Monday 28 June 2021



(Beware, many quotes) It is not often I love a book as much as I have loved 'The Book of Delights' by Ross Gay, so much that I immediately bought his poetry collection 'Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude' from the bookshop. The book is a collection of delightful thoughts, sights, sounds, events and happenings over the course of a year. Every single page made me smile. Every story made me pause to think and recall something from my own life. I fear I may have fallen a little in love. How can you not love a man who finds delight in such tiny and inconsequential things. Some delights are less tiny. He saved delights up, to write for the collection, then realised that was not the spirit of the book which was to seek them in the moment, and so took delight in listing the delights he had saved all in one go. "It also requires faith that delight will be with you daily, that you needn't hoard it. No scarcity of delight."

Praying Mantis
"This bug seems to be dancing - it kind of pounces on the four legs beneath its abdomen, bouncing and swaying, like it's hearing music I'm not yet tuned to. And, trying to tune in, I notice the swell and diminution of cicadas nearby, and another cricketish chirping just over in those forsythia. The mantis's head rotates occasionally, sometimes seeming to follow my movement, its big bulbous eyes and filamentous antennae twisting, its little mouth opening and closing. Turns out this mantis has been my companion for the last twenty minutes, this whole break in my afternoon, edging closer to me, dancing, then scooting closer still. And when I sit back in my chair, the mantis pulls its head over the glass to see me (am I being egocentric?), swaying as it does so. Dancing." (p.11)

He delights muchly in positive interactions with coffee shop staff, here in 'Coffee without a Saucer', (and I adore him for the use of the word discuses, not just discs):

"Anyway, she pulled the double expresso and without even reaching - without even glancing - beneath the counter where the useless and actually truly dangerous saucers are stacked (think of the natural resources wasted in their production, little discuses of evil!); she just placed the demitasse, holding it not by the handle but sort of clutching it from above, like the magical mechanical claw in those rest-stop games, in front of me, all French-like, pretending she wasn't my sister, which she was."

This was one of my favourites, in a book replete with favourites, Infinity, in which he describes his love for a scarf, and the undercurrent it exposed for him:
"I'm also delighting in this accoutrement fluffing around my neck because it represents a different relationship to an idea of masculinity I have inherited, and for much of my life watered, which makes it a garden. A garden of rocks. A garden of sorrow and hypertension and prostate woe. Some of the tenor here might be influenced by the sun's brevity today, but just a little. For I kid you not, ten years ago I no sooner would have worn this plush purple thing around my neck than jump off a bridge. I mean, not quite, but you get me. Tied into this weird and imprecise moratorium on the pretty were surely currents, strong ones, of misogyny, and probably homophobia. It's true, I often wore my hair long in cornrows with beads, but that sartorial affect represented some other intersection that did not scare me in the way this very cuddly scarf would have. I sometimes wonder how this happened, if there were very specific moments in my life - the older boys holding my hands and painting my nails; my mother regularly praising that she had sons instead of daughters; my father accidentally making me cry by squeezing my leg too hard after a joke and asking with disgust, Are you kidding? - that constitutes a minor tilting of an axis. But no tilting of an axis is minor, as you know." (p.92-3)

And here, talking about being an enthusiastic gesticulator, me just enjoying his vocabulary:
"And so imagine my delight when, today, after chatting with my friend Walton for about an hour, I found myself, a few hours later in another conversation, employing - embodying - some of his elegant hand gestures: the emphatic hand swimming through the air, or pointing and plucking at something simultaneously, or, always, some kind of beckoning. I've been told there is a term for this among behavioural psychologists, which foregrounds the behaviour as opposed to what intrigues me, which is the fact of our bodies' ubiquitous porosities, how so often, and mostly unbeknownst, our bodies are the bodies of others." (p.155-6)

"I wonder if this impulse to share, the urge to elbow your neighbor, who maybe was not even your neighbor until the bird flew between you up into the pipes and rafters you did not notice until you followed the bird there, is also among the qualities of delight? And further, I wonder if this impulse suggests - and this is just a hypothesis, though I suspect there is enough evidence to make it a theorem - that our delight grows as we share it." (p.173)

On page 223 it delighted me to find connection; my mum had talked to me a while ago about scything and Ross devotes a delight to the subject, because it is also his joy to own and use a scythe:
"My friend Jack, who is also wrapped explicitly into this delight, or is this delight, secured the blade for me when he went to a scything conference in Switzerland. I do not know what they do at a scything conference, but I like the images it conjures for me, despite the fact that I've never seen and likely will never see The Sound of Music."

I could not relate to his childhood reminiscences about car ports, but he ends it like this, obviously:
"I have taken note of how delight and nostalgia, delight and loneliness, which I will further clarify as existential loneliness, irremediable loneliness, are, in this one, connected. They are kin.  Seems a good thing to know.
As for other architectural features that delight me: the breezeway, the breakfast nook, and the window seat, all for obvious reasons." (p.257)

I love to read and learn new words; I learned limn, and then could not re-find the context. I love to discover new names; he mentions C.D. Wright, who I had not heard of, and Jamaica Kincaid, who felt familiar, people to seek out and read. He starts so many sentences with 'Imagine my delight', and so I imagined. I loved his long rambling, circuitous sentences, that slowed me down and made me read them twice. Some of his delights are tinged with understanding of a deeper sadness, often about his, and other's, experience as people of colour. I leave you with this one, because he talked several times about touch, and it reminded me of a moment in a biographical film about Nelson Mandela where, after many years in prison, he is allowed physical contact with Winnie, and the terrible notion of a life deprived of loving touch, how important touch is to human connection:

"20. Tap Tap
I take it as no small gesture of solidarity and, more to the point, love, or, even more to the point, tenderness, when the brother working as a flight attendant - maybe about fifty, the beginning of grey in his fade, his American Airlines vest snug on his sturdily built torso - walking backward in front of the cart, after putting my seltzer on my tray table, said, 'There you go, man,' and tapped my arm twice, tap tap. Oh let me never cease extolling the virtues, and my adoration of, the warranted familiarity - you see family in that word, don't you, family? - expressed by a look or a tone of voice, or, today on this airplane between Indianapolis and Charlotte (those are real places, lest we forget), a tap - two, tap tap - on the triceps. By which, it's really a kind of miracle, was expressed a social and bodily intimacy - on this airplane, at this moment in history, our particular bodies, making the social contract of mostly not touching each other irrelevant, or, rather, writing a brief addendum that acknowledges the official American policy, which is a kind of de facto and terrible touching of some of us, or trying to, always figuring out ways to keep touching us - and this flight attendant, tap tap, reminding me, like that, simply, remember, tap tap, how else we might be touched, and are, there you go, man." (p.66-7)

Stay safe. Be kind. Share delight.

Blue Ticket


'Blue Ticket' by Sophie Mackintosh has something of 'Handmaid's Tale' about it, since it concerns women and their role as reproducers of the species. In the story young women are sent, on first menstruation, to be given a ticket, that decides for them if they will have children or not. Those not permitted at implanted with an IUD and sent off 'to the city' where they make a life for themselves. The whole scenario is not explained in any way; the lack of backstory is vaguely unsatisfying because it means the whole book takes place in something of a vacuum. Other aspects of life seem relatively normal, she has a job, friends, boyfriends; it's just this bit of metal that prevents her conceiving that is out of place. So the story, her removal of the device and subsequent pregnancy and 'escape' are all somewhat contrived as a means for characters to have a debate about what it means to be a mother, what significance motherhood might or might not have in the lives of the women she encounters along the way. Men seem to be removed from the discussion. It is unclear if or how their lives are impacted by the restrictions put on the women. Almost everyone in the book is anonymous,  people with initials not names, even characters with names tell you that they are made up, to protect themselves. Her life is tracked and surveilled in unclear ways and the whole things seems like it would be a whole lot of bother. That's the thing with authoritarian states, I always think it seems like so much effort to control people, when capitalism, mass consumerism and the internet seems to do it so much more efficiently. 

It is as much an examination of privilege as it is of motherhood. Mothers and babies are treated as special, 'blue ticket' women are second class women. Do people just want what they can't have, the opposite of what they have? Is having a baby a choice anyway? Lots of choices are removed from you because of circumstances in your life beyond your control, why is the choice around motherhood so significant? It makes me think back to my own 'choice' to have children, and in what ways it was a conscious choice. In many ways having a baby is just the natural course of events and the choice to *not* have any children is the conscious choice. I listened to my friend this morning grieving the loss of the life she has not had because she has children; this is not because she did not want them, but because for every choice you make you fail to make an infinite number of other choices (don't you love the many worlds theory, where somewhere there is another you who can play the violin ...) So motherhood, either forced or denied, just becomes symbolic for patriarchal control; when do we ever hear so much as a whisper about controlling men's procreative rights or bodily autonomy. In the real world everything from China's one child policy to US anti-abortion legislation seeks to control the autonomy women have over their own bodies. I thought the book was interesting for taking the 'pregnancy denied' route, to think about the impact of being forced to have a life free from parental responsibility or unwanted pregnancy, but it is simply the other side of the same coin as Handmaid's tale, because while the urge to procreate may be the thing that makes us more like animals, the necessity of free will is what defines us as human.

"This was the kind of place where mother's lived, where white-ticket women lived. they were somewhere nearby. I saw pairs of them walking together with their arms linked, no bones, net shopping bags filled with fruit and vegetables. In a shop I picked up a black maternity dress with yellow spots and a white leotard for the baby. Here, perhaps I could be who I wanted to be. I didn't have to be a woman hounded off buses, a woman tricked into bathrooms, a drinker, a slut, a piece of shit. My hands skimmed over the shrunken vests, the socks like egg warmers or knitted thimbles, striped hats. I would not be sent away like I had been in the city, I would refuse it.

Don't you want to try it on? the woman at the counter asked. Her hair was done up in a complicated braid, her cheeks very pink. No, I said. She slipped them into a paper bag for me and I left at once, walking quickly as I could. I looked around for emissaries, stretching their legs on a lunchtime walk or reading the newspaper at a table outside.

In a cafe up a side street a safe distance away, I ordered a pot of tea and sat outside, sunglasses on, pretending to read the newspaper. The news was all bad. The ashtray was full. The kind waiters came to empty it and to bring me my tea. Are you on holiday? she asked. I nodded. Oh, you've come to the right place, there is no place more beautiful than here, she told me, she was glowing with certainty, she didn't even seem to notice my silence or the bad way I smelled or my jeans rolled up and wet from the lake. I was performing motherhood the way I had performed adulthood, all those years ago. I was acting like it was something I deserved and could do." (p.126-7)

Sorry, rambling and incoherent somewhat, though it raised a lot of thoughts as I read that I did not make note of, and the arrival of Adylaide since I read it reminds me of how intense the attachment is to your own genetic progeny. (No disrespect intended to adoptive, foster or step families, or whatever makeup your family group may be, all routes to loving family life are most welcome. All sympathy for people with conception issues for whom such stories would be no doubt hard reading.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Have a baby, don't have a baby, whichever, it's your choice.

Squid Squad


'Squid Squad' by Matthew Welton was picked up in the novels section of Waterstones on the basis of the first page, and while I very much enjoyed the word play of the first 64 pages I felt that it was merely word play, and because the happenings were random it didn't progress in any meaningful way, as I kind of expected, and what started out as delightful became repetitive and a little boring as I went along. Sorry. 

Nerys Harris pinches out her birthday
candles. Dustin Mostyn's wristwatch rusts.
Someone's removed the clapper from Bradley
Ridley's bell. The rungs of the wooden ladder
rot in the rain.

As Natalie Chatterley tugs the rope towards
her, the bucket edges further away. The 
melon seeds swell in the swallows' guts.
Doubt deepens like a sleepy river, Nerys
Harris supposes.

Dustin Mostyn mimes the action of
knocking at a door. Wistfulness wears down,
thinks Lola Wheeler, like the workings of
the wind.

Bradley Ridley's mittens shrink in the drizzle.
A beetle scuttles between the bricks. On the 
tree in Lola Wheeler's yard, luminescent
lemons appear." 

But I did also enjoy very much some of the other poems. Lemons appear in several of them, much to my amusement. It felt like a theme. They are gently witty and again use a lot of word play and alliteration. The book ends with this gem:

Poem for Laurie Clark
a lemon

I am still glad that I picked it up, because it is always good to come across writers doing unusual stuff with words, experiments make the world a more interesting place.

Stay safe. Be kind. Eat some (lemon) cake.

Saturday 26 June 2021


Sometimes the things that are going on in the world seem so out of kilter with what human beings need to exist together on the planet, and  I can feel so overwhelmed by the things that are beyond my control, and that the things I can do become smaller and even more meaningless that I need to go somewhere and scream ..... AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!

Stay safe. Be kind. Try not to be despondent.

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Cornflower Joy

 Cornflower joy:
Funny how some things grow and some things don't. I have no explanation. 
I planted some more basil seeds last week. Here they are:
and this one was planted maybe three months ago:
I have no idea what I am doing wrong. I should just go and get one from the supermarket and have done with it.
The cucamelons, that I got so excited about, (when I say cucamelons, I mean cucamolon, since only one plant is still alive) were planted two months ago:
We harvested our tiny chilli and put it in the curry, no more of the flowers are doing anything:
However, left totally to their own devices, the strawberry babies are finding new homes with the bunch onions:
I planted out some salvias from Marshalls (don't judge me, they are having a sale ... and I will not waste money on plug plants next year, will wait till June and buy bigger ones cheaper) and having a cuppa at the same time. Not sure this is what they mean when they talk about compost tea:-)
And I found a determined little sproutling in the bucket of worm compost; it is most likely a pepper plant but we will see (assuming I manage to keep it alive):
Stay safe. Be kind. Drink your tea first, open compost second.

Sunday 20 June 2021

no water


So I came home from Dunk's this afternoon and went to check on my water butt. It rained plenty last night, first time in weeks. To my dismay it was still empty. I gazed skyward wondering what had gone wrong. I wondered briefly if the gutter was blocked in some way. Then I tipped it slightly forward and some water dribbled out of the tap. I had left the tap open when I last used it ... and lost all my precious rainwater across the yard and down the drain.
Oh well, at least everybody got a good soaking.
Stay safe. Be kind. Turn the tap off.
p.s. Water buttt got his new friend yesterday too.

Saturday 19 June 2021


 So much potential, am trying to enjoy the things that are out but can't help focussing on the ones waiting to bloom. Sleepy bee on the sunflower when I came out with my tea this morning:
Cornflowers so so nearly blooming. I have grown these from seed and so thrilled.

Sunflowers probably still a way off. One had grown all wonky so I tied it to a stake to help it go upwards. Also from seed:
Buddleia, nearly in bloom too:
Something in Julia's trough waiting to burst forth:
The tiny alpine strawberries are ripening but these are ordinary ones, still a way to go yet:

Stay safe. Be kind. Good things come to those who are impatient (in the end).
the pink oxalis that I had to chop down is back😌

Friday 18 June 2021

New arrival

Somewhat unexpectedly, back on 3rd June the sprog became a real live baby.
She spent some time covered in tubes and stuff:
After much stress and anxiety, poking and prodding, they finally let her out of special care:
Yesterday they got to take her home:
And before you know it doing dad stuff is just part of what you do:
Welcome to the world Adylaide. 
They are going to be magic parents.
Being a granny is exhausting. 
Can't wait to visit.
Stay safe. Be kind. Flowers are great, but look, a baby.

Thursday 17 June 2021

World Refil Day

 I missed World Refill Day yesterday, only heard about it on the radio. Here are some random things that I refill. Salt pot, owned for at least a decade (the salt still comes in a plastic bag but it is less waste):

Washing up liquid bottle used for nearly as long; I have a five litre one under the sink that I get refilled and then transfer it to the smaller one that is easier to use. Also washing liquid, and more recently fabric conditioner (I hate the stuff but Tish likes it):
Herb and spice jars (the jam jars just go round and round for different uses). Unicorn (in Chorlton) sells their herbs and spices in biodegradable plastic:
Conditioner, a more recent refill, since I discovered Lentils and Lather:
Bagel bags, not refilled with bagels but washed and used for lunches until they go foisty:

Stay safe. Be kind. Refill, reuse, recycle.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

Tropical Flowers

We all went to the zoo yesterday. 
Tish took lots of photos of the animals.
Last visit was to the butterfly house, where the butterflies would not sit still.
The flowers on the other hand do. 

While they are very beautiful I am not tempted to start growing anything more exotic.
Stay safe. Be kind. 

Sunday 13 June 2021

Klara and the Sun

I am ambivalent about 'Klara and the Sun' by Kazuo Ishiguro. It left me feeling sad, rather I feel, on reflection, like I felt sad at the end of 'Never Let Me Go'. It is told from the perspective of Klara, an Artificial Friend. I grew to like her, but it was strange, because Klara does not think of herself as a 'person', appears to have few desires of her own, and little understanding of the world, and I wondered how this rather hollow human shaped thing was supposed to make a good 'friend'. All the futuristic aspects of the story are left ambiguous, unexplained; there is some kind of genetic enhancement, making better babies, and only the better ones get advantages, but it is never made explicit. Why does this supposedly sophisticated robot not know anything? She is solar powered and has these weird ideas about the magical power of the sun. She seems to spend much of her time just standing around like a piece of furniture until someone feels like interacting with her. The style is rather stilted, because Klara has such limited life experience she doesn't have much of interest to say and her observations are mostly superficial. It gradually emerges that Klara's role is to learn to replace her owner Josie, who may be dying of some vague wasting condition, raising the question of course of whether there is more to a human being than their physical presence, their way of interacting with the world, their ways of talking. Klara thinks she could learn to imitate Josie, but is not sure that will make her an adequate substitute. In some ways it did remind me of 'Machines Like Me' by Ian McEwan, because nobody is really accepting that the artificial creation is actually the equivalent of a human being, in neither book are they treated as anything other than a thing, a possession. Klara has no autonomy, she is unsure about making choices for herself, does not go places without permission, does not initiate anything, accepts that her role is to be a thing for Josie, not that Josie owes her anything in return. Now while, in some ways, that might be seen as the definition of love, to selflessly sacrifice for someone else, it's rather more akin to slavery, since she is not doing it voluntarily, she has no notion of living a life for herself. She ends up in a junk yard, which was just a huge waste in my opinion; why create this supposedly amazing (and presumable expensive) thing, and then just discard it. So, in the end, I was left profoundly dissatisfied. When I imagine artificial intelligence I think of 'Ex Machina', a robot who wants a life for herself, and will stop at nothing to attain it. Here Klara beats herself up over a trip that she takes alone with the Mother:

"Naturally then, in the days that followed, I thought often about why the interaction meeting should cast no shadows at all, but Morgan's Falls, despite my complying with Josie's and the Mother's wishes, had produced such consequences. Again, the possibility came into my mind that my limitations, in comparison to the B3's, has somehow made themselves obvious that day, causing both Josie and the Mother to regret the choice they'd made. If this were so, I knew my best course was to work harder than ever to be a good AF to Josie until the shadows receded. At the same time, what was becoming clear to me was the extent to which humans, in their wish to escape loneliness, made manoeuvres that were very complex and hard to fathom, and I saw it was possible that the consequences of Morgan's Falls had at no stage been within my control." (p.113)

Stay safe. Be kind. Love the real humans around you.

Friday 11 June 2021

Day 11 - insect life

 Tish will regularly come around the garden with me and admire all the new growth and new blooms. We spotted some dreaded aphids the other day, for which the most eco-conscious solution is ladybirds. We don't seem to have any ladybirds, so I sent off for some. These are ladybird nymphs that will crawl out of little paper bags and munch on the aphids ... hopefully.

She also spotted this curious little chrysalis on the buddleia... we will try and see what emerges:
Then in searching for places to put the ladybird nymphs I noticed ants doing curious stuff on the dogwood, apparently they are milking the aphids:
Stay safe. Be kind. Love the bugs.

Thursday 10 June 2021

What's new in the garden today

 New things popping up all over.
Perennial wallflowers sent by mum:
Strawberry plants covered in potential deliciousness:
Little sage plant putting out some flowers:
Don't know what this is, but I've been waiting for weeks for it to open
(mum says it's a campanula):
A few ox-eye daisies, in the wildflower pots:
Heucheras flowering delicately all over the place:
The first year it felt like the best thing about the yard was this purple thing. It colonises the walls, pokes out from the window sills and round the edges of the concrete, flowers abundantly and the bees love it. It dies off and comes back each year and give me much joy:
I need my mum to visit and put names to everything, though not knowing what a plant is does not stop them being wonderful.
Stay safe. Be kind. Have a cuppa in the garden.

Tuesday 8 June 2021

Day 8 Platt Fields Park


Monkey did her last second year exam this morning so when she had finished we all went for a walk to Platt Field park, mainly to spot the cootlings and the cygnets. We did see a dragonfly but it didn't sit still long enough to take a photo.
As we came around the lake we wandered from the path and found a lovely wildflower area, busy with honey bees. Also saw a lovely red-tailed bumble bee, also to busy to pose for photos.
This one might be flax, but I cant be sure:
Come back rain, all is forgiven. 
The water butttt is empty, I have ordered him a friend.
Stay safe. Be kind. Watch the bees.