Saturday 30 April 2022

Z is for Zygote


Don't you just love the idea that each one of us was once a single celled organism. Each one of my lovely children were once a zygote, even my twins, who are di-zygotic, having been formed from two separate ova. It feels like an astounding process to go from this to a fully fledged adult. 
I love this photo, taken at my parents 60th wedding anniversary party, and I am filled with warm contentment and gratitude that they made it over the major hurdles and have grown into such wonderful human beings. A couple of weeks ago I read this article in the Guardian, by a woman describing how she handles the fact that she is no longer central to her son's life, it affected me quite sharply. You spend many years nurturing and caring for them, with the intention of making yourself redundant, but it still comes as a bit of a shock when it happens. Monkey's recent departure for the other side of the world feels as if it has marked a moment when my job is done. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Stay safe. Be kind. Let them go.

Friday 29 April 2022

Y is for Yak (Lucy and)

I don't very often gush about clothes; over the years I have had long periods of not buying new stuff at all, and in fact some of my favourite things are very ancient. Wearing a uniform for work and then gym clothes to the gym often doesn't leave me much time for wearing other clothes. But I have gone a bit crazy over Lucy and Yak. They are a fair trade, ethically conscious company that ploughs some profits back into charities and organisations that they support. I have always been a dungaree lover and these are the most comfy dungarees ever. And Claire has some too because my niece Natalie, another dungaree lover, bought her some, so now she is a convert too. 

She has gone home again now but in a couple of days we have turned my messy yard:
into a beautiful tidy yard, with lots of potential to add things and just sit and watch it all grow:

Stay safe. Be kind. Wear some dungarees.

Thursday 28 April 2022

X is for X-Ray

Mammograms are not fun, they are just something you do to protect yourself. I went last week and this letter arrived yesterday. Being told that you don't have breast cancer is definitely a cause for joy. Mammograms are a double edged sword however as they can also diagnose cancers that would never spread and are not life threatening. A proportion of women diagnosed thus will be treated for cancers that would never have done them harm. When I got my mammogram invite I also received an invite to join some research into breast cancer screening. Currently all women between 50 and 70 are screened routinely every three years. The research is looking into the idea of screening based on risk factors rather than treating all women the same, so some women will be screened more, some less. I have been allocated to the "risk-stratified breast cancer screening" group and will be having a DNA test and an interview to assess my cancer risk. So we will wait and see what the future holds for me and my boobs.

Stay safe. Be kind. Get screened.

Wednesday 27 April 2022

W is for Watson (Rebecca)

If you have never come across Skepchick it is certainly worth perusing if you are at all interested in having a questioning approach to life, the universe and everything. Her videos have been a source of reassurance for me that there are still people out there who want to understand the world, not just believe the crap that is fed to them. She pretty much propped me up single handed through the previous American administration. She delights in picking apart the meaningless waffle that politicians spout, and debunking outrageous claims in the media. I particularly enjoyed this one last week. Sometimes my jaw just drops to discover the weird stuff that people will believe, and more importantly spend their hard earned cash on. It takes all sorts to make a world as they say, but it only takes one Rebecca Watson to put you straight. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Don't believe everything you see in the interweb.

Monday 25 April 2022

U V is for Unexpected Visitors


I am cheating again today because the visit from my sister Claire was not unexpected, but visits always bring me joy. It's lovely when people just pop round unexpectedly and lovely when you have the pleasure of antici ... pation of a visit. Today we have been for a little walk around the Marie Louise Gardens, a tiny gem of a green space in south Didsbury. It had this delightful and clever sundial, partly created by local schoolchildren. It works by standing on the month that you are in (in the figure of 8 symbol in the centre) and then your shadow will cast showing the time (with both GMT and BST in separate rows) (sadly it was cloudy this morning, so we had no idea of the time):

p.s. the first egg has been laid at Loch Arkaig

Stay safe. Be kind. Stand in the sun.

Saturday 23 April 2022

T is for Trees

I am an unashamed tree-hugger. What's not to love about trees? They are just all round fantastic. They suck carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into wood, and make oxygen in the process. They cool urban streets just by being there. So here is a blog post with love for the trees in my life. 
At the top, the lovely tree in the park at the end of our road. It is framed so beautifully by the street and when I ride home from work every day I watch its changing nature as the seasons pass. This one was taken a couple of weeks ago just as it was coming into leaf.

Below is a photo I took last week when I went out to do some delivery; spotted in a garden on Parsonage road, the magnolia and cherry blossom were all mixed up together and it was just delightful.

My longest standing tree friend, one of many avocado trees I have grown in recent years. They don't get very big at the moment but our cunning plan is to anticipate global climate change allowing them to fruit in a future British climate and to have our own supply one day:

I started planting acorns a couple of years ago and now I have a mini forest. When they are a bit more sturdy, probably another year or so, I will find somewhere to plant them out:

There is mostly concrete in my yard but you can get fruit trees on dwarf rootstock so I have my plum tree (two years old now):
and, added last autumn, a crab apple (it still looks pretty much like a twig, but there are leaves peeping through slowly):

Stay safe. Be kind. Hug a tree.

Friday 22 April 2022

S is for Savage Chickens

Savage Chickens have been giving me huge joy for many years now. It is lovely when you find someone who has just the most surreal sense of humour, and every time a new comic arrives in my feed I know it's going to make me smile. The chickens are the most regular characters but he has all kinds of creatures, and even inanimate objects, that have very random and unexpected thoughts.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Hug a slug.

Thursday 21 April 2022

R is for Repayments

Making repayments on a mortgage is not usually something that gives most people joy, but then I am not most people. I only bought my house three years ago, and being of the slightly older persuasion I do not have long before retirement to get the mortgage paid off, so paying it down has been a priority. Making mortgage payments is way more fun than making rent payments. It gives me joy because every time I make an overpayment Santander sends me a letter to tell me how the number is going down and much less time it will take to pay off. And when my house is all mine that will give me huge joy.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Pay it off.

Wednesday 20 April 2022

Q is for Quitting

Giving yourself permission to not do stuff is very liberating. Three years ago I made a new year resolution to not beat myself up about stuff, and it has been the most successful resolution. If I have crafty projects hanging around unfinished, I don't beat myself up about it. If I don't want to finish a book, that's fine too. I glanced out of the window at the yard quite a lot over the last few months, but I didn't go out, I stayed in the warm and dry. I have earned less money this past year, because I have worked less overtime, allowing myself to say no, to have my days off. (I occasionally debate quitting my job, but there are no particularly desirable alternatives.) We joined the gym after the first lockdown, and we go regularly, but if I don't feel like going it's no big deal; I give myself permission to spend the afternoon on the sofa. I try to eat reasonably healthily, and cook proper food, but after a late shift, it's okay to order a pizza. I also like not quitting. Years ago, under duress, I cut down the sugar in my tea from two spoons to one spoon, but there is no way I am giving up the rest. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Quit beating yourself up.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

P is for Poetry

I love poetry. 122 times say the tags. This little pile is what I dug out from beside my bed. I like to dip in and out. I love simple accessible poetry and I love obtuse esoteric poetry. I renewed my enthusiasm for poetry through my volunteering at the Manchester Literature Festival that has given me the chance to experience all kinds of poets. You cannot beat listening to poetry performed, it is a whole different experience to just reading it on a page. I find new poets by reading book reviews, and the Poem of the Week feature in the Guardian. You can start here with Simon Armitage, and read through my poetry A to Z from 2015.
Julie sent me this over WhatsApp the other day (by Mikko Harvey), because poetry is always about sharing:

But I also remembered what I said at the start of my A to Z, that it was inspired by Ross Gay's Book of Delights so I will give you one from his poetry book (that I have not read much of yet) 'Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude':

ode to drinking water from my hands

which today, in the garden,
I'd forgotten
I'd known and more
I'd learned and was taught this
by my grandfather
who, in the midst of arranging
and watering
the small bouquets
on mostly the freshest graves
saw my thirst
and cranked the rusty red pump
bringing forth
from what sounded like the gravelly throat
of an animal
a frigid torrent
and with his hands made a lagoon
from which he drank
and then I drank
before he cranked again
making of my hands, now,
a fountain in which I can see
the silty bottom
drifting while I drink
and drink and
my grandfather waters the flowers
on the graves
among which are his
and his wife's
unfinished and patient, glistening
after he rinses the bird shit
from his wife's
and the pump exhales
and I drink
to the bottom of my fountain
and join him
in his work.

Stay safe. Be kind. Listen to a poem (start here, move on).

Monday 18 April 2022

April Garden Delights (not an A to Z post)


The garden has been neglected chaos pretty much since the autumn. I am a fair weather gardener and anyway there is nothing much to do out there when it is just dead stuff in pots. I finally went out there on Saturday to make a start on the new growing season. I cleaned out the Julians and added worm compost to several places. I weeded the trees and cleared out dead stalks of sunflowers and evening primrose, and potted a few things up in the hope that more space will encourage growth. Stuff has come on quite well by itself to be honest. The strawberry plants all seemed to be dead, but I had captured quite a lot of baby ones in tiny pots, so I moved them all into the strawberry planter.
White bluebells, that I don't recall planting:
Wallflowers that mum sent last year:
Grape hyacinths that I did plant:
The acer that I bought two years ago, bright spring green and doing so well:
a new tiny acer that mum gave me:
the mess of weeds in pots that I leave alone in the hope that some of them may be wildflowers:
The side bed is looking just lush, though a new climber for this space is in order this year (having had two passionflower plants die last summer):
I had been feeling very slumpy, and a morning in the yard, reminding myself how lovely it is to have this space worked wonders. Things I was worried were dead seem to be coming back to life and there were even a few bees moseying around. It's going to be a lovely summer.
Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy your space, no matter how small.

O is for Octopus and Ospreys

Back in 2020 we (along with thousands of other people) watched the arrival, raising and then departure of three osprey chicks from a nest at Lock Arkaig in Scotland. The osprey cam was the highlight of the lockdown and watching the parents Louis and Aila work so hard and share their family's life was joyful. I used to just have the webcam on while I was doing other things and look up when one or other of them arrived with a fish for the chicks. 
Last year nobody used the nest that had been occupied for several years, but happily Louis and a new ladyfriend, Dorcha, have a new site and a new camera has been installed. I don't think eggs have been laid yet as nobody is sitting so you can watch the whole process between now and July. What I particularly love is the way they are slightly ungainly as they potter around on the nest, compared to how elegant they are in flight. Go to the osprey cam page on the Woodland Trust website and watch. 

Then a post entitled Octopus Empire arrived in my inbox from The Marginalian, which led me, as the interweb is wont to do, to the wikipedia page for Octopuses, which inevitably reminded me of My Octopus Teacher. It is the most remarkable film, which you can watch on Netflix, and in my humble opinion made the subscription worthwhile. Here is the trailer:

Stay safe. Be kind. Befriend an octopus, or failing that, whatever creature comes your way.

Saturday 16 April 2022

N is for Novels


I love novels. You can tell by the tags in the sidebar, over 600 books in the last 13 years (though not all of them are novels of course). I don't particularly read for escapism, I read to understand the human condition. Ok, maybe sometimes I read for comfort. I love the way novels take you into someone else's world. A good novel takes you in and makes you forget your own for a while. I like to glimpse the infinite variety of human existence and experience. 

So for people who are not regulars here's just a little list of books from the last few years that have given me particular joy (and to remind me that I have not updated the book review list page for two years):

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Just read.

Friday 15 April 2022

M is for Mondegreen


Many years ago I used to drive my kids to the station in Cheltenham on a Friday night to go and visit their dad. We listened to the Chris Evans show on Radio 2, and he did this little feature about mishearing song lyrics. Mondegreen is the word that refers to this phenomenon. My favourite mondegreen that came up on the show one Friday was from The Killers song 'Human' in which the person writing in heard their child singing the chorus line as "Are we human or are we hamsters?" And so ever after this is how I sing the song whenever it comes on the radio. And now you know, I'm sure you will too, because that is way better than the original lyrics.

Stay safe. Be kind. Sing like nobody is listening.

p.s. and because Dunk is magic and remembers everything and is a superhuman internet searcher also enjoy this version:

Thursday 14 April 2022

K is for Kiss, L is for Lemon Cake

Dunk suggested kiss for K but I find that I do not have a picture of us kissing, maybe we don't kiss enough. Kissing gives me joy. Even a text with a kiss emoji can do the trick. Back in 2016, the last time I did the A to Z Challenge, I did art as my theme, so I thought I would revisit one that I love to illustrate the kiss, which is The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. I learn from his wikipedia page that he died during the 1918 pandemic, which made me pause and feel sad, even though it was so long ago. I trust that many people continue to get joy from his paintings as I do.

Cake generally gives me much joy, but lemon cake has to be the best, it is the tart/sweet thing that it has going on. We use a recipe from my very old Cranks cookbook (though it doesn't appear to be on their website). The picture shows the purist version, nowadays we make two layers and sandwich them together with lemon water icing and then drizzle more over the top.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Eat cake.

Tuesday 12 April 2022

J is for Jam


For years I made blackberry and apple jam every autumn. The smell of it simmering is the best smell in the world. The Fallowfield Loop is my go-to place to pick blackberries. I would stop off on my ride home from work and gather a pound or two. I would make a whole lot, I like to be able to give jars away. But I have not made any for several years, because there is a stash in the top cupboard. It is practically vintage. Tish has been the one making jam more recently, gooseberry and fennel, and rhubarb and ginger, with fruit from Julie and Al's allotment. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Spread a little jam on your toast.

Monday 11 April 2022

I is for Insects


Quickie today as we are somewhat distracted by re-watching Mentalist now Monkey has left us for the Far East. I tried to find some insects in the garden to photograph but there were no bees around and I could only find very tiny woodlice. Insect populations are being decimated worldwide so the presence of bees in your garden is always a cause for joy. I took this little film of bees in my yard during the summer 2020. Just sitting in the sunshine and watching them hop from flower to flower are some of the best moments of my summer. I look forward to many more this year too.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Respect the bees.

Sunday 10 April 2022

H is for Hair (pink)

My kids have dyed their hair since teenagerhood. I had always kind of wanted to but was anxious about the process of having to bleach it, and the potential, however small, that it might all fall out. Then a friend of Monkey's gave me the idea to just dye a small lock of hair, underneath at the nape of my neck so that the roots did not really show as it grew out, which is what I did back in 2016.
Then during the pandemic, in May 2020, I finally took the plunge and did the whole lot. It has given me much joy. When I catch sight of the pink in the corner of my eye, or my reflection, it always lifts my mood.
I had it rainbow for a while too and it is now very grown out and in need of a refresh.
I have yet to persuade Dunk that it would be fun to dye his.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Stay safe. Be kind. Love your hair, whatever the colour.

Friday 8 April 2022

G is for George Monbiot

wiki commons
There are some people who's presence on the planet makes it a better place, George Monbiot is one of those people. He has spent his career writing and speaking and campaigning to raise people's awareness of the crises, environmental and otherwise, that are affecting the world. I read this article in the Guardian just yesterday, and while reading what he writes about can alternatively be quite depressing, it is important to understand the problem before you can try and fix it. I met him a few years ago when he came to the Manchester Literature Festival to talk about ideas around 'rewinding'. And this brings me around to 'Wilding' by Isabella Tree:

that I borrowed from mum when I visited and have been reading on and off. It is delightful in the same way as George, because it is full of depressing statistics about the loss of species and habitats, and then it lifts you right up because of what her and her husband are achieving on their small portion of the planet by returning it to the uninhibited rhythms of nature. So joys come in many different forms. I learn stuff from reading George. Knowledge is also a joy. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Learn new stuff.

Thursday 7 April 2022

F is for Fabulous Fukuoka Fountains


I was telling Monkey yesterday on WhatsApp about my A to Z and she shared some videos she had taken of these wonderful illuminated fountains in the shopping centre (which appear to be quite famous because they are on youtube as well). Apparently every half an hour they start a new different display and she had to keep going back and watching them. I said they are like water fireworks. And add a second joy to the fabulous Fukuoka fountains, because alphabetical blogging also lends itself beautifully to alliteration, and alliteration also gives me much joy. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Don't shop, just enjoy the sights.

Wednesday 6 April 2022

E is for Echidna

I nearly fell at the first hurdle today but joys are always increased by sharing, so I asked Tish for a suggestion for the letter E that give her joy, and she immediately said 'baby echidna', because this is definitely the most adorable thing you will see today. Then it becomes a bit of a cheat because baby echidnas are actually called puggles, but as we know you can adapt the rules of the A to Z in any way you like. 
Stay safe. Be kind. Cuddle a puggle.

Tuesday 5 April 2022

A to Z of Joys ( A through D)

So a few years ago I used to regularly do the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and I signed up again this year, and promptly forgot all about it. Then it came to my attention again on Sunday and I thought, oh no, it's too late now. And then I thought, actually yes, it is fine, I will just catch up. Last summer I reviewed 'The Book of Delights' by Ross Gay, and it gave me much pleasure, so I thought I would do my A to Z of the little joys that punctuate my life. 

First up, A is for Ady, my lovely, lovely granddaughter, who's presence in the world gives me much joy:
B is for the blossom on my plum tree. It is in its second year now, and we hope for plums:
C is for cosiness. I have recently replaced the covers on my Ikea sofa. It's pretty old but I found a company called Comfort Works, who do new covers for all sorts of old sofas, and they made these lovely new blue velvet ones. It brings a whole new level of enjoyment to cuddling up under the hexipuff quilt:
D is for my dangling duck, that my sister Claire bought me for Christmas. He is made of bamboo and when the weather dries up he will go outside and adorn the garden and add a gentle bink-bonk when the summer breeze blows:
Stay safe. Be kind. Blog from A to Z.

Monday 4 April 2022

Weird food

Fruit sandwiches
Strawberry pizza (all you can eat)
breakfast doughnuts
and the first japanese lizard

While Monkey has been eating weird food I have been living a normal boring life and reading a not very interesting book. 'At The Jerusalem' by Paul Bailey is about Faith, and how her declining faculties mean her family put her in a home. I was hoping we were going to get a quirky group of old lady characters but it became a meandering story about her poor relationship with her step-son and his family, and her grief over her daughter's death. She is so distressed by everything around her that she just withdraws into herself, but you get such a fragmented picture of her that it was hard to develop much empathy for her. The book failed to engage me as it lacked either strong characters or strong relationships, which was disappointing because I have enjoyed several old lady stories recently.

Stay safe. Be kind. Try another book.