Thursday, 30 December 2010

Evolution with an R?

As it's the last day of this year I thought I'd share something hopeful with you.

It happened with the plough, it happened with the steam engine, now it's happening with the computer:

the unforeseeable consequences of technological innovations.

Happy 2011 to you all, XXX

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Punch and Goosey Show

I'm marking exam papers this week. But by way of distraction, and in an effort to hang on a little longer to that Christmassy sense of comfort and fun, here are a few (more) festive photos:

This years goose was not a disappointment (which is good, because we're still eating it).

Sprouts, chestnuts and bacon.

Flaming Norah!



New holes to make belts and watch fit neatly.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Blimey it's Christmas Already

Thank you to everyone who said such nice things in the comments of my last post (and please forgive my not replying to you all individually in my usual manner). I expect I shall wear the dress that calls to me the loudest.

It's nearly one o'clock on Christmas morning here and I've only just sat down, I've been buzzing all day. The upshot of this is I'll have bugger all to do after this time of the bed: shove things in oven, open and delight in gifts, eat. That's my kind of day.

After wracking my brains over how to make the house look at least a bit Christmasy without space for a tree I dashed out to Flowers By Fiona, our local florist for inspiration,

and bought some floral things around which to stack the presents.

This didn't seem quite enough so I dragged some holly and ivy in from the garden and generally

scattered baubles

and greenery around.

I even found a spot for our faithful old star.

Still, the lack of a tree bothered. Christmas without a tree feels odd. Then I got an idea and I think this idea came to me because I know you, you've all shared so many ideas over the year, so thank you once more.

The Shields 2010 Christmas tree.

Do hope you all have a marvellous Christmas, XXXXXXX

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Frock, Frock, Whoa

As you can probably tell Christmas in our house centres on food. But we do have some family traditions that don't involve stuffing ourselves senseless: presents (obviously!), stockings (filled with more presents and, gulp, chocolate as well as the ubiquitous orange in the toe), and frocks.

I do like a new Christmas dress, I don't always get one, but I always try. I think this particular tradition goes back to birth. We were poor, but my father was the kind of sartorial that deals with cuff length in fractions, so we had 'best' clothes for things like church and family gatherings. I remember being taken to London for Christmas clothes, as well as to see the lights, from a very young age. And I remember my father's face softening when I tried on something that looked just so. It was all so exciting, glamorous, and happy making. I've never lost the urge to recreate that feeling. Thus, frock shopping is the first stage of Christmas for me.

The Christmas dress has to work very hard. It has to have an air of the festive about it without making it unwearable for the rest of the year; it has to be washable as I will be cooking in it (though I do wear an apron), and I'll wear it to every occasion over the season ; increasingly it has to be elegant (the older one gets...), and it has to flatter my pie eating frame.

For the last few years I haven't been able to find a dress that fits the remit, and have come home sadly empty handed. So when Stevie and I went to Edinburgh last week I didn't hold out much hope. I presumed the shops would be filled with the usual too short, too sparkly, too frou-frou creations. Our first stop, Top Shop, bore me out; in fairness to it I'm not exactly within the bounds of its target audience, so I wasn't surprised.

Our second stop was Jenners, Edinburgh's venerable old department store. Jenners used to be the sort of place Miss Jean Brodie types bought their twinsets and sensible shoes, but since Harvey Nichols opened about eight years ago it's become rather chi-chi. Still, this didn't raise my expectations: my budget didn't run to anything from the posh brands, and as I looked across the ladies floor I was nearly blinded by bling.

After a quick scan I homed in on Biba. Biba was the dream brand of my early teenage years, but by the time I was old enough to go up to London by myself it had closed its doors. Their stuff looks much the same as I remember it from pictures in Vogue during the 70s: all ankle length velvets and silky prints. Ankle length, that is, if you're 6ft 2, which I'm not. For nothing more than old time's sake I wandered around and fingered the satins, wondering about leg extensions, and in the process stumbled on a definite maybe: fluid knee length black jersey, a floppy tie front and, much sought after, long sleeves. I would try it on. As I looked for the changing rooms I spotted what I can only describe as a Parisienne dress. Stevie said he didn't think much of it but by then I was already imagining myself striding across a parquet floor with scarlet lips, so I picked it up. Then I spotted a dress so bizzarre (like a deflated balloon with a doily attached ) that I decided to try it on for the experience. The result of taking three dresses into the changing room with no expectations whatsoever:

The Biba.

The Parisienne.

The Freak.

They all came back to my place. Two of them were less than half their original price, and I feel I've made up for the last several years of coming home empty handed. The only problem I now have is: which one do I wear on the day?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Oh, the Pie!

For about a week and a half at the end of every year I love mince pies. I start craving them around mid November, but I keep my greed in check until two or three days before Christmas. Shop bought mince pies are almost always disappointing: the pastry is flaccid and the filling is overly sweet. They never have enough booze in, either.

As with everything in the kitchen I've experimented with every aspect of the mince pie over the years. I've used just about every type of alcohol, all sorts of fruit mixtures, varied the size and tried every pastry recipe that's come my way. Today I tried almond pastry for the first time, and it was the best yet: friable, buttery, and crisp (for the recipe see Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, or How to Eat). For those of you who don't know what a mince pie is, here's the gist:

Into a saucepan I put about 1 cup each of currents, sultanas, raisins and dark muscovado sugar; a cinnamon stick, one star anise, a teaspoon of mixed spice, and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon for good measure;

add to that the juice of an orange and about 100ml of red wine. Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Your house will smell like a morning stroll in Sienna. Leave to cool.

Tip into a bowl, add chopped candied peel (no quantities, I just put in as much as I can be bothered to chop), a handful or so of dried cranberries, a glug each of brandy and Amaretto and some (didn't bother to measure) suet. Stir it all together and fill your pastry cases.

I like to make marzipan stars to top the tarts as marzipan kind of melts a little into the fruit but goes nice and crisp on top, too.

Ready for the oven: gas mark 6, 15 minutes. Because these are best fresh I make only a few at a time, keeping the rest of the pastry and fruit mix in the fridge at the ready.

Result: three or four light, sticky, melty bites to each one.

Tomorrow: A pie eater's frock dilemma.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Citrus Skinny

Ye gads, I hated candied peel when I was a child. I used to beg my mother to keep it out of the fruit cakes she made, but she put it in anyway. I remember once spending hours removing all the horrid, bitter little cubes from my piece of Christmas cake and piling them up on the side of my plate. Unfortunately, before I could get them to the bin my father saw and made me eat them, muttering something about wastefulness.

I was in my thirties before I discovered that candied peel didn't have to be vile. It didn't have to come pre-chopped in plastic tubs, and when it didn't it was delicious. It was also expensive, and required a trip to the city to procure. When we were earning I happily made the trip, but my second peel revelation was that it is easy to make. Not only that, it makes you house smell like luxury-end scented candles. The sort with names like Citrus Noir.
So, as Christmas isn't itself without mince pies, and mince pies aren't themselves without candied peel, today I made some:

First, peel your fruits: I used two oranges, a satsuma, a lemon and a lime.

De-pith: a scalpel is perfect for this, so much easier than a kitchen knife.

And it allows you to get them really thin.

Put your now skinny rinds in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, drain, cover in more cold water, bring to the boil and drain again. The recipe I have recommends you do this three times, but I get bored and haven't noticed cutting it down to twice makes any difference whatsoever.

Place in a saucepan in which you have heated 1 1/2 cups of sugar together with 1 cup of water. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, and leave to cook for about 45 minutes. Don't be tempted to stir.

Arrange on waxed paper to dry.

I was hoping that they'd have dried out enough to make the pie filling today, too, but no. I think I may have used too much water in the syrup. As for the syrup, don't chuck it: faintly citrusy, it's wonderful for Christmas cocktails.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas Conversion

We always used to have turkey for Christmas lunch. This tradition came from both Stevie's and my families, altered only slightly from the huge, frozen affairs our mothers favoured, to a Kelly Bronze or a Norfolk Black. Then, about six or seven years ago, we were too late to order either, but we could get a goose. It was organic, free-range, and extremely expensive, but we took it. I'd never cooked a goose before so I turned, as I always do in such circumstances, to Nigella Lawson for advice. What a palaver: it had to be dried out over night, by an open window before being placed in a very hot oven for three or four hours. Her recipe called for it to be stuffed with mashed potato, so this is what I did, and it was delicious.

We've never looked back. Hot, it is crisp on the outside like Chinese roast duck, and moistly tender within. Cold, it's fantastic with crusty bread, salad and pickles and just seems to get better day by day. From then on goose was our Christmas bird of choice. I've messed with the recipe since then, I no longer stuff it at all, and I dry it out in the fridge. We have it with the usual festive trimmings: sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, Bob's favourite sausage balls flavoured with sage and garlic, roast spuds, and goosey gravy made in the roasting pan with Marsala.

Two years ago Stevie was made redundant, as most of you know, and the price of an organic, free-range bird became beyond our new means. Enter Lidl. Whilst browsing for bargains one day I saw they had frozen geese for twenty quid. This was about a quarter the price of the fresh ones we'd been accustomed to. I had my reservations but needs must, I set them aside, and hawked one to the till. Squeezing it into our modest freezer was challenge enough, then I had to remember to take it out almost a week before Christmas to ensure it was properly defrosted. That done, I treated it exactly as I did a fresh one.

And here it is. I have no idea whether my mind was playing tricks on me, or if my standards had slipped, but this goose was the best we'd had so far: crisper, moister, and tastier. This year's goose will be moved from the freezer to the fridge this evening. Fingers crossed it doesn't disappoint.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Seasonal Snippets

As I've been a little lapse with the whole blog thing recently I thought I'd make up for it with a Christmas post a day in the run up to the great eat off.

One of the things that makes Christmas Christmas is the music. The Little Drummer Boy is beyond a shadow of a doubt my favourite Christmas song, and these are my (current) favourite versions, in order of preference.

Bright Eyes: this is from the album that is Christmas in our house, which, one family get together, made my brother-in-law, Paul, leave the room it pained him so.

The Dandy Warhols: this is a new discovery but I do like the Dandies and this video is hilarious.

I'm only just beginning to get into the Christmas way. As I think of things I need for the festive larder I write them on the kitchen wall:

Next week I will be mostly baking, wrapping and decorating. As this house has become more like a suite of offices than a residence, with only the kitchen as a communal room we don't have space for a tree, so I'll have to be a little creative.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Cloud Theory

I find myself with an unexpected free day. I should be at the paintball site, but unable to schoosh my windscreen clean I stopped at the garage on the way out of town to refill on 'wash'. On opening the bonnet I found the car's innards glistering with black slime. 'What's happened?' I asked it. A man who was checking his tyres heard and came over: 'Oil cap's missing,' he said, pointing at a lidless well, 'you'll need to check your oil.'

My oil was all over the engine, the battery, the radiator, everything! The sump was empty. I phoned Stevie: 'You won't be able to drive it,' he said, 'the engine will sieze. You'll have to stay home.'

I thought of the sausages, bacon, eggs, milk and rolls I'd just bought; of the frying pan on the backseat; the cups, plates, cutlery, teabags and sugar I'd packed. It's freezing here so I had planned to make everyone a hot, sustaining breakfast as soon as I arrived at the site, and keep the kettle at a peep all day in readiness for much needed warming drinks. The boys will be out, on their feet, in the cold all day. There'll be no time to drive into town to get food.

The garage lady came out: 'Oh, your oil cap's gone!' She said, 'You'll no be able to drive it like that, your engine will sieze.' She searched for the lost cap amongst the greasy hoses and wires: 'Just in case,' but it wasn't there. I closed up the car and brought it the quater mile home.

It's warm and bright in here, and smells deliciously of the slow roasting leg of lamb I put in the oven before I left. The sausages and bacon are now in the fridge, slippers have replaced the boots on my feet, and I have a large frothing cup of coffee beside me on the desk. I feel rather grateful to be home.

But, tomorrow we have 60 odd college students coming to play paintball, as we are short staffed I'll be needed. This isn't a problem in itself as I can go with Stevie and Bob. However, I also need to be able to rush away from the site and get to the university where I'm meant to be acting as second marker for a colleague's students' group presentations at 3pm. How can I fabricate a temporary oil-cap to get me through until a proper replacement can be sought?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

So, I

was thinking of writing a post. One
day, I'll have the space
in my head to do
what I'd like to.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween

Marking essays at the moment. But because I just had to stand up for a while I faffed about with a small squash and a scalpel for ten minutes or so at around 2am.

I had made squash risotto earlier in the week so I didn't have to do any scooping of seeds and flesh. Thankfully.

It was very delicious, if slightly gelatinous.

Now I must get me to bed. Don't let the spooks in.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Day of The Bearded One (International Kim Ayres Day)

A photographer with a passion for faces; a damn good writer; a teller of stories; a philosopher; a web designer (ex) who will wrestle HTML to the floor until it gives in and does what he wants; an über blogger; a husband to a marvellous artist, and a father to two smart, beautiful, witty, stylish kids.

On a day so wet and windy roads were closed by fallen trees and floods, Stevie and me gritted our teeth and drove into the wilds of Galloway to attend a weekend storytelling workshop. It was November 2006, not my time of year, and so far not my year. And now the weather howled: "Go back to bed!" I'd have obeyed, gladly, but I didn't want to let down the young friend I'd arranged to meet there. I cursed myself for having done so. But today how glad I am. It was in that cosy, picture lined school hall, in a village so small you're more likely to meet an astronaut from Timbuktu than someone who was born there, that I met the subject of this post: Kim Ayres (aka The Bearded One), whose birthday it is today.

I can't say for sure that if I had never met Kim I would never have discovered blogging. I can say for sure that he's the one who convinced me to give it a go. Good writing practise he said, and it forces you to write regularly so as not to let people down. Previously I had imagined blogs were the domain of a particular sort with whom I had nothing in common. The other thing I can say, with some conviction, is that even if I had discovered blogging without knowing Kim, I would not have met the same people (i.e. you) because when I first signed up he was the only person I knew with a blog. So almost everyone I've met in blogland I have met either directly or indirectly through him. So I'm grateful to him for that alone.

But blogging isn't the only thing I've gleaned from Kim. By telling his story so frankly he's shown me how to take a step back from certain irritations and look at them rationally, ridding them of their power over me. He's helped open my eyes to the complexity of our relationship(s) to the rest of the world (along with Nietzsche), and thus helped me not to judge myself, and others, quite so harshly. And he's shown it's never too late to change direction. Not to mention how much one can achieve in the most difficult of circumstances if one is passionate about one's task.

Since I've known him Kim has taken up photography as a full time, living making, occupation. It's been a joy to see his work go from strength to strength, his enthusiasm grow, and astonishing given that that for this whole period he's had to contend with extreme Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. How he does it I don't know, but I do know we can all learn from his experiences if we want to.

So, why don't you pop over here to say:


One of Kim's early practise shots, of me in an old burnt out hotel.

To get a good look at his recent work go to his website: Kim Ayres Portrait Photography.

Others who are honouring Kim today are:

Debra, whose idea it was in the first place. Thanks Debra!
and Mary

Monday, 18 October 2010

Lifting the Veil

As most of you know (due to various past posts), I didn't go the traditional route to university. When I was a child university was rather like the country mansion of some barmy lord – they were always barmy. I would get the odd glimpse, through dense woodland, whilst on, say, the fast train to Brighton, but there was no question of ever gaining access. Nor would I have wanted to. I'd heard the myths (then known as the 'god given' truth), especially the ones regarding people who tried to get 'above their station' by passing exams, and thus fooling the 'powers that be'. These stories usually ended in death or insanity.

At some point I met someone who knew someone who had been and survived, and, what's more, had a great time (though it was mooted that that was because he was a 'dropout'). Then I met someone who had been, and didn't look like a dropout (own teeth, clean fingernails, didn't wear green and blue together). Then I began to meet lots of people who either had been, were planning to go, or were actually there. One day university looked like nothing more than another option. You didn't have to be special, chosen, or odd. You merely had to be able to process information in a certain way.

I was a fairly crap undergraduate. I spent most of my three years trying to raise the veil of bewilderment high enough to see/hear/feel what was going on, in order to get some purchase on the courses. It was a bloody heavy veil, though, and I was prone to dropping it at terribly inconvenient moments (once it fell so hard it nearly took my nose off, but that's another story). Sometimes, for no apparent reason, a hole would appear in it, and, voila, I'd be able to see perfectly. During those moments of clarity much needed connections seemed to form themselves. But the veil of bewilderment demons would work quickly to fix the hole with their sharp little needles and mismatching thread. I would then have to try to remember those connections: imagine them, write them, draw them. I don't think I ever quite got their likeness down perfectly, but I guess I didn't do too badly as I did pass the courses, and get the degree.

It's a very strange thing, but the veil of bewilderment became very fine, sheer and light, for the whole of my masters degree. I never really had any problems with the work. I could see what I needed to and the whole course was pretty much a joy from start to finish. Though I constantly expected things to change, for the veil to turn from tulle to tweed (or worse), I never questioned why it didn't. Now, however, I am teaching first year undergrads, and I need some answers, badly.

I can see some of my students struggling to peer through their own veils of bewilderment, and want – no! need – to help them. To show them how to lighten their veils, lift them, peek through them, find a clean, sheer spot from which to look. I've had some limited success, but at times my own gets tangled up in theirs, and we end up tripping each other up. Sometimes I can see their veils altering in density during our discussions. Last week, though, most of the students came in clanking. Their veils had turned to iron.

Now in order to garner answers I need to formulate some questions, but where to start?

Mushrooms growing below a sycamore tree not far from the classroom. I'm not sure that they have the questions, but I like them.

Friday, 1 October 2010


In a comment on my last post Jenny said: "You love everything, Eryl..." Or words to that effect. This has been working away at me. I do tend to say 'I love...' rather often: 'I love the cuff treatment here,' (on the Sartorialist, recently); 'I love cake,' (with alarming regularity), and the 'I love graffiti,' that Jenny was referring to, are a few examples.

I have fallen into the habit of nonthink-speak. Love has become my catchall word for... what?

One of my problems has always been distilling all my thoughts and feelings about something into a manageable number of words in, what feels like, the required timeframe. I'm not really a conversationalist, and am one of those people who think: 'I wish I said...' hours, sometimes days, and, truth be told on the odd occasion years after the event. Actually I don't often think that anymore, but for years I did. These days I just accept the way I am and continue the conversation in my head. This is probably where most of my fiction and poetry comes from, so I'm even beginning to embrace being this way now.

However, when time is short and verbal reactions are required I struggle. (I'm struggling now, to order my thoughts in a way that will make sense to you. I began to write this post at ten past nine (am) and it will undergo several rewrites* over the course of the day, as I come back and forth between it and all my other jobs, and bits of senselessness jump out at me. I'm unlikely to publish it until supper time, and it will still be less than half as effective as I'd like. That is, it won't say quite what I intend.) And what with all the interaction of blogs and other web based social networks, I often feel a need to say something before the opportunity is lost. I don't mean to suggest I feel under pressure, it's not quite that: I enjoy being part of the conversation, I want to continue, I want to fully engage for several reasons (I've learnt a lot, and have much more yet to learn, and, I guess, I feel I have something to add) and so I just don't want to let it slip.

But I must face it: I really ain't adding anything when I just say: 'I love that!' and move on. What am I doing? What do I hope to achieve when I do that? It seems to me that it's a rather pseudo-cheery-polite way of saying: 'Eryl wos 'ere!' done in the hope that I'm not forgotten, so that when, one sunny day, I have more time to actually add something I'll still be part of the crowd. It is possible though that this relentless loving will alienate the very people whose sphere I wish to remain in. And, I do mean something when I throw out the phrase, so it seems time to find a more effective way of communicating whatever that is.

So, back to my original question: 'Love has become my catchall word for... what?' Obviously it's slightly different each time.

In the case of the cuff treatment in a photo on The Sartorialist, I meant: 'I'm really not sure about the coat over all these luminous colours: I can't help thinking of a brown paper-bag stuffed with sherbet bombs. Also the coat is a little too reminiscent of removal men (and I'm thinking in particular about a comedy sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore here) to work with the rest of the look. Her hair, make-up, glasses and socks combine perfectly to reference the current 'Poetess' trend seen at several of the a/w shows last spring, and she makes me wish I was young enough not to look like a frump in tweed, but the coat seems to take the look from the library to the basement: it confuses (dulls) rather than illuminates. This is a jolly good effort though and the aspect of her look I find most impressive is the way she has folded, origami like, her sherbet coloured chiffon cuffs over those of the paper-bag brown coat, it reminds me of a Terry Frost painting.' Or something like that. It's taken me forty minutes to write that (and it's a bit too negative for my liking, I don't want to upset the poor girl) so you can understand why I don't have time to write considered comments on every blog I visit.

When I say I love cake what I actually mean is cake makes me happy. From making it to smelling, looking at, touching, and finally eating it, if it's good: fragrant from having been baked in a proper oven in a solid metal cake pan, springy, moist and either dense, like an Italian chocolate torte, or open textured with egg trapped air, it brings more than a little, if fleeting, spark of joy into my life. And this is true for many of your blog posts: from the photographs to the anecdotes to the descriptions of your own happy making events and finds. I say, 'I love this,' when something does give rise to that nice warm feeling of contentedness that love brings, if only for a while.

That's also what I meant when I said: 'I love graffiti!' Graffiti generally makes me happy, even the rubbish stuff. I have been know to spend far too long in bar loo cubicles because I was reading all about how Kit hearts Pongo and what a bitch Amy is. That anyone feels strongly enough to locate a pen, or scratching implement, and make marks on the laminate of a loo door, to me, shows they're alive. And that cheers me. As for those who risk their safety to spray paint motorway bridges with messages, regardless of the ugliness of their methods, technical skill, or artistry they always bring a smile to my face.

Here is some I came across in an alley on a recent trip to glasgow. I liked it so much I wanted to bring it home with me, so I made poor Bob hang about while I got my camera out and snapped happy:

This isn't, I know, graffiti. It's a window above I spotted as I was snapping, and something about it appeals.

So there you are: a meditation, of sorts, on my use of a cliché as a shortcut. In future I'll try to stop and think before I throw it at you and maybe throw something else instead. Thanks Jenny, for bringing me to my senses: the great contempt continues.

*Fuck it: I've now been at this for nearly four hours, and I still have: laundry to deal with, the house to clean, a pile of receipts to record on the business spreadsheet, supper to think about and make, the stuff for next week's seminar to read, and I haven't even cleaned my teeth yet. So, in order that I may visit at least a few of your sites today I'm going to publish this in its unrefined state: like crude oil I drop it on blogland's ocean floor in the hope someone else will clean it up.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


to take my first two seminars of the semester (second two tomorrow), in my smart new skirt and old (but thankfully Prada) heels. Students no longer dress like impoverished landscape gardeners, I don't know how they manage it, but it means tutors can't either. Once this week is over I may be able to get some of my head back and actually write something, and engage once more in the land of Blog.

Meanwhile, look what I found at the family paintball site:

I love graffiti.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Order (of sorts) Regained

My postman continues to delight me. After bringing me the new journal on Tuesday he excelled himself on Wednesday:

The new (first) collection of short stories from Darryl Joel Berger, aka Red Handed. I've only managed to read the first two stories so far but I can tell you they are great: beautifully constructed, utterly original, thought provoking and, perhaps most important of all, truly engaging. What I really want to do is take them on a long train ride so I can read them all as I rattle past truck depots, redundant factories, and gnarled trees.

On another note completely: have you noticed that in some of my posts, lately, clicking on the photographs doesn't make them bigger? This is because I've recently changed browsers from Firefox to Google Chrome. I like Chrome so much better for its smooth speed, but for some reason making a post in Chrome is much more complicated. I always compose in 'Compose' mode rather than html but when I hit publish in Chrome I have to go through a 'your html cannot be accepted' malarkey. I just delete the offending code and the post seems to happen as I intended, but none of the photos can be enlarged with a click, even though the hand appears over them. Does anyone know what I'm doing wrong? For this post I've returned to Firefox.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

My multiple personalities are disordered

I've become one of those people who feel so busy they can't get anything done for tearing at their hair and wailing: 'I'm so busy!' That sort has always irritated me: 'Stop wailing and get on then.' But now I know how they feel. It's like being in a wind tunnel filled with debris, battered by semi-identifiable flying objects. There is a way to stop these objects from continuing to thump me: I must identify them and put them in the correct boxes. As each object is placed in its box the wind will slow a little and the rest will be more easily seen, and contained. There aren't actually that many of them, it just feels like a lot. But I can't think, I can't see, I can only feel this constant bombardment of wind and objects. And I want to stamp on the next thing that hits me. I know, however, this will only make it even bigger and more terrifying.

I have put some things away, but only today do I feel the wind has died down enough to enable me to think. Today a big, hurty-thumpy, object has been put in its box.

With the unexpected rise of corporate-me, writer-me is feeling under threat. (I think it's she who turned up the wind (I know, this metaphor is beginning to hurt).) Especially as tutor-me is in the process of being resurrected for the new academic term. One of the things writer-me relies on is her journal, as long as she has a journal she knows she exists. Writer-me is the bit of me that holds the rest together.

I use my journal to jot down ideas, the beginnings of stories and poems, images, eavesdroppings, inspirational quotations, and all sorts of other stuff that I feel may help me actually write something again, one day. I stick in pictures from magazines and of my own taking, bits of packaging, old tickets, and postcards. Sometimes I even draw in it. I realise that a real writer could use any old pad of paper for the purpose, but I need a particular sort. For a while I used Papuro journals. They are incredibly beautiful with their glossy leather covers and smooth cream paper. And they have hundreds of pages so last a good year, but they are too expensive for me now. For Christmas one year Stevie bought me a recycled leather journal with thick card pages. Because of the pinkness of its cover it sat around unused for a year or two, but in May I ran out of space in my old one. Unable to afford a new Papuro I pulled, what I then called, the hideous pink thing from the stack of papers it was buried under. When I opened it I noticed that, not only did the colour cease to be a problem, it lay completely flat. This makes it much more comfortable to use: the need to hold down unruly pages eliminated I can sit in an armchair rather than at a table, arms and fingers don't ache, and ink doesn't smudge if I let go too soon. The thickness of the pages is a boon too, they don't buckle and crumple when I glue stuff in. In no time at all I was unable to imagine going back to a different sort. There is a downside, of course: with the pages being so thick there aren't that many of them, and a week or so ago I realised I was going to need a new one very soon. I knew he got it from Paperchase, so last week I went to Glasgow. Paperchase in Glasgow used to be in Borders. But Borders UK went bust. I knew that, but somehow failed to make the connection that with Borders gone, Paperchase probably would be too. I came home without a new journal.

I decided to try and buy it online: Paperchase must have a website. They do, but it's under reconstruction and wouldn't be in operation for another two weeks.

There is a big, luscious Paperchase in Edinburgh. But Edinburgh is less easy to get to and negotiate. They're installing a tram system at the moment, parking is difficult and expensive, busses and trains are infrequent, and I am so busy!

Yesterday I had only one page left, this made me feel nauseous, I was seriously tempted to jump in the car, but decided to search the web first. I spent hours trying different permutations of leather journal in the search engine: leather-bound journal/notebook/sketchbook/pad; leather covered... Recycled leather... I nearly relented and ordered a different sort, but one last try and I hit on the right phrase and found, joy of joys, iapetus gallery. They had what looked like the right thing. After examining it as closely as I could I ordered one at about 4pm.

Last night I filled the last page of Pink. This felt rather reckless but I had to get down Elizabeth Bishop's 'The Man-Moth.' This morning I braced myself for either a panic-trip to Edinburgh or a day or two of writing things on index cards, but before I'd finished a cup of tea Stevie came into my room and said: 'this seems to be for you.'

And it's perfect! The exact thing I was hoping for: thick card pages, sturdy recycled (dark brown) leather cover. It is made by a company called Art Box Designs who reform (rather like Spam, it strikes me) offcuts from the leather industry into a variety of very hardwearing, eco-friendly products. Both writer-me and I must stop fucking up the planet!-me are happy.

Monday, 30 August 2010

A Quick Hello

I travelled by train to my sister's, so much better than driving: faster, calmer, and less tiring. The best thing about it, though, is that London is involved. More about this later in the week, once I've reinserted myself into my own routine, for now here are some trip snaps.

Racing away from the cool grays of the north

to the warm blues of the south

I miss brick (we have cooked liver coloured stone here).

The luxury of delivery.

Angela said: 'I can see some poor woman rushing round
the streets trying to find a replacement before the baby
wakes up,' when I pointed this out to her. She is a woman
who knows.

The prettiest cup of coffee.

In a London loo.

The river Medway.


The 18.32 from Euston.