Friday, August 31, 2007

Face to voice, new person and white knight.

1. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has finally met a legendary voice on the phone at a client meeting. He spends the rest of the day smiling -- partly because he was right about what they looked like, and I was wrong.

2. Elodie, aged six days, waves at me through the kitchen window because I have a cold. Oli shows me her tiny feet, and Caroline points out her eyelashes and perfect fingers. Elodie is trying out her face, showing all sorts of expressions that don't mean anything yet. She looks as if she is systematically making sense of a wonderful world. Oli says that she is very good so long as they keep her full of milk. I can't wait till I'm better so I can go round and have a cuddle.

3. Nick and I are too tired to spend the night together, so he takes me home, walking me right across town. But first he lends me what must be the softest fleece in the world.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Signature, victory and shut out the light.

1. I open a book that was a birthday present and find that the author has signed it, addressing it to me.

2. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named waves his damp sock in my face, so I throw it out of the window.

3. Closing the blinds at the end of a working day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The return, the arrival and the count.

1. Our boss is back from his holidays. He spends a morning smoothing out all the quarrels that have blown out of proportion in his absence. 'I need another holiday.'

2. Oli drops in to see us -- mother and baby are still a bit shy but will visit soon. He says: 'I'm different. I walked out of the birthing centre and I saw the sky, and I thought "How beautiful". And I saw my tomato plants had all died because I haven't watered them and I thought: "I don't care. It's not important."'

3. When I was six, they lined us up on the wall in front of the school and told us to count passing cars. We struggled, and they taught us how to tally -- using four lines struck through with a fifth to keep count. I thought of it as a little fence to keep sheep in order. It's one of the few things I learnt in maths that I still use today -- often when I'm keeping track of a repetitive task.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fruit cup, dancing spawn and lines.

1. I think myself lucky to get a piece of lemon in my Pimm's -- but Justin comes back with a glass loaded with strawberries and mint. And for the next round, Ian returns with even more fruit -- apples, cucumber, orange and plum. It's all about contacts, apparently.

2. At a festival of local live music on the Pantiles, the town's toddlers wiggle to the front and dance unsteadily before the bandstand. Occasionally an ambitious one climbs on to the stage, only to be quickly hooked back by more sensible people.

3. I struggled with perspective at school -- I was off sick the week they taught it. I have ideas about parallel lines and vanishing points, and roads appearing narrower as they approach the horizon, but they don't connect terribly well in my head. While watching a documentary about Byzantine icons, all becomes clear, and some of the tricks artists can play with perspective are exposed for my delight and understanding.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Quiet man, kit and time travellers.

As described on Heropress, we spent the day at Military Odyssey.

1. Among all the guns and pikes and fighting, a neolithic man sits in front of a deer hide tent knapping flints. We chat about his cordage -- nettle stem, rawhide and tendon -- and about tanning. He explained that his soft leather shirt and trousers were yellowish because they had been smoked to keep them supple.

2. A War of the Roses pikeman shows me the weight of his gear by piling it up in my arms. It's heavy, and I'm glad I'm not wearing the padded coat, wool tabard, helmet and armour on this sunny day. He explains that he's not a full 'tinny', and that once the armour is on, it doesn't feel heavy.

3. Two women dressed as Scythians trying on World War II great coats.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Treasures of the east, the candle burns the string and flying.

1. We visit the British Museum for an exhibition of Japanese crafts. I am particuarly taken by a plate decorated with a glazed pattern of maple leaves and water; and by a laquer box with owls staring out of it. Their shining eyes seem to follow us as we move though the exhibition.

2. Following workings of the machines in Heath Robinson pictures. We spent a happy hour in the Cartoon Museum enjoying the improbabl contraptions and complicated rescues, followed by some time browsing the collection of Dandys and Beanos upstairs

3. A long thin curl of orange peel forms wings over a cocktail called 'Dark Angel'.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Scarlet, it's happening and harvest.

1. The mountain ash berries over the road are a-tremble because a bird is gobbling them down as fast as it can.

2. At 8am I get a text from Oli reading 'Baby!' At work, the girls from the other company crowd in, asking us for updates, as if the birth is happening under Oli's desk. We shake our heads and wait for news. At last, the proud father rings to tell us that he has a daughter.

3. The spaces in my lunch box are crammed with home grown tomatoes that are splitting with ripeness.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What are you doing, fixing the news and ten little piggies.

1. He-Who-Shall-N0t-Be-Named enquires as to what I am doing crouched behind a desk on the other side of the office. I say I am fixing Ellie's CD drive; but really, I'm putting his birthday card in an envelope.

2. Peter comes in to supervise the news. I sit with him and go over my commentary. I don't much like writing commentaries -- I feel like a fraud because I've never been directly involved with the National Health Service; and I'm not clever at organising my thoughts into arguments. But with the help of an experienced journalist, my facts and ideas line up and I feel proud to see the piece at the head of the news.

3. Looking down at my newly-painted toenails. I had a pedicure and we picked the colour 'bus stop'. We also spent some time giggling about some of the other colours -- 'basket case', a bright,wild bubblegum pink, springs to mind.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Looking back, daily achievements and chocs.

1. As Nick and I part -- me to get my lift into work and he to the station -- I look back over my shoulder and see him looking back over his.

2. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has discovered the Bristol Stool Chart. Copies of it have appeared all over the building with advice that we should be aiming for three or four.

3. Katie's boyfriend Jules has contributed a large and heavy box of chocolates to the household. We have strict instructions not to touch the one shaped like a butterfly on the second level.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blue-grey, slow down and Indian food.

1. Oli's new car is the blue-grey colour of woodmoke.

2. Most days in Frant we pass a lady sweeping the pavement. She has put a 30 sign on the handle of her broom to remind drivers of the speed limit.

3. We go to a South Indian restaurant specialising in dosas. The menu describes these variously as 'crumpets', 'pancakes' and 'pizza'. We try one of each kind, and they are all good -- very different from the curry and rice I am used to.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bevvies, tea for me and channel hopping.

1. After a week away, a mug of brewed coffee brought to my desk. Even better is the redbush-with-no-milk that Ellie puts down later in the morning, saying: 'I've found your mug.'

2. Katie is away so I drink a pot of that lapsang souchong tea that she hates so much.

3. I spend a happy evening channel-hopping with our new Sky box. Chariot racing in Welsh! America's most haunted rednecks! Veronese jewellery! Only Jesus can save you from the fires of hell-ah!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wheels, two roses and teapot.

1. I am the only person on the bus. A taxi for this same journey would have been about £50, not £3.40; there'd have been less leg room; I wouldn't have been high enough to see into people's gardens; and I would have had to chat to the driver.

2. Rosey's birthday was at the end of June, and I have been waiting weeks to see her so I could give her the present I was so proud of -- I commissioned illustrator Rosie Brooks to do a little cartoon of us in Africa.

3. They bring Nick's tea in a heavy black cast iron tetsubin, which he seems to like very much. It has pleasing nubbles on its flanks, and its weight makes is good to hold.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Exam fuel, breaking up and civilisation.

1. Chrissie produces from I know not where packets of frothy cappuccino powder to fuel our bushcraft exams.

2. Smashing up the leaf shelters and throwing the support sticks and leafmould around the woods so that the next lot of students will have to find their own materials when their turn comes.

3. Katie comes home to find me up to my neck in bubbles. She makes up a tray of tea things and sits outside the bathroom door hearing my stories of life in the woods.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stay dry, headgear and carving.

1. Paul tells us not to let the rain get inside our heads. For the rest of the day, a 'you all right?' is likely to be answered with something along the lines of: 'There's rain down me neck and rain in me boots, but I'm not letting it get in me head.'


2. The softness of my new beanie hat. I saw one bobbled with raindrops on Di's head and coverted it. When the mobile shop came round, my card was out of my tent before you could say 'Mud'. It hasn't been off my head since I cut the tags.

3. Russ patiently shows me how to take tiny slivers off the bowl of my spoon with a crook knife. I work at this until it gets too dark and am surprised at how quickly and neatly the bowl forms.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Falling water, snake and fish head.

1. The tink-tink-tink of water dripping from a milbank bag into a billy can. We have to boil the water over a campfire to purify it properly. It's iron-stained, so it's light brown, and the boiling makes it taste strongly of woodsmoke. It reminds me of lapsang souchong tea.

2. As we are choosing chestnut poles, Dan warns us to step back. 'I think there's a snake...' I catch a flash of emerald and back off quickly. 'A snake collector has lost some snakes. I think it's the Algerian Green.' We are warned to stand right away, while the snake is caught and bagged. I am still jumpy from my murderous roll mat last night, until Di whispers 'I bet it's a fake.'

3. James the instructor explains his joyful handling of the salmon we are about to eat for supper by mentioning that he worked in a fish shop. 'Which gave lots of opportunities for jokes. I once put a cod's head in the toilet for my housemate to find.'

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Woodwork, cleanliness and radioactive badger.

1. I look at the half log in my hand and wonder how it will ever be a wooden spoon -- until I am told to carve away everything that is not spoon.

2. Showering under a yew tree from a canvas bag filled with hot water carried in a can from the fire. As I rinse my hair and rain patters around me, I wonder if I will ever be dry and free from dead yew leaves again. A few minutes later I am fully dressed in clean(ish) clothes and tingling as my skin warms up again.

3. Just before settling into my bivi bag, I turn off my torch and stash it where I can reach it. I wriggle down in my sleeping bag and slide down my self-inflating mat into the bivi bag. I am startled by a scuttering noise at my feet, and then terrified by a movement at the end of the bivi bag. My thoughts run in this order:
a. What the hell is that?
b. Get out of the bivi bag.
c. Who is screaming?
d. It's me.
Out of the dark come shouts of 'Don't move' and 'Come here' and 'Are you all right?' and 'Don't worry, it's nothing' and 'Where are you?' and 'Who's that?' and 'What's happening?' Then Dave appears out of the darkness with a torch an 'Are you decent?'
I pull on my trousers with one hand and point gibbering at the bulge in the bottom of my bivi. Shaking his head, Dave turns the bag upside down. My mat falls out and nothing else -- no adders, no badgers, no rats. The mat, however, has a large blister at the foot end where the lining has split.
Then the instructors come running from the far end of the site: 'What's happened?' and 'Our ears are bleeding' and 'I'd just got to sleep.'
Dave asks if I would like him to explain to them. I decline, and have to explain, between gasps of relieved laughter, in my own words how a malfunctioning sleeping mat made me produce proper Dr Who screams.
Chrissie makes me sit under her tarp until I stop catch my breath again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sparks, roots and starry night.

1. We learn to use flint and steel to light tinder and start a fire. The combination of patience and dexterity is almost beyond me, but with tonnes of encouragement: 'Try with my flint.' 'You need a bigger bit of charcloth.' 'Take it slowly. Be patient.' 'You're making sparks at least, now just get them on the cloth... that's an ember! Careful, careful.' And suddenly there was a ball of smouldering hay in my hands -- 'Blow on it... now waft it down while you breathe in... bring it up... blow... hold it tightly...' and everyone cheers as the flames begin, and dizzy from hyperventilating, I drop my kindling into the campfire.

2. It's raining and we are crouched under a yew tree digging for long roots. I like this sort of exercise much better than carving or making fires. It's very satisfying to grub down in the earth and find a root, follow first in one direction and then in another and then pull it free.

3. I am sleeping under a tarpaulin strung between two trees. It was raining when I crawled into my bivi bag. I wake in the night to find stars in a clear sky sparkling between the chestnut leaves. In the morning, it's raining again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Green sticks, cords and shelter.

1. The smell of hazel withies -- these are branches twisted until they are as strong and as flexible as wire and can be used to secure a bundle of sticks. They smell sharp, fresh and sappy. I spot Johnny sniffing the demonstration model as it is passed round.

2. Learning new knots and the stories that go with them. 'This one is used by Siberian goat herders because they don't have to take their gloves off for long when they are making it. Wave to your friend over here... if there's a triangle there you're doing it right...' 'Round this one twice then both once...'

3. Building a shelter by piling armfuls of leafmould and bracken on to a frame of sticks. It forms a dark little cave large enough for two that blends perfectly with the woods.

Monday, August 13, 2007

United, my room and fitting in.

1. During a sharp shower of rain, two smokers lurk in the porch of the pub. An older man comes in from the garden: 'There's a smoking pavilion round the corner,' he says.
'It's full,' they say.
'Oh,' he says, 'Just pile in. Everyone else is sharing tables.'

2. 'Where shall we have tea?'
'Wherever you like, Clarey.'
'Can we have it in my room?'
So we do. Nick says it's like a literary salon.

3. Sitting round a campfire hearing on one side a conversation about atl-atl throwing and on the other a conversation about colonic irrigation. I think I'm going to like these people.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Collecting eggs, tools and late supper.

Dear Everyone

I'm off for a week's holiday. As usual, I'll post a full set of 3BTs when I return. It should be an interesting selection, as I'll be camping and learning the basics of living in the wild.

1. On Friday night, Katie took me out to the hen arks and we collected six eggs -- I try to carry them in a fold of my skirt, but this proves impossible without flashing my knickers or dropping the eggs. We use my long vest instead. In the morning, she made them into pancakes.

2. Choosing new pens from a huge and many coloured selection and wondering if I would write something entirely different if I bought unusual tools.

3. We eat late -- Speldhurst bacon, runner beans, tomatoes and pasta -- and it tastes wonderful because I am hungry.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Shoe mystery, collie and dreamer.

1. A pair of black ballet pumps lie neatly by the road between two parked cars.

2. A wriggly black and white puppy worrying at dogs four times her size, chewing my fingers with pin teeth, trying to catch my skirt hem and going upstairs when she shouldn't.

3. Sitting with a sleeping baby on my lap and wondering what he's dreaming about. I suspect milk features quite strongly. His father says he now recognises the sound of the kettle.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hay bales, greeting and family life.

1. The hay has been cut and baled. I like standing at a gate and looking up a hill to see the huge round bales standing against the sky line.

2. On my walk, I hear a miaow and a tinkle. A slender tortoise shell cat comes running across a garden to see what I am up to.

3. Another diner spots us gazing into each other's eyes. -- 'Don't do that: you'll end up with children.' He indicates his clutch of tweenies sitting at the table behind us. We laugh and he pays his bill. As he leaves the restaurant he adds: 'Don't mind me. Having children was the best thing that ever happened to me.'

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Morning after, book buyer and beans.

1. After a rough night spent curled round a hot water bottle, I wake to no period pains, glorious sunshine and more kisses than I know what to do with.

2. Seeing someone coming out of a secondhand bookshop with a full plastic bag; and having a few moments to run my eye over the line of 50p books outside.

3. The sweetness of our very own runner beans.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Marmite, pudding and cheek to cheek.

1. Fresh white bread with butter and marmite.

2. A dish of blackberry and apple crumble decorated with mint leaves and fresh blackberries.

3. Dancing with Nick because I'm used to being close to him -- I really struggle with being so near a stranger. I hope Nick takes to it so we can dance often.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Whistler, read to me and platform alteration.

We've got a garden, everybody!

I had a meeting with Jessica at Long Barn Books about the 300 Beautiful Things book. We seem to be on the same wavelength, which makes me feel even more excited about the project (if that's possible!). They have a graphic designer on board, and we're looking at a few small illustrations, too. It'll be available in spring 2008. If you would like to be kept updated, please send an email to: book at threebeautifulthings dot co dot uk -- addresses supplied will not be sold or passed on, but will be used by me, or by Long Barn, to contact you about the book and other 3BT projects.

1. Jessica's pink whistling stovetop kettle.

2. Ellie climbing up on to my lap for a story. She stops me halfway through Green Eggs and Ham, firmly closing the book. Cat explains: 'She does that to me, too. She likes to see other people's interpretations.'

3. At London Bridge, I am sent a platform that is not normal for Tunbridge Wells trains. With some misgivings, I dig in for the twenty minute wait. Two minutes before the train is due, they announce 'a platform alteration.' I sigh, get to my feet and expect a frantic dash down to the subway and up again on a hot day with uncomfortable shoes and heavy bags. Then the announcement continues, directing me to turn around and get on the train pulling in right behind me.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The edges, a hunt and gathering.

1. At RHS Wisley, the long double borders planted with drifts of waving grasses and daisies of all shapes and sizes -- my favourites were the ones with long droopy petals skirting round cone-shaped centres.

2. Hunting for frogs, wild strawberries and strange plants in my aunt's garden.

3. The sound of blackberries dropping into a box as I pick them.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Market food, strange attire and light refreshment.

Thanks for the comments on my birthday cake -- I showed the aunt and she was very pleased and touched.

1. The orange juice man in his hat covered in plastic oranges, and a stand that sold purple lemonade. And great dishes of paella dotted with whole prawns.

2. Strange outfits at Camden market -- we saw cyberpunk clubbing gear in Cyberdog: accessories designed to glow in UV light and inflatable trousers and shirts with LED message attachments. We saw aristocratic goth outfits with frogging and red velvet waistcoats. There was an orange maxidress with a fringe of purple fluff, and Norah Batty-style housecoats.

3. An enormous glass of coffee and chocolate and icecream with squirty cream on the top and a spoon and a straw.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Nurses, going away and made it.

1. As we are pulling out of Oli's drive we hear a blast of Saturday Night's All Right for a Fight. It is coming from the car of a respectable-looking lady in a nurse's uniform. She is bobbing up and down to the music as she drives. We follow her until she turns into the drive of a sheltered housing complex.

2. Bouncing home from work knowing that in about an hour I'll be on my way to a weekend of fun with my aunt, uncle and cousin.

3. That moment when, after arriving at a strange station and I'm not sure if I'm where I'm meant to be, I see a familiar face.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bed tea, overheard and hiding.

1. I'm up super early so I can get a lift into work; so I get the chance to wake Katie up with a cup of tea.

2. On my way home I pass two elderly neighbours chatting over their wheelie bins. I overhear a fragment of conversation: 'I do apologise. I was hasty and I didn't think.' I wonder if he was telling a story, or if he was making up a squabble.

3. Sitting in a pub we hear a scuffle behind us. A barman is crawling behind a sofa. 'What are you doing?' 'Playing hide and seek'. Business is slow and the staff are bored.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A mysterious perfume, excuses and spider.

1. There is a mysterious, sweet smell outside work -- there must be something fragrant in bloom, but I can't work out where it is.

2. The movie Clerks, for the line 'I'm not even supposed to be here today.'

3. Covering a pad of paper with a spider diagram showing what I'm planning.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Camp, golden insects and zoom zoom.

1. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named crawls into my tent and then turns round to stick his head out of the door.

2. Walking under trees and seeing flies with the sun on their wings in a shaft of light.

3. Katie rides on our trolley to bust through the automatic doors at the supermarket.