Thursday, 17 January 2013

End Notes

As I began to wake this morning I remembered that it's coming up for six years since I started this blog. I did so at the suggestion of Kim in order to practise my writing. But it's been much more than that.

It got me though the hardest five years of my life,* providing me with community, friendship, and a reason to write about positive things. It helped me find goodness in my darkest hours, and I found it enormously beneficial as I struggled to process and harmonise all the conflicting elements of my life. And, crucially, it drew interesting, artistic, engaged, engaging people which allowed me to believe I couldn't possibly be as dull as I'd thought I must be. Or as monstrous as my husband tried to tell me I was. For a long time I thought it would always be my only social life.

But then I was asked to set up and run creative writing classes for community learning and development, and I met actual people in my home town every bit as interesting, artistic, engaged and engaging as those I met on the blog. The classes were a success and I was asked to do more in another nearby town too. And those people were great. And the odd thing was all of these people seemed to like me. I started being invited out for coffee, to lunch, and to the pub after classes. And there I met Dave, last January, on the very first post writing class pub visit.

By this time I knew my marriage was over (thanks to very illuminating relationship therapy sessions), but assumed I'd live alone. I have never lived on my own, and was really looking forward to it, even though I had no illusions about it being in anything other than a low-rent bedsit. I had talked to my sister about moving back to Kent where I grew up, and was positively salivating about being so near to London, so falling in love with a bloke four doors down came as somewhat of a surprise. Him falling in love with me even more so, and when he asked me to move in, and I heard myself saying ok...

2012 was my year of magical living, if I'd been given a year to live at the start of it I wouldn't have chosen any other way to spend it. Now this blog has done its job. I should probably have put it out of its misery last spring, yet I kept it limping on. However, for various reasons I will do so now. This is to be my last post here. Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing your lives with me. Thank you for your support, and friendship. I see many of you on Facebook where I have more control over who can eavesdrop on conversations, and I have email contacts for some of you as well, so I'm not abandoning the friends I've made here. Should anyone not yet a friend on Facebook want to become one you need only ask, and I can also be found on Twitter and Pinterest where I indulge in different types of dialogue (Twitter, for me, is mostly about trying to save the world, Pinterest is about luxuriating in it).

Here's one last photograph:

Snowy Sunday on the river.

Bye, bye.

*You know the story: husband's long term affair discovered; attempt to repair marriage; philosophy degree; masters degree (creative writing); realisation that marriage wasn't responding positively to fixing attempts; frantic rethink about repair methods; near death experience; realisation that I wasn't able to help husband...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

It's arrived

and even better, the exam papers I'm to spend my every waking hour marking for the next week or so haven't. Which means I've had time to play today.

Dave answered the door to the postman yesterday morning, and was handed a package for me! I was still in bed so he brought it up and when he realised what was in it went and got coffee (and the camera), climbed back in beside me, and together we attempted to work out how to use my new lens. As it's second hand no manual accompanied it. However I found a very basic one online, so we at least worked out how to turn it on before I had to get up and go to work.

Here's a first attempt:

Monday morning close up.

I've spent most of today reading the camera manual, and scrolling through the menus trying to work out how to do with the lens what I want. That is autofocus but manual everything else. I think I have finally managed it. And I found a group on Flikr dedicated to this lens which I've now joined. I'm hoping that by placing my own photos alongside those of other people using the exact same equipment I'll learn something. Fingers crossed it's dry tomorrow so I can go out and find interesting things to photograph, and get some proper practise in.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Play Time

The boyfriend destined to become my ex-husband thirty three years later bought me my first SLR camera for Christmas 1979. It was a cheap, store brand but perfect for someone who'd never even touched such a thing before, and I loved it. I replaced it with a Pentax a few years later because the mirror kept jamming, and I never looked back. I still have that Pentax, though it hasn't been used for some years, film is so expensive.

I went through a series of digital point and shoots until my son bought me my beloved Olympus EPL-2 for my fiftieth birthday a couple of years ago. Because he couldn't afford a lens as well he bought a converter so I could use my old Pentax lenses.

Super toy.
This combination has worked pretty well for me, but because of the way SLR lenses deliver light I struggle in less than brilliant lighting conditions. And these days I'm often to be found in low lit rooms. Not a problem when I'm shooting food as I can use a tripod, but when my subject is thrashing his guitar in a crowded pub it becomes one.

I'm not a wealthy woman, what I earn in three months tutoring at the university has to last me the rest of the year (though I'm exploring other ways to earn at the moment), so buying myself anything at all feels like a huge extravagance. And it feels hideously selfish. If I run out of money before I can earn any more, Dave will have to feed me. I already live here rent free. So I don't buy clothes, or shoes, or make-up unless I absolutely have to, or they're very cheap. I considered replacing my five year old, almost daily worn boots this sale period, but decided they'll be fine for another year. I do buy books, though I've just managed to break my Kindle so that temptation has been removed, and food, and cigarettes, and the odd bottle of wine or drink down the pub, but all these things can be, and are, shared with Dave. They all contribute to our shared life, and chosen lifestyle, so I can, to myself at least, justify them. Not so easy when it comes to a new lens.

And believe me I have tried! For the last several months all sorts of dubious reasoning has been filling my head. The best I've managed is that Moffat Music Live uses my shots to promote its doings, as Dave's on the board he gets some benefit from my hobby, and a new lens will mean better photographs for their posters. But it's pretty feeble. Not quite as feeble as me though, because I fell for it.

However, it did take a while, and I wandered between yes I'll definitely get one, and no no, don't be stupid you don't need one, for weeks. And once I'd decided to allow myself to look it took even longer for me to decide on which sort. For ages I got hung up on sharpness, one of the things that really irritates me about my photos is that shot through a dirty window look. They too often tend to fuzziness, but I'd have to have been Hitler to have been able to convince myself to spend everything I have on a super-duper prime lens. So I read a lot of reviews and articles, thoroughly considered the type of photography (and environmental conditions) I indulge in, and veered between a wide 12mm and a 50mm, both fast.

Then I woke up yesterday morning and thought: 'Eryl, you're such a plank!' So I ordered a second hand, 12–50mm, 3.5–6.3 zoom. And no sooner had I done so when an email led me to an article by a professional photographer about why, and how, kit lenses are much better than their image leads us to believe. He showed lots of examples of splendid photos taken with his kit lens, and linked to a blog post by a fashion photographer in a similar vein. I'm not a professional, and never will be, so don't need high end equipment. I just need something to play with. Something to explore with.

An email arrived this afternoon to say my order's shipped. I'm so excited I can barely sit still. I can't justify spending nearly ten percent of my entire year's earnings on what is, ostensibly, a toy. But I've been looking at the world through a lens since 1979, it's one of the things that makes me, and I love it.


Sometimes you just have to admit to, and feed your passions.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Title, what title?

Random Christmas photo.
It's really hard coming back after so long, I've been trying to write a post all day. Mostly it was about Christmas, and how odd it is finding myself without my old seasonal anchors. But I couldn't seem to say what I wanted to without sounding whiny, or over-explaining. Apparently that's one of the problems new writers have: over-explaining. 

So, fuck it, I'm just going to say hello, and beg for favourite non-meat Christmas recipes. For years Christmas for me has meant roast goose, but Dave doesn't like meat so I need to make something marvellous without it. I'll do goose too, and am hoping I can find a less than whole one so I don't have to eat it for a year, but it would be great if the marvellous non-meat thing could be the main focus.

I meant to make Nigella Lawson's Marzipan Fruit Cake today, as a substitute for my usual boozy, dark fruit cake which I didn't get round to making in October. But I didn't have any orange flower water so it will have to wait till Thursday. Annoyingly I have orange flower water in my old pantry, just up the road, but my ex has moved away and added an extra lock to the front door so I can't get in. I've been trying to get a key off him for five weeks now, so have taken legal advice. I'd be well within my rights to break in, it is my house after all, but I'd rather not have to.

Anyway, this is turning into a whine again so I'll go. But before I do I'll say I'm meeting my best friend tomorrow, about which I am very excited as I haven't seen he since July. And Christmas looks set to be fabby, especially if I can solve the food conflict.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Too much, too soon

I've taken on far too much work. But the seasonal nature of my job (university general teaching assistant) means that what I earn in three months has to last me the whole year. And this year, not wanting to be parasitic on my new love, I felt unable to say no to everything that was offered. So I'm teaching three courses: my usual one; a political philosophy course, and academic writing skills. This is still not full time hours, but the travelling and time between classes makes it feel like it is. And now I have a huge pile of essays to mark, which is killing me.

My problem here is that I'm working with someone else's material, so when a student uses a term, or launches off on a discussion about something, I'm unfamiliar with I can't assume they've made it up, and have to scour the course reading to see if it exists. I don't want to penalise someone for my own shortcomings. This means it can take hours to mark an essay that someone who knows the subject intimately could mark in forty minutes. And it means I don't get paid for nearly the hours I put in. I can hardly charge the university for my lack of knowledge. Though, of course, I inevitably find the term, or discussion topic, isn't in the reading material. But what if the student has read books I haven't? What if they have read round the subject and gone much deeper than I have?

All this marking has to be done at my desk between the back of Dave's tv and the window in the sitting room, because feedback has to be typed onto a specific 'feedback sheet'. So I can't do it between classes, GTAs don't have offices and I don't have a lap-top I could work on in the car or coffee bar, and have to wait till I'm at home in the evenings (and at the weekend (I should be doing it now!)).

I had the day off on Friday. The class I teach on Fridays is having a 'reading week'. I planned to spend the whole day marking so that by now (Sunday afternoon) I could start work on lesson plans for the rest of the week. So, what did I do?

Because I've been working on Fridays I haven't been going to the music sessions in the Bull of Thursday nights. Dave hasn't been going either (not because of me), but he decided to go this (last?) week. And I went too. And it was so nice: the music, the buzz, the delight on people's faces to see us again after so long. The white wine spritzers. The red wine someone brought back to our house after the session... It's safe to say that I let of steam. Too much of it, and too long before I really should have.

The eye-popping, gut-scrunching hangover the next day wasn't so nice. Nor was it conducive to marking essays on the effectiveness of Monbiot's argument from analogy and use of authority in the article...

Last night I was up till 3am trying to catch up. I failed.

This morning I worked on making sure I was as familiar with the material as I possibly could be, and that I understood every possible way Monbiot's arguments could be interpreted by eager, unpractised students.

Now I am going to get on with the job of preparing a plan for tomorrow's class, and then I'll start on the essays once more. Probably I'll get everything done. Maybe I won't, and if I don't maybe the university will never employ me again. And if the university never employs me again maybe Dave will identify me as a parasite and throw me out of his house. And if Dave identifies me as a parasite and throws me out of his house I'll still have had the wonderful experience of being loved by him all this time. And a great night last Thursday.

My desk the morning after a similarly raucous, but nowhere near as affecting, night. Sometimes I can handle it, sometimes I can't. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


The university has reopened for students after the summer break. The autumn/winter semester has begun and next week sees the start of seminars and, thus, work for me. This year, as well as the textual analysis course I've been doing on and off for a few years now, I'll be tutoring another two. The first is called Issues in Contemporary Society which is, pretty much, applied ethics. And the other is an academic writing course for students who need a little extra help when it comes to using formal, academic language and structure.

As with everything there are good and bad aspects to all this working. The main good will be having a bit of money. There are several things I could do with that require more than I currently have: new spectacles, for example. I can feel that my eyesight has deteriorated quite far since I last had my eyes tested: reading hurts, and I don't recognise people in the street until they are upon me which can get me into, not trouble, but difficulty. I seem constantly to be saying, "Do apologise, I'm blind as a bat!"

I could also really do with a couple of jumpers (sweaters for those of you across the Atlantic). I meant to get some last winter, but everything I earnt went into a joint bank account and I never saw it again. The last time I bought any warm clothes was 2009, and, quite frankly, they're looking a little shabby now. It would be nice to have at least one fresh looking woolly.

I'm running out of face cream, too. And I can't remember the last time I had decent shampoo. So all that will be jolly good.

Another biggie for the goods is that I really love teaching. There's something incredibly vivifying about seeing the pennies dropping one by one, often quite slowly, sometimes all of a sudden, in the students' eyes. The change in their understanding, and ability to debate points reasonably by the end of the course is usually huge, and it's always a joy to think: "I helped them get here."

On the less good side: no more Thursday night music sessions for me until the Christmas break. No more lazy mornings in bed with coffee and Dave tales, during the week, at least. And I'm likely to be tired, and sometimes a bit grumpy, because the workload is large and can be stressful. Especially when it comes to marking essays. Dave is going to see a different side to me. Relaxed, playful Eryl will be replaced with fraught, efficient Eryl. I hope it doesn't put him off.

Here follows some random photographs that show what I've been up to in my last couple of weeks of creative freedom:

Globe courgettes, courtesy of my boss, Katherine, at the book shop who has an allotment and found herself overrun with them. 

Chanterelles, courtesy of a local beech wood. I cooked them in just a little water and a drop of red wine vinegar, as advised by a friend of Dave's who lives in France, and they were scrumptious.

Ian, of Moffat Music Live, and the Bull sessions, in the Annandale Hotel on Sunday. I've been trying to get a decent picture of him for ages, but for some reason he's never around when I have my camera. So, knowing he'd be there on Sunday I took it with me especially. Moffat Music Live uses my photographs for publicity, and they didn't have one of him, which was a bit of an omission, really. Now rectified.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Day Tripper, Yeah...

Some years ago my sister in law told me she'd heard there was a village in Scotland whose architecture was Dutch in style. She couldn't remember what it was called, or where in Scotland it was, but thought I should search it out. I asked a few people, got blank looks, and then pretty much forgot about it.

A day or so before his first (bi-monthly) visit to his mother after I'd moved in, Dave suggested he could drop me off somewhere along the way. After considering this for a while I thanked him but declined. The only place I could think of was Edinburgh and because I hadn't yet acclimatised to my new impoverishment I couldn't imagine spending a whole day there. My usual Edinburgh day trips consisted of either going to an exhibition or mooching round the sites and shops. Both these options included at least one stop for coffee, and another for lunch. And I couldn't imagine not doing those things.

Fast forward five months, to the end of July, I had become quite used to existing on bugger all, and my horizons had expanded. I could now quite happily spend hours in the countryside and eat nothing at all. So I asked Dave if he could recommend anywhere of interest that wouldn't take him too much out of his way when his next visit was coming up. He gave me a few examples, I googled them, and found a link to Culross. When I clicked on this link I realised it must be the place my sister in law had mentioned all those years before.

It's a National Trust restored medieval village that was built on trading links with the Low Countries. What made it perfect for me was that as well as being picture book pretty it's on the coast, and is surrounded by modern industry. Across the river (Forth) is the huge and spewing Grangemouth power-station.  Driving through the landscape to Culross you could be in a Terry Gilliam movie, and then, pah dah! you're in the illustrated Hans Cristian Anderson. Culross is all painted houses and hanging gardens.

There's a pumpkin coloured palace (I didn't go in as it cost nine quid but was told by a couple of lovely chatty women who live nearby and visit regularly that it was lovely inside);

which you can look down on from the back and out to the power station;

a ruined abbey;

Parley Gardens
a lovely garden with some interesting art work. I chatted at length to a very old man who told me it used to be the place where the donkeys lived before they were moved to a sanctuary. It's is now owned and run by his son who keeps it open to the public so everyone can enjoy it. It was free to enter and had a tin in which you could donate to the British Heart Foundation, which I did.

Add caption
There's also a wonderful pottery/gallery. I had to force myself past almost everything it sold.

Luckily it has a garden tea room

where I did stop for coffee and cake.

I had a lovely day ambling up wonky streets, past multicoloured houses in the sunshine. But I think the broken down old pier was my favourite bit.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Present

Apparently there's no time like it so here goes.

I keep beginning to write posts; then I get tangled up, too much to report, probably; then I get distracted: Dave comes home, the phone rings, someone knocks on the door, I feel hungry...

So, here's a quick list of what's been happening in the hope it might help disentangle my thoughts and allow me to move on.

I continue to explore the world of vegetarian cooking and expand my active repertoire. In order to help me remember what I can do I've propped a small blackboard on the kitchen radiator.

Thus I don't have to wrack my brains too much when thoughts of supper take hold. Though I find, on the whole, vegetarian food takes much longer to prepare so I to resort humus wraps more often than I'd like. At least I make the hummus myself, mostly.

The first ever Moffat Sheep Race took place on August 12.

Organised by by ex next door neighbour it was a roaring success. I was in the bookshop, but I could feel the jolliness and in between races people came in and told me all about it. Dave was playing in the Ewe 2 session in the Annandale Arms Hotel so once I shut up shop for the day I joined him and the boys in there.

On August 9, Dave had a gig at the Edinburgh Festival, in the marvellous St Brides Centre, so, obviously, I went up with him. In the afternoon he had a sound check so I went to the Picasso exhibition in the Modern, which was marvellous. I didn't see half of it, though, so must, must go back before it ends in November. Meanwhile I'm trying to decide if I can afford to send off for the catalogue which I browsed in the shop and am desperate to read.

August 25 was a day of particular goodness: it marked our half year together. A whole half year! I feel a bit like a three year old saying that, but I can't believe he's put up with me that long. That we've had six whole months and, apart from my lack of funds, everything's been great. I don't think I've ever met a more tolerant man. And romantic, too: every morning he brings me (and himself) a cup of coffee, and we sit in bed and chat about this and that. On this morning he also brought me

I'm thrilled not just because they're gorgeous, but because he wanted to mark this six month anniversary.

Other news: it's Bob (my son)'s birthday on Friday. He'll be 27. I won't get to see him, but I saw him a few weeks ago and hope to see him again before long.

I've only got about a month to go before I start back at the university for the winter semester. This will give me a little money for a little while. Hopefully the house will sell and sort me out for a bit longer.

And that's it. Dave's key is in the door and now I want to talk to him.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Starting with Pie

With over thirty years experience I used to be able to knock up supper without a thought. Then I moved in with a vegetarian. It's true, Dave would be happy if I served up Bombay Potato every day, but I wouldn't. So I'm trying to teach myself how to cook without meat and fish in a way that satisfies my craving for the textures I've rarely found in flesh free fare. The kind of texture chicken stock gives to risotto, or non-lean minced beef gives to chilli, or that comes from frying very thin slices of streaky bacon in a smoking hot pan. I don't hold out much hope but I reckon I'll give it ten years.

Last Thursday we had Jim, Dave's musical partner, down from Glasgow for the night. He's not a vegetarian and I wanted to make something that didn't smack of 'ism': there's nothing more off putting than being served a movement by a strange cook. So I adapted Nigella Lawson's Supper Onion Pie (from How to be a Domestic Goddess) to suit my current passion for goat's cheese.

Onion and Goat's Cheese Tart
Take four large onions

And four sprigs of thyme
Cut the onions into chunks, and in a 23cm, or thereabouts, heavy bottomed shallow pan that can go in the oven  cook them with a tablespoon of olive oil and 25 grams of unsalted butter until very soft and lightly coloured. Add the de-stalked thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Crumble in 100g of goat's cheese. 
Make the scone pastry by sifting 250g of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of salt into a large bowl. Crumble in 100g of goat's cheese. In a jug mix 100ml milk, 40g melted butter, a large egg and a teaspoon of English mustard. Pour this onto the flour mixture and stir together until you get a sticky dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface then just press it out until it's the right size to fit your pan.
Transfer the dough to the pan and cover the onion and cheese mix tucking it in around the sides. Put it in the oven at gas 5 and cook for 20 minutes.

Leave it to settle for five minutes before turning it out onto a flat plate. 
I served it with potato salad and tiny tomatoes dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. And it was a mighty success. As was:

I've given you my cheesecake recipe before but I can't find it to provide a link, so if anyone wants it let me know and I'll give it again. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Fitting in

Just stepped in from a spot of gardening because the rain's come on. Our garden is a low ledge that runs along the front and (one) side of the house. We have nothing at the back, a neighbouring garden comes right up to our kitchen window.

Apart from space its main shortcoming is light. The house faces north, so most of the plants get very little light and almost no sun. The side of the house faces east so we do get some morning sun, and thanks to the close proximity of the house opposite, at this time of year, in the middle of the day, some of the plants find themselves able to enjoy sunlight reflected off its windows.

Because I like to cook I want to be able to grow herbs, and today I bought sage, mint, parsley, and oregano. I already have chives, rosemary and bay. The bay tree is doing marvellously, the rosemary less so. I may have to move it, though I suspect it's the constant rain that's causing the problem.  I hope I've put the new herbs in spots where they'll get some sun when it shines, I'll have to keep my eyes open to their needs and move them if necessary.

On another note: I'm about half way through reading my novel; it's nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be and I'm actually quite enjoying it. The basics are there: the idea seems sound, I stick to the theme, the characters have all the necessary dimensions and, crucially, it has a narrative thrust. I think I now know what I need to do with it and sketched out plans for a major rewrite this morning but will finish reading it before I begin all that. It's getting quite exciting.

Reading, noting and sketching I do in bed, but once it comes to the rewrite I'll have to go (all the way downstairs!) to my desk everyday. Luckily I've found a cosy spot to put it.

My workspace: between the window and fireplace, and behind the (man-size) TV.

 Not that it's mine. It once belonged to an aunt of Dave's and so is really his, I've just borrowed it for the time being. As you can see I've covered it in the debris of my existence, and I feel quite at home sitting here at it, typing this post. I have my own office chair (which was once Bob's), my computer, pens, pencils, notebooks and knick-knacks. And, when he's not out fishing, I have Dave sitting at his desk on the other side of the stove working on his own (second) book.

If anyone out there has experience of gardening in heavy shade areas, and, thus, any tips to share please do.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Every day's a school day

Music, birds, Scottish culture, biology; these are some of the things I'm learning about just by being in the presence of Dave. In the morning he gets up, puts on some music, makes coffee and comes back to bed. Mornings have never been my best time and he just seems to understand that. So he talks, I listen. If he tested me afterwards I wouldn't be able to answer a single question about what he's said, but I'm beginning to notice it is sinking in. I can now distinguish between the sounds made by robins, chaffinches, and sparrows, and (from walks rather than bed chat) tell a buzzard from a gull in flight. I've learnt more about Scottish culture in the last four months than I had in the previous twenty seven years of living here. As for music, well let's just say my ears have been opened. And if that wasn't enough I'm also indulging in a bit of active self instruction too.

Since the age of six the only meat Dave's eaten is rubbish sausages and haggis. And the only fish he can stand is haddock, because it doesn't taste fishy. So, because I like to cook (and feed), I have been trying to expand my vegetarian repertoire. Luckily like me he loves spicy food and is bonkersly grateful for my efforts. Some of which have been distinctly odd. But not so today.

Today I made dal flavoured with coconut milk and Indian five spice. Which I adapted from a recipe for Murkha Dal because I didn't have the fresh ginger that recipe required, and I fancied using the five spice mix my brother gave me when we were in Kent for his birthday. We thought it a roaring success so here's the recipe should you want to try it.

Untitled Dal No. 1

1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 scotch bonnet chili (or any chili you want to use) finely chopped
1 tablespoon Indian five spice (these are the whole the spices: fennel seed, black onion seed, mustard seed, fenugreek and, I think, black mustard seed)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, you need to like it hot hot to add this)
1 teaspoon ground ginger (an inch or so of fresh would probably be even better)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
50 grams of butter
1 cup of red lentils
3 cups of water
1 tin (about 400 mils) coconut milk
1 teaspoon of salt

Melt the butter in a large pan (I used a big frying pan) and when it's hot add the five spice mix. Listen out for the mustard seeds popping and when they do add the onion and garlic. Let them catch and brown a bit then add the chili and cook for five minutes or so until it goes translucent. Add the ginger, turmeric and cayenne (if using). Cook for a minute and then add the lentils. Turn them about in the spicy butter and when they gleam add the water, coconut milk and salt. Bring to the boil, turn down to the kind of simmer where the odd bubble pops on the surface and cook for about 40 minutes. If it gets too thick add a little more water. All this can be done well in advance and reheated.

We just ate it with wraps which I'd heated in a dry frying pan, but you could serve it as part of a larger meal with other curried things, and/or rice or chapattis. I reckon hardboiled eggs would be a nice addition, as would, for the carnivorous, leftover roast chicken. Or even some sort of firm fleshed fish. You could also add a cup more water and have it as a soup.

Monday, 11 June 2012


The cake I made my brother for his birthday (I know, I forget the corners).

Thank you all for your well wishes, and apologies for not replying to individual comments on the last post.

We've now had two weekends of flinging Dave at my dearests. On Saturday we met my two bestest friends. And the weekend before we drove to Kent (as you know from the previous post) where he had to undergo the scrutiny of a good deal of my family.

All of this seemed to go extremely well: I noticed no active disliking on either side, and he rather hit it off with the few key people he got to actually have conversations with. My sister Angela particularly impressed him with her love of theatre as did my cousin Wendy with her dedication to music. And on Saturday he talked with Rhona (a friend to whom I am so close we don't actually have to speak to communicate) for hours.

The Kelvingrove gallery, Glasgow, where Rhona, Dave and I spent a lovely couple of hours between lunch and tea.
I'm feeling altogether much more settled: last week I finished my part of the research project on which I'd been assisting a couple of the lecturers at the university. That in itself was a huge relief, but it was topped when at the final meeting I was offered some work tutoring in the autumn. This means I won't need to injure myself trying to find another job over the summer, which, in turn, means I now have time to get on with the first rewrite of my novel. The novel whose first draft I finished over a year ago but haven't been in a fit state to sit down and look at since.

So today, in order to create a comfortable space in which to work, I mostly (with the help of a friend) shifted furniture. More of which next time.  

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Every time I begin to write a post I get in such a tangle I give up. So much happening, so much new. New home, new friends, new jobs. I don't know which to write about, and I never have much time, thus the long silence.

But here's something:

I'm now working in the local book shop for a few hours on a Sunday, which is lovely. On my first day a man came in looking for books on Africa and was delighted to find one about the region he grew up in that featured the story of a man he'd known as a child. We had a very cheerful chat about that. The next week another man found a book about the house he got married in, more delight. Last Sunday a lady from Wales talked for a good half hour about her favourite authors, and went away with an armload of books.

Friends pop in and chat, kids tell me their favourite stories, all number of people recommend titles or authors. And pretty much everyone who comes in finds something to take home and snuggle up with. As I get to know the stock it becomes easier to direct customers to their area of interest, and this in itself generates conversation. But, best of all, in quiet moments I can take a book off the shelves and read. Last Sunday I read a bit from a textbook on Socio Linguistics. If it's still there next week I'll read some more.

This weekend I won't be in the shop as I'm taking Dave to Kent to meet my family. It's my brother's 50th birthday today so a Gasper (my maiden name and possibly the reason I got married so young) celebratory fling has begun (work etc commitments mean we can't go until Friday).  No doubt this will involve a lot of food and a lot of chat, not particularly garrulous as individuals we become so when together. I'm slightly trepidatious: I know they'll love him, but how will he feel in a house full of people who've known each other inside out for most of their lives? Will he see me from a new and horrifying perspective?    

Monday, 30 April 2012


In bed with a bug, not serious but limiting, I've been exploring the functions of my phone for the last few days. All those apps I'd downloaded and not had time to play with have been tickled. So, still here, I thought it might be interesting to try a phone post. So here one is. * I got this phone for its camera and all the camera apps I'd noticed other people using, and immediately downloaded a ton of them. My favourite thus far has been instagram, as anyone who sees my Facebook feed will know. When I say 'favourite' what I actually mean is it's the one I've been running with. I'm very much a one thing at a time sort, which is probably why I'm not good in a crowd, and why I can't have a conversation when a tv or radio is on. Now I'm nicely familiar with instagram, and I've had idling time, I've had a look at the others at my disposal and settled on one called true HDR. If I was at my computer I might attempt to give you my understanding of HDR (high dynamic range), but my fingers are already stiffening so... Anyway here are a couple of my first attempts: Bugger, it wouldn't let me do it! Okay, that's it then, a semi-failed blog/phone experiment. *if it works.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

A New Normal*

Two months (minus two days) since I shifted lives and I'm beginning to settle. For a while I felt in a land so exotic all I could do was point and say "wow!" Everything seemed new and so exciting I could only react, like a tortoise who'd found itself in a meadow full of delicious wildflowers after years in the desert: amble, sniff, graze, sleep. But my cognitive faculties are wakening now and I'm starting to process again. And feel creative. This means writing and taking lots of photographs.

Today we went to Craigieburn Garden & Nursery for a bit of light wandering and a delicious lunch.

Ham and asparagus quiche.

Vista with prayer flags.

Lenten rose. I love these.

Lichen in the grass, growing, Dave tells me, on a tree root.
Elegant undulations.

Chocolate cake that was so good I continued to stuff it down when I was in danger of popping.

So far writing is limited to jotting down notes in my journal. This I mostly do in the mornings while still in bed, and it's jolly nice. I had vaguely wondered if I'd ever write again because it's been months – at least six, probably nine – since I've been able to, or wanted to, really. But now ideas are filtering in and growing, and the urge to write is back. Must be all this stimulation.

*Thanks to Constance Muller's father for this thesis.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Just to let you know I'm not dead here's a ten minute post.

Life is full of good things at the moment, like a well stocked pantry.

This weekend was the Moffat Music Festival, just about every pub in town (four, it's a small town) had some musical activity going on within. People came from far and wide, and I had a marvellous time. Here are some photos:

Wing and a Prayer, aka Dave (my man) and Jim in the Annandale Arms Hotel for a Blues session.

 Susie Jones and band play at a concert in the Buccleuch Hotel.
Sunday afternoon in the Black Bull, just after the accordion player left and the double bass arrived. 

My ten minutes was up about an hour and a half ago. I had to go and take a loaf out the oven and, naturally, I had to eat some of it too. Then Dave got back from fishing, and after hugs and chat I remembered I had work to do. It's so easy to be distracted these days...  

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Word Verification

has become ghastly. How the hell do I turn it off?


Eowyn Ivey (left) with Liz Roberts.

last night's book event was marvellous. Ivey, as you can see from the (terrible quality) photograph above, read a couple of passages from The Snow Child, answered questions (posed by Liz Roberts and the audience) with candour, and generally charmed. At one point she told us that every copy sold of her book brings her a little closer to getting a well (she currently has to haul water daily to fill a tank in the basement).

Circumstances conspired to stop me buying a copy of the book: the UK cover isn't nearly so appealing as the one in the post below, and the women from the bookshop that were selling it couldn't be bothered to get their debit/credit card machine from the car: "There's a cash point just outside." One of them said.
"Is there?" I asked Marilyn who was standing beside me.
"Yes, well, it's the one at the bank in the high street." She told me.
"Bugger that!" I said, "I'm not walking all the way over there."
I would have walked all that way to get my hands on that cover, but not this one:

So I'll get it for my Kindle.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Moffat suddenly seems to have become the place to be. Thursdays at the Black Bull are a must for music lovers. A recent concert sold out in hours. Brodies, the restaurant/cafe/bistro whose cakes and dishes I've been posting shots of for a while now, is constantly packed with friendly munchers and sippers (they already have only two tables left for Hogmanay!). And now a major new Alaskan author is coming here as part of her five day UK book launch tour.

Eowyn Ivey's book has been selected by Oprah Magazine as among 10 titles to "Pick Up Now" in the February issue; by Waterstones as a UK Waterstones prestigious "11" award; as a book to watch by all number of newspapers including The Independent and The Times; will be Radio 4's Book at Bedtime in April, and is already a bestseller in Norway.

This is what her website says about the book:

In The Snow Child, a couple creates a child out of snow. When she appears on their doorstep as a little girl, wild and secretive, their lives are changed forever.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for a couple who have never been able to conceive. Jack and Mabel are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone, but they catch sight of an elusive, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and leaves blizzards in her wake. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who seems to have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in the Alaska wilderness, life and death are inextricable, and what they eventually learn about Faina changes their lives forever.

Eowyn was inspired to write the novel after she discovered the classic Russian fairy tale of the snow maiden. She was shelving books in the children's section of Fireside Books when she happened across a copy of Freya Littledale's retelling of the fairy tale with illustrations by Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee. The story haunted Eowyn with its loneliness and magic in a landscape so similar to the one she grew up in. She spent the next few months researching the original tale, and depictions of it in Russian art work, before she began writing.

The Snow Child has been described as a "remarkable achievement", "stunningly conceived" and "enchanting from beginning to end."

How fab does that sound?

The event takes place at Moffat House Hotel on Saturday 18th February, from 6pm. Tickets are a mere seven quid. I'll be there with fellow members of the new Moffat Writing Group (name yet to be decided) whose inaugural meeting is this Thursday, 7pm at the school.*

So, musician or music lover, writer or book lover: rather wonderfully I seem to find myself living in a town full of fellow tribesmen.

*This group follows on from the classes I've been teaching.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ten Minute Post

Here's the deal: I keep not blogging because I keep thinking I don't have time. I have a billion-squillion things to blog about but... So, I've put the timer on and will allow myself no longer than ten minutes to say something.

What? Lord knows. But I have only 8 minutes 39, no 34, 32 seconds left.

Jolly marvellous week last week, I did none of the things I mentioned in my last post. Well, I read a bit. Was that one of the things though, can't remember and don't have time to check: 6 minutes 38 seconds left.

Hebden Bridge, bloody marvellous place. We landed there quite spontaneously last Wednesday evening. Husband had to go to the Lakes then on to Bolton on business and would spend the night in some roadside hotel. Again! I said. This seems to be becoming a thing. Come with me, he said. So I did.

My breakfast in what must be the world's friendliest hotel. We will go back

Obviously I didn't want to stay in some corporate sleep-hole, so he unbooked the hotel and looked for another. Where do you want to stay? He asked. Hebden Bridge, I said. Where's that
I told him, and we went. We ate the best Thai food ever that evening, and the next day (after his Bolton meeting, and my breakfast) explored the town. I want to move there. Before I run out of time (just over a minute to go) I'll find a photo.

Shit, time's up and I seem to have turned some of the text into a link, but to where? Excuse the typos...

Thursday, 26 January 2012


Not my garden, sadly.

Like a wasp at the bins of an amusement park cafe who can see a can of Raid on the windowsill, I buzz but don't dive in.

The research assistant position is mine. It involves interviewing eleven students for an hour apiece and then transcribing those interviews. Having worked in recruitment for a number of years the first part shouldn't be too difficult once I've dealt with the rust. The second part, one of my bosses was at pains to point out, will be arduous. Hours of listening, rewinding, straining, and typing. But he gave me some tips and I expect it will be fine once I get used to it. Time consuming but rather interesting. Next week I'll do a practice interview on a willing student, and then begin in earnest. So I have a week of utter freedom.

From my list of 'really want to dos' I'm at liberty to choose. But which one?

I would like to tackle my manuscript and begin the rewrite. I've been itching to do this for a while, but I know I'll need absolute isolation. If I do this I will do nothing else. I'll have to be able to utterly immerse myself in the task, and I fear a week won't be long enough. Time enough to read the thing and make a few notes, though. Should I do that, make a start?

I'd also like to get on with my Burma Book. Dig out the notes I made when visiting my aunt last summer, make the dishes she taught me, take photos, write more notes, before it all becomes a haze. Also, I'd like to have a mini version done by the end of May for a particular purpose I can't tell about just incase a particular person reads this.

And I'd like to work on my photographic post-processing skills – or lack thereof – in Lightroom. I'd also like to read the dozen or so books that have piled up on my kindle. And bake a coffee cake. And finish the few small jobs left in the bathroom (I still haven't chosen flooring, and there's a bit of grouting that needs to be seen to).

The garden needs some attention. The kitchen floor is crying out for a fresh coat of paint. This room is beginning to resemble a junk-shop again.

Ice-cream, cheeseburger, ketchup coated chips, jelly tots, iced bun, chocolate coated melting moment...