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Showing posts from 2015

Daffodils, dogs and dinners in December

Daffodils in December? - Yes, in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, nodding their heads as if to say 'we know it's December but you're in your shirt sleeves, the trees are in blossom and the ground is so warm and our roots so toasty that we thought we'd pop up to wish you all a Merry Christmas.' I wish I'd taken a photograph but it was too late and too dark and I was chatting so it would have been rude and I had to intercept a travelling child and her bag full of bricks from Paris and drag the bricks to St Pauls to meet several other Christmas-market-visiting, Father-Christmas-hand-shaking members of the family.

But honestly - daffodils - in December. It's like Nanny MacPhee's snow in August.  Weather experts are already forecasting the warmest December in 70 yrs. All part of the latest El Nino effect. Apparently. The Big Red Man must have been hot. But on the plus side he'll have had to deal with fewer lit fires, less smoke and cooler chimneys.

Another si…

Wordsmiths and trying to walk tables

Anyone who has dropped in here before will be aware of my fondness for words.

Discombobulated for example. We thought we were going for a walk but now we appear to be taking the table and a chair with us




This Walking the Dog blog is an excuse to play with words. I love words - always - they run around inside my head playing hopscotch over each other, jostling until one wins, seizes the microphone and broadcasts itself as my ear-worm word of the day. Perhaps, this inner-ear perseveration - or personal juke box rolling over on repeat spitting out the same word again and again - is some form of obsessive compulsive disorder? Or a sign of incipient madness? Or maybe it's utterly normal for those who strive to be wordsmiths?

From Discombobulated on 7th November 2011 to Floccinaucinihilipilification on 16 March 2015, via Curmudgeonly (8/11/11) and Dreich, drookit and mauchit (20/1/12), I have written about, taken inspiration from and generally enjoyed playing with a motley and largely f…

The whens, whys, hows and wheres of a good life.

Whatever pithy sayings are said about life - the clever, inspiring quotes you read, try to remember and promptly forget - and whatever happens along life's way; eventually, it's how you live it that matters. This how is the essence of a good life.

Kids live for the moment. Life is good. Responsibilities if they exist are to themselves. Theirs is a life of when - when will I grow up; when can we get a dog; when will the toothfairy remember to come; when will I be tall enough for that ride at the theme park; when can I have another ice-cream; when can I start wearing make-up; when can I have my ears pierced; when are you collecting me from the party - not that early!; when can I have an allowance and when can I go to London on my own?

Teens live in the moment - anything beyond that moment is not worthy of their attention - exams, what exams; alarm clocks are for losers; ditto baths; alcohol is all about the pre-loading before the party; the party is about getting wasted before y…

Je suis

On the 10th January this year,  I wrote a blog posting, titled Charlie, and started it with these words - 'When the outside world dips its toe into our lives, sometimes the ripples are impossible to ignore.'

Now, yet again the ripples wash against the feet of us all.
Yet again - unbelievably - Paris has been brutally attacked.
Yet again brain-numbing atrocity trespasses into our lives.
Yet again the world outside our homes cannot be ignored.

And that, I think, is the point - our homes: those places where we feel safe. Our homes, where terrorism should not dip its dirty fingers, but does - on our TV screens, radios, laptops and newspapers. Our homes, where we can believe and live and enjoy whatever books or music or film or TV series or sport we like. Simply because we are free. Yes, we dream of better things. But we can dream because we are free.

We forget at our peril how fortunate we are to have this freedom. In the free West. To feel safe. To live in a place that we call ho…

What if?

Stuck?
Not sure which path to take?
Creativity blocked?

There are two words guaranteed to unlock your imagination -

What if?

Apply 'what if' to any scenario and watch as a kaleidoscope of opportunities, suggestions and ideas appears. Let the 'what ifs' run and see where they take you. Build a story - what if, what if, what if - follow as it veers off on unexpected paths, reign it in and guide the journey: you are captain, master and passenger on this sea of what ifs.

Why didn't I know about the magic of 'what if' before? It's so obvious, so simple, so brilliant. As a device for story telling, I suspect it is unparalleled. Suddenly, I can see. And plan. And dream.

And write.

All I have to do now is edit 1,000 words of my young adult novel to send to my new writing group.

Gulp!

What if ... they don't like it?

What if they do?

What if I stop procrastinating right now and get on with it?

But

what if I make dinner first? - walk the dogs? - bake a cake? …

Close your eyes and dream

"Close your eyes and dream."

"What about?" How do you conjure up the dream that fills your "night without a stir" (J. Keats) or that "stretches away, elusive" into the "infinity of space" (P. Gaugin)?

The prospect of meeting the demand to instantly invent a dream, to then dream about, is as agonising as the "Make a wish!" moment that accompanies cake cutting -

"Wait a minute ... wait a minute ... oka-a-ay, yes ...  no, wait a minute ... fine! Yes!"

You screw your eyes up to make the wish. And wish whilst holding your breath. And cut the cake. Then worry that you made the wrong wish. You worry so much that you say out loud what you wish you had wished. When this is met with groans, rolled eyes and nodding the why-did-you-wish-for-that nod,  you remind your friends that you didn't make that wish - "Of course not!" - and a fanfare of relief explodes inside your head.
You resolve, before you put the knife …

Vespas, wasps, aphantasia and Shakespeare

"Bear with" as Miranda's posh friend Tilly is fond of saying in the sitcom Miranda - bear with and prepare your mind for a flight into fantasy. Actually, if I succeed it will be a flight into the deeper recesses of your imagination, but as this is dependant on my summoning up of the necessary descriptive skills and recent forays into literary exploration have been much hampered by extreme lack of sleep, it will probably fail and instead you will be left looking at a few paragraphs of gibberish.

On the other hand, if you suffer from aphantasia and are not in possession of a 'seeing' mind's eye my words will be gibberish anyway, so best to stop reading now. Or not. Aphantasia is a most unfortunate affliction (search for 'aphantasia- Professor Zeman - Exeter University blog') - words have meaning but lack colour, shape and pictoral form. In aphantasia the mind's eye can't create pictures. I see every book I read; better than any film. I listen to…

Wanting. And wanting what really matters.

"It is hard to fail but worse having never tried to succeed."

These words of Theodore Roosevelt are written in red pen across the top of the white board that sits on my desk. Along with several password reminders, a Quentin Blake postcard, some smiley faces drawn by a trespassing child, flyer cards advertising my favourite a cappella group and more words "Scribo ergo sum immortalis." It probably doesn't take a genius to ascertain that the something in which I wish to succeed may involve words, specifically the magical distillation of words into patterns that create stories.

But
      but
           but

the easy part is telling the story;

harder is finding the good words to write the story;

harder still is reading the story aloud;

hardest of all is sharing it.

I really want to do this. I really don't want to fail. But years of 'never trying' are horrible.

Teddy puts forward 'trying to succeed' as the only sensible option. There is a risk of f…

Oxymorons, holiday cooking and a picture of sunflowers

One thing I like about catering on holiday is the inescapable and necessarily inventive resourcefulness of it all. 

The - ‘Oh! I don’t have that ingredient’ moment, swiftly followed by the - ‘What shall I use instead?’ - slightly panicked moment. 
And the - ‘Wow! This is good!’ - revelation that you determine to remember when you get home but will definitely forget due to having imbibed a holiday abundance of wine. And which due to the wine might actually not be as good as you think. Unless perhaps, the sozzled brain is capable of leaps of culinary inspiration that the non-sozzled brain is incapable of, due to sober adherence to the constraints of received rules on taste combinations.

Last night’s menu-en-vacances featured salmon on a bed of mushroom, white onion, and garlic with roasted potato wedges sprinkled with ground ‘saveurs epicees’ (which added good flavour - whatever they were). Followed by fresh apricots - drizzled with honey, liberally sprinkled with cinnamon and baked in the…

Roulade-heaven and vegetarianism

The daily task of feeding the household - dogs, children, assorted adults who drift in and out of our home - is either easy: four-legged family members take on the role of shadow, closely applied to the ankles of the adult they regard as most likely to feed them, blocking doors, preventing access to stairs, standing between that adult and any activity that might delay dinner, or not so easy: endless nights of endlessly attempting to be endlessly inventive with meat and two veg. Then Littlest jettisons the meat part and the dinner dynamic changes to pasta and veg, pasta and two veg and occasionally pizza and veg until we reckon a rebalancing is required and start to experiment with fish (partial success - salmon ok, other fish “tastes of mango”), vegetarian ready-meals (all bad), vegi-burgers and sausages (“If I wanted to eat something that looked like meat I’d probably eat meat”) and the world of vegetables beyond peas, sweetcorn, broccoli and carrots (still working on this one). 
One …

R.S.V.P.

RSVP

I know what RSVP means? You probably do too. But it's clear that we are in a minority.

RSVP - origin: French, acronym - repondez s'il vous plait

From an era of manners and etiquette (... also French). Whilst we native English speakers are not  renown for our enthusiasm or ability to grasp and learn another language (and indeed our tenure on our own tongue is often forged on dodgy ground), there are elements of the French language that creep into our everyday lives. RSVP is one such element. Neatly capitalised at the bottom of invitations, it politely asks for attention. Even if ignorant of the litoral meaning, its message is clear to anyone who has ever received an invitation - reply! Please reply.

I know that. You know that. We both know what is expected; how to respond. In other words, those little letters standing to attention, so neatly vowel-less, and requiring of lovely linguistic acrobatics, prick us into action and elicit the desired response - a reply. Or do the…

Losing touch with reality and planting marigolds

Dare I whisper that the sun is shining and summer is skipping into view. *

Or with those fourteen words have I condemned us to shivering defiantly in our seasonally-compatible if weather-inappropriate clothes braced on holiday against summer winds and showers of rain? Please note I didn't conjure up gales and torrents - I might be a bit of a pessimist but that would be glugging down the entire glass rather than leaving it half empty. To be a pessimist is, after all, to be pleasantly surprised when things turn out better. Perhaps the summer will too. Turn out better I mean.

I hope so.

So does Bertie Baggins.

Or is he laughing at me? - 'Thinks it's possible to jinx the weather now? Definitely lost the plot.'

Or am I anthropomorphising a wee bit too much? I mean: dogs don't really smile - do they?






Or look disdainful ...





Narrowed eyes, mouth shut in a bored harrumph. Why? ...

... 'Gardening! Again!! You said it would be how long before our walk?!'

Ho hum ... Ye…

On cinnamon and happiness

Cinnamon - I know ... hmm - actually, I know not a lot about cinnamon. It sits on a shelf (labelled Cannelle, because I like my quirky, bought in France, spice jar) with its fellow (English bought) spices nutmeg and ginger, but where it, or indeed they, originally came from is a bit of a mystery. Nutmeg, comes from a roundish, knobbly nut. I know this because I have a tiny version of a cheese grater which is for grating nutmeg nuts (and fingers). Ginger comes from the root of a (I guess ...) ginger plant and cinnamon is from the bark of a tree (... perhaps?)

Brief intermission while I do some research -

Yes! Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, specifically the Cinnamomum tree and most of it comes from Sri Lanka. The bark is removed, dried and rolled into quills. These quills are cut into the cinnamon sticks that are the essence of Christmas and are ground into the fine powder that is used in everything from curries to apple crumble to mulled wine.

Discovering that my hunch regarding cinna…

Spoiled

Spoil: verb - to destroy or reduce the pleasure, interest or beauty of something (Cambridge Dictionary)

All very 'that's a pity and how sad' but we all know what spoil means, when to use it and how to spell it, don't we; no matter which side of the Atlantic we stand on? Yes, probably. And why mention America - even if I didn't exactly, other than in a backhanded sort of a way? Well - this is embarrassing, so I'll get it out quickly - as with 'learnt and learned,' I have a difficulty with 'spoilt and spoiled.' Phew! Awkward (if you're hobby is writing) admission out, if not quite over - as an English speaker, I sometimes feel less native when it comes to writing things down. I know how to say my words. I know what I mean. I just sometimes don't know how to spell them. So, which is correct? Does it matter? Does anyone else care?

Is an overindulged child spoilt or spoiled?

Or both?

Actually, I think a spoilt (adjective) child is spoiled (verb, …

Daffodil as hairbrush and towel

Daffodil as hairbrush. And daffodil as towel. Yes, I promise I haven't lost the plot. Nor have I dug myself a pit of delusion, dreams and madness and jumped in. No, really, I haven't.
Not yet.

The daffodil is a thing of beauty - a yellow, trumpety flower on a long, thin stem, that bounces as it nods in the garden breeze. No part of it is bristly. No part could separate hairs in a manner necessary to serve as a conventional hairbrush. It is altogether too bendy and soft. It also lacks the absorbancy generally expected of towels.




So daffodil as hairbrush and towel? - two impossibles that together go nowhere close to making one sound less implausible than the other. But that is my title. And this is how implausible became plausible.

It is all the fault of Four-legged-friend.

Or of me. As I supplied both weapon and water.




Shortly afterwards, one less-stinky, happy and very wet dog was in need of a towel.
Towels don't grow in gardens. 
But un-mown clumps of daffodils do ...



Fou…

Positively pessimistic.

Isn't that an oxymoron?

How can one be both positive and pessimistic?

Here's how - as illustrated in three simple scenarios: gardening, children and dreams.


Gardening

When life throws you weeds, and the weeds grow more prolific with each despairing blink of your gardener's eye, and the gardener groans when hoisting upright after an afternoon spent, trowel in hand, bent-over in a choked flower bed, and the sun shines, burning the winter-tender skin at the back of the gardener's neck, and the gardener feels that inexorable train of at-first-creeping-then-later-racing resignation that the bloomin' weeds will win again - this year, like last year, like next year, then it is good to shove the pessimism down the nearest mole hole along with a fresh stinking emission from one of the dogs and stand back to reflect on what is positive. Things might look bad on the I-wish-I-had-a-garden-I-could-be-proud-of front and the there's-never-enough-time-in-the-day front and the I…

Spring! And the gloves don't fit.

Birthday celebrations in Spring. Life is yellow. And the birthday boy is 245 years old.




"My heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

... what me! Dancing? With flowers! I don't think so ...




Like the 'ducks dabbling up-tials all', 'wandering lonely as a cloud' is a treasured verse from childhood. I wish I remembered more.

Happy Birthday William Wordsworth.

Apart from the flowers my favourite part of Spring is the light - crisp, clear, vastly distant. Casting low, long shadows




and blinding you in the car at the beginning and end of the day (that bit I don't love, very definitely don't love.)

Spring is also the one time of year when gardeners have the opportunity to beat back the rising tide of   emerging seeds, the first winding thready tendrils of bindweed, the low furry haze of nettle carpet and the first yellow heads of buttercup that scream catch-me-if-you-can. Lose the battle now and the weeds win. Again. Spring after Spring t…