Monday, 27 April 2009


I now have eight tiny weeny baby tomato seedlings through – they are about five millimetres high and look like bits of green thread. It’s so hard to believe that actual whole tomatoes will come eventually from plants so miraculously small and delicate…

I had a good weekend; went to the Wetland Centre in Barnes to sketch birds and enjoy the sunshine (and a disgracefully indulgent lunch out); did some gardening; did some sewing; got on with the typing up and revising of “Ramundi’s sisters” and wrote a big chunk of “Café Tano” (the last was done under the influence, but this is actually quite appropriate as the narrator is in a fairly weird state of mind and is recounting a vision). Also made some more headway on “Fortitude” but as this is currently onto a prolonged conversation taking place between two people who are rather awkward with one another, it is proceeding rather awkwardly! However I feel I achieved a good deal – and I even got an early night last night.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Tired on Friday - but who isn't?

wrOof, it’s been a sticky week. I am tired and I want a drink. I think I may buy a bottle of something on my way home. Ooh, Dent, drinking alone; you sad little (little, figuratively speaking at least) woman…

Work is getting busier, and we are now one person down in the office for the foreseeable future, which means that everything is getting done a bit on the hasty side, a bit on the hassled side, without due care and frequently without being thought-through, monitored, or logged properly. Nothing has happened yet that could be called a major cock-up, but once or twice Roxana and I have caught something literally as it was toppling into deep cock-up territory. It’s depressing; like a local councillor waiting for a fatal crash to take place before he can get a speed limit imposed, we have to wait for a customer-service disaster of some sort before we can go back to our management and say “This is what happens when two people try to do three people’s workload…”

The laptop had hiccoughs again last night. I had to leave it purring quietly to itself all evening to run its battery down, and hope it will be okay again tonight, running off mains power. I’m really enjoying writing at the moment and was madly frustrated at having to spend the evening sewing instead. Although that is also constructive and creative, I wanted to be writing. On the sewing front, I’m altering a dress that is embarrassingly tight across the bos (wearing it currently I am bustin’out all over like June). On the writing front, I’m progressing with ‘Fortitude’, onto chapter two with ‘Café Tano’, and continuing to type and up and revise ‘Ramundi’s Sisters’. Running three writing projects concurrently seems to be working; though of course I may step back at some point and say “Oh my gods, they’re all crap!” On the gardening front, I’ve planted masses of cuttings and seeds, and my first two little tomato plants have come up, as well as a lot of California poppies, sunflowers and other tough easy annuals.

Revising ‘Ramundi’s Sisters’ is probably the oddest job of the three writing projects I'm on at present. After all, revising is an odd business to begin with. I try to write as near as possible to what I want in the first place, but some tweaking is unavoidable. I’ve found I've done it in three stages, in the past. First revision is light, partly just fact-checking, and comes when I type up from longhand manuscript onto the machine. Second one is done as I re-read the typing to check for the multitude of errors that will now have been introduced because I am such a hopeless typist. Then revision three is the one where one has to think “This bit is purple prose, it’s no good pretending it isn’t; aargh…” – and this is the really tough one. As ‘Ramundi’s Sisters’ was written well over fifteen years ago it is almost like revisiting my past self, and a lot of this third kind of revision is occurring right at the start, in the basic typing-up phase. It makes me very aware of how much one really does learn about writing just by endless practice. I’ve written a lot of words since 1993, and many of 1993’s words look purpler now than they did then by several shades.

I had lots of thoughts and ideas I wanted to write about on here but I just don’t seem to have the time to formulate my thoughts calmly in the rushed twenty minutes after work that I cold-bloodedly allow myself to do my own stuff on a work computer. Maybe next week…

Although work is hairy at present, the Gardens are beautiful. It’s a real pleasure to have an excuse to step outside, even just for five minutes to go over to the post room. The weather has been mild and sunny all week; the air is full of birdsong and the clean linen scent of apple blossom and the heady, lemon-wine scent of lilacs. Bluebells are coming out everywhere and the big Cornus florida x nutalli hybrids are covered in great white flowers like saucers. I may be tired and hassled, but I am still very lucky – because I could be equally as tired and hassled, but stuck in a giant concrete and steel and glass office block in the middle of the square mile, with an hour’s commute home jammed on the Tube instead of a peaceful twenty-minute cycle ride in the fresh air.

I'm going home. Have a good weekend, world. Do something creative, and have a good weekend.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Frustration with the technological revolution that is now (or not)...

I bought a gadget that is supposed to enable me to download photos from my mobile 'phone - this would have been, for me, a major stride forward into the twenty-first century, technologically speaking. Except that I then found I cannot download the required free software from Nokia that gets it working, because my computer at work is too old and cr*p to take it.

Well, I suppose I was probably breaking all sorts of protocols anyway, in trying to download free software from Nokia onto my work computer. But bah humbug even so. I had taken a bunch of silly pictures in Canterbury on Easter Saturday, of quirky sights I came upon as I went through the town, and I wanted to put them here - a few more pictures would probably lighten this very verbose site up a bit, don' you think?

Had a wonderful Easter break at my mother's - I love my family! - the weather was fine and we went for long walks by the sea and played long scrabble games in the evenings, and simply enjoyed talking to one another about everything under the sun.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Happy Easter!

...whatever your religious tendencies, Happy Easter/ Passover/ Eostre/ Spring Equinox (okay, the equinox was over a fortnight ago, but it all ties up together as one big spring festival if you're broadminded). Here in the UK we now have a four-day weekend, and as I am finally not in a job that follows a seven day flexible rota I actually get all four of those days off! This alone is cause for celebration. I'm going over to my mother's for a little break, probably too much to eat, and some healthy country walks, and possibly some sketching. Must remember to pack binoculars and watercolour box.

Note to self; try to get to an internet café at some point to investigate possibilities for my holiday in May. I wonder if I'll be able to afford to go to Greece? I'd love to go back to Thassos again.

Did some writing last night. I've got the laptop settled in, in the pull-out writing drawer/shelf thingy of my new desk, and I put on a "Dead Can Dance" album and got stuck in to one of the New Pieces - henceforth to be referred to as "Café Tano" - and wrote half a chapter. No idea if it's any good; time will tell. I can't see these things clearly for myself (neither when I first start nor half the time later either). I had realised a few weeks ago that this story would - might - work better as a first person narrative, and so far so good, at least as far as writing it instead of scratching at it fruitlessly in my brain. "Ramundi's Sisters" is slowly getting typed up, with assorted tweakings as I go. "Fortitude" has just moved on again after a hiatus; light dawned and I realised that the PoV had to go back to a different character, after a whole chapter of being bounced around inside Iain Siward's tormented brain. It feels so good to do some writing. It always feels SO GOOD...

One fun thing I forgot to mention last weekend - tired out after all that gardening on Saturday afternoon I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to watch "Robin Hood" for a laugh. It isn't what I'd call required tele, but is highly entertaining stuff, and features the handsome Richard Armitage (who always reminds me rather of pictures of my late father as a young man) as a snarlingly villainous Guy of Gisborne, which is reason enough in itself to watch a bit of harmless-fun tv. But oh joy, I got a real treat - the actor I dream of seeing play Simon Cenarth, William Houston, was in it. He came leaping out of a bush waving a sword, and my heart nearly popped out of my mouth. Quite what an actor of his calibre is doing in a piece of happy-but-dumb twaddle like "Robin Hood" I don't know - his intensity fair burned off the screen, and he certainly makes the insipid Jonas Armstrong look ten times the wet blanket he usually does. Okay, that's rhetoric - I know perfectly well what Mr Houston is doing in "Robin Hood" - he's paying his mortgage and keeping his kids in shoe leather, like every other working actor. And he was a joy to watch doing it, too.

Couldn't find a still of him in action to post here, so I've made do with a fairly normal looking shot instead - see above, since I've never managed to get pictures to go anywhere but at the top. I do not yet have the mastery of blogger, not by a long pull.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Reflective on Tuesday

It’s a funny thing about having a “quiet” weekend planned; how often it turns out to be nothing of the kind… Although gardening, shopping, washing, sewing, and cleaning don’t in themselves sound terribly overwhelming, nonetheless I feel this week as if I need a break after my time off. Not that work is providing it – it has been hectic so far, yesterday and today. I’ve had a nasty bout of cystitis, too, which doesn’t help matters, but that is now easing off. I gave myself a thoroughly stiff back gardening for most of Saturday, as well as getting badly-scratched hands and arms (lots of brambles) and breaking most of my fingernails. But it felt wonderful to get out in the open and get my hands in the dirt. The weather was fine and dry, and more rain is forecast for later this week, so I started clearing the ground and put in some annual seeds – I have more to plant as soon as possible, but simply ran out of time (and lumbar strength). I discovered we have the dreaded Fallopia japonica aka Japanese knotweed, aargh, so that was A Bad Thing; but also found a small and runty Kerria japonica aka batchelors’ buttons or Abraham’s buttonhole, a funny straggly flowering shrub that I happen to be very fond of and intend to nurture, and some self-sown calendulas, which were A Good Thing. Having a garden to work in is going to be marvellous, if exhausting, and a time-consuming challenge to my desire to do more creative work – but then, gardening is creative too, isn’t it?

Sunday night I was sitting doing some peaceful sewing and drinking glass upon glass of water (really the only measure that works with cystitis), and playing some music. I decided to have a little lieder recital and played several of my favourite baritone’s cds, one after another; I think this probably qualifies as the musical equivalent of wallowing in melted chocolate! I finished off with a Naxos disc recorded some years ago, of songs by Vaughan Williams, featuring Favourite Baritone singing alongside Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (not Favourite Tenor, sadly, but I guess Mr Langridge can’t be everywhere). But I had to stop just over halfway through the disc because I was so blown away by one particular group of songs that I didn’t want anything more after that.

The item in question was the setting of Five Mystical Songs by George Herbert. It’s odd, I’ve heard this recording before, yet suddenly I was simply knocked out by this particular section. I suppose it was partly because it’s spring, and the first two of these are Easter songs, with spring imagery of flowers and sunlight and celebratory praise; and partly because I had been out in the garden, which always puts me into a rapturous and mystical frame of mind. The third song, “Love bade me welcome”, is so beautiful, and so beautifully sung, it is heart-stopping, and the ecstatic joy of the final Antiphon (“Let all the world in every corner sing/ My God and King!”) was so uplifting I wanted to leap up and dance (but couldn’t because my lap was full of needlework).

It set me to thinking, and has been on my mind ever since. Oddly enough, there is an article in today’s Grauniad about the same issues. Wish I knew how to paste a hyperlink in here - but in my continuing ignorance, I can only offer the address

What the heck is a person with a strong spiritual pull in their heart to make of the world's big religions, when each one contains issues that they simply can’t adhere to? I ended up declaring myself a pagan; but over the years I have found paganism, rambling and disorganised as it is as a tradition, to be just as riddled with ideas I can’t handle, insipid bullshit, and sectarian sniping between different groups, as all the Big Guns of organised religion. Most of the other self-declared pagans I have met promptly assume I must belong to their particular sect or thread or path, and then take issue with me when I don’t. Other religious people either tell me I am damned, or else expect me to be some kind of fundamentalist anti-male nutcase who spells women wymyn or wummon or womb-in and wears long robes and dreadlocks (& oh lor’, don’t dreadlocks look naff in white people’s hair?!), and carries a crystal-studded staff, and attends a coven; and I’m not, and I don’t, and I don’t, and - Oh boy what can I say?…

I don’t think God is a woman, any more than I think God is a man, and I cringe at the saccharine New Age usage of "Spirit" (as in "Spirit guided me to this") to mean God because we-mustn't-say-God-anymore; although I’m certainly a feminist I’m not anti-men, indeed I actually like men; I think writing “wimmin” and suchlike variations is a silly bit of tokenism and a ridiculous attack on the ever-developing and beautiful corpus of my native language; I’m no more comfortable with a lot of pagan ritual than I am with any other, and am acutely conscious of how much of it was written less than twenty years ago by well-meaning Californians with far higher embarrassment-thresholds than mine; oh what the heck am I, spiritually speaking?

I wish I did not have such a problem with Christianity; give me something like those Five Mystical Songs, passionate meditations on divine love and the beauty of creation, and I have no problem at all. I gallop gladly through that paddock – but then give me someone telling me I have to accept Jesus as the son of god, and my personal saviour, and my reason balks at the jump; and let them tell me I have to obey (- obey anyone, pretty much), and I throw my rider and flee, snorting with a mixture of dread and derision. Conceptually speaking, obedience and I do not get along well together. It’s a fundamental problem, since clearly “Jesus as my personal saviour and the son of god” is something of a central tenet of Christianity, and I can’t accept it; yet the ideas that the gospels report Jesus as teaching ring true to me.

Fiddlesticks, this is too complicated for a blogg entry. Forgive me; I am rambling nonsensically, and should learn to control my tendency to be prolix.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Bavarian Timpanists!

I don't know if it's something in the water, or what, but it would seem the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra have made something of a speciality of handsome timpanists - this is the previous encumbent - not bad, not bad at all...

I know, I know, I'm odd. I watch the percussion section. I blame my father. All Dad's fault!