Monday 27 June 2022


'The Fell' by Sarah Moss finally came and it was a quick and engaging story. I like books that cover a a brief period of time, it makes them feel very immediate, as if you read them in real time, as the events unfold. Kate goes out for an evening walk. It'll just be an hour, up to the top and back down she reasons, she needs to be out of doors ... but she is supposed to be isolating. Her neighbour Alice, sees her go, but is more worried about her own situation. Her son Matt surfaces from his video game to find her gone, and when he realises that she's not just in the garden who can he ask for help when his mum has broken the law. And Rob from mountain rescue tromps across the moors with the team of searchers, not judging or blaming, only hoping that she will be still alive when they find her. 

Kate follows a raven up the hill, he seems to be waiting and coaxing her on, and then after she falls he hovers around, waiting to peck out her eyes she muses, but in her delirious state she imagines him taunting her:
"Another mistake, says the raven, shall we make a list? We could go all the way back, couldn't we, tell me, Kate, what was the first mistake you ever made, would you say? What poor choice set you on the path to where we find ourselves this evening? School, she thinks, school was all mistakes, though whether this night was determined by the time I left school - Raven, you're not my mother, you're Miss Boucher, aren't you, Miss Boucher who told me off in front of the whole canteen on my first day because my shoes were the wrong colour and she wasn't interested in my weird duck-feet and my mother's admittedly hereditary last-minute approach to matters such as shopping for school uniform, it's as if both of us and probably now poor Matt as well think that if we ignore for example Christmas or summer or the beginning of the school year it might go away and we won't after all need presents or sunscreen or the right shoes, which isn't entirely mad because the end is nigh, we do know that, and if we're about to die in a nuclear war or that one where the magnetic poles swivel which she always imagines as the planet flipping, Australia on the top and Greenland on the bottom and all the fuses in the world blowing like fireworks as the planet spins through the darkness, or a more conclusive plague than the current slow-burning one or any of the many other reasons for the streets to run with blood, who wants to have spent their last days of ignorant normality looking for navy lace-up shoes in a size 2H?" (p.114-5)

And as she struggles to reach shelter and drifts in and out of consciousness he harangues her further:
"So yes, mistakes: the two big relationships of her life, her education, the lack of a carer, not to mention not being a great mum, not really understanding how to be a mum until it was probably too late because don't they say it's the first thousand days that determine the course of a child's life, Matt's future already damaged by her drinking coffee in pregnancy and crying when he had colic, not to mention not being a great daughter either, not to mention failing to cope with lockdown even though she hasn't been sick, hasn't lost anyone, and not only failing to cope but actually failing to isolate herself when told to do so, not to mention failing to go home before dark, not to mention failing and falling off the rock, yes, you could say there were mistakes.
Breathe through the pain, but it's the sort of pain that stops you breathing." (p.139)

Lovely atmosphere and the insides of people's heads, which works well in a book that has not much is happening, and of course taking place during lockdown when people were very physically isolated from each other. It is weird for me to read a novel like this; lockdown did not happen for me, I went to work, where social distancing barely happened, and did not get any of that navel-gazing time when everyone was wiping down their shopping and looking out of the windows and counting how many times their neighbours left the house. And it feels strangely all so long ago now. Has life returned to 'normal'? In some ways yes. I still have a 'wash your hands' reminder sign up in the hallway. 
Anyway, Kate sings to the raven, and she mentions this song, so for your enjoyment, The Manchester Rambler:

Stay safe. Be kind. Ramble somewhere.

Post script to the abortion debate

Dunk sent me a link to this article on the Science Based Medicine website, which is very interesting reading (if you have ten minutes or so). It is stepping away from the ethical arguments and talking about how decisions like the one to repeal Roe v Wade have wider implications and are just part of what is happening to attack science based medicine. Health care decisions must be made about what is necessary for the care of the patient, not what some random people think is the 'right' thing to do. There are many circumstances where abortion is medically the necessary thing to do to protect a woman's life; a woman suffering a miscarriage, a woman diagnosed with cancer, a woman suffering pre-eclampsia, a woman who's baby has been diagnosed with a condition that is terminal. He outlines the extreme cases where women have been denied life saving treatment because the foetus in their uterus had a heartbeat. The threat of criminality muddies the water for doctors making decisions about the care of pregnant women; just how near death do they have to be before it is ok to sacrifice their unborn child. There are no other circumstances where one human being is legally obliged to sacrifice their life for someone else. If someone is drowning, you are not obliged to jump in and save them. If your organ is a match for someone who needs it, you are not obliged to give it to them. A pregnant woman should have health care decision made based on her needs, not on the needs of the foetus. 
These things are not straightforward. Don't be taken in by people who say they are.

Stay safe. Live with compassion for other human beings. Imagine living with the consequences of your worst bad decision, and be slower to pass judgement.

Rain at last

The rain came down gently this morning and dampened everything in the garden. It is all feeling very lush and colourful.
And things to eat are coming along too. I have had loads of lettuce, and even some rocket. The basil plants indoors are coming along nicely. The tomatoes offer a tempting anticipation of juiciness to come soon:
The foxgloves that I have been nurturing for 18 months have finally flowered. It was a lot of care and attention and I will probably just let them do their own thing now and hope for some self-seeders:
Damp lavender filling the space next to the bench:
And other little unexpected treasure:
Meanwhile, in Japan:

Stay safe. Be kind. Go outside and see what's there (cos the scary crawlies are inside).

Saturday 25 June 2022

What America needs now is a sex strike

Even when you know it's coming some news still hits you like a thump in your stomach. So yesterday the good old US of A took yet another step back to the dark ages. Women are not really people after all, just walking uteri, baby making machines, who need to relearn their place. I am so angry I can almost feel the steam coming out of my ears. I was reading a review of a Japanese graphic novel in the Guardian that led to another article about abortion in Japan, where women still need to get their spouse's permission. It's not about the babies. It's never been about the babies. It's about the control of women; always has been, always will be. So I turned to Tish this morning and said, 'America needs a sex strike', and I don't mean a couple of weeks or so, I mean a sex strike until the law is changed. Because, I know you know this, banning abortion does not stop abortions happening. Some people are 'elated' it seems, like this woman on the BBC, who thinks that offering diapers and baby clothes is enough support for expectant women, in a country where it costs thousands of dollars to give birth in a hospital. It is frightening to see policies becoming more restrictive, in Poland for example, and other countries desperately trying to persuade woman to have more children which you can see heading in the same direction. Interestingly sex strikes have been used for a variety of reasons over the years, and while not necessarily effective it feels like the appropriate response to the current situation. According to polls the vast majority of people in the US support the right to abortion in some situations; I don't understand how it happens that the people with the extreme views are the ones making the decisions. In the UK (where abortion is still technically illegal) rules were relaxed during the pandemic, allowing women to take medical abortion pills at home, and I had a memory that this was extended recently, but now I cannot find the information anywhere. (Edit 26/6) Browsing coverage this morning I found this article on the Independent website, that uses the phrase 'pro-abortion activists'. Nobody is 'pro-abortion'! Nobody thinks abortions are great and there should be more of them. I hate the way that language is used in this debate, drawing hard lines. We all think there should be fewer abortions, we just disagree on how this is achieved. Pro-choice activists want better healthcare and access to contraception, more sex education and paid maternity leave, affordable childcare and respect for women's autonomy. The 'pro-life' activists just want to remove women's hard won rights. And then I also found this article by Sonia Sodha in the Observer, that she argues so eloquently, and reminded me (of course) about the change of policy in Ireland that followed a public debate and referendum. Here the Guardian has some suggestions for ways you can support women having continued access to abortion. The Abortion Support Network in the UK also provides financial support for women travelling from Europe and Northern Ireland (where the situation is abominable and complicated). 
I find it frightening when I see these kinds of right wing attitudes dominating politics and thus filtering down to impact on real people's lives. I got a letter from my employer yesterday telling me they were imposing a pay deal, and how lovely it was that I was going to get my money, plus a backdated lump sum, nice and quickly, in the face of the current cost-of-living crisis (oh look, inflation is at 9%, so we are going to give you 2% and you better be goddamn grateful), because they want to preempt the union's strike ballot and get everyone one to think how much easier it is to just take a the little bit of money on offer rather than fight for decent pay, and it makes me more angry at the tactics. Sometimes being angry is exhausting.

Stay safe. Be kind. Show some support (moral or financial, whatever you can manage).

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Read a book in one sitting

I don't often read books in one sitting. I remember doing it with 'The Road' (a long time ago), that was so gripping I could not put it down. I picked up 'Unsettled Ground' by Claire Fuller (who I find I have reviewed twice before) (and now I want to get the fourth of her novels and read that too) on Sunday afternoon after work and just kind of sat reading while Tish watched some true crime drama thing, thinking I would just make a start on it. I went to bed two-thirds of the way through and just carried on reading, until I got to the point where I might as well do another half an hour and finish. 

It tells the story of Jeanie and Julius, who, when their mother dies very abruptly, find they must deal with the outside world that they have mostly managed to avoid. It is a tale of smothering mothering and slightly socially awkward people, who, because they are bound together find that maybe they can face the world after all. But what emerges is that their mother had other things going on in her life of which they were unaware. I find it sad that there are people who see life as a transaction. Their mother refuses to take from society, because she fears owing anything in return, and so taking assistance from others comes hard to her twins (who are 51, by the way). Their bond is threatened when Julius develops a crush on a local woman, who appears to reciprocate, and Jeanie fears she will be abandoned. Her life has been filled with fears, and she is forced to face up to some of them, and I found her surprisingly adaptable and resourceful.
Here, the root of all her fears, from her childhood illness (Dot is her mother):

"Dot got her handkerchief out from her handbag and covered her face with it, rocking back and forth where she sat on the chair next to the doctor's desk. He called for the receptionist to come in, and Jeanie was led by the hand, back to the waiting room. There, heels on her chair and arms hugging her knees, she stayed until her mother came to fetch her. Was it then, when they got home, that Dot explained that the fever and the aches that Jeanie had suffered from when she was younger had weakened her heart and made it fragile, or was it later? Either way, her mother said, 'Think of your heart like an egg. You know what happens if you drop an egg?' Jeanie was worried her mother was going to start crying again and if she did Jeanie wouldn't know what to do. Perhaps the doctor had given her mother a pill to stop her crying when Jeanie had been in the waiting room. As her mother spoke, Jeanie imagined something within her chest the size and shape of a duck's egg but with a pinkish tinge and its shell so thin that the creature inside was visible: curled, bloody and featherless, it knocked and scraped on the shell's inner layer. What mayhem would it cause if it broke free?" (p.18)

That's all, no disclosure. An excellent read, thoroughly engaging, lots of real people, even the incidental characters have depth and subtleties. The library has 'Swimming Lessons' for me so am off to the gym now.

Stay safe. Be kind. Read a book in one sitting.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

30 Days Wild - bees, bees and other stuff

Ladybird nestling in a random flower.

Gorgeous shiny jewel green, possibly, hoverfly, I can't find an ID on him:

Honey bee in Julie's garden this afternoon:

and honey bee in mine too when I came home:

Stay safe. Be kind. Weed your friend's garden.

Sunday 19 June 2022

30 Days Wild - Bee Identification Help

I was in the yard after work and repotted my two remaining avocado trees. The smaller one I cut right back the other day as all the leaves on the main stem had some kind of mildew. I remembered how much they flourished last summer spending a couple of months outside so they will sit on the garden until September. 
I have been keeping an eye on the bees of course; I have so many different things flowering at the moment but they continue to love this purple self seeded stuff the best. I spotted this one and got all excited thinking it might be a honey bee ... but on researching I think not. My best guess is a wool carder bee but would love it if someone more knowledgable could confirm or correct me.

Stay safe. Be kind. Fingers crossed for some rain (just enough to fill the water buttts).

Friday 17 June 2022

30 Days Wild - Survival of the fittest

Sadly bob 3 died a couple of days ago. They were quite a late arrival and suffered under the size advantage the first two had gained. They were already weakened when they fell over and fell outside one of the protective branches and were subsequently left out in the cold and rain as Dorcha has no way to move the chick back into the centre of the nest. (Apparently ospreys don't have good problem solving skills, but also have razor sharp beak and claws and thus no way to pick up and move the chick).
Then I sat today after work and watched them feed for ten minutes. The closer chick got at least 3 bites for every one that the other managed and Dorcha did not particularly try to share it out fairly, she just put it in the first open beak. It's a tough life being an osprey chick. 
Mark over at 'Views From the Bike Shed' recommended the puffin cam (which is currently showing a burrow box, so they probably have several different cameras) on Skomer Island, which Tish and I enjoyed the other afternoon. Then when I looked on the hosting site, there are random webcams all over the world, including this fab one at Okaukuejo Resort Wildlife Waterhole in Namibia:

Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy some wildlife.

Sunday 12 June 2022

30 Days Wild - Osprey Joy


We watched the ospreys all through the lockdown in 2020, they were a source of much excitement. This year Louis and Dorcha's three 'bobs' hatched in the last 10 days and already doing well, lots of back and forth with the fish. It feels amazing that they go from egg to fully grown osprey in 4 months, then they just head off into the wild and don't really have much to do with each other; then they come back next year and do it all again. I read on the wiki page that since DDT was banned in many places in the 1970s numbers have made a significant recovery and they are not considered endangered. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Admire the raptors.

Saturday 11 June 2022

Shh, shh, shh

I needed this book. William Boyd's 'Sweet Caress' was a charity shop find in Torquay. I reviewed Any Human Heart way back at the beginning of the blog in 2009 (and subsequently listed it as one of my top ten favourite books when I reached 1000 posts in 2016). I loved it. I reviewed Love is Blind in 2018 but did not feel the same way, noting the lack of depth in his female characters. But Sweet Caress did for me exactly what Any Human Heart did, it felt real. 

I don't know if other people do this, but I have an automatic feeling of fondness for anyone who shares a name with people I love. Real people, or characters in books. There is not logic to it. It also applies to people who share my name. I had a lovely exchange with a lady in the callers office once because her name was Martine and we bonded momentarily over having an unusual name. I had a peculiar experience with Rape, a love story by Joyce Carol Oates because the main character was called Martine. And I bonded with Armory Clay because she shares my birthday. The book opens and closes with the shh, shh, shh of the ocean and it reminded me of this that I wrote during my visit to Costa Rica (which reminded me that I am 58, and not 56 as I keep thinking). I love the photos in the book (which reminded me of Austerlitz, which also has photos for added realism), and the references throughout to things that really happen and, occasionally, to real people (though less so than AHH which has a long section with the Duke of Windsor). 

As a teenager Armory survives an attempted drowning by her father, and his mental breakdown, and that of other men in her life affected by war punctuates the book. It is not an anti war book but its theme is the way that the impact of war echoes across time and through generations, leaving indelible traces. She becomes a photographer which gives her a career that hops back and forth across the Atlantic and takes her to the front line in France. People and places recur as her fortunes wax and wane. She falls in and out of love. I liked her because she made real choices, things do not happen to her, she makes them happen. The only thing that annoyed me was the vaginal bleeding. So she gets beaten up during the Maroon Street Riot (apparently not real), which results in internal injuries and mysterious bleeding. This was the 1930s, they would have done a hysterectomy and had done with it. So it felt like a device to explain how a sexually active young woman does not get pregnant, but leaves her able, equally mysteriously, to conceive later in life. But I can overlook small niggles in the grand scheme of the satisfying period detail. So, quotes. The book moves through time across most of the 20th century, but is punctuated by a diary from 1977. This kind of nicely sums up her life philosophy:

"In anyone's house at any given time there will, I suppose, be half a dozen appliances or components not functioning properly. A light fused, a door-handle loose, a floorboard creaking, an electric iron inexplicably giving no heat. In the cottage's case, for example, there is a permanently dripping cold tap in the bathroom, a drawer in the kitchen that will not fully shut, and an armchair that has mysteriously lost one castor. Also, the Hillman Imp seems to be leaking oil from somewhere, judging from the dark stains on the gravel and my wireless reception will switch off completely for ten minutes or so, offering up muffled voices obscured by crackling gunfire, before it bizarrely resumes normal service.
As with your house, so with your body. I've a bruise on my shin, the remains of a splinter in my palm that seems to be turning septic, an ingrowing big toenail and my left knee cartilage twinges with a spasm of pain when I rise from a seat. We make do - favour the right leg, use the left hand, slip a paperback under the armchair where the caster should be. It amazes me what compromises we happily live with. We limp along, patching up, improvising." (p.175-6)

More philosophical musings:

"I was thinking about the mistakes we all make - or rather the concept of a 'mistake'. It's something that can only be realised in hindsight - big mistake or small one. It was a mistake to marry him. It was a mistake to got o Brighton on a bank holiday. It was a mistake to write that letter in red ink. It was a mistake to have left home without an umbrella. We don't sense mistakes coming, there's this crucial unforeseen factor to them. So I found myself asking the question: what is the opposite of a mistake? And I realised there wasn't a word, in fact, precisely because a mistake always arises from best intentions that go awry. You can't set out to make a mistake. Mistakes happen - there's nothing we can do about them.
I walked along the beach on my little bay thinking of Xan. He was only twenty-seven. Almost 100,000 RAF airmen died during the Second World War, I read somewhere. The fact that Xan was one unit in that huge number makes it all the more terrible. One butcher's bill for one family amongst the myriad served up by that conflict." (p.255)

After the war she marries abruptly and goes to live as Lady Farr in Scotland, having twin daughters, until she is widowed, a period not lingered over. Some time passes and she becomes restless and manages, through connections, to get a posting as a photographer to Vietnam. She manages to keep her distance from the horrors of the war, photographing the place and its people, but then, when visiting an airbase, she appears to witness something untoward and it abruptly returned to England by the authorities. It is strange that I found it more threatening than any of the war scenes, and here she describes her feelings of powerlessness:

"And then they both gave me tight little smiles and we stood up. Brown asked if i had any money and I said only American dollars. He gave me a £10 note that I had to sign a chit for and I was shown back to the front door by puce-suit where my suitcase was waiting for me.
I travelled down in the lift alone and stepped out into the first glimmerings of dawn in St John's Wood. I hailed a passing taxi and asked to be taken to an all-night café. This proved to be in Victoria bus station where - beneath blazing fluorescent light - I ate, and hugely relished, a greasy breakfast and drank many cups of strong tea.
But I was feeling increasingly strange as I sat there in the refulgent cafeteria considering what had just happened to me in the last forty-eight hours or so and I realised I had experienced this sensation before but couldn't remember when. That sense of fearful powerlessness; of other forces suddenly taking over the direction of your life that you had chosen; of being completely out of your depth in what you thought was familiar society. And then I remembered. My 'obscenity' trial over my Berlin photographs, all those decades ago - sitting in the Bow Street Magistrates' Court pleading guilty when I knew I was innocent; learning that my photographs were due to be destroyed; being admonished and humiliated by the judge.
When you encounter the implacable power of the state it's a deeply destabilising moment. In an ordinary life it happens very rarely - maybe never, maybe once or twice. But your individual being, your individual nature, seems suddenly worth nothing - you feel expendable - and that's what frightens you, fundamentally, that's what makes your bowels loosen." (p. 401-2)

It is a while since I have found myself heading to bed early because my book is calling and sitting up later than I should, although that was ok as I have been on leave this week. It was an extremely satisfying read, full of characters to care about and lives well lived. It followed an almost identical format to Any Human Heart, I guess if you have found a formula that works, you stick with it. I take back what I said earlier about his women characters.

"It was still light so I summoned Flam and we walked down to the bay. I stood on the small crescent beach, as Flam roved around the tide rack and rock pools, and I watched the day slip into night, noting the wondrous tonal transformation of the sunset on its dimmer switch, how blood-orange can shade imperceptibly into ice-blue on the knife-edge of the horizon, listening to the sea's interminable call for silence - shh, shh, shh." (p.6)

Stay safe. Be kind. Listen to the ocean.

30 Days Wild - bee rescue

Having rescued a bee from the spider web the other day, yesterday afternoon I spotted one who had landed in one of the various plastic trays lying rain-filled in the yard. He was still wriggling quite vigorously so I assume had not been there long so I used my trusty chopstick (freebie ones that I variously use as plant labels, dibbers, seedling transplanters and now bee rescue devices) to fish him out and place him gently on the sun-warmed arm of the bench. He rested there for about 20 minutes while I drank a cup of tea, looking a little forlorn but twitching occasionally, then:
Stay safe. Be kind. Every little helps.

Friday 10 June 2022

30 Days Wild - Birdsong, Hoverflies and Scale Insects

Yesterday Julie and I took a lovely walk around the wooded border of Wythenshawe Park. While the park seems to consist of a huge open parkland area that was lacking in deer we stuck to the area of dense woodland around the edge, that despite being very close to heavy traffic, was absolutely full of birdsong. She showed me how to identify the song of a wren, that she had learned recently, and using a phone app we also identified a song thrush. Unfortunately the birds stayed well hidden amongst the tall canopy, flittering tantalisingly across the path from time to time. 
This was the only wildlife we got a good sighting of:
Back at home I was reading Crafty Green Poet's blog and Juliet coincidentally had a post about scale insects, which I immediately realised was this strange substance that I had spotted on the dogwood. Apparently the white bit is an egg sac and the brown bit is the deceased insect that drops dead of exhaustion in situ having spent all their energy producing the eggs. I was worried that they were parasitic and a nuisance but when I checked the RHS website said not to worry and the plant would not be unduly affected. 
In my enthusiasm for the bees I have been photographing anything with wings that visits the garden. Julie looked at my photo of this one and immediately said it was probably a hoverfly, my best guess is a migrant hoverfly. Tish and I found recycled plastic planters in B&M bargains this morning so I will be moving stuff around a bit and enjoying the not-rain.
Stay safe. Be kind. Don't jinx it by mentioning the big round glowing thing.

Wednesday 8 June 2022

30 Days Wild - bees and other crawly things

The interweb informs me that this is an orb weaver spider, spotted in the ferns by the back door because of its lovely golden body. 
Have seen several ladybirds, and that's exciting as there have been none previous years and I even purchased larvae in an attempt to deal with the aphid issue. There were some crawlies on my only rose bush so I just wiped them away but hopefully the ecosystem will help protect it too.
I popped to Hulme Garden Centre on the off chance of finding some preloved planters, and was very well behaved and did not buy plants. I did browse the gardens for quite a while though and watched the bees, and managed to catch a photo of a red-tailed bumble bee (who apparently favour yellow flowers).
Then having read the descriptions more closely in the bee spotting guide I spotted several furrow bees in the yard yesterday. She is right, you would dismiss them as some kind of fly, but as you watch you realise their behaviour is more bee-like (excuse photo, will try and get a better one)
And I'm going to add this photo because the light is so good and you can see the veins on both the bee wings and the flower petals, just exquisite:
Stay safe. Be kind. Save a bee from a spiderweb and watch him crawl up your arm!

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Don't Touch

Dunk and I went out over the bank holiday to the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield after I saw a review of the Sheila Hicks exhibition. While it was worth the trip, I am left bemused by artists who create works where texture is an important feature, only to find that you cannot touch anything.

They were huge and visually striking but nothing that was particularly thought provoking, that I tend to feel is important in art. It is work that raises questions about the lines between art and craft. There were many small weavings that were nothing special, and I have seem similar and more interesting things on Etsy. We then stepped to the next gallery to find, naturally, Barbara Hepworth,
and Henry Moore,
who also tend to suffer from the 'no touching' instruction, because both artists create forms which just beg to be touched.
But my favourite artwork was this one, by Ithel Colquhoun. The sign next to it informed me that it was snuck into an exhibition in Bradford in 1943 under the title 'Tree anatomy', and nobody questioned its presence:
Meanwhile in Japan, Monkey was at a gallery too, but no vaginas there:

Stay safe. Be kind. Look closely, things are not always what they first appear.
(Found art, at Leeds station, tentatively entitled, 'Squashed squirrel')

The Empress and the Cake

'The Empress and the Cake' by Linda Stift (translated by Jamie Bulloch, who has a much more extensive wiki entry) was an impulse purchased based on the title and the pretty cover. And it was wonderfully sinister ... no, that's the wrong word. Creepy? Disturbing? I'm not sure how to describe it. A young woman is offered cake by a peculiar elderly lady outside a patisserie, which sets off a chain of increasingly weird events and situations from which she finds she is unable to extricate herself. It's the kind of book where you don't want to give too much away. It's a very character driven book; the 'Empress' Frau Hohenembs, her servant Ida and the young (unnamed?) woman. The young woman, by the arrival of cake in her life, is tipped back into a lifestyle she thought tentatively that she had escaped (this is very disturbing and the first of many such description):

"I picked out a knife from the drawer and let it slide slowly through the Gugelhupf. I ate the slice standing up. The soft, slightly crumbly mass spread to all corners of my mouth. I could taste cocoa powder and lemon zest, with a hint of vanilla. I cut the next slice slightly thicker. On the third I spread apricot jam, which had stood unopened in the fridge for two years, and the forth I dipped into a jumbo mug of cold chocolate, which I had made myself. I cut the final piece into two and held a slice in each hand, both thickly buttered, then took alternate bites from them while squatting down to inspect the fridge. I took out everything that was more or less edible and ate it, rapidly and silently. I was abandoned by the day. A faint trance descended onto me like a silk cloth. I went into the bathroom and regurgitated the whole lot. The grotesque face of my abnormality, which had lain dormant within me, resurfaced. It was the first time in fifteen years. I had always known that there was no safety net. But I hadn't suspected that it would arrive so unspectacularly, that it would not be preceded by a disaster such as heartbreak or dismissal or a death. It was as if I'd absent-mindedly taken the wrong path when out for a walk." (p.23)

The three of them begin a series of 'outings' that become robberies, which simply makes her vulnerable to more extortion by the old lady. It descends into a sense of unreality pretty quickly, and the woman is so consumed by self-hatred and disgust that she does not even contact her only friend and is sucked into this new existence.

"Please call 55 60 600 as soon as possible. yours, Frau Hohenembs. I anticipated that this brazenly requested conversation would be about the duck press. Of course, I should have guessed that it was Ida creeping round my door, irresponsibly putting me in danger. I had no intention of calling. But I suspect Frau Hohenembs would not give up; she'd probably make Ida camp outside my flat until we'd spoken. Carefully adjusting one of the venetian blinds, I peered through the horizontal slats at the park over the road, but couldn't see anything suspicious. Only that the blinds urgently needed cleaning. A young woman was sitting on the bench with several supermarket shopping bags. She was looking vacantly up at my windows. Either she seemed to be pondering something or she was just staring into thin air, as people put it so nicely. I had the unpleasant impression that she looked similar to me, even though she was too far away for me to be able to see her features properly. There was something in the way she sat that unsettled me; it could have been me sitting there like that." (p.58)

It pushes on to a thoroughly satisfying denouement. A wonderful random find.

Stay safe. Be kind. Trust your gut.

Monday 6 June 2022

30 Days Wild - scrub land

I like the fact that nature finds a way in some of the most unpromising of spaces. Wildflowers will pop up as soon as the human beings vacate. This patch of scrub land was being used as a storage area for builders working on the block across the road. Since they finished it has just been left, and the last two summers the poppies have taken over and given a vibrant display. It's right outside the gym window so I just jog on the cross trainer and admire the view.
Then Dunk and I went on an outing on Friday and it was lovely to just gaze out at all the wildflowers growing in the waste land alongside the tracks. Apparently, during the steam era, Dunk tells me (because he is an old bloke and remembers), they always had to clear the land alongside the railways for fear of sparks starting fires in the undergrowth, whereas now it feels like they act as corridors of greenery. (Hard to get a decent photo as I had to wait for the train to slow down so missed the best bits).
Stay safe. Be kind. Look out of the window.

Thursday 2 June 2022

God save the queen?

When I was a child my dad bought two souvenir coronation money boxes from some stall on Neston market for my sister and me. They are both pretty battered and well used now, and probably worth at least £1.50. But my links to the royal family go back much further than that. Here is my wonderful mum, born in 1936, youngest of four daughters, and named Elizabeth Margaret for the two little princesses. I find it interesting that my grandparents so admired the royals that they named their daughter for them, and yet Elizabeth herself chooses to barely acknowledge that my mum is an independent human being.

Here is my only correspondence with her from 2018 which to me represents a woman who remains stuck in the past while the world has changed around her. I read in the Guardian recently a comment by Peter Tatchell, on refusing to participate in the jubilee events, "To my knowledge, [the Queen] has never publicly acknowledged that LGBT+ people exist. The words lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender have never publicly passed her lips and she has never visited or been a patron of any LBGT+ charity.":
The government meanwhile is apparently spending £12million on books for primary schools, but all the same one, that celebrates the life of the queen. Amid all this excitement, and teaching resources directed towards this jubilee, I wonder if, in pursuit of a broad and balance curriculum, schools will be discussing the many potential alternatives to a constitutional monarchy. It feels anachronistic that in the 21st century we still treat these mere human beings as if they are special, as if they have some quality that the rest of us lack. What they have done, for the last thousand years, is to acquire land, property, wealth and resources, and given these things out to their friends and family to reinforce their own power and position. And somehow they have persuaded us ordinary people to come out and wave tiny flags and cheer them as they go by. I also read a report concerning the lack of tree cover on royal land and the refusal by the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall to discuss afforestation or consider the rewilding of some of their extensive estates. These are vast areas of the country, stolen over the centuries by people with might on their side. And while it's nice to know that the hospitality industry is getting a boost from the celebrations, I feel more depressed by the plastic bunting and balloons that are going to be joining landfill on Monday. 
David Allen Green's Law and Policy blog has this most thought provoking post today concerning the jubilee and the role of the monarchy in our society, making his usual well argued case for careful consideration before taking action. I can't make a strong case for a republic. She is a symbol of the power of the status quo; it's always been like this so lets just leave well alone. I simply abhor the blinkered patriotism that the royal family engender, and mix in a bit of anointment by the almighty, and there is nothing to particularly make me grateful for the presence of this little old lady, one of the richest women in the world, who has nodded and smiled her way across the planet and back again, but who, when it comes down to it, is just a human being like the rest of us. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Consider the alternatives.

30 Days Wild - Night crawlers

Excuse the dark photos but I captured this surreal image on my slug hunt on Tuesday. I had not idea that worms could climb. I have a whole new respect for their mountaineering exploits. He was just held in place by his own slime and seemed to be heading somewhere with intent.
Then we were sitting last night and I spotted Dunk had a visitor on the living room window (on the second floor). I have to assume it was a slug egg lurking in some compost or maybe bought in with one of his recently acquired plants. Dunk dropped it out of the window ... but I'm sure he'll be back.
Stay safe. Be kind. Respect the slimy ones.

Wednesday 1 June 2022

30 Days Wild - Bee sex

So I thought I would try and join in with 30 Days Wild with the Wildlife Trusts again this year. I mean, I have to go to work a lot so often don't have time to go exploring the great outdoors but I have my little patch of greenery that brings nature to my back door. 
Sitting out the other afternoon, just counting the bees on the physocarpus opulifolius when I spotted what I thought was a very fat bumblebee. It turned out to be two bumblebees. Tree bumblebees to be precise, according to the Urban Bees website (who will send you regular update on bee identification if you sign up). 
This is what they look like close up:
I am determined to learn some more about bees this summer. There were actually two species on the bush, the tree bumblebee and the white tailed bumblebee. There were different sized ones of both species but it seems in general with bees the males are the smaller ones.
And sometimes the flowers just come in handy as protection from a Manchester downpour:
Meanwhile in Japan ... fire walking:
Stay safe. Be kind. Watch where you tread.