories is of blackberry-picking while staying with an aunt and uncle. It is a yearly tradition that’s followed me through life including taking my children as they grew up. It is one of those activities that reminds me how the years pass. The berries cycle through change – they flower, ripen and die – again and again, and yet still some things remain the same.

A couple of hours of picking and chatting to the passing dog-walkers we hardly noticed the sun breaking through the clouds and start to warm our backs. We shed some of our layers and set off home.

Unlike the narrator of Seamus’s poem, we collected our berries in tupperware pots. Not so aesthetically pleasing perhaps, but at least now the berries are washed and safely stowed in the freezer and not at risk of rotting.

If you’re looking for some recipes that will make a change from jam, and crumble and pie… nice though they are, of course… I’ve found a couple that I hope to try: this recipe for Blackberry Bread and this one for Traditional Blackberry Cobbler look simple and delicious. I’m off to go nurse my scratches.

 

Knitting in the Garden

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A few hours spent knitting in the garden. Is there any better way to while away an afternoon? I’ve been making a pair of grey wrist-warmers. I used the exact same pattern last year in a pair for Emily which I gave to her for Christmas. I knew I’d have to make a pair for myself eventually.

The pattern is based on the Wrist Warmers with Picot Edge by Drops Design although I made them slightly longer and left a gap in the side for the thumb. I used Annell Rapido acrylic yarn, which is lovely and soft and doesn’t have that slightly plastic feel of some acrylics.

So, I’m all set for the chillier days, or maybe I could do with a scarf as well? I have just got started on some knee-length socks – a request from Emily. But I would also like to crochet a blanket this winter. Decisions decisions – but the nicest possible kind.

The Evening Light

Fingernail Moon

In the evenings, I’ve been weeding and clearing the flower and vegetable beds, trying to bring a little order to the wildness and make space for springtime seeds and bulbs. The rain has softened the hard summer soil and the spade slides in with ease.

The air is still. Although I can hear the distant cars, there are fewer now, as most people are home from work and settling in for the night. I hear the slam of a car door and listen to the song of the blackbirds. A robin hops from fence-post to compost bin trying to attract my attention, chirping and flashing his berry breast.

The fruiting cherry tree was pot bound in its container so I’ve planted it out into the garden now and there are daffodils and other bulbs that need bedding before the ground gets too hard and cold. I’m sorry to say I’ve neglected the garden a bit this year – not cared for it quite as much as I should.

Once I get started though, I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing I barely notice the fading light – until I can’t see whether what I’m holding is sage or brambles – then I know it’s time to go inside.