Sunday 25 April 2021

Killing my babies


So I went searching to try and find out why some of my seedlings were not thriving as I might hope. They get sunshine, they get water, they get my daily encouragement. One suggestion was that they might be overcrowded. I have felt that every seed that comes up should be given a fair chance, which is why I have more tomato seedlings than I have room for, but I decided that a gentle cull could well be the answer. I went round the whole house and garden tweaking out the smaller sprouts and leaving space for the others to grow. I feel as if I am killing my babies. I have loved and nurtured them and now they are worm food. Oh well, I can see I will have to be less sentimental.

Sitting outside with Monkey this afternoon she noticed that the Choisya Aztec Pearl had come into flower:

and I am excited about the spinach, which has popped up this week, my first foray into growing greens:

Stay safe. Be kind. Eat your greens.

Saturday 24 April 2021

New growth


I got an email from the Wildlife Trusts the other day, inviting me to join 30 Days Wild again, so even though it doesn't start for another five weeks you can anticipate lots (by that I mean even more) post about the garden, and probably ospreys too. On the first day of the challenge last year I went out and chopped down the bay bush that started a summer of growing stuff and getting very excited about my garden. It is nice to look back at the photos of how empty it was, and see how much it has changed. I will wait for everything to leaf out and flower up before putting them side by side. One thing that hasn't changed is how impatient I am for things to grow.  I went out this morning to take out the seedlings and was so excited to find the plum tree has several actual new branches. 

Also, more poetry, just because:

Stay safe. Be kind. Admire a tree.

Thursday 22 April 2021

Tree joy


Rode home from Dunk's this morning and realised my tree was in leaf.
I had barely been noticing it, even though I was waiting for it.
Too much watching the seedlings at home I guess.
Spring has officially sprung.
Planted cucamelon seeds this morning, are they not just adorable:
Off to work now.
Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Briefly Gorgeous

'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' by Ocean Vuong. This was a gorgeous book; beautiful writing telling a sometimes harrowing tale. Little Dog is writing to his mother, even though he knows she cannot read. But she can tell stories, as does his grandmother Lan. His life is full of stories, some of which are true, but you are often not sure which. The story of Trevor is true, and it is a love story in the most intense and sensuous way, it is as if being loved like that allows him to love himself in the face of everything. (From the very end of the book):

"I felt this sudden surge of tenderness for him right then, a feeling so rare in me it felt like I was being displaced by it. Until Trevor pulled me back. 'Hey,' he said, half-asleep, 'what were you before you met me?' 'I think I was drowning.' A pause. 'And what are you now?' he whispered, sinking. I thought for a second. 'Water.' " (p.237-8)

Little Dog tells the story of their family history, back to his mother. He thinks of himself as a product of the Vietnam War, someone who exists because of it. His grandmother is sinking into old age dementia, but she tries to protect him from his mother's uncontrollable rages. In spite of everything the bond between them is unbreakable:

"It's true that, in Vietnamese, we rarely say I love you, and when we do, it is almost always in English. Care and love, for us, are pronounced clearest through service: plucking white hairs, pressing yourself on your son to absorb a plane's turbulence and, therefore, his fear. Or now - as Lan called to me, 'Little Dog, get over here and help me help your mother.' And we knelt on each side of you, rolling out the hardened cords of your upper arms, then down to your wrists, your fingers. For a moment almost too brief to matter, this made sense - that three people on the floor, connected to each other by touch, made something like the word family." (p.33)

Mostly the story is about them, but the comment the mother makes to him on leaving the house sums up their experience of life in America, 'don't draw attention to yourself. You're already Vietnamese.' He does not talk about overt racism, though he describes his mother being harassed and assaulted as a child for being the daughter of an American, but what he does do is describe how it felt. This passage talks about the relationship between manicurist and client:

"The most common English word spoken in the nail salon was sorry. It was the one refrain for what it meant to work in the service of beauty. Again and again, I watched as the manicurists, bowed over a hand or foot of a client, some as young as seven, say, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry,' when they had done nothing wrong. I have seen workers, you included, apologize dozens of times throughout a forty-five-minute manicure, hoping to gain warm traction that would lead to the ultimate goal, a tip - only to say sorry anyway when none was given.
In the nail salon, sorry is a tool one uses to pander until the word itself becomes currency. It no longer merely apologises, but insists, reminds: I'm here, right here, beneath you. It is the lowering of oneself so that the client feels right, superior, and charitable. In the nail salon, one's definition of sorry is deranged into a new word entirely, one that's charged and reused as both power and defacement at once. Being sorry pays, being sorry even, or especially, when one has no fault, is worth every self-depreciating syllable the mouth allows. Because the mouth must eat." (p.91-2)

The more I flick back through the book the more I realise it is two love stories. In spite of everything his love for his mother remains overwhelming, and he wants things from her that she is too exhausted to give. She is his connection to Vietnam and that huge part of how he thinks of himself. It is a true son's love because he essentially forgives her for her failings, does not blame for her for things beyond her control. This quote, because I love it when books teach me new words, and it is a beautiful notion:

"There's a word that Trevor once told me about, one he learned from Burford, who serves in the navy in Hawaii during the Korean War: kipuka. The piece of land that's spared after a lava flow runs down the slope of a hill - an island formed from what survives the smallest apocalypse. Before the lava descended, scorching the moss along the hill, that piece of land was insignificant, just another scrap in an endless mass of green. Only by enduring does it earn its name. Lying on the mat with you, I cannot help but want us to be our own kipuka, our own aftermath, visible. But I know better." (p.171)

The whole book is intensely descriptive, often of mundane things around him, but that added together allow you to picture his world so vividly. Altogether a sublime book. I sometimes worry that I get to the end of a book and find I can't remember 'what happened' but am just left with feelings. But mostly they are the books that I am glad I discovered.

Stay safe. Be kind. Read a book.

Monday 19 April 2021

the meaning of it all


Etienne Leopold Trouvelot

Brainpickings brought me today a reminder that we are all headed 'back to the void' and in the short space between our emergence from it and our return it is in the nature of human beings to try and find some meaning. So she shared this image and this poem:

Kiss of the sun by Mary Ruefle

If, as they say, poetry is a sign of something
among people, then let this be prearranged now,
between us, while we are still peoples: that
at the end of time, which is also the end of poetry
(and wheat and evil and insects and love),
when the entire human race gathers in the flesh,
reconstituted down to the infant’s tiniest fold
and littlest nail, I will be standing at the edge
of that fathomless crowd with an orange for you,
reconstituted down to its innermost seed protected
by white thread, in case you are thirsty, which
does not at this time seem like such a wild guess,
and though there will be no poetry between us then,
at the end of time, the geese all gone with the seas,
I hope you will take it, and remember on earth
I did not know how to touch it it was all so raw,
and if by chance there is no edge to the crowd
or anything else so that I am of it,
I will take the orange and toss it as high as I can.

In return I share this, since it is what is giving my life so much meaning, purpose and joy (foxglove seedlings):

Stay safe. Be kind. Find meaning and share it.

Sunday 18 April 2021

Simon, Wilf, Louis and Aila


One of the highlights of the first lockdown last year was watching Louis and Aila, the ospreys of Loch Arkaig, raise their three chicks. We discovered them at the end of April when they were already sitting on the eggs and watched until the chicks fledged in July. The other week the nest was covered in snow and very neglected when I checked it out, but today it looks like this, lots of new moss, and according to clips on youtube they are around:

I have little interest in the royal family but our Simon currently has the role of Poet Laureate and has written an elegy for Prince Philip that is a truly lovely poem, it ends with this wonderful image:

But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.

And Wilf was interviewed earlier this week about his life as a hill farmer, a story that left me thinking that here was a person who was truly happy:

"If someone offered me £2m to move, I would tell them to keep it. Most evenings I walk right up to the top of the valley. I look down and everything looks small and far away. And I feel like I’m on top of the world. "

Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human.

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Instead of cake there was cheese


What should you do when you have been doing excessive internet purchasing ? ... why build a cat castle with all the packaging of course. And the cat even plays on it.
So I came home from work today, watered my seedlings, got changed and rode to the gym, did gym stuff, went to the shop for dinner, rode home, stretched, made a pot of tea, sat down and opened my computer, saw a message from the library to say they had three books for me to collect, jumped back on my bike and rode to the library (which is in the same place as the gym, fortunately only a few minutes bike ride), rode home, poured my cup of tea and finally got to relax.
As usual I can't recall why I have most of the books on my request list, since the library has been shut since December, though they all sound great, especially Ocean Vuong, who's poetry I read not very recently.
So, books to read, knitting to do, plants to water, what more is there to enjoy in life?
I very much enjoyed this short story, 'The Irish Wedding' by Elizabeth McCraken; I was attracted by an interview with her because I read 'The Giant's House' and 'An exact replica of a figment of my imagination' back in 2014 and loved them both, and am sure I will love her new story collection. I also very much enjoyed, Because, the poem of the week in the Grauniad.
Stay safe. Be kind, Stay human. Read a story, or a poem.

Monday 12 April 2021

Tiny joys


The sun was shining after my post-lockdown trip to the gym so I took my tea into the garden ... and look, plum blossom.

And bluebells:

All sorts of things are springing into life and it gives me joy.
The cornflowers seeds are sprouting, outside, in spite of being covered in hail stones on Sunday:
But most of the joy is still on the inside.
Kitchen windowsill: basil, cherry tomatoes, rocket, sunflowers and sweet peas:
Front room windowsill: echinops, gaillardia, stocks, butterfly flowers, and more wildflower seeds (that came free from Haws with my yellow watering can):
Tish's bedroom windowsill: lots of dahlias and echinacea, pansies, more sunflowers and sweet peas:
And outside I am even enjoying the multiple pots that might or might not just have weeds in them:
Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human. Grow some plants.

Saturday 10 April 2021

a pile of books

We have been buying quite a lot of books by Japanese authors, partly for Monkey, but partly because I want to become accustomed to cultural differences; formality in speaking and behaviour are utterly different from here. 'Before the coffee gets cold' by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (who does not have a website or a wiki page) is a curious little book about sad people. The 'family tree' in the front lists the main participants in the story; many of them are dead. Why else would you want to travel in time, other than to see someone who you could no longer see? You cannot move from your spot at the cafe table, nor alter anything about the course of history, all that is on offer is small comfort. And yet comfort is always welcome. The door goes 'clang-dong' as people come and go, the light and the decor remains unchanged over the decades, a pregnancy bump becomes Kazu, a young woman who hides her sadness behind the coffee pouring ritual, but you feel as if the chirpy Miki, keen to learn the secrets of the cafe, will bring a whole different atmosphere to the place.

"The woman in the dress was not a particularly fast reader. Despite it being the only thing she did, she would finish a book about once every two days. Kazu would go to the library once a week and borrow a selection of novels. These books weren't presents, exactly, but for Kazu, supplying them was more than just a 'task'.
Until a couple of years ago, the woman in the dress read a novel entitled Lovers, over and over again. One day, Miki remarked, 'doesn't she get bored reading the same novel?' and presented her own picture book to the woman in the dress. Kazu thought, What if I could please her with a novel I chose? ... and that's what led her to start providing novels in this way.
As always, however, without a care for Kazu's thoughtfulness, the woman in the dress simply reached out, took the book silently and dropped her eyes to the first page. The expectation disappeared from Kazu's expression like sand falling in an hourglass." (p.76)

I very much enjoyed 'You took the last bus home' by Brian Bilston, and have meandered back through it several times over the last few weeks. What's not to like about a poet who think's Jeremy Clarkson is a twat. I sometimes love pretentious poetry, I sometimes love old serious poetry, sad poetry, very sad poetry, beat poetry, wry poetry, in fact there are 113 poetry posts on this blog, and here's another one. He covers a wide variety of topics, from mobile phone chargers, to the Bee Gees, to Crocs, to the Chelsea Flower show. Many made me laugh out loud. He has a particular thing about punctuation. But I found myself drawn to the times when he was subtle and clever, here, one of quite a few haiku that I loved:

Haiku #478629
as he left the train,
he remembered to take all
his longing with him

and also:

you stitched together
the pauses

from old, discarded
Harold Pinter


until you had made yourself




'Stillicide' by Cynan Jones was as close to poetry as a novel can get, so much of it takes place inside people's heads. In a slightly dystopic setting, not so distant as to be unimaginable, the people in the story are linked in distant ways, and their minds are preoccupied with worries and memories, that distract them from the world in front of them. Branner, a train guard, David and Helen who scavenge on the seashore, Nita and Hillie who make flowers from rubbish, Cora and Leo, Colin the journalist, Ruth the nurse, their lives are dominated by the issue of water, the lack of water, the control of water. It has a feeling of drabness. As if things don't get washed much. Just thinking about it made my mouth feel dry. He creates this very intense atmosphere, but then scatters in little moments of hope, connection and loveliness, as if to ward off despair.

"The day seemed indecisive. The breakers of the outgoing tide smushed and drew. Sand martins spun from their tunnels in the cliffs.
Every so often there was a ticking pitter-patter as the low breeze rattled the dry seaweed.
There had been another August storm.
It has washed the sand from the foundations and fallen rubble of two houses that had recently gone onto the beach, and from the skeletal groin that stretched into the sea.
Against the shifting contours of the shore, the pilings of the old sea defences looked ancient and immoveable. Pitted and barnacled and hung with algae.
David considered that the principles, of how to build a structure to hold back waves, were the same principles his team had used to build footings for the pipeline, all those years ago. Before they had a train to carry water to the city. That had been his life. The engineering of support. Holding things back. Or holding things up." (p.40-41)

As I said earlier, I like all kind of poetry. 'The Air Year' by Caroline Bird is another bedside book that I have meandered back and forth through over the last weeks. I went back and read some of the longer prose poem pieces. I particularly liked one entitled Small Children, much to relate to there, all the bad stuff: "They sit in plastic umpire chairs at the dinner table/ shouting out unintelligible scores" and "They're hypocrites./ They spy on you in the toilet. Parents aren't permitted/ even the smallest private perversion yet a child/ can secretly urinate in a drawer for three weeks/ until the smell warrants investigation" and "Little children are like/ the tsarist autocracy of pre-revolutionary Russia" but it ends beautifully "We kneel to tie the laces of their unfeasible tiny shoes." The one called 'Nancy and the Torpedo' is particularly surreal, as is 'Surrealism for Beginners'. They are incidents and accidents. Not funny or political. Lets have this one:


She has not converted a rusty bike into a device
for grinding wheat or sewn a family
of Hazmat suits or built a reinforced steel underground bunker
from the roofs of twenty double-decker buses or decorated her
decontamination room with laminated photos of bygone
natural beauty - sunsets over oceans, children laughing unafraid - 
she does not skin roadkill raccoons with a Bantaga knife or clean
her guns over breakfast but my mum's preparing

for the end of the world. She had written her own book of revelations.
It begins 'Expect to outlive them'.
She scrawls my brother's name with a sparkler just to
rehearse his evaporation, stands in the cemetery
of her mind, pre-grieves, seasons plots with tears, graves
so fresh they're still flowerbeds.

As I typed it out it reminded me of this last one in Brian's book, entitled 'Ceci N'est Pas un Poème':

I wrote
some words

and made them look
like a poem

put line breaks


but it was still

    just some words

and not
a poem

Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human. Read some poetry.

Monday 5 April 2021



Julie lent me 'The Mermaid of Black Conch' by Monique Roffey and I wolfed it down. It is the story of David Baptiste, and of Aycayia, and of the island of Black Conch and its checkered history. It is told from a variety of perspectives, in different voices, then also third person, observing, more dispassionate. Some American tourists arrive on the island and hire a boat to take them fishing. After a struggle that lasts the day they land their catch, and it is a mermaid. Leaving her strung up they go off and get drunk, and David takes her home, intending to put her back in the sea. Almost immediately she begins a slow transformation back into a woman. He tries to hide her from the curious neighbours, and finds himself helped by Miss Rain and her deaf son Reggie, who befriend Aycayia and teach her to talk.

"Every morning, the mermaid, Aycayia, half-slept and listened to the rain, and remembered more and more of what it was to be a woman. She enjoyed the sound of the rain's soft heaviness. it reminded her of her old self, of long ago, when she had lived in a village on the island shaped like a lizard, when she was the daughter of one of the wives of a brave casike, when she has six sisters. She tried to remember the name and then the face of every man who who'd visited her, and watched her dance; then she tried to forget them all. Her loneliness echoed in her bones, the centuries of swimming in the sea, half-fish. She wondered what had happened to the old crone she'd arrived with - Guanoyoa. After the huracan, Guanoyoa, a wise old woman who told uncomfortable truths, had been cursed too, changed into a leatherback turtle, and that was how she'd ended up so far away from the coastline she knew. She had followed Guanoyoa's instincts of migration. As she lay under the thin sheets of David's bed she wondered how and why she'd transformed back into a woman. She wriggled her old toes, which were now her new toes. She curled herself into a C and listened to the musical sound of rain on galvanised and felt comforted because she knew that parts of the world hadn't changed. There was still rain. This meant there were still clouds, sky, birds - a world she could read." (p.59)

"David Baptiste's journal, June, 2015

Early, early, before dawn, I took my pirogue out to sea, to the same rocks off Murder Bay. The water quiet, and a small bit of rain coming down. Is like my place to go and pray. I drop anchor and sit for a while. I ent really go out to fish. The sea dark and the sky still dark too. There ent no feeling quite like being alone in a boat in the night. Land in sight, oui. Out there ghosts visit on the breeze, they visit from centuries past, from a time before all of we get mix up and lost. Though I always know who I was in Black Conch, family history don't go back far. That memory was rubbed out because of the badness of slavery. Baptiste is plantation owner name, French man name from way back. Yuh think I happy with that? I figure my real name would never be known to me, a mystery. I felt myself fill up with pain, with ol'time loss from those days. It does come from nowhere now and then. the feeling come like a message on the wind, or that is how it ketch me. Now and then. Mostly, when I was out alone in my boat. That is where I met my soul friend, the mermaid woman from so long ago she cyan remember sheself either. We were both lost people. I felt all twist-up in my chest, sitting there in my boat. Was that feeling for she or for us both?" (p.94)

But the rumours about her begin to circulate. The nosy neighbour Priscilla concocts a plan with a local policeman to capture her and the American men are lured back. Miss Rain's quiet existence is disrupted by the return of Life, Reggie's father. The deeper David and Aycayia fall together the more fate seems to conspire to tear them apart. Add in a huge storm threatening and a dramatic climax is in the offing for everyone. 

This was a wonderful book, intense and atmospheric; you feel the ongoing impact of the history of the Caribbean, how people's lives continue to be shaped by it. But it is mostly about a mermaid, learning to be a woman again, about trust, about love and loss, and eating mangoes in the bath.

Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human.

Sunday 4 April 2021

One year on

One year on and the ducks on the pond are braving another year, maybe a few ducklings and cootlings and goslings will make it this year, but the corvids have to eat too.
The herons are back in their spot, though we never got a glimpse of the heronlets.
If you pop over to the Osprey Cam; it looks slightly sad and deserted, but also expectant... Louis and Aila could be back any time.
At home the grape hyacinth are looking lovely:
and this curious plant started sprouting from what I assumed was a dead stump in a dried out pot; mum couldn't identify it so it will be wait-and-see what happens:
Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human.

Saturday 3 April 2021



A little something to brighten your Saturday; so beautiful, one of my favourite Beatles songs, sung in the Mi'kmaq language.
Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human.

Thursday 1 April 2021

Post from across the park

The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World from Tim Gray on Vimeo.

I am having a restful three day week (I mean four days, having worked Sunday, but it feels like three days) and just loafing at Dunk's (or should I say crumpetting since he is doing some experimental baking for lunch). Browsing the news this morning I went back to The Great British Art Tour feature in the Guardian, and happened across this fascinating video about The Paston Treasure, which caught my attention because it would make a great puzzle.

Spent ages waiting for the blue tit that is nesting in a hole in the wall of Dunk's bathroom but all I got was this:

Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human.