A hex on Monday mornings,
Unhappy prelude to the working week,
When bleary souls wake early to tap
The hours away, keystroke by keystroke,
Dreaming their caffeinated dreams of shoes or spas.
So, the weekend in Vermont was lovely. It was perfect Jeep weather as we drove up, warm enough to have the top down even at a steady 50mph. The Jeep doesn’t do speed, which is why its epithet is the Jeep of Power. It is slow and steady and exactly the car you want to be driving in a few feet of snow, as well as on gorgeous summer days when even the doors can be taken off. Our other Jeep is known as the Jeep of Fortitude, after it bravely tackled a few flooded roads one day. The third car is known as the Toyota of Swiftness, because compared with the JoP it is damn speedy. Why do we have three cars for two people, you may ask? Because I have not yet bought my second car, which will be a 10-year old MX5.
Anyway, Vermont. Lush, verdant, greener than green. Lots of working farms, instead of farmhouses owned by people who thought that owning some horses would be cool until they figured out it also involved some work so they built a quadruple garage on the land instead. Also lots of antique shops. Living in Fairfield County has taught me that ‘antique’ means ‘not from Ikea’ but with a price tag suggestive of bidding wars with wealthy potentates. But the couple of shops I browsed did indeed contain some items that were older than this decade, and that I could actually afford if I wanted them.
We stayed in a very nice B&B on the edge of the Neshobe golf course, and about a mile outside Brandon. The town had a good bar, set right by a waterfall; a good restaurant; and a good bakery. Really, what more could one ask for? Oh, that’s right, a pretty decent bookstore. For some reason I was out of book-buying frame, but finally had browsed for so long that out of sheer guilt and refusal to buy the hardback version of Austerity Britain, I bought a Joanna Trollope. I haven’t dabbled in Aga sagas for years, but it was surprisingly readable in a distracting-me-from-the-abiding-sense-of-impending-tragedy-in-Edgar Sawtelle kind of way. Edgar Sawtelle was brilliant (Hobgoblin did it far more justice than I could manage), but I was so caught up in it that I didn’t want the inevitable bad things to happen and felt that if I didn’t read them, I could hold them at bay. The last time I had that reaction was when I listened to Birds without Wings, where again, I was so endeared of the characters that when war was looming for them, I could scarcely bear to continue.
Oh, it was such an exhalation of the spirit to be able to sit and read for a while, after a busy few weeks.
We also did a slight amount of cycling, until I was brought low by the heat (after about 10 minutes), and Mike was defeated in his mountain biking exploits by a slow puncture. After such minor offerings to the gods of exercise, we felt them slightly appeased and lapsed back into driving.
On Sunday, we got the ferry over Lake Champlain, to Ticonderoga. On balance, the ferry ride was better value for money than the fort, which is a nineteenth-century rebuild. The location is beautiful, with a marvellous view out over the lake and surrounding countryside – but surely those outer walls are a little low to be easily defensible? Would there have been a glacis? I couldn’t help but think that Sharpe and Harper could have captured it between them.
The exhibits left something to be desired. I always find dioramas sad. They seem often to be built by keen amateurs, and it is quite tragic to think of all that enthusiasm trapped in a dusty glass case, with bits of the scenery inevitably chipped, broken or faded, and the whole crying quietly of neglect. As for the rest of the display, it seemed entirely random. I now know what a bill-hook looks like, but am sadly none the wiser as to Fort Carillon/Ticonderoga’s role in various wars.
After that excitement, there was nothing to do but take the blue highways home. My role in these expeditions is to sit in the passenger seat, say “You should have turned left back there, no, I mean other left”, make the cheese sandwiches, and tip the Pringles tube to the appropriate angle for the driver to be able to get at them. Occasionally, I have to hand over the maps. Sometimes I am entrusted with mapreading, but only if we are travelling in basically a straight line, due to my tendency to give directions like “We need to go North left”. I understand that there are people who, when facing one direction, automatically know where all the others are. I am not one of them. And don’t start on that whole, ‘You just have to remember the sun rises in the … East’, thing either. That ellipsis signifies that I don’t remember it, I have to work it out: East = Orient = derived from Latin verb ‘orire’, meaning ‘to rise’, therefore sun rises in East. By the time I’ve figured that out it’s busy setting in the… oh, who really cares where?
And yet, fortified by the sandwiches, we made it home.
A meme as a stand-in for a real post. The Queen did not command me personally, but you know how it is with royalty. Best to take up their suggestions, just in case.
What were you doing 10 years ago?
I think that I was living in Sheffield, UK, with my boyfriend at the time. I was working for a now-defunct publisher of biblical studies monographs and journals. The publishing company was very small and very amateur and run on such a shoe-string budget that often, we could not print out our CRC because we didn’t have any paper because we hadn’t paid the bill. There were four of us in the editorial office, and we had two computers and two ‘phones between us. We kept our manuscripts in cat litter trays, because they are just the right size for A-4 paper and they stacked well on the shelves.
I was also spending a lot of time hanging out at a great Italian cafe called Nonna’s, where I would go en route to work to get my morning cappuccino and to do The Times quick crossword. My friend Rebecca and I would spend Saturday mornings there, chatting over coffee; then we’d head into town and visit a local art gallery where we got to know the owner; then off to the Proud Potato for lunch (for excellent baked potatoes); then off for a bit of shopping. By late afternoon we would end up back at Nonna’s, this time drinking champagne instead of coffee.
Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non-weight gaining world:
Cheese and crackers
Greek yoghurt and honey
Tea and biscuits
Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:
Cheese and crackers
Non-fat Greek yoghurt with honey
Kashi cereal bars
Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Buy my parents and sister their dream houses.
Buy us a house in England and one in the US; and perhaps a little place in Italy.
Give up work for a bit to study.
Donate to a variety of charities: environmental, educational, human rights, and medical for those who can’t afford medical insurance.
Purchase some wonderful shoes, bags and jeans.
Five jobs that I have had:
Sales assistant in H. Samuels (cheap jewellery chain store)
Summer cleaner of machinery in Pirelli tyre factor in Carlisle
Lab assistant in VisionExpress opticians (yes, I made people’s specs for them)
Departmental secretary in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Sheffield University
Editorial Director of a military history publishing company
Biting my nails
Maintaining duplicate calendars and address books, real and virtual
Checking my Netvibes page
Intending to go to the gym but talking myself out of it
Five places I have lived:
Birmingham, UK (the middle)
London, UK (the south)
Manchester, UK (the north)
Oxford, UK (the south)
Tagging Zoesmom, as an easy way back into blogging after her holiday
Well looky here boys and girls. It is 8.41am and I am still in pyjamas and have just popped the kettle on for another cafetiere of coffee. It’s a beautiful morning and I have a wonderful feeling of largesse, because this is the first of my Summer Fridays and the whole day is mine, mine, mine.
I intend to drift in leisurely fashion through this day. I’m having a lateish lunch with my friend Mr W around 2pm, and other than that I refuse to think that anything must get done. Perhaps it will, and perhaps it won’t. I’ll see.
In keeping with this general feeling of good-temperedness, I have even decided to forgive the MFSOB who keyed the entire passenger side of my car yesterday. If I did believe in any gods they would be old, dark and chthonic. Vengeance would be high on their list of appropriate functions. Still, wishing an especially Aeschylean fate on persons unknown is guaranteed to drain the sunlight out of the day. Thus, with effort, I am clambering onto the moral high ground and taking the view that I can get the car fixed, whereas the Keyer is stuck being a contemptible waste of carbon until some gruesome accident befalls them.
Just colour me Pollyanna.
Speaking of books (and I did read all of the Pollyanna books, of course), I believe I have thought of a hero. Marlow, Flashman and Bond were good suggestions (thanks all!), but I think my fickle fancy has alighted on Captain Alatriste, whose latest outing must surely be in paperback by now. It seems I should certainly wander bookshopwards, to coin a precious pseudo-archaism.
(‘Wards’ – what does it actually mean? Does it only exist in compound words? Is it enclitic? Do I care enough to get off the sofa and look it up? And why, when I work in electronic reference publishing and have access to some unquestionably first class online reference works, is my first thought for looking things up to go to the print book? I know the answer to that last one at least. It’s because books are better. Don’t tell the Monolith I said that. But until websites smell musty, the sensory part of looking things up remains unfulfilled.)
It is also likely that I will make a cake at some point today, because I have a very impressive, shiny new Mixmaster to play with (early birthday present from generous aunt), and I have promised my long-suffering husband that I will bake him an upside-down cake. Plus, the mere fact of now owning such a long-held-out-against kitchen gadget means I am compelled to use it so that I can get over the feeling that by doing so I am somehow cheating. But that’s hours away and now I am off to do nothing very much at all. And enjoy every second of it.
I will get back to blogging, I promise. At the moment, I feel as though I don’t have any time; I know this is not accurate, because I have the same amount of time, it’s just that spending two hours of it on the train each day means it’s not as flexible as it used to be.
On the plus side, all that reading time is giving me loads of ideas if only I can ever get them down. Primarily I am slightly obsessed with wanting to write about colonialism, Leonard Woolf, E.M. Forster, ‘A Passage to India’ and ‘Jewel in the Crown’. They all connect, believe me, and one day I will figure out how.
Meanwhile, I am in the home straight of Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf biography. It has been a fascinating read, leaving me with much more interest in VW as a person than a writer, although I am going to take another shot at some of her work. I picked up ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (and appropriately I am desperately wishing for a room of my own at the moment, now that baseball has made its annual unwelcome reappearance in my life, and worse, has done so in the room with the sofa from which I prefer to do my musing). One day, I will be able to spend the entire baseball season out of the country.
However, on this day I am going to spend the remaining amount of time before I go to bed at an early enough hour to ensure that I can get up at an early enough hour trying not to hover indecisively between activities, certain only that there is something else I should be doing…
I bought a lovely new handbag at the weekend (my new, going into the city, chic black tote) and I immediately emptied out the bag I was using and transferred everything to the new bag. This made me realise the enormous amount of stuff I cart around with me every day. At various points over the years I have tried to carry less; it never works out. Almost without fail, whenever I decide an item is non-essential and that I can perfectly well do without it for a couple of hours, I am completely wrong. This is what is currently in my bag:
Filofax (pocket size) – I’ve only just started using this again after failing to make an online diary work. Carrying my Filofax with me again is like getting a security blanket back. I’ve had one since I was about 15. It is a yearly ritual of mine to settle down with the new diary insert and carefully transfer over all the important dates from the previous year. Every second year or so, I overhaul the address section too. I have only just stopped carrying the map of central London, although I do also have a map of Manhattan.
Moleskine notebook – this holds my TBR list. I take it to Borders or B&N. Generally, they have nothing on my list, so I come home with a load of other books and have to put in an Amazon order for the TBR books. There are also a few notes on bottles of wine I have liked, and for some reason, my packing lists go in here as well.
iPod – my constant companion. Audiobooks have changed my life. Currently listening to A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libby Bray, which is both annoying and compelling, and so doubly annoying. I was so convinced that the author was using anachronistic language that I looked a few words up in my Dictionary of Etymology, and found that Thackeray used ‘bohemian’ in Vanity Fair, and ‘tip-top’ dates to the 18th century, so both are certainly appropriate for the Victorian era. Being proven wrong was, of course, even more annoying. There is also some music on there but not enough for me not to be bored with it. For extreme emergencies, there is the entire series of Firefly so that I can continue my somewhat one-sided love affair with Nathan Fillion.
Mobile phone – don’t know why I bother, usually when it rings it’s a wrong number. I hate this phone. I downgraded to pay as you go because I don’t make or receive enough calls to justify a monthly bill. So now I have this crappy phone that is apparently constructed out of post-it notes and the bits of metal you pull off the top of cans of pop. Since I am really quite besotted with gadgets, the nastiness of this particular one causes me undue upset.
Book – currently The Glass Key by Dashiel Hammett.
Gloves, black leather lined with cashmere – my hands have no circulation. It’ll be June before I stop carrying gloves, and I’ll be wearing them again in September. In fact, my feet have no circulation either, and even my dearest friend has been unable to deny that if I’m wearing a skirt and it gets a bit nippy, my legs look like they’re made of Spam.
Aveeno handcream – because my hands have no circulation and therefore dry out to the consistency of old onion skin.
Bliss superbalm with SPF 15 – because I’m addicted to lip balm. I have two others, presumably rattling round in other bags or in coat pockets. They always turn up eventually.
Vincent Longo sugar mauve lipstick – my new lipstick! Bringing me to a grand total of three, all in slight variations on the same colour. I love make up (all those boxes and brushes and shiny things), I just have no idea what to do with it. So I wander around Sephora admiring the packaging and then usually come out empty-handed.
Car keys – can’t really leave home without them unless going on a walk. Also attached to my car keys is my fob to get me into work, and the swipey card for the gym.
Chewing gum – given to me by Marcy. It is a strange, raspberry mint flavour that is oddly pleasant.
Mints – bought buy me, partly because I liked the tin. Usually it’s either mints or gum, not both.
25% discount card for Coach – bastards! Couldn’t they have sent that before I bought the bag?
Wallet – never with any actual cash in it, only shrapnel and plastic, stamps, other people’s business cards, old receipts (useful for wrapping chewing gum in)… Still, this is the wallet I bought myself to celebrate getting my MA so I like it.
Fountain pen – I have used a fountain pen since I was 11 and got one of the old stainless steel Parkers for my birthday. I had that pen until I was in my early 20s, and I was distraught when I lost it. I emailed around the company I worked for at the time, explaining that I had had the pen for years and it was recognisably mine because it had my name engraved on it. No one had it, but someone emailed back asking me if I was a Virgo, on the grounds that only a Virgo could keep hold of a fountain pen for that long. I am indeed a Virgo. This pen is the latest incarnation, bought at the Pen Shop in Oxford. I am faithful to Parker.
A biro – because I was caught in New Haven on my way to a Greek lesson without a pen, so bought this one. And am clearly determined never to be so caught short again.
Travel pack of Advil – because every few months I would find myself popping off to CVS for Advil when surprised by the sudden onset of period pains. Also, because if I get dehydrated I get horrible headaches. So now I have Advil scattered everywhere.
Actually, I thought there was a small box of matches in there too, picked up in a restaurant, but they have disappeared.
Now, if anyone feels like sharing – what are the items you must have with you?
A community of beetles has taken up residence in our apartment. They are the small, red-with-black-spots beetles that when I first arrived here I took for ladybirds. Apparently they are not ladybirds but they seem equally harmless and endearing. Most members of the beetle community live in our bedroom and this has given rise to a new morning and evening ritual of counting the beetles.
This game is not as straightforward as you might think, because the beetles like to hide in corners and since we have 5 windows, 3 doorways and a ceiling beam in our bedroom, there are plenty of corners. Usually it takes at least four counts for us to reach consensus, and only then can we turn off the lights, happy in the knowledge that all the beetles are accounted for. The average count is around 10, although it hit 27 one day last week and at that point my husband vacuumed them all away.
Occasionally a beetle will wander on to the bed; I will then transport it carefully to a window ledge near its fellows. A couple have drowned in water glasses (I rescued one this evening); and every now and again we hear the crack as a carapace hits the floor. Sometimes the beetles wander elsewhere and can be seen crawling up lampshades in other rooms. There are usually a couple in the kitchen, so I have taken to checking the chopping board and work surfaces since I accidentally swept one into the sink and scalded it to death one night (although I fished it out, it didn’t make it).
The thing is, it’s starting to seem normal to be surrounded by beetles. I think it would be quite a shock to commence the evening count and find there were no beetles to be counted. In a small way, they have sidled into being a regular part of my life, as you may tell by the fact that I talk about the beetle count as though it’s a perfectly regular activity. Any day now, I’ll be talking to them. (Ok, I already talk to them, but only when rescuing them or when they are in a patently dangerous location. Not in the way of having a bit of a chat with them.) I’m starting to feel a bit protective: this evening, the count reached 13, which was apparently some kind of watershed, and I pleaded for them not to be (in a whisper) ‘vacuumed’. And so they remain.