Wednesday, December 30

Faux spring

Two days before Christmas: a train ride to Brighton. It's unseasonably warm, and the sole bright blue day amid weeks of windy wet. Though I am streaming with a cold, I have to peel off layer after layer walking the salt-laced stones to Hove. It feels like spring. Runners in shorts pass by and everybody is wearing sunglasses. A couple emerge from a sea swim, their skin whipped pink by the waves. I almost forget it is Christmas time, until I am a road back from the water amid harried (mostly middle aged male) shoppers, tinsel-clad lampposts, a long queue outside the butcher's, a one-man band playing Ewan MacColl outside Wetherspoons, and people rushing along the pavement with turkeys balanced on their shoulders. But there is no snow this Christmas, just daffodils that have woken too early, and a surplus of hats and scarves in the shops. I wonder whether this will be enough to change the narrow minds of climate change deniers.
It just makes the coming three months of winter more cruel, this faux spring. Like waking from a really good dream to the crushing realisation that none of it was real.

Thursday, November 12

Liner notes | 01

(Note: I should have published this ages and ages ago. But hey. September was alright.)

01. Sitting on the ha-ha after several long shifts at work, watching the September sunshine warp n weft.
02. Drinking more coffee than is advisable after buying a cheap handheld milk frother.
03. Saturday morning, sunlight illuminating my bedroom.
04. Finding a ticket stub for the opera in Manchester inside an old copy of Carson McCullers.
05. Nau Sea Sea Sick, short stories about the sea, one of my favourite compilations.
06. Post-run coffee is always a good thing.
07. Struggling through Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, almost giving up, warming to it immensely by the end.
08. Reaching next for Ali Smith's How to be both; a lucky £1 charity shop find.
09. Since their sunset show at End of the Road festival, where I danced so hard I snapped a dungaree buckle, revisiting Future Islands' back catalogue - especially the song Balance.
10. Also listening to a lot of Tame Impala, Sufjan Stevens, and Nathaniel Rateliff's new album. Very excited to see him play in London next month.
11. Watching the BBC adaptation of An Inspector Calls and thinking of when a friend's dad thought we were studying a play called 'Spectacles' for GCSE.

Saturday, October 24

The shower dial

When I moved into a new flat in January this year, I didn't just have to adjust to a new room, a new locality, a new supermarket, a new flatmate. I had to adjust to a new shower temperature.

The personal discipline of a computer science student who was also in the army reserves was something I could learn from. He'd already been in the flat four months, and the shower dial was kept at lukewarm. I knew it had stayed that way for a while because limescale had formed around its position. That first morning, standing under what felt to me like an icy torrent, my hand automatically stretched towards the dial to twist it hotwards. Then I hesitated. I could stand under a hot, comforting shower for a long time. I could sleep in every day. I could eat chocolate for dinner. I could skip lectures. I could smoke. I could quit running. The world was my oyster.

And I did end up doing some of those things. But I never turned that dial.

Friday, October 9

September, sun sets

The beginning of the sun’s descent. I am wearing a red raincoat and listening to Sufjan. The road is quiet.

Further on down the road the farmhouse chimney pots sit in front of the sun. 

It is an old house, quite pretty. One hundred years ago it would’ve stood alone in fields. Now it stands in what has become a strange mini rural industrial estate; part of a field is a car park, and there’s a man made reservoir and metallic outbuildings. Fields are home to rapeseed and other crops, and at one end an industrial sized water sprinkler which looks like an old airplane. There are no horses or cows anymore. 

Welcome to suburbia: the fields which this road cuts through are the town’s best stab at countryside. 

Cars speed down this road. A lot of them transport bobbing grey heads left into the garden centre where I used to work; walking back and forth in my polyester uniform, selling turf rolls over the phone, smiling thinly at flirtatious old men. In August blackberries line the road and in September, now, the chestnut trees at the north edge of the fields rust over.

Back through the far side of the fields along a track: once overgrown it is now a straight, gravelled path, not a blade of grass to be seen. Not a blackberry to be seen. 

Another manmade lake has been installed in front of rugby H’s at the training ground. World cup players currently train here but all I see this evening is a gaggle of teenage boys. 

Sky paling, and then intensifying in colour. 

Through the cemetery: no morbid hush here but a boy and two girls on bikes, circling and laughing round the gravestones. That end-of-summer, long-shadowed, conkers-and-schoolbag feeling still strong though I’m no longer a child. 

Along the lane, the aroma of fifty dinners cooking simultaneously, fifty televisions on, fifty curtains, fifty lamps. Roast potatoes I think. All food smells so heady outdoors.

Deep blues and oranges now. 

Light slipping through the air like sand. 

A boy in a red sweater wheels past on a bike. 

Wednesday, August 5

The places I've been

Every summer I order prints of my favourite photos from the past year and put them in an album. I do this because I am a grandma who doesn't fully trust the digital age. And because I love nothing more than to bathe in the nostalgia of looking through old photographs. This summer, due to a Photobox mishap, I ended up with duplicates of all my prints. Rather than throw the spare ones out I decided to recycle them by making collages of some of the places I've been in the last year.

N o r t h c o t t  M o u t h ,  C o r n w a l l   +   G o r r a n  H a v e n ,  C o r n w a l l   +   M u d e f o r d ,  D o r s e t

I m p e r i a l  W a r  M u s e u m ,  L o n d o n   +   B r o c k e n h u r s t ,  N e w  F o r e s t   +   B u s h y  P a r k ,  L o n d o n

T h e  B r u n s w i c k ,  B l o o m s b u r y   +   M o n o c l e  C a f e ,  M a r y l e b o n e   +   C e n t r e  C o u r t ,  W i m b l e d o n

B l o o m s b u r y,  L o n d o n   +   S o h o  G r i n d ,  L o n d o n   +   P o l l o c k ' s  T o y  M u s e u m ,  L o n d o n

S h a r d ,  L o n d o n   +   S t  P a u l ' s  C a t h e d r a l ,  L o n d o n   +   m y  o l d  f l a t ,  L o n d o n   +   P a r a d i s e  H o u s e ,  B a t h

M u d e f o r d ,  D o r s e t   +   a  c o f f e e  s h o p  i n  E a l i n g ,  L o n d o n

And here is a playlist of some of the songs I associate with these places:
Everybody's Talkin' / Harry Nilsson
Red Moon / The Walkmen 
Janey Don't You Lose Heart / Bruce Springsteen
Closing Time / Tom Waits
Every Time The Sun Comes Up / Sharon van Etten
Buckets of Rain / Bob Dylan
A Lion's Heart / The Tallest Man on Earth
Come to the City / The War on Drugs
Dancepack / Volcano Choir
Wildwood / Steve Gunn
New Blue Feeling / White Denim
Atlantic City / The Band
It's A Beautiful Morning / The Rascals
For Today I Am A Boy / Antony and the Johnsons

Friday, July 31

Ode to the Wimbledon fortnight

Oh, Wimbledon fortnight, you are my favourite fortnight.

You define a perfect part of the summer. A time when I don't have to think twice about wearing shorts. A time when grass and flowers and fruit are bright, before the season ages into dark greens and rusted yellows.
This is the part of summer when I am powered by a constant friendly sunlight, and iced coffee is a novelty, and it still feels refreshing that I am exercising my body and not my brain, and the garden spiders haven't got terrifyingly fat yet, and I am outside more than I am inside.
And yes, Wimbledon fortnight, you have your faults. Each time Federer plays you give me nerves and heart palpitations to rival Mrs Bennet's. Sometimes you invite the rain and everybody jostles grumpily with their umbrellas. Sometimes dinner is really late because nobody can tear their eyes away from a long match. "Just one more game, and then I'll..." is the mantra you feed us. But your two weeks are the only two weeks of the year where I am productive enough to conquer my to-do list before 1pm, so that I can watch tennis all afternoon.

This year I was lucky enough to actually go to Centre Court, for the second time in my life, to watch the men's quarter finals. (It was also the second time in my life I *just* missed out on seeing my man Federer play; less lucky.) But still, lucky, because so many others are classed/priced out, and seats are taken up by corporate fatcats who get to go every year and spend most of the time boozing in the restaurant, emerging only to applaud Murray. Don't get me started on the Royal Bores.

SW19 is a strange unreal world of rich folk and overpriced Pimms. But it is also a stage for some of the world's greatest sportsmanship and athletic talent, poised perfectly against a backdrop of high summer. Wimbledon fortnight, you are two weeks of an almost magical season I can never reconjure come January. A fortnight where everything, even my reading list, shimmers with unlimited possibility. Where the grass is green on every side, and every court (well, you do go a bit bald round the baselines).

You are my favourite fortnight.

Friday, July 24

Lake District ferns and fells

Last summer I spent a bit of time in the Lake District. The dramatic wild beauty of this piece of the north west seems almost unrelated to the England I'm familiar with - an army of neat three bed semis patrolling a patchwork quilt of tidy fields. Though the lakes themselves are relatively placid (fun fact: there is actually only one 'lake' in the Lake District - Bassenthwaite - the rest are 'waters', 'tarns' or 'meres'), they sit always in the rugged dark presence of the surrounding fells. These fells are both sinister and stunning. The terrain feels very old; once you get walking all signs of modern day civilisation are replaced by a sense that this environment belongs to another age. Then you reach a summit and see the land spread out all around, and if southern England is a patchwork quilt, the Lake District is that same quilt thrown over some slumbering gargantuan, ancient beast.

Not all walks have to conquer summits though. There is a walk where you zigzag your way from Stair to Buttermere, following a narrow path which skirts along the sides of fells. In and out you walk, tracing their bulky diameter. The fells rise sharply up one side of you and fall away the other, down to streaks of water which slip under and over the land. You wade through ferns and purple heather, jump across waterfalls, disturb the peace of the sheep who call these hillsides home, and descend through woods, past a churning ravine. The finish line is the pub in Buttermere.