Of process, progress and magic…

I admit to being fascinated by the creative process. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a writer, an artist, a cook or any other creative spirit, some people appear to begin their creative projects knowing what they’re aiming to achieve – having a good idea of where they’re going. While for others, there’s no clear end vision, instead they have an attachment to a process and embark on their projects letting an exploration of their process determine where it goes.

I suspect everyone crosses from one group to the other from time to time, it isn’t entirely black and white. Personally, I seem to spend most of my time in the process camp. I do occasionally have a clear picture in my mind of what I want to create, but much more often I simply have to start stitching without knowing much about where I’m going.

tapestry-detail

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the summer while I’ve been playing with a different process from the needlepoint I’ve been using for years.

I can’t in all honestly explain where the urge to branch out came from. I could definitely point to various experiences, the visit to the Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A, reading Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith, visiting an exhibition of local textile artists’ work – but I don’t think any of these made me think, ‘oh this is what I’m going to do’, instead I think they helped me to feel that it was ok to respond to a compulsion I was already beginning to feel.

So what I’m actually doing is simply to experiment with adding fabrics into the stitched pieces I make. It’s not rocket science I know, but it’s quite a departure from what I’d been doing before. What I love is being able to incorporate fabrics which change their colours under different light – shot silks, organza and the like. You know I’m just a magpie at heart, always on the lookout for anything shiny

What I’m most enjoying at the moment, is seeing what happens as you combine layers of fabrics and create textures on the canvas – I’m finding this just as meditative a process as the repetitive stitch of needlepoint.

Whether or not any of the end results resonate with anyone else is of course another matter – but then I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that when you respond to a process compulsion, that’s not something you should worry about – if you did, you’d never progress, never take the risk.

I like the idea Elizabeth Gilbert suggests in her book Big Magic. She says that ideas don’t really come from inside us but are actually divinely generated and just looking for someone open and willing to bring them to life – not a million miles from awen, which is my favourite concept of inspiration. Either way, it’s a lot less stressful than thinking you’ve got to come up with something in some way significant yourself.

And as someone for whom the meditative process is fundamental, being receptive feels totally natural and peaceful. Ultimately if any of this is communicated through the finished work, then that’s what I’d call real magic.

Are you working on anything new to you? What made you decide to do it? Do tell…

Not exactly hygge…

Much talk on the interweb of something Danish called hygge – now I’m quite fond of the odd Danish export – pastries for instance, Vikings, Sandi Toksvig (in small doses), Pilsner, Hamlet, but I’m considerably less fond of Nordic Noir, marinated herring and Danish bacon.

wp-1478605048036.jpeg

Hygge sounds lovely – cosy nights with friends gathered around a real fire, wearing Fair Isle jumpers and hand-knitted socks, while drinking hot chocolate and having a good old laugh. But just in case the whole hygge thing leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed, here is my alternative ‘hygge-lite’ for the slightly more socially anxious amongst us – it’s my tried and tested introverts recipe for surviving the cold winter months…

Light a few candles: I’m with the Danes on this one, candlelight always makes me feel relaxed. I dot them about the sitting room and kitchen, pillars and tea-lights mainly, bought from the blessed IKEA (isn’t it lovely that we Brits actually burn candles these days – it wasn’t until IKEA came to the UK with their cheap candles that we stopped dusting our single pair of red dinner candles off once a year at Christmas and lit them instead).

Pile up some duvets and blankets on the sofas: Probably as a result of having no functioning central heating for several years (happily now rectified), we’ve become used to wrapping ourselves in fleecy blankets or duvets on cold winter evenings while watching the TV.

Cook stews in a slowcooker: I’m such a fan of these ’70s throwbacks. Chuck a few vegetables, scrag end, a stock cube and tin of tomatoes into the cooker in the morning and when it’s dinner time you’ll have a delicious effortless meal ready to go and a house that smells wonderful. Make enough for two nights and slap a piece of ready-rolled puff pastry over the left-over stew to make a pie. (I’m a vegetarian now, but I still crave a pastry crust and lashings of thick gravy).

Pour yourself a glass of single malt whisky: There’s nothing better for keeping out the cold and making you feel mellow than a dram or two of whisky. Try something peaty from Islay, Laphroaig or Lagavulin, or if you’re feeling very brave (or have the ‘flu) try Talisker from Skye. If peaty flavours aren’t your thing, try Dalwhinnie or Bunnahabhain instead, both pure amber gorgeousness.

Read your way through a series of crime fiction or supernatural novels: My favourites are still the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, the Inspector Rebus novels by Ian Rankin and Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series set in the Welsh Marches. They’re easy enough to pick up in charity shops and by the time you’ve read them all it will probably be spring.

Curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a duvet with a glass of whisky and full up on stew, reading a whodunnit paperback while candles flicker in the hearth – that’ll be me…

How’s hygge for you? – any tips for embracing your inner Dane? Do tell…

 

A little Brown and Robinson…

Two names seem to have cropped up repeatedly around here lately – Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Sir Tony Robinson…

We’ve been watching Tony Robinson on TV – he’s got a new series on Channel 4 – Britain’s Ancient Paths – walking some of the old routes, talking to historians and staying in rather nice pubs (they didn’t ask me if I’d like to do it – I’m a bit miffed), but also there seem to be repeats of his previous history programmes on practically every time I zap the channels.

wp-1478095873951.jpeg

And purely by coincidence and for no good reason, I’d only recently started following him on Twitter (@Tony_Robinson if you’re interested), so for a while I’d begun to feel he was becoming part of the family.

Then again, he’s been something of a constant companion in many ways over the last 30 years or so, from playing Baldrick in the Blackadder series during the 1980s, the wonderful and hugely missed TIme Team era from 1994 until 2013, the post-Time Team documentaries and last but not least his narration of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld audio-books and his voices on the Discworld video game (what, never played it? You haven’t lived…)

The last episode I saw of Britain’s Ancient Paths had Tony walking a stretch of the Ridgeway which is claimed to have been used by locals and every invading army for over 5000 years.

Watching him, it immediately brought to mind a public information film I remembered seeing when I was at school back in the Dark Ages. It had made such an impression at the time, especially the disappearing lady with the Timotei hair, that I felt compelled to search YouTube and see if it still existed anywhere there – and lo! Look what I found…

Crikey I can’t tell you how this took me back (I’m beginning to sound like an old-dear I know, but still…)

Anyway, as a result, inspired by Sir Tony and the Timotei woman, off I went up onto the Ridgeway a couple of Sundays ago, to swish my hair and admire the odd autumnal view.

wp-1478098740186.jpeg

The autumn colours were just beginning to set in – we’ve had a very late-onset autumn this year don’t you think? More of a very long summer. But it’s definitely changed over the last two weeks and so it was time to make our annual pilgrimage to Stowe Landscape Gardens to gasp in awe at the colours and play trains in the fallen leaves.

wp-1478098580281.jpeg

Which brings us to the other gentleman who’s been cropping up – Capability Brown (I’m not going to use his Christian name if you don’t mind, Lancelot for me will always bring up visions of John Cleese in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and we don’t need to go there today)…

Capability Brown as I’m sure you know changed the way we think about the English landscape by creating classical romantic idylls for his rich patrons in the eighteenth century. Stowe was where he first cut his garden design teeth and whatever your take on the politics of that era, there’s no denying the beauty of what he created.

wp-1478098443411.jpeg

Brown went on to create well over 100 more of his ‘landscape gardens’ and many of them remain to this day.

One which I had never visited previously is at Croome Park in Worcestershire, now owned and being restored by the National Trust. On Monday we headed over there to meet up with my big brother and what a fabulous surprise we had – Croome is just gorgeous.

I’m sure the golden autumn colours and faint haze from the morning fog added a special filter, but nevertheless, what an amazing creation.

imag1509.jpg

Every new vista seemed to make me giggle with the complete loveliness.

wp-1478096135505.jpeg

What a place…

So much thanks to Brown and Robinson, I’m feeling well set up and ready for the colder months, embracing the seasons and indulging in my own version of hygge.

Happy November…

Where do you like to celebrate autumn? And what does autumn mean to you? Do you have any special family rituals at this time of year?

 

All changes, all stays the same…

You know how at some times in your life things feel steady, grounded, perhaps occasionally just a little bit boring – yes well, this isn’t one of them around here.

It’s not as bad as when I had Number One Daughter and spent the first six months after she was born waiting for things to go back to normal (i.e. pre-baby normal) – the realisation one day that that normal had gone forever hit me like a brick, I’m not sure I ever completely recovered.

stained glass window at baddesley clinton

No, it’s not that bad, it’s just that this autumn, with the girls now largely independent, I’m suddenly (I know I should have seen it coming, I just didn’t, ok) – faced with regaining most of my own independence.

Crikey, too much choice or what!

I don’t think I’d quite appreciated just how much of my own routine was determined by the pattern of the school term, and now although Number Two Daughter is still at school, there’s so much less for me to do, I feel oddly liberated.

But nature abhors a vacuum they say, so I’m going to avoid problems by using my new-found freedom to gad about the country indulging my passion for historic places.

suites of armour

It probably sounds terribly flippant and a poor use of time when I could be doing something very much more useful. But for me, the physical connection to historic places, is in some way I find impossible to articulate, absolutely essential. I derive an energy, a sense of belonging, a feeling of simultaneously losing myself and finding myself when I’m exploring a castle or walking around a stone circle that rarely happens otherwise and the regained ability to tap into that source is life enhancing.

I’m sure that on some emotional level, this energy feeds into the stitchiness I create, although I couldn’t really explain that either. I don’t stitch pictures of moated manor houses, but something of their atmosphere inspires me. It’s a puzzle that I haven’t yet understood, let alone solved.

Is it just me, am I losing it a bit, or do you too share a special connection or feeling towards a place or an activity?

Anyway, I’m rolling with it yet again – another one of life’s spirals…

 

 

 

 

I Spy Autumn Fruits…

I like September in the lane. Even people like me who may be a bit challenged in the ‘identifying wildflowers’ department are suddenly offered a helping hand by Mother Nature who obligingly sends forth a mass of brightly coloured berries to make the task easier – something similar to when you’re struggling with a crossword puzzle and someone comes along and fills in every other letter…

elderberries

This September there seems to be a huge abundance of fruits in our lane. So far I’ve spotted rowan berries, hips, haws, elderberries, blackberries, lords & ladies, acorns, honeysuckle berries and sloes (by the way, if you’re tired of sloe gin, here are a few alternatives I quite liked the look of…)

I don’t think we’ll be seeing any crabapples this year, the poor tree hardly produced a handful of blossom and there’s no sign of any fruit that I can spot. And I’m not anticipating a major conker crop this year since almost all the horse-chestnut trees in the park were felled last winter.

But what there is seems very plentiful indeed. Good news for foragers. (That’s not me though, apart from the odd blackberry or two. It’s less to do with willingness, more a result of always having the Delinquent Dog in tow. There’s only so much you can reach with only one hand free, and whilst I often say I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, I don’t really want to put it to the test).

Are you a serious forager? What’s your favourite and what do you like to do with it?

I started a new Meditation Piece at the weekend.  (If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen a glimpse of it – there’s a link on the side) – It seems to have an autumnal feel – not deliberate, but perhaps a product of my subconscious…

Happy stitching.

 

Blogging?

 

How is your blogging going? I only ask because mine is decidedly creaky and I know quite a few of my ‘go-to’ bloggers have either stopped or are taking a sabbatical.

wp-image-1552462986jpg.jpg

A few weeks ago I decided that as we weren’t planning to go away this summer, I’d get back into what used to pass as a habit – well you can see for yourself how successful that turned out to be…

I’ve been giving the whole blogging thing a lot of thought, particularly in view of the impact of Twitter, Instagram and the like. Personally I’ll admit to loving Instagram. I use it almost as a cross between a nature diary and a journal of my work-in-progress with the odd historical jaunt here and there. It’s so easy to use, I generally post pictures from my morning walks while I’m eating my breakfast. And I rather enjoy a quick scroll through my feed to catch up with what’s happening amongst my IG friends. It feels like a very friendly and supportive community.

I’m also a Twitter fan, although I tend to use it as much as a tailor-made news feed as a way to keep in touch with a variety of lovely friends I’ve made there.

So where does that leave blogging? It seems to me that in many ways, Twitter and Instagram have taken over the role of the ‘what I’ve been up to’ post. It’s much easier to Tweet or post a quick photo of the relatively mundane, than to sit down and blog about it days later.

But we bloggers are a thoughtful bunch, and not everything that needs to be expressed comes instantly in 140 characters. I know that many of us write as much for ourselves as for readers, and we feel compelled to do that for a whole raft of reasons.

Having thought about it now over several months, it seems to me that there is still a very real role for blogging as a means for us to find and use our voices, whether it’s exploring aspects of our inner landscape, debating with ourselves as much as with others, or raising issues important to us and hoping to reach a wider audience.

Social media is a great way of showing the ‘now’, but it’s not so good at explaining feelings, and that depth of exploration is much better suited to blogging.

I miss the voices of those now quiet bloggers whose insights, questions and experiences gave me pause for thought and sometimes even caused me to act.

Maybe we don’t need to recount at length the tiny minutiae of our daily grind – or maybe we do – but I believe we do need to tell our stories, talk about the things that are important to us and let our voices be heard.

I intend to try harder to get back into the habit and I hope if you’ve been resting, you might join me too.

 

 

 

 

 

A Flying Visit To Orkney…

It sometimes feels strange to live on an island where there remains considerable evidence of our distant ancestors in the landscape and in the monuments they built, but to know so very little about them. Developments in archaeology in recent decades have certainly lead to far more exploration of neolithic sites, but for me at least there is a huge gulf between what we now ‘know’ and what there is we’d really like to know.

So while the archaeologists carry on their painstaking work to uncover and discover facts, we’re left to fill the gap with our imaginations.

Having now become well and truly hooked on this pre-historic enigma, you can appreciate why I leapt at the chance to make a flying visit to Orkney – an island group off the North East tip of Scotland, rich in marvellous and mysterious neolithic sites.

orkney scapa flow
Scape Flow

It would have been difficult to imagine a more lovely day for our visit. A near cloudless blue sky reflected in the sea and the lochs, creating a sublime combination of emerald greens and sapphire blues beneath us as we flew over Scapa Flow.

This was my first visit to the Orkney and I wasn’t prepared for just how beautiful it is. It absolutely took my breath away. But we had just a few hours to explore, so we began by overflying the area we planned to visit on land – Skara Brae, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar.

scara brae
Skara brae (bottom right, circles contained within a path)

Skara Brae had to be the highlight of the visit and it was the first site we headed for once we landed.

There’s been a lot of television coverage of Skara Brae in recent years, but nothing quite prepared me for seeing it in person. Built around 3000BC, it was a subterranean village, hidden under sand for centuries, but revealed in the 19th century after a storm removed some of the layers covering sand.

2016-07-01 14_Fotorsb1

As you walk around the village, looking down from the path above, your mind goes into overdrive, trying to mentally construct the village as it once was, seeing it with your mind’s eye, peopling it with men and women who looked just like us but about whom there is so much we don’t have a clue about.

Perhaps the most iconic view of Skara Brae is this one…

2016-07-01 14_Fotorsb2

Who is there of a certain age who isn’t thinking ‘The Flintstones’ when they see this?

But this is absolutely real! How did the residents use that stone dresser? I couldn’t stop wondering about it. What would you do with it if it was the centre-piece of your house?

Then look around – either side are the stone remains of the bed-spaces and in the middle, a hearth. In the walls are niches – what was kept inside them?

It would, I am sure, be entirely possible to spend weeks just looking at Skara Brae and trying to understand it, let alone uncover more (and yes, the archaeologists are fairly certain that much more of the site remains uncovered). But with only a few hours to spare, we moved on.

Our next stop was to visit the Ring of Brodgar.

2016-07-01 15_Fotorrob1

Here is a stone circle from around 3000BC, comprising stones from across Orkney – 36 remain of the original 60, laid out in a circle and surrounded by a henge. Strange mounds also feature in the local landscape adding so much to the mystery that already surrounds this amazing place.

2016-07-01 15_Fotorrob2

Where Skara Brae leads you to attempt to answer the questions, here I felt I was in quite a different place. For all the theories and there are many, nobody yet or perhaps ever will know why these circles were constructed. That it took a great deal of effort is evident, so why did people not so different from you and me undertake that task? What would make you do it?

ringofbrodgarwp

I admit that standing there, inside that circle, I wasn’t exactly trying to think about the logistics of building it, I was simply enchanted by being in the circle – standing there and turning 360 degrees, looking out at the landscape around the Ring, looking up at the sky contained by the Ring, touching the individual stones as I walked past each one.

That there was a meaning I’m sure, but what it was? Perhaps we all decide for ourselves…

Inevitably I suppose we began to run out of time to explore the rest of the sites in this sequence – the Stones of Stenness (just a mile from the Ring of Brodgar) and Maeshowe.

Maeshowe aerial shot orkney
Maeshowe from the air

In the end we found ourselves dashing back to Kirkwall with only a very few minutes to flit inside St Magnus’s Cathedral – so little time that I didn’t manage to take any decent pictures.

Tombstone St Magnus Kirkwall
One of the intriguingly carved tomb stones in Kirkwall Cathedral

But long enough to confirm that I must return to Orkney, this time with the freedom to explore much more of this mysterious and enchanting group of islands.

Summer in the lane…

And so, finally the sun decided to amble over in our direction and grant us a few weeks of what we could probably agree to call proper summer – by which I mean being able to wear sandals and occasionally bring out the embarrassing sun hat.

Things are a bit different here for us this year. Unlike recent summers when we’ve disappeared up to the Highlands with a couple of tents and an optimistic attitude to rainfall, this year we’re staying put – or more accurately – not straying very far.

wp-1469715854989.jpeg

Not getting to walk along the beach at Balnakeil near Durness, is something I’ll miss, but instead I’ll have the opportunity to watch as the summer progresses in the lane. Already I can sense a change in the pace of growth. The pumping energy of spring has given way now to a mild sense of exhaustion, the fresh bright greens of May are now darker, dustier. The delicate cow parsley has turned brown and shrunk back, replaced by the stronger stalks of hogweed and banks of purple thistles. The nettles standing sentry are gradually being pulled down by the wreaths of wilting cleavers.

wp-1469715548345.jpeg

In the field, the grasses which in June swayed like waves have been cut and bailed, and already a new growth of nettles, thistles and grass is greening the pale stubble. We haven’t yet reached the point when the countryside turns golden, although I don’t think it’s far away – soon the colours will change and the tired greens will be replaced by the rich reds and ambers of late summer.

High summer has never really brought out the best in me, which is perhaps why I normally prefer to travel north for a cooler sort of summer, but I admit there’s something that feels right about observing at close hand the slow changes as the seasons roll round. I’m enjoying it in a strange sort of way, but at some stage I’m going to have to head for the coast and dip my toes in the sea…

I do hope you’re having a good summer – it’s great fun watching Instagram friends post pictures from their travels around the world – vicarious holiday pleasures!

 

 

 

 

Catching up…

Phew, what a few weeks it’s been. I’m happy to report that we’ve come through the  delight of both daughters simultaneously sitting ‘A’Levels and GCSEs, relatively unscathed. The emergency escape to a tent in the garden wasn’t required and now we have the prospect of a few tranquil weeks before the results arrive…

As you can imagine, I managed to do a lot of stitching (always my go-to method of stress reduction) while the exams were happening. Ever since I visited the Indian textiles exhibition at the V & A, I’d wanted to try out some new ideas and textures, and having also recently read Claire Wellesley-Smith’s ‘Slow Stitch’, I decided to free myself from the tyranny of the ‘one hole, one stitch’ edict to try something different.

wp-1467804448921.jpeg

I have to say this has been a revelation in many ways. It certainly takes a meditative stitch practice to a new place as far as I’m concerned. My only problem now is trying to decide when it’s finished.

In other news… I’m just back from a short trip to the Scottish Highlands and Islands courtesy of my extraordinarily generous flying friend. This time I achieved a huge ambition and visited some of the neolithic sites on Orkney.

Having been a rampant medievalist for most of my life, I’m something of a late-comer to things pre Anglo-Saxon, but I suppose having watched so many Time Teams over the years, it’s gradually crept under the skin. Also, I’ve read so much now about our Celtic past and much of that references theories about the people who preceded them, and so it is that before you know where you are, you’ve reached that wonderful hinterland where history melts into legend and legend into myth.

And I find that I am entirely entranced by this mythic realm.

ringofbrodgarwp
Detail from the Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

This is where, I’m afraid to say, the history junkie in me ceases all scientific, factual thought and instead wholeheartedly embraces the possibilities of myth. Because, really, faced with something like the Ring of Brodgar, how much can you actually say for certain. But stop thinking and instead stand there and simply feel and I defy anyone not to be affected emotionally. To know that humans, so much like us, went to the effort to create these structures, but to understand so little about why they did so, is both baffling and mesmerising. The gulf between our time and their’s opens and all we have is our minds and tantalising traces of archaeology to bridge that gap.

I did rather max out on the photos on Orkney, so once I’ve sorted through, I’ll write a separate post about it.

So, relaxed and refreshed, it’s back to the needle now. I have some fairly nebulous ideas running around my head, which I need to get down to planning out. The textures of our wild places are, I’m pretty sure, bound to wheedle their way in.

What are you working on at the moment? Does history, myth or landscape influence how you work? Do tell.

 

 

 

 

 

If Women Rose Rooted…

Along with many of you, I’m something of a bookaholic – occasionally I write here about the latest stash waiting to be devoured (indeed as luck would have it, the previous post was just such a one). You might well have noticed however, that I don’t very often return to review the books I’ve read.

But last week I read ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ by Sharon Blackie and it was one of those rare times when I felt as if by some means of synchronicity, the right book reached me at exactly the right moment. Reading it was such an immersive experience, I’m going to try to talk just a little about the feelings and questions reading it has raised in me.

2016-05-12 17.29.02

So, if you haven’t read it yourself, this is the weaving together by Sharon Blackie of her story – her history, with the powerful threads of Celtic myth, and a cry for the active re-establishment of the balance between masculine and feminine values and energies for the health of the planet. It is a journey in its fullest sense.

But for me it was no passive read. Perhaps because Sharon’s experiences mirror many of my own; the acceptance of a career based on masculine values, the increasing difficulty of riding the gulf between those values and my gut/heart intuition, the sharp sting of a crisis and realisation that change was essential.

It would have been a sympathetic read based on that thread alone, but the reason I felt Sharon had written this book for me in particular was the weaving together of the Celtic themes and the importance she places on being rooted in the right place. Both themes which are currently incredibly powerful for me.

Like so many of us, I was brought up to know a lot of Classical mythology whilst practically nothing of our native stories. I suspect I thought there wasn’t much to know – how wrong! For a few years now, I’ve been trying to educate myself in this wonderfully rich heritage and it seems that the more I discover, the more there is to find. And these stories are rewarding, they are complex, multi-layered, enigmatic – the food for endless meditation and contemplation.

The desire to find my way to these stories came on gradually, but looking back, I can see that it was (and remains) fuelled by an urge which once was buried, then released – the call of the land where I belong. And here is the greatest pain, because unlike Sharon, I still have to make that journey. The need to be rooted in a place that is not where I currently am is strong and I am determined that it will happen, but for now, my own needs have to be balanced with the needs of others – so be it. I am using the time to develop other threads which will come with me when the moment is right.

Balance of course is the major issue being addressed in Sharon’s book – how can we as women actively work towards a true balance? I must admit, whilst every atom of my body wants to find that reassertion of the feminine values – as Sharon puts it ‘a determination to nurture rather than destroy’ – I also feel overwhelmed by the size of the task. I have begun to ask myself some of the questions Sharon poses for us in her book, but I don’t yet have the answers. I know this is a quest for us all, there is no magic bullet, but what will my role be? I can’t say.

What I know, is that reading Sharon’s book has had a profound effect on how I view my own situation. I feel as if having had a load of random jigsaw pieces in my possession, I’ve now been given the picture of how they fit together. It’s a gift.

And so if any of this resonates with you too, find your way to reading ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ – savour it, who knows what it might say to you.

2016-05-12 17.27.37

 

 

 

 

 

More guilty pleasures…

or ‘How what you read in your teens can scar you for life…’

2016-04-12 10.24.30

Last week, with the girls still at home for Easter, we found ourselves in need of some new books – as you do…

Naturally the first choice on these occasions is Hay-on-Wye, but as it’s over four hours away by car, it isn’t really an option for a quick mid-week fix. Instead we opted for Berkhamsted, (of Ed Reardon fame), where I have a soft spot for the Oxfam bookshop.

I really do think it’s the sort of shop where they should have lock-ins, like pubs once did. I’m pretty confident I could spend several hours (quite possibly days) working my way through the shelves there without ever getting bored.

I came away with an old Folio Society version of ‘Richard III The Great Debate’. It contains Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III, and Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III.

I blame Rosemary Hawley Jarman for my Richard fetish. I read We Speak No Treason when it first came out in the 1970s, at that impressionable age, and have been in love with him ever since. Loads of history books, TV programmes and a car park exhumation later and I still enjoy reading anything about Richard and that era.

I’m looking forward to reading what More actually wrote. As a chief propagandist against Richard I’m naturally inclined against him – even studying Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons in the Sixth Form didn’t make him any more forgivable and Anton Lesser’s portrayal in Wolf Hall fits better with my view of More. But the great benefit of being a history junkie not a proper historian, is that you can happily indulge your own prejudices to your heart’s content.

I know next to nothing about Horace Walpole, so that section will be educational on several levels.

The useful thing about Berkhamsted, is that if there’s a book you want but can’t find in Oxfam, they’ve thoughtfully built a Waterstones just down the road.

I didn’t want anything else and was just browsing while the Daughter looked for a specific title when two more books leapt into my hands – as they do…

Mary Beard’s SPQR A History of Ancient Rome and Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey My Own Life.

My knowledge of Ancient Rome is best described as patchy, being the result of a few lessons about the Greeks and Romans which I had when I was about eight years old and from watching (avidly) and then reading (almost as avidly) I, Claudius when it was on TV in the 1970s. It feels like having a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without the picture to guide you and lots of bits missing. Hopefully Mary Beard will help me put it all together and fill in the gaps.

I hadn’t heard anything about Ruth Scurr’s book before I saw it on the shelf, but I have  been a fan of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, since I read it as a history obsessed teenager.

At the time, I’d only encountered history text books and historic fiction, so to find Brief Lives was a revolution, here were snippets of information about famous and now largely forgotten people in a style unique to Aubrey.

So to find a biography of John Aubrey and one written in such a delicate homage to Aubrey’s style, weaving history and biography together, is a fabulous treat.

Looking at the books when we got home, it suddenly struck how they all linked so much to the teenage me. I suppose some things never change.

Happy reading…

 

 

 

 

 

Morning routine…

or ‘the unanticipated benefits of a photography habit’.

Hands up if you’ve never deliberately attempted to start a habit of some kind…

Me? I’ve tried loads, and I mean loads! But the fact is, I’m rubbish at it. I’m really good at reading the books that tell you why you should regularly do something, I understand the benefits they tell me I’ll see as a result of establishing these habits, I want to experience those benefits, I really do, but in the end, I just don’t seem to have what it takes to tick the habit box. A few days into trying anything habit-like and chances are I’ve already lost the plot.

But there is one thing I do which I think does qualify for habit status – not a habit I ever deliberately intended to make a habit, but which has happened anyway, and that is the habit of taking a photo (or several) of the countryside every day when I walk the dog.

2016-02-16 09.34.17

Long-service readers will know this began with photographing a particular oak tree in the lane. But although I decided to record the oak, I didn’t set off with any intention to make it a permanent thing, I didn’t anticipate any particular benefits of doing it, I simply wanted to see how that tree changed over the period of a year.

But you know, it’s now well over 3 years since I started taking those photos and I still do it every day – I think we can agree that counts as a habit.

2016-01-05 08.35.48

Now let’s be honest, this habit hasn’t done a thing for my ability to keep the house clean or tidy, it hasn’t turned me into a highly successful business person, or (sadly) prevented me from eating my own weight in cake at the slightest provocation.

But you know, there are a few benefits I think do stem from this habit.

These days I am much more in tune with the changing seasons. The whole cycle of life, the ever-changing weather moods and the ebb and flow of energy is something I feel better connected to, even anchored in, and much happier as a result.

2016-02-24 09.16.23

And this once fairly ignorant wildlife watcher has now become fascinated by the flora and fauna in one mundane English country lane. I now own and frequently consult books on wildflowers, trees, insects, mushrooms and birds – and now, just occasionally, I can actually call something by its proper name.

2016-02-09 09.08.18

Having never really been able to commit to a daily drawing practice, I do find that looking carefully at the natural world around me has improved my eye for texture, pattern and subtlety in colour, with the added benefit of having a record to go back to if I want to research something for an artwork. It may not be the creative habit of Twyla Tharp, but honestly, I think it works for me.

2016-02-10 09.55.05

But the best thing of all, is that when you’re having a dull miserable winter and your friends comment on how it seems to have been grey for so long, you can immediately jump in and bore them rigid with precise details of exactly how many days it’s been since we had any sunshine and then show them all the photos to prove it… I know, because I am that woman!

2016-03-10 08.50.48

So there you have it, an accidental habit worth having…

I post a picture from my walk most days over on my Instagram account, do come over and say hello if you’re on IG.

I don’t own a camera – all the pictures are taken with my smart phone, which is tucked -dawn to dusk – into the pocket of my jeans. I was thinking just the other day how lucky I am to live in the digital age, and giving thanks to the inventor of the camera app.

Do you have any accidental habits that make your life better? Do tell…