Monday, August 31, 2009

Red rouge, blackberrying and pieman.

1. Katie opens a compact of Clarin's blusher (it's Barbera Cartland pink) and says "This looks a bit scary, but it'll make you seem as if you've been for a walk in the country."

2. The last time I went blackberrying, there were a few gleaming, plump berries among burgeoning green leaves. Now every bramble bows under the weight of six, seven, eight berries. The leaves are ragged and rusted. Tired out.

3. I like to see Nick lift a piece of pastry into the pie dish.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Unsung heroine, tea and in front of the telly.


1. At an exhibition about the Bloomsbury Group's Omega Workshop, the Courtauld Gallery displays some prints by Winifred Gill. I'm charmed and smitten. I feel like Alice when she swallows the contents of the drink-me bottle: the small images remind me all at once of several things I like: Samuel Palmer's black and white landscapes, scherenschnitte and book illustrations. One of them makes me feel as if I am peeping into someone's office through a crack in the door. This linocut on paper called Olives. It's in the exhibition, on loan from Dr Margaret Bennett.

2. We take tea at the Courtauld Gallery and have both scones and cake -- which amuses the manager very much, because both are enormous. My cake makes me hiccup lavender for the rest of the day. The scones are large and freshly crusty, full of caramelised raisins; and they send out a whole jar of strawberry jam.

3. Just once in a while, to have supper on a tray in front of the television.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

We love the milkman, squall and felafel

1. Oh milkman, we wake up to find that in the small hours, you placed on our doorstep a pot of yoghurt and some milk for breakfast.

2. As we are climbing over a stile, a squall blows up the valley. The sky darkens, the wind gets up, and the cold rain blows in our faces. We are so surprised that we stand there like idiots for a moment, before taking cover in the lea of an oak.

3. Flattening a felafel and jamming it into a hot pitta.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Chin up, soup and broken bell.

I'm loving Anke's series on Tunbridge Wells at War. This entry in particular is wonderful. It's about the astonishing funds raised for the war effort.

1. "You're not letting it get to you, are you," the job centre officer asks. "Remember it's not personal."

2. I like a squashy ripe tomato chopped up and dropped into my soup towards the end of cooking.

3. The broken bell clonk of an empty milk bottle being put on the doorstep.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dates, lime and adventure stories.

1. I stand sadly in the middle of the precinct because I can't think of any chocolate or cake in town that I want. Later in the greengrocers, I put five plump and sticky fresh dates in a paper bag.

2. Grating the zest from a lime -- the scent of it.

3. A book of short adventure stories by the man who dreamed up Conan, Robert E. Howard. Haunter of the Ring and Other Tales is a collection of those ponderous dark stories that publishers won't take any more. They begin slowly -- sit down, get comfortable, ready to listen while I tell you -- rather than bouncing you into the story by starting in the middle of the action.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Trading, better things to do and fire lighter.

1. Trading in two old games for a new (new to me, that is) Zelda game.

2. Turns out that there's no work for me tomorrow after all. But that's all right: there are plenty of things I'd rather be doing anyway.

3. I've seen a couple of Ray Mears' programmes where he asks people to show him how they would light a fire using natural resources, but they've have only heard about it and don't know how it's done. Then he asks politely if they'd mind him showing how he'd do it, and they're a bit doubtful (it's a bit humiliating, after all, for a hunter-gatherer from the Amazon to admit he doesn't know how to make fire using friction any more). And Ray demonstrates, and as the pile of dust grows, and the spark comes and they laugh at Ray coughing in the smoke. They all have a go at blowing on the tinder and suddenly they get these big toothy, happy grins on their faces. Ray tells them that a lady from the South Pacific says: "With friction, you carry the fire in your head and in your muscles."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What I will do, chowder and travelogue.

1. Writing my goals for the week in a notebook, and looking forward to my writing work.

2. I love the golds and creams and bright yellows of corn chowder. And I like the salty-sweet taste, too.

3. We listen to the first part of Hothouse, a far-future coming-of-age tale about life on an Earth that has been taken over by carnivorous plants. I'm very fond of travelogue-style science fiction stories that give you a whole new world to explore.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hair brush, cricket and daylight tasks.

1. I like to brush my hair (counting 100 strokes) to put a shine on it.

2. Watching over and over again in joyful news reports ball striking the stumps and sending the bails flying.

3. We leave the washing up because we have to do a few things (walk around the park, and bring in the washing) before it gets dark.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Painter, salt and poached eggs.

For those who wondered what a fascinator is, it's a sort of small and whimsical hat -- it just so happens that Dan Holloway, the writer responsible for The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes, recently interviewed a maker of outlandish and wonderful fascinators.

1. In the Saturday morning sun, a Polish man covers the grimey balustrade around his tiny front garden with clean white paint. A line of brushes and a pint glass of juice stands at the other end; and an unassuming radio plays quiet music.

2. With my tea comes one of the packets of Rococo sea salt chocolate that Nick treked all the way to Marylebone to buy for me on Friday. It's gorgeously smooth, and surprises with crisp fragments of salt.

3. I like stirring up a saucepan of boiling water (salt and vinegared) until a whirlpool forms. I like dropping eggs into it so the whites squirl out like Miss Haversham's wedding dress. I also like cutting into the shrouded golden yolk and seeing it run out all over the toast.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Funds, storm and ribbons.

1. I get the news that I've got the funding for an audio typing course, which I'm hoping will open some (paying) work doors for me.

2. I like to see a rainstorm coming in over the Medway valley. Long grey streaks have been combed out of the high clouds.

3. I try ribbon embroidery for the first time. Di Van Niekerk's book is insistant that even imperfect stitches are fine because you can work over them to add texture.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cucumber, after work and fascinator.

1. I pick my first cucumber. When I slice it, a halo of silver dew drops appears around its circumference.

2. A friend calls wondering if I'm still looking for work. I say 'yes' (a bit too quickly) to her offer of a day's proofreading.

3. My mother has bought a feathery fascinator to wear at our wedding, and so pleased with herself that she's refusing to take it off.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The drink, out of the sun and all together now.

1. My sunflower's leaves are hanging soft and sad like wet handkerchiefs. I dip a watering can into the cool, dark rainbarrel and take it a drink. An hour later, its leaves are proudly starched again.

2. The air is as hot as my skin and the sunlight is so bright that I have to work hard to decide what details are important. I like to step into an air conditioned shop; and to be given a free sample of a cool drink.

3. We spend the evening listening to Prom 45: The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. It's very funny -- and the sound of the audience joining in with Beethoven's Ode to joy on 1,000 ukes was stirring, and somehow reassuring and unifying. Also, if you have a moment, read the reviews of the controversial Prom 25. One listener claims her ears were raped, and another was upset by whatever the pianist was doing inside the piano.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vanilla, let me out and the paper cutter.

1. When I have finished scraping seeds from a vanilla pod, I find a sweet black smear caught under my engagement ring.

2. PaulV is not really listening when I tell him when I'll be able to join him in the late afternoon sun on the common. I think he's that keen to not be at home, or anywhere near work.

3. Nick is trimming wedding invitations with my paper cutter. "This is a good piece of kit," he says as he swish-chicks his way through the pile of cards.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The contract, wonder wire and the manuscript.

1. I always dread the day I've got to alter my phone contract. I try to research what I want, but the website makes my head spin. Then I grit my teeth and make the call. It's easier than I think, and I feel better afterwards.

2. Man on Wire is the story of the man who walked on a high wire between the World Trade Centre towers in 1974. It re-unites the team who pulled off the stunt for an emotional account of an act of wonder. Philippe Petit describes how he first saw a picture of the yet-to-be built towers in a magazine in a dentist's waiting room. He pretended to sneeze so that he could tear out the page without anyone noticing -- and yet he went on to rebel against authority by stringing wires without permission between the high places of public landmarks.

3. Last thing at night, I settle down in bed with The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. It's a tale of ghosts, Gypsies and mystery religions set in Spain. It reminds me in parts of Jonathan Strange; and in parts of Italo Calvino.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kite, eavesdropping and send-off.

This morning, I'm on A Handful of Stones.

1. She is trying to fly a tiny kite, but doesn't know you have to face into the wind. I liked hearing a shout, and seeing that, by chance, she'd got it airborne.

2. Nick is sitting on the doorstep polishing shoes. I like to overhear him talking with our neighbours about the cucumbers I have grown.

3. I send off three tiny stories to a competition, and I feel as if I've achieved something.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cut out, aubergine and Nick laughs.

1. I use a craft knife to try some of Cindy's Scherenschnitte templates. Being allowed to use a craft knife unattended is one of the best things about being grown-up.

2. Before I put the leftovers from supper in the fridge, I pick out and eat a cube of tender fried aubergine.

3. I like to watch comedy with Nick (there is a new programme on that adds a voiceover to wildlife footage) and seeing him laugh.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Milk, tomatoes and Dear Writer.

1. This milk (which has not been homogenised) from Able and Cole is the colour of late afternoon sunshine on a winter day, and tastes the way milk tasted when I was at nursery school.

2. I find two tiny green tomatoes on my plants. They are the size of peas and pearls.

3. Dear Writer, an Afternoon Play on BBC Radio 4 challenges me and harrows me and enlightens me. I feel a bit as if I've been on a roller coaster, or just climbed a mountain.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Family dispatches, signing on and the harvest.

1. Nick's mother comes round. She tells me that her great grandson's latest phrase is 'Power to the people' and that he now calls her 'Lady': 'I want to hold Lady's hand. I want to stay here with Lady.' And she brings a bag of beautiful thoughtful birthday presents from Nick's sister.

2. I'm not impressed with signing on (although I'm glad to have the money, and the help with the hunt for work). The job centre staff are even-minded and kind, even when facing angry people with a sense of entitlement, and disheartened people who have given up. But the atmosphere makes me feel crushed, afraid and useless. I'm so glad to hear the automatic doors close behind me as I walk out into the sunshine.

3. I like to spot blackberries growing somewhere unlikely (the corner of the house carpark) and, balancing at unlikely angles on the wall, pick them before anyone else does.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tea, dip and my dinner.

1. Louise is practising abundance -- which means pink lemonade, and two sorts of cupcake.

2. "This houmous is much fluffier than the supermarket one," says Nick. I'd been thinking Able and Cole's houmous was like the stuff I used to make myself as a student, but couldn't put my finger on the matching quality. Fluffiness is a good word.

3. I like a plate of mince with carrots in it, some new potatoes and various garden vegetables.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The pitch, writing life and sunflower.

1. On a pitching website, I read another writer's query letter, synopsis and first few pages and my 'I really want to read this book' radar goes beserek. Check out this gothic fantasy on Pitch Parlour. It has a soothsaying mermaid, gas lights and mudlarks in it.

2. I like sauntering up the road with the sun hot on my shoulders. I'm happy because I'm going to spend ten minutes being where and when I am so that I can write Once Around the Park.

3. The sunflower was watching me through petals closed tight as a fist yesterday morning. By lunch time, one to three o'clock had uncurled; and by nightfall only 11 to 12 o'clock remained.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Get out, new news and raspberries.

1. I am feeling mopish -- again -- so I'm very glad to get an early morning email from my father suggesting that I meet my mother at the station for a day of hanging out with Granny Pat.

2. Granny asks -- again -- what I'm doing these days. I tell her -- again -- "I'm getting married in November." She clasps her hands in delight and says "Oh good, I'm so pleased." We are both as happy with this news as we were the first time we exchanged it.

3. I like to reach deep into the forest of raspberry canes to find secret fruit -- velvet soft like horses noses, falling to pieces in my hand like broken beadwork.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Enjoying the sun, ice cream and geisha.

1. A middle-aged man, the peeling sun-red skin of his torso bare, sits with his wife on a park bench. He's drinking a can of larger, and he fills the space around them with tinny music from a small radio.

2. A little girl with corn blonde hair and a thick ring of ice cream round her mouth.

3. We watch Memoirs of a Geisha. The darkness and the icy rain storm of the start are driven away by one act of kindess.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Producer, plane flying over and Freecycle.

1. He asks what I want, and I say: 'The goats cheese with honey.' And that is what he buys. The stallholder takes the money and says 'Thanks.' And then he looks at me and says: 'Thank you, too.'

2. A loud, low growling plane flies over, and Nick leaves the washing up and goes out to look. "A Spitfire. You could tell by the engine noise that it was something special.'

3. It's late, but she comes to pick up my unwanted handblender. It's good to have another bit of space in the flat.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

After the rain, needles and thread.

1. It's warm, and it's been raining. The wet world is full of slippery wonders and unusual sights. The ground steams; slugs wave their horns; grass seeds look sorry for themselves.

2. A new packet of needles. I think about the bone and wooden needles used in the Stone Age, and how hard it must have been to make them; and how easy it is for me to buy a packet -- and how cheap they are. That makes me think of Adam Smith's essay about division of labour; which reminds me how much can be achieved by co-operation.

3. Katie has turned up a cross-stitch kit that she doesn't have time for. It is scented, apparently -- what wonderous times we live in.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Card, other plans and falling in cords.

We would very much like to sell Nick's flat in Tunbridge Wells so that we can buy our family home. Is anyone looking for a cool-in-summer and warm-in-winter one-bedroomed ground floor flat in a street (just 12 minutes walk from the station) with blossom trees and dramatic sunsets? The house is Victorian gothic in style, and makes visitors say 'wow'. Please do get in touch if you're interested.

1. Opening a new packet of card (ghost white, and cloudy smooth like stretched silk) to test print our wedding invitations.

2. The estate agent (who commented that we looked very happy as we arrived for the viewing) offers us a lift home. We say no, because we're stopping on the Pantiles for ice creams, which we are going to eat as we walk home through the woods.

3. Lying in bed and listening to the rain falling. I learnt a French phrase the other day which Proust considered a cliche -- il pleut des cordes (it's raining ropes) -- but it's new to me, so I'm going to enjoy it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wheat, big cats and turnips.

1. In a car passing a field where, amid a cloud of dust, a combine harvester is pouring a stream of red-gold wheat grains into a trailer.

2. We were lucky enough to catch a WHF open day and spent a couple of hours marvelling at the big cats there. I've never seen a tiger close to, and I hadn't realised they were such a beautiful rusty tawny orange. I happened to be standing near when a visitor received his raffle prize: to hand-feed a tiger. He got strict instructions to tuck his fingers in, and he looked very nervous as he offered the chicken thigh through the fence. The tiger reared up (one enormous paw pressed to the wire) and took it in one scronching bite.

3. Turnips loll in the vegetable patch showing off their broad puce shoulders.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Stock response, children in the garden and a vision.

1. I like to take from the fridge a cold and heavy bowl of chicken stock, and take off the mats of yellow fat that have floated to the edge.

2. I swear the spiked cucumber on the vine by the door gets larger every time I see it. Yesterday, it was thumb-sized, bloomy cute and almost strokable. Today (polished green and angrily spiked, the length of my middle finger) it looks like a stroppy teenager and I'm afraid it might explode if I touch it.

3. In the night, he confides that he is going to make loving me his life's work, and the shadows behind my eyelids are driven away (as if someone turned on a light when I was stumbling in a dark room) by a technicolor vision of walking on grass under brightest sunlight in clear air where cold new water springs from the places inside mountains.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Castle, back in time and the moon.

1. In St James' Park, looking back up to Horse Guards Parade and the Ministry of Defence behind. It looks like a fairy tale castle. I think that the MoD has King Arthur and his knights sleeping in one of the towers, in case of national need.

2. To come off a hot, bright shopping street in London and walk down a narrow lane that looks as if it hasn't change since 1780.

3. The moon (white silver and shaped like an egg) has been peering round clouds and through the window of the train all the way home.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Seeds, dinner in the oven and redbush.

Dan Holloway, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes, publishes an interview with me today in his View From the Shoe column. Thanks, Dan.

1. Nick's mother shows me the splitting helix pods of sweetpea seeds. 'They're for the new house,' she says. These are second generation seeds from a packet I gave her soon after Nick and I got together.

2. While supper is in the oven (the vegetables are lined up waiting their turn) we go out to walk Once Around the Park. When we come back, the flat smells of roasting chicken and crispy bacon.

3. The deep auburn colour of redbush tea with no milk.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Change, tidying and finding my jacket.

1. The yellow plums have turned rich amber-red.

2. We race round tidying the flat for a viewing, and feel very pleased at all the space we now have.

3. I drop my jacket somewhere on our travels round town. We re-trace our steps, asking in shop after shop, and finally find it hanging on a railing close to home.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The report, a meeting and yellow dog.

1. I get a text message to say: 'All I'm hearing today is "Clare give me apple. Tree!"'.

2. He has seen my map and wants to know: "Are you going for a walk?" I show him where I'm planning to go, and his mother and sister tell me they've just seen an adder.

3. A labrador the colour of straw-dry grass bounds towards me on the path by the stream. I am taken aback by his enthusiasm and he pushes his wet, toothy muzzle into my hand. The lady hurrying behind him calls: 'Sorry, he's too friendly!'