Nature is not playing fair

Or the end of the world is nigh. One or the other.

I have another cold, and while this is as nothing compared to The Illness that beset me while I was on holiday (of course), it’s still knocked me out for a few days. But Nature is not playing fair, the double-dealing bitch, because the deal is that I have the annual illness and then I’m not ill again. Until the next annual illness.

The cats provided succour by sleeping on me, because a mostly unmoving person with a hot water bottle, the whole covered in a fleecy throw, is the ideal spot for a sleeping cat. But, they were rubbish at fetching me hot drinks or tempting me with delicacies. And, of course, if I don’t bring in firewood or make food, then there’s no fire or dinner. This is the downside of being someone who cooks everything. I have ingredients but I don’t have anything that doesn’t require some prep and washing up, and I frankly couldn’t face it.

Before you ask, I can’t get food delivered here. Or rather, I can, but from both of the places that deliver I have to order vast quantities of food and none of it is very good. So, no.

Things I have learned during this experience:

  1. I need some firewood stored nearer the house. The garage isn’t all that far away but on the days when just coming down stairs exhausted me, the garage may as well have been the moon.
  2. Don’t run out of mint tea. I can’t face coffee at all, or tea with milk when I have a cold, so I ended up drinking hot water for a bit.
  3. This is what Netflix is for. I restarted my subscription, binge watched Sex Education, got a few episodes into The Witcher and decided to read it instead, and watched all of Virgin River. Virgin River is terrible, but ‘woman runs away to small town America to rebuild her life, with entirely predictable story arcs and consistently perfect lipstick’ is made-for-cold viewing. I’m not kidding about the lipstick. I’m sure I missed key plot points while fixating on the fact that her lippy was immaculate in every single scene. Not to mention that scene when immediately after crying in a pretty-but-still-mascara-ruining way, said mascara had all been sorted by the time the camera panned back to her a couple of sentences later.
  4. I need some type of instant meal solution. The freezer is also in the garage, so anything frozen is a backup for the backup. Don’t know what this is going to be but I suppose it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s edible. Maybe miso and noodles.
  5. Podcasts are expensive. On Thursday, when I spent the entire day on the sofa, I listened to a lot of episodes of Backlisted. Duly there followed a generous order to Blackwells and books are on their way.
  6. I need to fix or replace my blender. Then I can at least make soup to store in the freezer. I should freeze some bread as well. I’m prepared to slum it with store bought when I’m sick.
  7. It’s possible that the fact that I got lightheaded every time I stood up on Sunday was more to do with three days of not eating very much than the cold itself. Surprising how long it took me to figure this out and eat something. See point 4.
  8. Apple crumble is not enough to keep you going. I mean, I tried.

Onwards and teawards.



Greece is the way I’m feeling

I will be co-leading a programme of workshops this year, which will help women set and achieve some goals, in a supportive and accountable context. I went to a BOLD Goals workshop in Oxford the year that my life imploded and it really helped me identify some important areas of my life that were just not right. Mostly it was work and location, and the workshop made me think about what I did want instead. Eight months later and I had jumped ship from my horrible, toxic job and moved north to the house I bought. During the session itself, I hadn’t see a way forward. But I was readier to seize the opportunity that came along because I’d already put some effort in to visualise what I did want.

So kick off for the workshops is Monday, and I’m looking forward to it. However, I did realise that I probs need some goals of my own to take to the party.

First up has to be getting through my Greek GCSE in May/June this year. I started Greek in October with a self-imposed stretch target of hitting GCSE within the year, because I just can’t see how it could possibly take two years. I’m on track but it’s going to take some effort. So that’s my top priority and Wednesday evenings are sacrosanct to my hour with my tutor.

Next up is the perennial ‘what am I going to do to get my arse off the sofa?’ Heavy sigh. To counter my own laziness, I’ve registered for a MacMillan 26 mile sponsored walk in the Peak District in July. This means I’ll have to get out to the Peaks for training walks, because (a) I can’t walk 26 miles without training and (b) there’s no point training not in the Peaks or the topography will break me on the day. And, of course, registering and having to get sponsorship money means I can’t back out, so I have neatly trapped myself with that one. I’m a genius. I hate me.

That seems like quite enough for the first half of the year, given that the thought of regularly losing entire weekend days to not being in the house provokes slight panic. But what of the second half?

I have a half-formed thought about a structured reading programme. I’ve read a bit of and about Greek philosophy recently, and I’ve also just started listening to the Philosophize This podcast. So far, it’s scampered from the Pre-Socratics to Aristotle, and really, it’s beyond time I read Plato and made sense of it. I’ve joined the Hellenic Society, which gets me a library card for UCL’s Classics Library and access to JSTOR. Even better, it’s a lending library (up yours, Bodleian).

All the pieces of the puzzle are there. Usually, it’s the self-discipline that’s lacking. Maybe I can channel a bit of Aristotle and add some purpose to my life?




In which I have written a story

I was joking with someone that I didn’t want Charlie to become The Beast of Retford Moor, and proposed The Cat of Cullen Towers instead. And then that didn’t sound quite right, and Ghost Cat popped into my head, and anyway, now there’s a 500 word story. Both my cats are totally fine, btw.

The Ghost Cat of Cullen Towers

I should say at the outset that Cullen Towers is, in fact, a very ordinary, three-bedroom, mid-terrace house. The windows are sensibly double-glazed and locked, and the doors robustly bolted. It has no towers, wings, or mysteriously intriguing, huge oaken doors that open only with a long-forgotten key. But an Englishwoman’s home is her castle, and so – Cullen Towers.

I lived in the house alone. I thought, often, about getting a dog. But it wouldn’t have been practical.

It began, one day, with a flicker at the corner of my eye. Everyone knows that experience, I suppose. You walk into a room and see a shape where there shouldn’t be one.  You look again, to find the shape has resolved itself into a shadow, or a newspaper you left on the floor. So that was what I thought.

My eyesight isn’t what it was, so after a couple more flickers I just went to the optician. Varifocals, he prescribed. I’d known it was coming.

But then, a few days later, there was a more definite something. What had previously been a flicker took on a more substantial presence. Something, still of indeterminate size and shape, darted through a door. It probably was a cat, I thought. It was a warmish day, and after winter’s relentless cold and rain, I’d left the back door open for just a foretaste of spring to find its way inside. One of the neighbourhood cats had taken advantage, that was all.

I assumed the same cat was responsible for the dead mouse I found the following morning. I stared at the mouse for a moment, and then stepped over it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel up to tackling bodies in my slippers, and certainly not before I’ve had coffee. But by the time I was feeling a bit more fortified, it was gone. Had it still been alive? And come to that, how had it got there in the first place? The doors and windows were closed.

As I turned, I saw the flicker again. I paused, and then slowly turned back to look at where the mouse wasn’t. Instead, and unmistakeably, there was a cat. A tabby, still a bit faint around the edges, sort of blurring into the morning shadows. He stared at me in standard unblinking cat fashion. I stared back. We stared at each other.

He wasn’t real, I knew that. But. He wasn’t not real either. He sauntered over and wove around my ankles, and I felt the memory of soft fur. Then the mouse was there again, and I remembered hearing that cats bring their owners presents. I said, ‘Thank you, ghost cat’, a bit uncertainly because I’m not used to talking to cats. Or ghosts.

That was that, of course. I haven’t been out for a few days, now. Once a cat claims you, your soul’s not your own any more. I know that now.

New year, same me

Since this was just Other Christmas and I couldn’t be bothered, it was a straight week off work. I didn’t really speak to anyone and I minimised all that leaving the house nonsense. I read a bunch of books and watched all the Indiana Jones movies and drank pots of coffee and slept. The cats were around a lot. It was great and I was very calm and relaxed by the end of it.

Christmas reading roundup (which was not hugely successful because there wasn’t much that I loved amid all this.)

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens.  Meh. Thought this was going to be more of a detective novel but it was just a romance. I think the setting was supposed to make it really unusual but it didn’t really gel for me.

Lake Success – Gary Shteyngart. Meh. Ramblings of a middle aged fuck up who has just left his wife and severely autistic son in pursuit of a fantasy about his college girlfriend. Mildly amusing but difficult to get over the fact that the main character is such a complete, self-centred dick. Thank goodness his wife doesn’t take him back but does take him for a lot of money. A lot. And then goes on to have a very nice life.

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco. Because, I watched about 20 minutes of the TV adaptation and then gave up.

The Ingenious Language: Nine Epic Reason to Love Greek – Andrea Marcolongo. You are so right, Andrea! And I do love Greek! This was the best of my Daunt’s haul, and something I’ll get back to when my Greek has advanced further along from basic.

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea. 17th century Iceland, woman marries comparatively wealthy stranger so that her mother gets food and fuel. But what really happened to his previous wife? And why won’t her husband let her in the loft? This was billed as a thriller, but I never had any sense of suspense and I didn’t really care what happened to the characters. The setting and the time period was really interesting, though.

Happiness, As Such – Natalia Ginzburg. A nice, epistolary novel, with everyone worried about the prodigal son who has been allowed to grow up being completely self-centred and aimless. The relationships are beautifully drawn.

Sadly, I was back at work on 30th, although working from home so I didn’t have to get up the full 2 hours earlier than I had been. Shudder. Still, when midway through the morning Charlie came in and ate the robin he’d caught, it was a pretty clear sign that the festive period was over. When I did make it into the office, everyone at work was in much the same state of whatthefuckment and sidled off on New Year’s Eve anywhere from lunchtime onwards.

I partied hard by listening to the Backlisted podcast episode about Venetia, and then going to bed and re-reading Venetia. I was just checking, but yes, Damerel is still my favourite.

My main plan for 2020 is to sit my Greek GCSE in May/June. To which end, I need a proper chat with my tutor about how we spend my one hour of tutorial time a week most effectively. I’m thinking it’s time to start reading the set texts, which are Herodotus (yay!) and Euripides’ Electra (double yay!), while I work through the rest of the grammar in my own time. I had a quick look at Electra and it’s bloody hard, but take a language with no set word order and play around with it for metrical effect and ta da! That’s what you get. Anyway, as it’s only GCSE there are copious notes on every line so you barely have to translate anything yourself really.

For now, I’m re-reading Dracula because I got 14 minutes through the new Gatiss/Moffatt adaptation and gave up. On audio, I’m just finishing up Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, which I’ve found sort of compellingly tedious and occasionally identifiable. Really, I’m just in a holding pattern, waiting for the new Hilary Mantel to land in March and Blue Moon to hit pb in April. Should I read, Ducks, Newburyport?

Forest Christmas

I’ve had Christmas already this year. I met up with my sister and her husband, my new nephew (Gus the Poodle) and my niece (Ruby the Golden Doodle), in a cabin in the Forest of Dean. And we had a jolly nice Christmas.

Now, I don’t know what that last sentence conveys to you, but fuck me, people are having a hard time getting their heads around this extremely simple concept. I’ll grant that there’s a more traditional date that was chosen arbitrarily a few years back, but there are also other festivals that shift. No one says ‘Easter in March isn’t really Easter, is it?’

Despite which, it seems that Christmas is so effectively tied to December 25 that people absolutely cannot fathom that it could happen at any other time. To the point that they are almost, almost affronted.  I’m now so fed up of explaining and justifying that I’m simply not going to bother.

Sample conversation #1

‘So did you have presents?’

‘Yes, it was Christmas.’

‘What about a tree?’

‘Yes, because it was Christmas.’

‘What about…’

‘Look, we had presents, and decorations, and Christmas music, and a roast dinner, and we watched Die Hard! Because it was Christmas!’

Blank look.

Sample conversation #2

‘When did you have Christmas?’

‘Last week.’

‘So more like Thanksgiving then.’

‘No, it was Christmas.’

‘What do you mean, you had Christmas?’

‘I mean, we did all the stuff you do for Christmas. Because it was Christmas.’

‘What are you going to do at Christmas?’

‘Nothing, because I already did Christmas.’

In some respects, it’s a fascinating insight, first into how difficult people can find it to break what they seem to regard as hard-coded rules. If Christmas is one, are there loads of others that I don’t know about as well?

Secondly, the more specific questions pinpoint what defines Christmas for one’s interrogator. Sprouts are a key signifier; Die Hard is definitely up there too. A couple of people mentioned the queen’s speech, which I have never watched anyway, or midnight carol services. Which I don’t attend.

I actually was thinking about sort of doing Christmas again, and then I thought, why? I had a lovely Christmas. I don’t need two of them. I still have to get some presents, and I’m going to see the stage show of White Christmas so that seems plenty. But there’s stuff that’s just for me, like a tree or fancy bits of food, that is simply unnecessary. So I gave the money to charity instead. As the Other Christmas build up really gets going, I’m finding myself relieved at the amount of tasks I don’t have to bother with and the volume of thinking that I don’t have to do.

We’re thinking of making Forest Christmas a regular thing. It’s an appealing thought, and not only because it involves dog walking and copious amounts of champagne being drunk in a hot tub. It’s  a ‘Get out of Christmas hysteria’ free card, while still allowing me to take a week off when the rest of the country does Other Christmas. Forest Christmas for the win!

What a difference a year makes

365 little days. Although, it’s actually been longer than a year that I’ve been in my little house now, and my second Christmas is coming up fast. I know, I know, it’s early for the C word. Even more bizarrely, I’m actually doing Christmas next week. But I’ll get to that.

So, let’s check in shall we? How y’all doin’? Is there flooding near you? I hope you’re dry and safe. The rain has seemed endless here and although I fortuitously chose a house on high enough ground not to be at risk, the weather has been ceaselessly vile for weeks. Ick.

Here at Musings Towers, first things first. The cats are spoilt, contented moggies. Charlie is depredating the local wildlife to an almost embarrassing extent. Belle sleeps and is fluffy. They continue to be excellent at being cats, bless their paws and whiskers.

I have been in my job for almost 8 months and I still like it, and it’s going well. I’m through the probationary period, about which my rational brain wasn’t worried and my anxiety brain most definitely was. Now that the mornings are dark, I really wish I didn’t have to get up so early, because I know I felt much better last year when I fell into my body’s natural sleep patterns. But, while I loved the flexibility and the rarely leaving the house aspects of being self-employed, I hated the hustle. Hello, regular pay check and hello 6am.

I’ve done a few bits around the house, most importantly the dressing room storage is in. I still need more space for, erm, shoes and I have a Lloyd Loom ottoman and matching chair to refurbish to contribute to the room. That will be my first foray into re-upholstering, and it’s entirely likely to end as a total fuck up that I have to pay someone to sort out. But hey, may as well give it a go.

The realities of home ownership are sinking in. There are tiles on the roof that need replacing, and apparently some of the rendering is cement not lime and so liable to absorbing water and then flaking away. Next spring I’ll need to do something about that. My fridge grows icebergs and I don’t know why. Storage heaters are absolutely fucking useless and yet cost a fortune to run. There doesn’t seem to be a grown up around to sort out any of this, so I think it’s going to have to be me. Huh.

Single life continues to be awesome. I really like living a life unseen. It is such a relief not to have to be considerate. The small joy of not having to plan, coordinate, organise with another person is so addictive that even when I could choose company, I mostly don’t.

Occasionally I think about dating but I am totally bemused by the thought. Put on nice clothes? Leave the house? Feign interest for quite possibly hours? I can’t see what I’d get in return, when what I actually want is someone to help with life admin (a PA), someone to do some driving so I don’t have to (a chauffeur) and good company for dinner (a book). On the whole, I’ll keep the status quo, which is going to be pretty easy unless Tom Hiddleston actually rocks up to my front door.

I’m (re)learning Ancient Greek! My own prioritisation somewhat amuses me. I’d have liked a cleaner, couldn’t justify the cost. Regular manicures? Nope, too expensive. Tutor for Greek? I’ll just eat less, cancel Netflix and never go to the cinema! I love Greek, though, I’m a couple of months in and targeting GCSE next year. It’s so absorbing that if anything I have to stop myself getting too far ahead and bombarding my tutor with work to mark. I’ve bought the compendium of set texts so I think I might start sneakily working through them if I can. Heh heh heh.

As for doing Christmas next week, I’ll be meeting up with my sister and her husband and their dogs at cabin in a forest. The last time we were all at a cabin in a forest, when we were in the hot tub and onto the second bottle of champagne, we somehow decided that Christmas in November would be A Good Thing. So that’s what we are doing. I will then have actual Christmas at home, with the cats. Win all round.


Where the gargoyles play

It is a dear friend’s 40th birthday celebrations this weekend. I know. 40. She’s barely out of short trousers. An evening of conviviality is planned, after which a group will be retiring to an Airbnb. I will be retiring to a one-woman tent, because there’s a limit to my appreciation of conviviality and it’s about four hours. Which I think will be stretched to six this evening but I already settled my get away plan because I shall drive. This seems a better idea than clip-clopping around Oxford on my own in search of a cab, and I don’t Uber because, well, that company is dodgy as fuck.

I did have my own Airbnb booked (see how Airbnb has become the brand name for B&Bs, like Bic used to be for pens?), in a nice little canal boat somewhere in Jericho. They suffered an arson attack so had to cancel my reservation, which is the least of the concerns in that scenario. Who sets fire to a boat? Bastards. Anyway, I don’t know if you have checked the price of accommodation in Oxford during the summer, but it’s ridiculous. I mean, the Malmaison, which I think we can agree you might go to £150 on for a special occasion and if it was a particularly nice Mal, charges £400. Pull the other one, mate, it’s got tourists on.

Hence, I am camping, for £20 a night. My friend’s horror at this prospect is matched only by my horror at the thought of sharing a 3-bed house with 9 people. We have tacitly agreed to disagree, each confirmed in their own conviction that the other is a bit nuts. But we love them anyway.

I thought I’d get down early, get the tent set up and spend a few tranquil hours wandering the ole dreamin’ spires and hoping for a sighting of Peter Whimsey. Then I remembered. I don’t miss Oxford. Ms Just Turning 40 and I had this conversation, because both of us lived there for years and moved away, and really only remember the horrible inconveniences. The city is undoubtedly beautiful but only at dead of night or very early in the morning, when the gargoyles climb down to play and before all the bloody tourists wake the poor spires from their only-too-rare opportunities to dream. One day, they will set the gargoyles on the tourists and then we’ll see a proper Dr Who Christmas Special.

Now, I do have to go to Blackwells. Genuinely, because the new Mick Herron is out and he did a signing and I couldn’t make it and tweeted my sadness and Blackwells said they could get me a signed copy and keep it for me. And they did, because a bookseller’s word is his ‘Have you seen this new edition of Bond?’ Admittedly, that is only Baby Blackwells in Westgate but it’s also only a hop and skip to the mothership. And I have 6 inches of space on the TBR shelf (add own joke here about the most pleasure a woman can get from 6 inches), if we don’t count the three books that arrived from Blackwells yesterday, which we don’t. Because… we don’t want to.

So my plan is basically to yomp through town, collect books, retire to my tent with my preciouses, and NOT start reading the Herron or I’ll be late for dinner. At some point I have to squidge into a dress and heels and chuck mascara at my face, but that’s all of 10 minutes.

Right then. I’m off to pack the cafetière.