Showing posts from 2016

The shortest day ...

There’s something about the light in Bath. There's a great deal of it, and I wonder if it’s all to do with reflection. Pale gold stone, a river and a canal, much glass, big sky. I don’t have the answer but it’s a dazzling city in so many respects.

We took a break preparing for dinner for special friends and took a family walk from Henrietta Street, via the Holburne Museum, to Sydney Gardens, the canal and back via Bathampton.
Highlights? Cutely mad European folksy exhibition at the Holburne. Fab Christmas tree on the balcony. Kingfisher by the river. Blackbird eating scarlet apples. A majestic Husky called Thor with crystal eyes and a silver mane. Stoic ponies in an orchard. A glimpse into the new refurb at the terribly posh Cleveland House - its chandeliers all intact. The secret hideaway of Raby Mews. Medieval-style intricacy of plants around railings in Henrietta Park. Then a family pint at the Pulteney Arms.

And now the nights will stop drawing in. More light! Astonishing.

The longest night ...

Today is the Winter Solstice. More accurately, it occurs for a fleeting moment at 10.44 here in England. This is when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. It occurs when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.4 degrees – away from the Sun.

The shortest day and the longest night... For the ancients, this was the moment to assert the power of light over darkness and prepare for the harsh months ahead. Although eclipsed by Christian doctrine and contemporary commercialism, this calendrical moment is still crucial to many, harking back to our primitive instincts.

As a Celt, I’m always aware of the Solstice, although I’m not saying I’m going to start hacking down mistletoe with a golden sickle, as the Druids were wont to do – or so it’s said.
I’m happy to finish the decorations with fresh greenery, make an ice candle and pour the mulled wine. This year, I've also made a sparkly 'fairy ball' with green lights and a small glass globe.
It's also a great t…

Gothic Bath

Just a few minutes’ walk from the bustle of cosmopolitan Bath lies a truly Gothic experience.  

The graveyard of St Mary’s, in Bathwick, has become an historical side note, through no fault of its own. The churchyard of St Mary’s was opened in 1809 when the original 12th century St Mary’s church was demolished to widen Bathwick Road. The mortuary chapel, now a ruin, was designed by John Pinch, as famous in his day as John Wood, but now forgotten. It was built in 1818, a year before Queen Victoria was born, and constructed out of the material salvaged from the demolition of the 12th-century parish church.
The chapel was used for baptisms and funerals but only for two years until the new parish church down the road was consecrated in 1820. By 1856, the churchyard was closed in favour of St Mary the Virgin Churchyard which opened in the same year at Smallcombe Vale.
The cemetery has a desolate feel, intrinsically Gothic. As I stood in the foggy dusk taking photographs, a bat appeared, comp…

Dazzling Bath

Just a simple walk from Henrietta Street over to the Royal Crescent on a frosty afternoon.

Back to Bath

This is the post I’ve been eager to write for months. 

It’s official. We’re moving back to Bath.
Rob has a new research/teaching post and starts this month, so we’ve found somewhere new to live (tba) and are working out the logistics.

It’ll be complicated but we’re so thrilled that it’ll be a pleasant challenge rather than a ghastly slog.
From the first afternoon we arrived many, many, many years ago on a bright June day before Rob’s first interview at the university, we both fell in love with the place. Despite tricky finances and a collapsing housing market, we bought a lovely little terraced house, got our first dog (the wonderful Amber), survived various professional crises and, most memorable of all, celebrated the birth of our daughter, Lauren.

Years went by ...

Work took us to Kenilworth, and beyond, but now ... we’re back. Back to Bath. 

It has a wonderful sound. And since we’ve been here, the weather has been simply superb. Day after day of dazzling autumn sunshine, just as we enjoy…

Impressions of Edinburgh

Our daughter Lauren has just finished her taught Masters (MSc in Global Middle Ages) at Edinburgh.

Where did the time go? I think we all know more about whelks, wheelbarrows, pigs and bagpipes than is strictly healthy.
After a great five years, concluding with fabulous month in Edinburgh, it's time to celebrate ... and say a fond farewell to Grindlay Street. Great wee flat and a super view of the castle.
Well done, poppet! A major milestone.

PS I just took the photos using my phone but it's given things an Impressionist vibe.

How do you doodle?

I doodle. I have always been a doodler. Although I rail against fidgets, I am still an inveterate doodler.
People doodle differently. Flowers, swirls, squares.
I also doodle most extravagantly when stressed.
My daughter and I had an odd double doodle moment the other week. She was writing up a Masters dissertation and I was trying not to be anxious about the fact that she was ... writing up a Masters dissertation.
Creepy though this sounds, our doodles were almost identical. Squared off boxes and geometric shapes.
Lauren has been doing art history and had insightful comments about the psychology of it all. It made sense to us, and yes, we are re-watching Gilmore Girls.
Today I had a anxious online meeting, so I got out the writing pad, hoping to make notes. All I did was doodle. Stressfully.
No wonder people revert to colour books.
I attach a wee picture of my stress-doodles for the record. 
PS The cross-hatching is a new feature. What does that mean?

Hacking the Fringe

I’ve spent many hours combing (ha!) the Edinburgh Fringe online brochure this year, in search of comedic inspiration.

It’s hard to conceive of more than 30,000 performances of more than 2,000 shows – and that’s not counting the Free Fringe and other diversions. But how do you take advantage of such a cultural banquet, without breaking the bank or going bonkers?
Accommodation costs are fierce, so I went back to our old favourite holiday mode, the house exchange. Initially, I was sceptical that any Edinburgh resident would willingly miss out, but I was wrong. Twice, in fact, for we have arranged two exchanges for a double Fringe binge this season. Not central, but hey? How hard can it be?
I was born in Edinburgh, although I’ve never lived there, so I thought I’d be pretty au fait with getting around.Things have changed – and are changing – and I’ve had to learn fast. It turned out that buying the tickets was the easy bit and I’m proud to say I managed not to double book anything, or book tw…

You’re never too [insert adjective here] to enjoy being silly

We all like to think we have a great sense of humour, but occasionally it can go missing. Somewhere between autumn and spring, I mislaid mine.

Maybe it was because of the soggy weather, but it happened. It can happen to anyone, of course, for serious reasons such as bereavement, loss, illness, shock. I won’t go on. Sometimes it’s just the ups and downs of normal life with a dash of Brexit. Mine seemed to have drained away through my boots.
In fact, it had been lying dormant, and had not totally disappeared, for on Thursday, I found it again. This was not by chance, for I had been hunting around for a while. A few weeks ago, I came up with a plan to be amused. Go and see some comedy. Well, the Fringe seemed, um, just the ticket.
I bought A LOT, of tickets, I mean. To all manner of madness, from satirical musicals to a one-man portrayal of Star Wars. On Thursday, we gathered up our bus fare, our loins, and a giant picnic and headed to the Pleasance at the heart of the Fringe.
As we clumped …

Striking a blow for bagpipes

I’m always wary of coincidences. It’s always particularly annoying in a movie or drama, when you suspect the author just needs to speed things along.

However, a hilarious coincidence happened to me the other day, which had me in bits, to the amusement of passers-by.
There I was in Morpeth. Long story short, my husband Rob had a day conference in Leeds, so we extended the trip to spend some time in the Northumberland borders en route back to the Scottish Borders.
Rob headed south on the train and I went into town. First stop was Information, and then I came upon a sign that made me boggle. The Morpeth Bagpipe Museum.
In itself, this is not as incongruous as it sounds, for there is a long and proud tradition of piping in the North-East. What was personally amusing is that my daughter, Lauren, is writing a dissertation on the significance of musical instruments in the marginalia of Books of Hours, and has a chapter on ... bagpipes.
Now bagpipes are interesting for a number of reasons, not lea…

Writing on a sunny afternoon

I love working outside on a warm day, but glare is a problem.

Introducing Shadow Box Mark II, a revamped version of my personalised laptop anti-glare device, which I pimped up for today’s heat wave. Glaringly obvious bit of DIY, but it works!
Yes, even in Scotland, the temperature is over 20 degrees.
What you’ll need
Several different rolls of sticky tape ScissorsA shoebox that is slightly larger than your PCA patient partner who must promise not to laugh. First, deconstruct the panels and then simply reassemble and stick into place around the laptop (making sure that any flexes/memory cards etc also fit!).
Fetch long cold drink.
Insert laptop and off you go.
Of course, you’ll have to change out of that sparkly top – those dazzling sequins are not helpful.
And has anyone else struggled with using a mouse on an ornate cast iron garden table? A problem for another day.

My husband was rather envious of my super-sophisticated creation, so he made his own. He’s dubbed it the ViewTube.

Actually, he…

Ten reasons to take your laptop on holiday

I don’t care if it’s not PC, as it were, but I’ve decided I like having my laptop with me on vacation.

In the past, I just used to pack an A4 pad, some printouts and a pen, and hoped for the best. However, I never did anything useful, I’m afraid to say.
This year, I’ve been parcelling up the old Acer and recharger and shoving them in my hand luggage. Then off I go. It’s not been obsessive and I haven’t been tempted to do hours and hours a day, but just a bit of dabbling. I have say, it’s been great.
Here’s why: I don’t lose the thread of whatever I’m working on.I hate typing on a tablet.It keeps me sane during inevitable delays at airports, stations, ferries, car hire desks etc.I feel liberated to tackle those knotty plot problems because I’m not distracted by the usual domestic nonsense.I don’t fret about the weather, for I can always edit a quick chapter while waiting the sun to come out. Especially useful in Wales, as you can see.Taking the laptop means I have all my notes,…

Seasonal beauty in the Scottish Borders

It’s always fun chatting to taxi drivers on one’s travels. Recently in Leeds, I had a great conversation with a local chap – about the weather. Despite recent events, it's possibly the most popular topic in the UK.
‘Sad to say, you don’t get seasons here any more,’ he said, bemoaning warm, wet winters and coolish summers. ‘They’re all the same, these days.’
I didn’t like to disagree, but this is not the case in the Scottish Borders. We moved into Lindores, 19 Fenwick Park, last summer. A year later, there are clear divisions as the months go by.
Of course, I’m not saying that every day in autumn is filled with crisp, golden sunshine, or that it snows every day in winter. However, the archetypal patterns remain. To prove my point, here’s a brief photojournal of our year in the Borders, with shots of Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh, Dryburgh, Selkirk, Hawick and Bedrule. Names to conjure with. With their Buchanesque qualities, they make it an inspiring and wonderfully uncluttered place to liv…