Thursday 18 April 2024

P is for Pyjamas

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter P
P is for Pyjamas, from the Persian word pajama, originally loose light weight trousers. What's not to love about coming home from work and getting straight into your pyjamas with no intention of going anywhere or doing anything very much for the remainder of the day; pyjamas are the perfect clothing. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge

Wednesday 17 April 2024

O is for Orangutan

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter O
O is for Orangutan, because my words seem to have been very European in origin so far, from Malay, meaning old man of the forest. Tish had a lovely encounter with an orangutan when she visit Borneo many years ago with her college. They are our closest relative and the most intelligent of primates. All three species are critically endangered, mostly due to deforestation. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

N is for Neanderthal

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter N
N is for Neanderthal, from the German, referring to the Neander valley where remains of these ancient humans were discovered. A small proportion of people around today have some Neanderthal DNA but they went extinct about 40,000 years ago. We like to think that we outsmarted them, and that's why we're here and they're not, but maybe they just all got a bad case of the flu.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Monday 15 April 2024

M is for Mosquito

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter M
M is for Mosquito, from the Spanish or Portuguese, literally meaning 'little fly'. Interesting factoid, throughout human history more people have died of malaria than anything else, so mosquitoes have been the biggest threat to humanity, and it still kills over 600,000 people every year. Mosquitoes also spread several other diseases so they are certainly a lot more annoying than a little fly.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Ospreys at Lock Arkaig

The ospreys, Louis and Dorcha, have been back at Loch Arkaig for some weeks now, but we have our first egg. Looking forward to a summer of watching the chicks grow. 😊
Stay safe. Be kind. Watch some wildlife.

Saturday 13 April 2024

L is for Latke

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter L
L is for Latke. We are still with Yiddish today, the source of many of my favourite words. Latkes are a pancake made from grated potato and onions. If hummus is nectar of the gods, latkes are what they have for afters. I'm not sure you would have latkes with hummus ... my instinct says not. I feel sad now because Monkey is in Japan and she was my latke daughter, Tish is not bothered so I have not had any for ages, but you know what, I can see some coming in my near future. That takes us back to the Cooking and Sewing post from 2011, that is also one of my most visited posts, for the instructions for making latkes. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Friday 12 April 2024

K is for Kibitz

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter K
K is Kibitz is one of my most favourite foreign words, from Yiddish 'kibitzer', a spectator who offers unwanted or unsolicited advice, which according to Wikipedia, comes from German 'kibitzen', to look over a card player's shoulder. It's very useful to have a word to put a stop to people who interfere when I am playing sudoku with unhelpful suggestions ... you know who you are. Also Kibosh, possibly from Irish but possibly also from Yiddish, meaning to put an abrupt end to some occurrence or some plan.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Thursday 11 April 2024

J is for Jubilee

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter J
J is for Jubilee, from the Hebrew, is a biblical commandment observed every 50 years concerning ownership of land and slaves, although not observed for many centuries. It is also used by the catholic church and is linked to pilgrimage. Now of course it refers to significant anniversaries, for monarchs or marriages, though why 50 is a significant year and 49 is not remains to be explained. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(Images for the challenge from Wikimedia commons.)
(Street party in 1977 for the Silver Jubilee)

Wednesday 10 April 2024

I is for Incommunicado

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter I
I is for Incommunicado, from the Spanish 'not permitted to communicate', originally referring to prisoners held in solitary confinement but in English the meaning as been extended to refer to people who voluntarily cut themselves off from others. It seems that communicating with other people is considered an essential part of being human. Many of the images that came up were people campaigning against the use of solitary confinement as a punishment.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

H is for Hummus

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter H
Food glorious food. Despite a reputation for having a bland diet Britain is full of foods that have arrived from other countries, and as such so many of our food words. H is for Hummus, nectar of the gods. It comes from the Arabic word that actually just means chickpea, and our use of Hummus is just a shortening of the phrase that means 'chickpeas with tahini'. My sister is a hummus fiend and sticks a dollop on the side of the plate at whatever meal she is having; I do come back from a visit feeling well nourished, it is packed with all sorts of goodness.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Monday 8 April 2024

G is for Glitch

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter G
G is for Glitch, from the German 'glitschen' or the Yiddish 'glitshn', meaning to slip or slide. I use it a lot at work when people come in and tell me that the tracking says their package is available to collect, when in fact it has been sent back out for delivery. I am guessing it is a word that came about solely because of the existence of computers; did life used to have glitches? I'm not sure it did. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(Images for this challenge taken from Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday 6 April 2024

F is for Fiasco

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter F
F is for Fiasco, from the Italian. There are so many examples for fiasco: The Willy Wonka Experience, yesterday's announcement of yet another Tory politician's fuckup, the never-ending deforestation, but Wikipedia Commons came up with this image of people trying to fight food waste. Trying not to feel like modern life is one huge fiasco ... but it mostly is.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(I'll try and be more upbeat on Monday)

Friday 5 April 2024

Lynne Reid Banks


I just read of the death of Lynne Reid Banks and memories rushed in on me of her novel The L-shaped Room that I read as a teenager and had a significant impact on me. There were two other follow up novels, extending the story of the same characters, which managed to not spoil the original relationships. There was a film made of the book that naturally she hated, I remember feeling annoyed by it too. It was just a nostalgic moment for me, there is nothing sad about the death of a 94 year old who has live a full and happy life. Thank you for the books Lynne.

E is for Embargo

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter E
Still in Europe again today. E is for Embargo, from the Spanish meaning seize or impound, and now used as a political or economic tool to try and influence other countries ... or simply to express disapproval. The embargo of the United States against Cuba since the revolution is probably one of the most long standing embargoes.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Lost Words (not an A to Z post)

I was excited to see 'Time Shelter' by Georgi Gospodinov on the International Booker shortlist having read 'Natural Novel' a few years ago. This book reminded me most strongly of Austerlitz as the main character tells a meandering story of his relationship with Gaustine. To begin with they recreate period specific spaces to help patients with Alzheimers, reproducing not just sights but sounds, smells and tastes from the past. The experiment works so well that other people want to try out the spaces. Then people, finding the present unbearable, start wanting to just live in the past permanently. The 'time shelters' are somewhere people feel safe. The whole things seems to snowball from there until, somewhat akin to Brexit, the countries of Europe take votes to decide what decade they would like to go back and live in. I have not captured anything about the book describing it like this. It is a book about memory and the role it plays for both individuals and society. 

From the beginning of the experiment:
"And so I traveled around, gathering up scents and afternoons, cataloging them. We need a precise and exhaustive description of which scent brings which memories back, what age it affects most strongly, which decade we could call forth with it. I described them in detail and sent my findings to Gaustine. In the clinic, scents could always be re-created when needed. Although some attempted to preserve the very molecules of a given scent, for Gaustine this was a waste of effort. It was much simpler and more authentic to toast a piece of bread or melt a bit of asphalt." (p.51)

Then at the end:
"First a few words disappeared. He turned it into a game, it was a long ago, they were still at the university. He told his wife and his friends those five or six disappearing words and when he needed one of them, they would prompt him - 'cornice,' 'mercantile,' 'rosemary,' 'confrontation'...
One day, perhaps because he had split up with his wife and had quit seeing his friends, and because the words were multiplying, he decided to write them down. At first a single piece of paper was sufficient, then both sides of a sheet of paper. Then another, and another ... Then he got himself a notebook. He called it A Brief Dictionary of the Forgotten. There was also a section for people's names. Gradually the number of sections increased - one for scents that reminded him of various things was added. Then one for sounds, he was going deaf on top of everything. (A doctor had told him that hearing loss and memory loss were related, they shared the same room in the brain.)
Finally yet another section appeared in the notebook, perhaps the most important of all - for that which had actually happened to him, so he could differentiate it from what he had read and from what he had invented.
Sooner or later everything would get mixed up - what had happened, what he had read, and what he had invented would jump up and switch places, until they gradually quieted down and faded away, but for now he was trying to hold the borders in place. Years later his ex-wife would line up for an autograph and he wouldn't be able to find her name in his head ..." (p.272-3)

'Greek Lessons' by Han Kang was similarly on my radar because of 'The Vegetarian' (from 2019). A nameless young woman is losing her son, and all her words, not forgotten but somehow trapped inside, unable to be spoken. She joins an evening class to learn Greek, making language an abstract thing that does not need to be spoken. The Greek teacher is losing his sight. Their lives are both empty but neither seems aware of their loneliness. Neither will admit to their weakness or ask for anything until circumstances force them together.

This is not those circumstances:
"There is a particular expression his face assumes when he addresses someone. His gaze humbly requests the other person's consent; there are occasionally times when something other than deference, something like an inexplicable, delicate sadness, haunts his look.
It was around thirty minutes before the lesson's start, and they were the only ones in the classroom. After taking her seat, she got out her textbook and writing things from her bag one by one, distractedly raised her head, and their eyes met. He stood up from his own chair, which was placed next to the lectern, and approached a desk that was a little distance from hers. After pulling out the chair and making space, he sat down facing the aisle. He raised both hands and lightly interlaced them in the air; it was just for a few moments, but she thought he was asking for a handshake. He was quiet for a while with his hands interlaced like that. As though he were making up his mind whether or not to address her and would let her know in due course. Not long afterwards there was the sound of footsteps in the corridor, and he stood up and went back to his place next to the lectern." (p.71-2)

I seem to have done a lot of very serious reading recently, and while it has been intellectually challenging it has not necessarily been enjoyable. So now I am reading 'The Long Earth' by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter and enjoying it very much. I have also spent a lot of time doing puzzles and not reading, it is relaxing to the brain to focus on something abstract. I am waiting for the rain to stop so I can go outside and sort the yard. 
Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy yourself.

D is for DoppelgÀnger

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter D
German words are so much fun, I love the way they just make new words by compounding existing ones ... some of them get pretty long. D is for DoppelgĂ€nger, which translates literally as 'double-walker'. Who doesn't like the idea that somewhere out there is someone who looks just like them. That just reminded me of one of the most famous doppelgĂ€ngers, and the film 'I Was Monty's Double' about Meyrick Edward Clifton-James and how his resemblance to Field Marshall Montgomery was used by the Allies during the build up to D-Day.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(Images for the challenge taken from Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday 3 April 2024

C is for Coup and Cul

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter C
Some foreign words are absorbed and become 'englishified' but sometimes we just use words or phrases exactly as the origin country does. We have stolen a lot of vocabulary from Europe, even the French. C is for coup d'Ă©tat and cul-de-sac. I love them because they are like metaphors, describing the thing in terms of similarity to something else. I remember learning the phrase cul-de-sac as a child from a street sign and loving the idea that it was like the bottom-of-the-bag.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge

Tuesday 2 April 2024

B is for Balaclava

#AtoZChallenge 2024 badge B
B is for Balaclava. A balaclava is a knitted cap covering the head, neck and shoulders. It comes from the Turkish, named for a small town where British soldiers fought a battle in 1854 during the Crimean War. I get the impression the garment itself does not originate in Turkey, similar hats were worn by soldiers in cold climates elsewhere, it is simply the name that came in to common use after the battle. It seems sad that such a useful piece of kit has become linked with crime. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Monday 1 April 2024

A is for Angst

#AtoZChallenge 2024
Books need to be reviewed, the garden needs sorting out, I am attempting to erase my old computer to return it for recycling but April is upon us and with it the annual Blogging From A to Z Challenge. I dithered (as usual) but thought it might help bring back my blogging mojo, and just my general getting-stuff-done mojo, so decided to join in. I was inspired by an article in the Grauniad about new words from Japanese that have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary and decided to write about borrow words, that have come to english from another language. In Japanese they have a whole other syllabary for words that they use from other languages. Here in Britain we mostly remain in blissful ignorance that we have pinched our vocabulary from elsewhere, and there is a lot of it so I am just going to pick out some of my favourites.

#AtoZChallenge 2024 badge A
A is for Angst, coming from variously German, Dutch, Danish and Norwegian, and meaning fear and anxiety. It also means something more specific, within Existentialist philosophy, as in the expression 'existential angst', a deep seated grasp of the terror and the nature of human existence. I tend to experience it as a conflict between the meaning and the meaninglessness of life ... fortunately I tend to come down on the side of meaning and it allows me to continue on contentedly through my days. So there's a cheery start to the month. 

Good luck to everyone joining in. Please pop over to the A to Z Challenge to find out what other people are writing about (there should be a link to a list of participants some time soon).

Thursday 21 March 2024

World Poetry Day

 Its the season I often mistake

birds for leaves, and leaves for birds.

The tawny yellow mulberry leaves

are always goldfinches tumbling

across the lawn like extreme elation.

The last of the maroon crabapple

ovates are song sparrows that tremble

all at once. And today, just when I 

could not stand myself any longer,

a group of field sparrows, which were

actually field sparrows, flew up into

the bare branches of the hackberry

and I almost collapsed: leaves

reattaching themselves to the tree

like a strong spell for reversal. What

else did I expect? What good

is accuracy amidst the perpetual

scattering that unspools the world.

Ada LimĂłn

World Poetry Day is the perfect excuse to share a poem. I am a sucker for a poetry review that says "if you buy just one book this year, buy this one", which I think is how I came to purchase 'The Hurting Kind' by Ada LimĂłn. It is one that has been sitting by the bed for months, just opened occasionally when I feel too tired to dive into a novel but I want to read for a few minutes before sleeping. Poetry is good for that. A book full of images of the natural world, but from an unusual perspective. If you want a gentle introduction to the world of poetry you can subscribe here to Poem-a-day, and a poem will arrive in your inbox every morning.

Stay safe. Be kind. Time for a spring clean.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Poems and Pomposity


I have been reading 'Books Do Furnish a Life', a selection of writings by Richard Dawkins but they were mostly introductions and reviews of other people's books, so you are not getting ideas but his opinions about people's ideas. There are lots of ideas for interesting books to read but I decided to take it back to the library.

Liked this:
"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord deliver us.
Some say it is Scottish, not Cornish, but wherever it comes from the sentiments are shared worldwide. People are afraid off the dark. Science, as Sagan argued and personally exemplified, has the power to reduce ignorance and dispel fear. We should all read science and learn to think like scientists, not because science is useful (though it is), but because the light of knowledge is wonderful and banishes the debilitating and time-wasting fear of the dark." 

'Men Who Feed Pigeons' by Selima Hill was utterly surreal, juxtaposing the most mundane of situations with the weirdest of images, articulating random thoughts that might flit across the brain unnoticed for anyone else but that she somehow manages to pin down. 

Sometimes lovely cosy images:

His head is like a barn full of straw
where piglets go to sleep in warm heaps.

Sometime very disturbing ones:

Everyone is Watching
Everyone is watching me and wondering
if somebody sitting on her own,
even though she's clean, and a woman,
is in fact a serial killer.

Sometimes just plain weird:

I do confide in him, but only rarely,
and when I do I always regret it:
he acts as if I'm smearing him with honey
in the dark with my bare hands.

Stay safe. Be kind. Don't be afraid of the dark.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Meanwhile in Japan ...

Monkey sensei had a long weekend and so took herself off to visit Mount Fuji. In Japan the hotel will provide you with pyjamas and a yukata.
She did some random exploring:
Went to a weird museum:
Admired random statues:
And finally got to see the beautiful snow-topped mountain itself (it was really cloudy on Friday) (and the last time she visited in 2022):
Meanwhile back on this side of the world, I had my brother Giles to stay. We went out for dinner and then on for a cocktail at Corbiere's and then on Wednesday went to see 'The Holdovers' at the Everyman Cinema:
Tish and Jun had their two year anniversary and went out for waffles ... 
And dad, recovering well from his operation, made his annual batch of marmalade:
Stay safe. Be kind. Make yourself some toast.

Friday 16 February 2024

Sleepless in Manhatten

I arrived at Claire's and she handed me 'My Year of Rest and Relaxation' by Ottessa Moshfegh. I had bought her for her birthday and she was sure I would enjoy it. And then I realised how I had come across 'Eileen', because I had bought this, sent it to Claire, and then just search in the library for anything else she had written. 

A privileged young woman seems to have so many (unspecified) 'issues' that she decides to sedate herself for a year in the hope of resetting her brain. She finds an amenable doctor, to whom she describes a variety of sleep issues, and they prescribe a steady stream of medication that keeps her insensible. She allows herself to wake up every few days to eat and clean herself. The book became a bit of an endless list drug doses and self pity and I am not sure that I found myself caring about her much. This was how she functioned before deciding to retire from normal life:

"At work, I took hour-long naps in the supply closet under the stairs during my lunch breaks. 'Napping' is such a childish word, but that was what I was doing. The tonality of my night sleep was more variable, generally unpredictable, but every time I lay down in that supply closet I went straight into black emptiness, an infinite space of nothingness. I was neither scared nor elated in that space. I had no visions. I had no ideas. If I had a distinct thought, I would hear it, and the sound of it would echo and echo until it got absorbed by the darkness and disappeared. There was no response necessary. No inane conversation withy myself. It was peaceful. A vent in the closet released a steady flow of fresh air that picked up the scent of laundry from the hotel next door. There was no work to do, and nothing I had to counteract or compensate for because there was nothing at all, period. and yet I was aware of the nothingness. I was awake in the sleep, somehow. I felt good. Almost happy." (p.39-40)

At the utter other end of the spectrum we have 'The Library of Heartbeats' by Laura Imai Messina. In it Shuichi, who is starting to clear out his childhood home, finds himself drawn into a friendship with Kenta, a neighbouring child and a young woman, Sakaya, and their growing bond helps him grieve his mother, his childhood and his young son who drowned a couple of years previously. These three people tiptoe around each other but eventually come to trust and care for each other, and in return you care for them. Shuichi struggles with his loss and loneliness but together they find connection and take a visit to the library of heartbeats (which is a real thing).

This little moment when he makes a snack for Kenta:
"'If you're going to do something, you have to do it properly.'
The echo of those words, uttered with the exact intonation of his mother, filled the kitchen, then fell, like a glass of water slipped from a hand." (p.61)

And later thinking about incidents from his childhood that his mother tried to pretend had not happened:
"Shuichi thought about it while he looked in the fridge. For example, the trip to Nagano when he was ten, shredded memories that had been visiting him in his dreams recently: the snow three metres high that made every road into a bastion; the red-faced monkeys floating in the hot springs; the oyaki dumplings that were so delicious he insisted on having them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But in Nagano he also rode a horse and was maybe thrown off: he landed on his back and his mother screamed - he physically remembered the sound. And if, as a child, Shuichi ever asked about Nagano, his mother would change the subject so determinedly that at a certain point he started to wonder if any of it was real: the compact walls of snow, the monkeys, the spring rolls filled with adzuki beans, the horse's tense body as it suddenly arched its back." (p.110-11)

I found 'The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint Exupery on a random bookcase in the spare room at mum and dad's. I had never read it to my children. Bemused as to what all the fuss is about 😕.
Stay safe. Be kind.