Tuesday 23 January 2024

Devon Delights

So much disruption to well laid plans yesterday. Shepton Mallet hospital had a cancellation so dad's knee replacement operation is happening on Thursday. Claire went off back to Newport so I took the number 12 bus over to Newton Abbot. Mum tells me it is considered one of the best bus services in the country. It runs Newton Abbot to Brixham about every 10 minutes all day; exactly what you need, regular and reliable. It was busy when I got the one about ten past nine on a wet Tuesday in January. I walked across a little park with the fabulous yew tree (above), a few minutes from Claire's house, to pick it up and it stops outside Sainsbury at the bottom of the hill from where mum and dad live.
We went for a damp and slow perambulation around Decoy Park. As we came back to the house I was struck by the tangle of bare limbs of the magnolia,
and dad pointed out the lovely cluster of snowdrops and the first few camellia flowers:
Just happy to be here, quiet and away from normal life.

Monday 22 January 2024

A girl who turns heads

I'm really sorry to the people in the queue for this book (all 11 of them) but I had not finished and now it's with me in Torquay and will not be back in Manchester until Thursday. On the up side Claire is getting to read it too as I did finish reading it on the train.

'Eileen' by Ottessa Moshfegh was one of those books that you read in horrid fascination, willing someone to help, or for Eileen snap out of her self-obsession and look at what is happening. It is told by elderly Eileen, almost as if she is talking about someone else, she is so far removed from the events that she relates. Young Eileen lives with her alcoholic father in a dump of a house, neglected beyond reprieve since her mother died, and works in a children's detention centre, dealing with the daily realities of young boys who have fallen between every crack. She is consumed by self hatred, deprives herself of nourishment and is horrified by sex and the notion of being an adult woman, physically scrubbing herself clean of any sexual urges. Into her life arrives Rebecca, beautiful and elegant, and somehow out of place, and throughout the story we are told to anticipate her necessary and imminent departure from her home town because of the relationship with Rebecca. It is a book that is all build up, the tension ramped up over the chapters, while she draws a detailed picture of the sad, cold, empty life that Eileen leads, until the fateful denouement. 

"And back then - this was fifty years ago - I was a prude. Just look at me. I wore heavy wool skirts that fell past my knees, thick stockings. I always buttoned my jackets and blouses as high as they would go. I wasn't a girl who turned heads. But there was nothing really so wrong or terrible about my appearance. I was young and fine, average, I guess. But at the time I thought I was the worst - ugly, disgusting, unfit for the world. In such a state it seemed ridiculous to call attention to myself. I rarely wore jewellery, never perfume, and I didn't paint my nails. For a while I did wear a ring with a little ruby in it. It had been my mother's." (p.2)

In the story it is the end of days for young Eileen. Old Eileen knows that things will never be the same again, and you feel that, even though we are given only hints of the future, the events that Rebecca brings about transformed young Eileen's sense of herself and old Eileen lived a better and more meaningful life because if it. I don't want to give any spoilers, so there you are. I leave you with Eileen and the dead dog:

"One day I went out back to hang the laundry and found the dog belly-up in the uncut grass, tall and dried and dead in the bleaching sun. Perhaps God took the wrong soul, I thought in a freak moment of sentimentality, and I cried quietly, back pressed up against the house. I left the wet laundry in the basket, but draped a sopping pillowcase over Mona's body. It took a day for me to muster the courage to go back out there. By then the laundry had congealed and dried, and the sight of the dead dog when I lifted the pillowcase made me gag and spill the contents of my stomach - chicken, vermouth - into the dry dirt. It took me several hours to dig a sufficient hole with a trowel, push Mona in with my foot - I couldn't bring myself to touch her with my hands - and cover the body with the brittle earth. A week later, when my father kicked over the dog's dish of stale and smelly kibble, he simply said, 'Damn dog,' and so I threw the whole thing out, and told no one. A few days later my mother was dead, and I let the tears flow openly at last. It's a romantic story and it may not be accurate at this point since I've gone over it again and again for years whenever I've felt it necessary or useful to cry." (p.85-6)

Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy the view.

Friday 19 January 2024

Blogiversary Joy 2024

It was way back in 2009 and we lived in a little corner of the Cotswolds when I started this blog. Fifteen years later I find myself still here, though we are no longer there. When someone at the gym asked the Tish where she lived he described it as 'the hood', but as far as I'm concerned this is my cosy corner off the world and I am glad of it.
So, statistics: all time views, over half a million. In internet terms that's nothing, some people get that many views in an hour. I stopped worrying years ago about whether my blog was read by anyone, I have come to think of it much more as a diary that just happens to be available to other people. 1556 posts, mostly about books. Most visited posts remain the Margaret Atwood Poetry from 2010 and how to make a lizard cake from 2012, but also Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong from 2021.
The world is currently rubbish so I am grateful to have a life full of people to love. Here they are:
My family in 2010
My original nuclear family 2012
Dunk 2013
New Year 2015
Work people 2018
Lyra, best kitten ever
Jacob, Kerri and Aisla 2022
Lewis and Rachel's Wedding 2023
Adylaide 2023
Wyatt 2024

Thursday 18 January 2024

Lost for Words


This is Casey Birks. I first met him when he was a couple of months old. It's lovely to have people in your life whose presence makes the world a better place. When he was young his mum Julie and I used to wonder how he would ever go out into the world. One of the joys of home education is that children can do such things at exactly their own pace. Nobody made him go out into the world before he was good and ready. And some children take longer than others. He started learning the piano, I think that was first. And it was as if he found his niche, and he blossomed. And last week he launched his album at the Carlton Club in Whalley Range. Over 100 people gathered, most of whom were his friends. It is called Lost For Words, available from Bandcamp. Also listenable on YouTube. And it was a delight to watch them play with so much joy together and to have watched him grow and develop as a musician. My heart bursts with pride to see the amazing young man he has become.

And because the Ridley Birks family has been part of my life for such a long time I came across this, which to me somehow encapsulates everything about the life we lived for so many years, and freedom and opportunities it offered us, and I try not to mourn its end. In the tree: Casey, Max, Sadie, Monkey, Rhiannon, Tom, Althea and Al.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Snow and other Delights

Despite all the weather warnings I was surprised by the snow when I stepped out of the door in the early hours this morning. Lyra didn't know what to make of it either. I love the soft muted feel the world has with a fresh covering of snow. 
Mid morning a man turned up in the office with two new computers. Lee had reported ours as running very slow in the hope that someone would come and clean up the hard drives, so this was a huge bonus. The old ones were at least 12 years old; the new ones are tiny and have wireless keyboards and mouses
I had to push my bike home from work again, but I found the culprit and hopefully can manage another uneventful biking year ahead:
Also delightful ... the Gardener's World mag, honey roasted peanuts and a trip to Devon at the end of the week.

Friday 12 January 2024


Monkey Sensei will have a job in Japan for at least another 19 months, so I am definitely going to get to visit next year, consequently I have redownloaded Human Japanese and started again from chapter 1. I had hoped it would all come rushing back, having learned all the hiragana two years ago ... but no, it's more like starting from scratch. Learning a new script is quite a challenge but in other ways Japanese is not a complicated language to learn. I like the chatty style of the programme and when discussing the complex vowel pronunciation rules in English the author comments that Japanese has none of this nonsense, each of the 5 vowels makes one sound, and it is not changed by the presence of other vowels or consonants combinations, so at least, though I struggle to remember which hiragana I am looking at, it's not hard to pronounce. 

After a very hectic December I am taking things easier now at work, taking time for the Japanese, going back to the gym, getting on with another crochet blanket and looking for some new interesting reading for 2024. As advised by many many mental wellbeing articles I am trying to focus more on the present moment as I go through my day so thought I would try taking photos of random stuff when I am out doing my delivery. Here, some lovely fungus on a fallen tree branch:

Monday 1 January 2024

2024 May things be the same and different

Monkey sent new year messages mid afternoon yesterday, having stayed up for the celebration fireworks and then, as is tradition, for the sunrise on New Year's Day, and then for her first shrine visit of the year. After an hour's sleep she was woken by Japan's emergency earthquake alarm system and waited in her bed, aware only of her lamp wobbling, and not sure if she should risk climbing down the ladder from her bed. 

The shock was centred on the Noto peninsula on the other side of Honshu island from where she lives, several hundred miles away. She translated the instructions on the telly report very loosely as 'run away', as the initial tsunami warning was quite serious. Fortunately the worst of that threat seems not to have materialised. I have not thought too hard about the fact that Japan is quite an earthquakey part of the world, though as a country they are well prepared and take the threat seriously.

I have enjoyed reading lots of 'tiny things to improve your life' lists over the last couple of days, and mostly feel quite like my life does not need much tweaking. My new year's resolution to not beat myself up about stuff continues to be very successful, though this year I plan to return to learning Japanese. I will be visiting Monkey in March next year and it would be nice to at least be able to greet people and say please and thank you. I mastered my Hiragana two years ago and then gave up when I reached the Katakana as my brain was just overloaded. I am hoping that second time around it will all come flooding back to me.
I turn 60 this year and am looking forward to a small amount of pension and enjoying being an even more crochety old lady ... it's a great excuse for doing or not doing whatever the hell you like.
Tish came back from a trip to the Chinese supermarket with a belated Christmas gift for me ... a cumquat tree ...