It is always fun thinking about favourites and today I’ve been looking at short story collections. Five of my favourites, in no particular order, are:-
Winnie The Pooh by A A Milne
Yes, this does count as a short story collection; perhaps it is the all-time perfect short story collection. After checking the end-papers displaying a map of the Hundred Aker Wood (that’s how it’s spelt on the map!), we are introduced to Christopher Robin and Pooh, watch as Pooh gets stuck in a very tight place, go on hunts for heffalumps, commiserate with Eeyore when he loses his tail and celebrate his birthday with him, then we survive a flood with the help of an umbrella. We meet Kanga and Baby Roo then everyone goes on an Expotition to the North Pole before it’s finally time to say goodbye. My hardback copy was a present from my brother when he was a grown-up and I was still a child (I’ve got a second, paperback copy from when my daughter was young). I love Winne The Pooh.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
A fair leap from Winnie The Pooh, although they sit near each other on my strictly alphabetical order bookshelves! I love Murakami’s novels, as I have said before, but he is also a skillful short story writer. In this particular set he concentrates on the lives of men who are alone in some way or another and the seven stories are written with his usual blend of the familiar and the surreal. For me, the standout story is Samsa In Love because it mirrors Kafka’s Metamorphosis in that the central character awakes in bed to find he has been transformed into something utterly alien to him – in this case he has become a human being. Stepping outside our human experience and describing our normal functions as something utterly inexplicable gives this story a wonderful strength.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
I’ve raved about this collection before and doubtless will again. These stories, all of which contain typewriters as a central or peripheral theme, are written in a way that reminds me of the already-dated sci-fi stories I read in my teenage years: the writing from the 1950s that I was reading in the 1970s. In this volume, I think my favourite story is These Are The Meditations Of My Heart which is the sweet and uplifting tale of a girl alone in a big city who finds her sense of belonging when she buys an old typewriter on a whim. I would also give honourable credits to The Past Is Important To Us which is a rather bleaker story on the theme of time travel and obsession and to Steve Wong Is Perfect which rounds off the collection with a story about a guy who seemingly can’t stop bowling perfect strikes; it deals with how people react to fame.
The last two collections on my list are the two where my copies appear to be eternally missing. I am sure I have both, but when I look for them they are not there and I think I need to re-purchase them.
The Complete Short Stories of H G Wells
This is a very thick tome, not quite at the level of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, but not far off. Wells wrote a lot of short fiction and most of it is very good indeed. The Time Machine, which many people know, is one of the longer pieces in the collected works. For me, the stories that have stuck through the years are The Empire of the Ants (yep, the ants are on the rampage and it isn’t pretty); A Vision of Judgement, which has had me rather dreading the possibility of there being a deity for most of my life; A Story of the Days to Come about which I can remember nothing except that I really enjoyed it. However, if I were to recommend one story above all others it would be A Dream of Armageddon in which the narrator sits opposite a man on a train who tells him a tale of a dream world which he wakes to every time he sleeps and is more real than the world he inhabits in his waking hours.
The Menace From Earth by Robert A Heinlein
Pure 1950s sci-fi which contains a story that still haunts me years after I first read it – Year Of The Jackpot. It charts a year where things go increasingly wrong, which starts with small reports in the newspapers of people behaving oddly and gradually expands until the hero realises that the world is heading to a doomsday. As things get progressively worse, he and the girl he falls in love with along the way set themselves up in a remote area and prepare to sit out the destruction of most of civilisation. There are times even now when I read a news story that is just plain odd, and I think of this story and how it ends, and I feel a chill.
This morning I have completed all the knitting on Gaudi. Hurrah! I must say, laying all the pieces out on my bed to photograph makes me feel more confident about the finished object than I have been in a fair while. I want to have this finished and wearable by the end of the month, so the next week will see me joining the pieces, putting on the crochet front bands and neckband, sewing on buttons, trying it on, then washing it (I always wash my completed projects before I wear them, rather than just pinning them out and dampening them to block). That still seems like an awful lot of work to achieve and I won’t be surprised if I over-run my self-imposed deadline.
One reason I’ve been working hard at this project for the past couple of weeks is a desire to dispose of the needles I chose to knit it. These are the 30cm length 4mm KnitPro Zing metal needles. I started on these because I mistakenly thought I didn’t have any of my preferred KnitPro Symfonie wooden needles in the 4mm size. I don’t swap needle types once I have started a project because I think I get a different gauge using metal needles compared to wooden needles. However, although metal needles are very good in thin gauges, by the time you get to 4mm, the design of the KnitPro Zing is not so good to my way of thinking. They are incredibly pretty, but I ‘throw’ my yarn which means the needle in my right hand moves about a fair bit and that heavy finial on the end gets very tiring. Funnily enough, the thing I hate about circular needles is that they don’t have an end to provide stability as I am throwing the yarn! Clearly I am very much the Goldilocks of the knitting community!
I think this pair is destined for the charity shop where I am sure they will find a home with someone who will love them. I might bundle them up with some wool to make a gift pack. I am going to have quite decent remnants of wool from this project but I’ll keep them to make a co-ordinating neck-warmer.
That’s all I have been doing on the knitting front.
I have been in a bit of a reading lull recently, but have just started Alexandra Shulman’s account of Vogue’s 100th year and I am finding it very enjoyable. I have always been interested in clothes and fashion magazines; I love the film of The Devil Wears Prada and the documentary The September Issue which follows the making of the bumper fashion edition of American Vogue.
I also read Harpers Bazaar when I can afford it; that means not at present, although I do read their website to keep abreast of things. This morning I read a very interesting article on there Introducing Circular Fashionand it gave me much food for thought about making fashion more sustainable. As someone who is (forgive me if I am being too modest) making a brilliantly unsuccessful attempt to sell hand-knitted accessories, I am familiar with the dichotomy of encouraging people to buy less and encouraging them to buy what I want to sell them. On the face of it, paying a more realistic price for work that is going to last for years makes perfect sense. However, when faced with a pair of knitted fingerless mitts on Amazon for less than a pound compared to a hand-knitted pair on my Etsy shop for around £20 it’s hard to think about relative value. I know that I currently have less disposable income than at any time in my life and I am falling into a mindset of buying cheap rather than buying quality. I hardly think I am the only person in this position.
In her book, Alexandra Shulman talks about how sensible it would be to amass a collection of pieces that could be slotted into any issue of the magazine if needed, but how she finds that if she has such pieces she becomes unenthusiastic about them. This resonates with me because it is precisely what I find for my blog. After I publish a post I will, occasionally, be in a mood to continue writing and get part of the way through a couple of blog posts on what seem to be excellent ideas. Sometimes I even know the precise day I could publish them, yet I rarely do. It seems to me that they are not indicative of what is on my mind on that day, they do not appeal to me at that moment, and so they sit in my Drafts folder until I delete them. I applaud the people who can write and schedule their blogs in advance, but it has never been my way of writing and I don’t think it’s a way which enables me to produce my best work. I am thinking back to school when I was unable to write the outline of an essay and then write the essay, so used to write the essay then go back and write a synopsis/outline at the end (but don’t tell my teachers I did that!). Is it that I become too easily bored and once I’ve written the outline I’ve basically said what I want to say and am ready to move on to something completely different? Perhaps it is more that my creativity is greatest when I give it a free rein and an outline to me feels like a fence. And now I am thinking about horses show-jumping – whoa there, mind; get yourself back on track!
I hope the mid-week finds you in good spirits and making progress with your own projects.
Today is the sixth day of the International Correspondence Writing Month 2019 and I am pleased with my progress to date.
Whilst the aim is to write a letter – or, indeed, any hand-written missive which can be a note, postcard, post-it, so long as it’s written by hand – every day through February, many people taking part will inevitably be fans of pens and papers and so the letters can be quite decorative, or include little gifts. I like to write in my letters about which pen and ink I am using because I love to read this information in the letters I receive. I have some decorative notepaper, quite a bit of it from Kikki K, so I don’t decorate the letters themselves, but I do like to add some fripperies on the envelopes.
Speaking of envelopes, I am addressing the letters this year with my lovely little typewriter. One year I hand-wrote the addresses with fountain pen and ink and then overlaid them with sellotape to provide a waterproof layer; the other year I hand-wrote the envelopes with ballpoint pen. Of the three, the typewriter is the nicest – it still seems like a hand-crafted solution, whilst being neat, legible, and waterproof.
For letters that I am sending abroad, I have a pack of postcards from Norwich Castle Museum. These feature images from the Norwich School of painters, mostly local scenes or still-lives. Many of these hang in the Castle Museum itself as it houses a good art gallery as well as the historical and natural displays.
The little bone-handle pen-knife in my picture above is an item I use for opening letters. To the best of my knowledge, it belonged to my grandparents when they lived in their lovely house in York, and passed along via my mum to me. It is a delicate item, very much for the genteel lady. My dad always carried a pen-knife which my sister now owns. It was mainly used for peeling apples, sharpening pencils, and for tamping down the tobacco in his pipe. I find it sad that the pen-knife is now seen as a weapon rather than a utility item, and is therefore (understandably) frowned-upon.
In other news, yesterday was my birthday and it was very book-orientated. 2019 is definitely going to be a year where I read a lot. I have already determined that I am going to get back into the habit of just browsing in bookshops. It seems to me that I stopped reading a lot at around the time when I stopped browsing in bookshops a lot; I am not sure which one led to the other. However, it does seem to me that when I take the time to simply wander around and look at books, I see all manner of items which catch my eye and I am certain that this can only be of help to me in my desire to read more. My favourite bookshop to browse in was a small independent book store in Norwich called Gliddons which was around until the 1980s. I remember buying my first copies of books by John Fowles, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and F Scott Fitzgerald there, as well as many a sci-fi book from the bookshelves in the basement. Second to that, the big Borders store which opened in Chapelfield in 2005 and sadly departed in 2009, was a favourite. This was a huge book shop for Norwich and I can remember buying many a ‘business’ book there, as well as the first paperbacks I owned of Haruki Murakami novels. The best shops for browsing the books in Norwich now are The Book Hut (independent), Jarrolds (independent, part of local department store) and Waterstones (chain).
Right, I am heading off to clean out a fountain pen then tomorrow I can refill it with a new colour ink, ready for some more letters.
Are you taking part in InCoWriMo this year? Have you done it in previous years? Would you do it in future years? What do you think?
Continuing with my slightly tardy theme, today I’m going to write about the various elements of my weekend.
On Saturday I went to a meeting of the Castle Writers Group at the Castle Museum, Norwich. This is a monthly meet-up that has been going on for many months now, but this is the first month that I have steeled myself and booked to join in. Now I regret not doing it sooner because it was brilliant. We spent two and a half hours exporing character including picking a face to write about – I chose the gentleman in the beret in the photos above; he has really gripped me. I waver between whether he is quite military, or bohemian. Either way, I adore him.
The meeting was quite structured and I really enjoyed the format. It was very much geared towards getting us thinking about a specific element of our creative writing and provided much food for thought and practice before the next meeting.
The desk in the photo montage is on display in the museum and it represents a typical curator’s desk. It is one of the pieces I always go and look at whenever I visit the museum because I find it very inspiring.
In the evening I had a meal at Yo! Sushi with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. It was a really enjoyable meal with good food and good company. The food going round on conveyor belts is guaranteed to entertain young and old alike. When we left the restaurant Norwich was having one of its very few wintery showers. We have only had one real snow shower this winter and even then it didn’t linger, otherwise just a few sharp frosts and a couple of bouts of sleet.
On Sunday morning I sat and finished reading Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Killing Commendatore, a thoroughly enjoyable read. It is a reasonably long novel at around 680 pages of medium-sized text and I didn’t exactly speed through it, although I did read for longer periods from about halfway through. Murakami’s works are usually told from the point of view of a single character and this is no exception. Our hero is an artist, in the process of divorcing from his wife and settling into a house owned by the father of his friend and agent, Masahiko Amada, after spending the winter on an extended road trip. Masahiko’s father is Tomohiko Amada, a renowned artist who has worked in the Japanese tradition since he returned to Japan just before the second world war. He is suffering from dementia and is living out his final days in a nursing home. Three things happen which combine to catapault our leading man into an increasingly surreal landscape, and which also act as a catalyst for his personal art. He discovers an unknown painting by Tomohiko Amada, he makes the acquaintance of a man who lives on the opposite side of the valley – the strangely charismatic and possibly dangerous Menshiki, and he discovers a pit in the garden of Amada’s house. From these three events, all manner of inexplicable tendrils branch out; some things are resolved by the end of the novel, but by no means all of the questions asked get answered.
I am going to include one quote from the novel, simply because it made me laugh when I read it. It concerns Menshiki, who is a bit of a Gatsby-type figure, and who has cooked our hero an omelette.
The omelette wasn’t just pretty to look at – it was delicious.
“This omelette is perfection,” I said.
Menshiki laughed. “Not really. I’ve made better.”
What sort of omelette could that have been? One that sprouted wings and flew from Tokyo to Osaka in under two hours?
Also on Sunday, I made a batch of Date Slices – shown in my photo prior to cutting. Actually, I could so easily just have left it in one piece and gobbled my way through it, but I really made it for sharing. I love Date Slices and bake them to a recipe from Cranks, the wholefood restaurant.
Of course, Friday 1st February marked the beginning of the International Correspondence Writing Month and so I wrote letters on Saturday and Sunday. So far I have written and posted a letter a day, which is the object of the exercise. I hope this year I can make it through the whole month because last year I failed miserably. In fact, I got so far behind I just gave up.
The thing I didn’t do so much of is knitting, and I do find that if I get immersed in reading something the knitting tends to lag behind, and if I get immersed in my knitting the reading lags. I wonder if I am using the same part of my brain for both, so either ones satisfies the urges?
I hope you had a good weekend, and have been reading, writing, knitting, or doing other things entirely, but all to you own heart’s content.
Continuing the theme I have been exploring of fitting in, or standing outside, both the insiders and the outsiders in Walter de la Mare’s poem are equally estranged.
“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no-one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phanton listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For suddenly he smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
“Tell them I came, and no-one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
It has been a funny old week, with me veering wildly between a total lack of inspiration and an outpouring of inspiration that didn’t know where to stop. Not the kind of week where I have been able to get things under control; and when I say “things” I mean my head.
There is a lot of wisdom to be found on the subject of inspiration and the advice unwaveringly boils down to “don’t wait for inspiration, build a solid practice of turning up to your creative deeds and the inspiration will follow”. This is good advice and it actually works. It is how people get their books written, their jumpers knitted, their paintings done, their cakes baked. I know myself just how effective it can be. That is, except on the occasions when you just can’t think of a single thing to write about (or knit, or cook, or paint, or wherever your personal creative muse pushes you).
My periods of inspiration this week have been mainly confined to the realm of knitting, partly a personal project which I will share with you later in the month (nothing major, but I worked on it yesterday and it provided me with some laughs and an interesting insight into my yarn-buying habits); and partly on a product idea for my Etsy shop which I need to complete, photograph and load up for sale. This is all very good, except my aim for this week was to balance my time between trying to find some paying work, sorting the prototype item for my shop, and doing some creative writing and only one of those three was actually getting done.
This is where the inspiration part really comes into play, because at tea-time yesterday I had a spiffing short story title pop into my head unbidden (well, actually it was something I said out loud to myself and then thought “Blast, that would make a good short story!”) so I jotted it down for consideration at a later date. When I sat down later in the evening to read the Haruki Murakami novel I got for Christmas – which is, by the way, every bit as brilliant as all his previous works – I read exactly one paragraph before I realised that I really wanted to be writing something rather than reading, so I wrote a few paragraphs of the short story. It felt very good indeed to make a start on it.
Now, to less esoteric business. Normally on a Friday I would bring you a Quote of the Week, but this week I wanted to share something I read as I was out and about in Norwich.
This is part of a plaque that is sited in the Riverside complex in my home city of Norwich, UK. I think I knew before that the Sopwith Camel was built in Norwich, but it’s one of those facts I forget for long periods of time. This particularly charms me because as a teenager I was very fond of the Peanuts cartoons by Charles M Schultz and Snoopy often pretended his kennel was a Sopwith Camel.
And, of course, as soon as I think of Snoopy, I think of my favourite ever Snoopy image. I was somewhere between the ages of 16 and 18 when I purchased the following greeting card which I kept in physical form for many, many years, but now I only have the scanned image. For me, this is the quintessential Snoopy.
I have, thus far, managed to avoid using my little typewriter to draft any stories, but how long can it be?
I hope this little ramble has amused you momentarily and that you have, perhaps, had a more productive week than I have managed.
Start the year with Shakespeare, of course, and words from “The Tempest” which have blown into my mind this January morning.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
I like a good number of Shakespeare’s plays, struggle with a few, and adore one or two. “The Tempest” is one of my favourites. So much so, that my daughter is named Miranda after the leading lady (although that was inspired by John Fowles naming the lead female character in his book “The Collector” after this Shakespeare heroine). I saw an open-air production of the play in York whilst I was pregnant. It was performed in the garden of The Treasurer’s House, in the dusk of a balmy evening with bats flitting overhead and the performers entering and exiting through the audience as we sat on the grass.
On the odd occasions when my daughter complained about her name, I would happily inform her that she got off lightly, because I was intending to name her Desdemona after the character in Othello, The Moor of Venice. Naming children is a strange thing, but once you are named you become the embodiment of that name for the people who know you. My Miranda is definitely a Miranda and not a Desdemona, although had I named her Desdemona she would be the exact thing that I expect of a Desdemona. Actually, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of preconceptions with that name as virtually no-one is called it. Apparently it is considered an unlucky name, so it’s lucky I avoided it and went with one meaning “admirable, wonderful’ instead. I fully intended for Miranda to be shortened to Mindy for everyday use, but my family were so horrified by this suggestion that she always ended up being called by her full name.
In creative writing you get the chance to use lots of names, and finding a name that suits a character, or dreaming up a character to suit a name you are using, is a lot of fun. I will need to use Desdemona in a written piece, just to get her out of my head once and for all. Perhaps she can be lucky.
2018 is singing a triumphant closing number and 2019 is poised to make its entrance so what better to do today than reflect on some key themes from the year? You might want to make yourself a cuppa before you head into this – it’s going to feel like you’ve been reading for a whole year before you get to the end!
Chapter 1 – the ignominy of scriptwriters
I’m going to start with Kojak, but I promise I will bang on a lot less about this subject in the New Year (maybe!). Today I want to talk about how cruel script-writers can be. Since July, I have sat through four series of this excellent show from the 1970s and in almost every episode, Detective Bobby Crocker has crossed a busy New York road. Every time he crosses a road, he does it perfectly – he looks in both directions before he crosses, he carries on looking both ways as he crosses, if a car approaches, he calmly and politely alerts the driver by holding up his hand, if a car stops he generously raises a hand in acknowledgement and thanks. I am not kidding, every time I cross a road now, I think about Bobby Crocker and his road-crossing technique!
I therefore consider it a betrayal that, in Series 5, the scriptwriters decided that he should get knocked over by a car whilst crossing the road! This scene could have been done with any other detective in Manhattan South and been utterly understandable. But no, they had to choose Crocker!
(It’s okay, he only banged up his elbow and lived to fight another day, but that’s not the point.)
Chapter 2 – knitting
So, on to the serious stuff. At the end of 2017, when my knitting spirit was slightly under par, I decided to set myself the goal of knitting one garment and three pairs of socks for each of the four seasons, with the year divided at December 21st 2017; March 20th 2018; June 21st 2018; September 23rd 2018 and ending on December 20th 2018. I actually knitted three garments (the chunky sweater, sleeveless top, and maroon superwash sweater) plus two pairs of socks (both in Mr B Yarns – “Where the Wild Things Are” and “An Inspector Calls” colourways). I am not downhearted because that’s an improvement on the previous couple of years. Also, I am only counting my personal knitting – it would be a lot more impressive if I added in stock I’ve knitted for my Etsy shop, and the Christmas gift jumper.
The most important thing is that I love and wear the items I’ve knitted this year, so I consider it good, solid progress. What I am taking forward into the new year is a renewed commitment to work on the project/s I have on the needles every day, rather than to revert to my normal ‘boom or bust’ nature. A tiny bit of progress every day is the best way to go, and I find if I pick up something intending to only knit a couple of rows I will probably still be there at the end of an hour thinking ‘just one more row’. This is especially true of the Gaudi caridgan I am currently working on.
I do like the idea of dividing the year into the four seasons and I will continue with that for the coming year, just in a more organic, less goal-driven way.
Chapter 3 – reading
I haven’t read as much in 2018 as I intended to, although I have read more than I did in the previous few years so, again, there’s been a bit of progress.
The reads I have recorded were:-
“Frenchman’s Creek” Daphne du Maurier – re-reading of an old favourite
“Eight Girls Taking Pictures” Whitney Otta – gift from my daughter and a thoroughly fascinating book
“Hypothermia” Arnaldur Indridason – Skandi-noir crime-thriller passed on to me by my daughter
“The Great Gatsby” F Scott Fitzgerald – another re-read; another old favourite
For Christmas this year I received four books as gifts, so these will be my initial reads going forward:-
“Little Miss Christmas” Roger Hargreaves – read this as soon as I unwrapped it on Christmas morning
“Iceling” Sasha Stephenson – science fiction, really keen to read this as soon as I’ve finished the Murakami
“Killing Commendatore” Haruki Murakami – new book; my favourite author; lovely dustcover, but simply stunning covers underneath it; started reading this on Christmas Day
“Uncommon Type” Tom Hanks – I’ve seen so many snippets about this since it was published and I’ve been thinking about getting it, so great to receive it as a gift, and keen to read after I’ve read the others
As with the knitting, I am finding with reading that if I do a little each day I achieve more than if I think I will spend a big block of time reading something.
Chapter 4 – creative writing
Back in the early part of summer I put in a lot of work on my creative writing and I hit 10,000 words on the first draft of what I like to refer to as my novel. Then I stopped. I had good reasons for stopping, not to do with lack of enthusiasm for the project, just that my attention was needed elsewhere. Towards the end of the year I’ve been thinking seriously about short fiction pieces, and looking at Medium as a platform to get some of my writing past the draft stage on into an arena where it stands a chance of being read. I intend to write more about this in the next couple of weeks as I firm up my plans.
Chapter 5 – weight and health
I think in 2018 the most beneficial thing I have done is change my diet, lose weight, and become more active. It took a big change in my lifestyle to prompt me to do this; I had been unhappy with my weight and generally feeling lumpy and unfit for a long while, but I was stuck in a rut of spending too much time on work I didn’t particularly enjoy and not enough time on creative things that I would enjoy, then compensating myself by over-eating.
Now I am two stone lighter than I was; I have eaten well, though not to excess, over Christmas without either gaining or losing any weight; and I feel a hundred times better about myself than I have for a long while. The trick (for me, at least) is to recognise what your particular downfall is and then just apply yourself to correcting it. For me, it’s snacking – I never have been one for eating huge meals, but will happily graze on sweetery until the cows come home. Forcing myself into a routine of eating three meals a day and not snacking in between has been the key as far as eating goes, and I think if I maintain this then I have a good chance of establishing a weight that I am happy with and can maintain.
That is one side of the equation. The second, equally important thing for weight loss is EXERCISE. I don’t think you can lose weight just by changing your eating (input); you also have to address your exercise (output). I initially committed to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and quite quickly upped this to an hour a day. About 50% of the exercise I do is walking because it’s the thing I enjoy and I can easily do and I find it beats cycling into a cocked hat for general fitness.
The other 50% is down to that blue plastic step! No, it isn’t pretty; no, it isn’t exciting; but, boy, does it work! I don’t use it for fancy workouts; I don’t follow some wonderful programme – I literally just step on and off it for 30 minutes. Sometimes I listen to music whilst I’m doing it (Dusty Springfield is great!); sometimes I watch TV (The Professionals; Alias Smith & Jones); I just make sure I do at least one session a day – two if it’s rubbish weather or there’s some other reason I don’t want to go out for a walk.
The third element in my fitness triumvirate is the Apple Activity App (and it’s only the Apple Exercise App because I choose to live within the Apple ecosystem as opposed to the alternatives). I use this to keep me accountable for exercise and general movement. It tracks three things:- Move – I keep this target purposely low; it’s currently set to making sure I burn 360 calories per day and most days I will double this, every so often I will triple it. ‘Move’ is hard to define as I notice I get a higher ‘score’ if I sit and knit than I do if I actually go out and walk, but you take it as it comes, really. The app also tots up your Move streak and at the moment I have met my Move target for 110 consecutive days. Exercise – I have this set to 30 minutes per day; again, I usually achieve more than this. Both timed workout sessions and general exercise count in this one, although you have to go for a brisk walk rather than a general amble for it to be deemed exercise. Stand – This is always set to a minimum of 12 hours ‘standing’ per day – which means that you have got off your chair and moved around for a minimum of a minute in each of those 12 hours. It’s a good one because it is surprisingly easy to remain relatively motionless for huge stretches of time, and on this one sitting knitting doesn’t count as ‘standing’ – you do actually have to get up and walk about.
Using this app has shown me that I am very motivated by achieving targets, no matter if they are completely arbitrary and even if I don’t really understand what constitutes a particular achievement. Give me a big, shiny, virtual medal and I’ll obey you!
Chapter 6 – stationery
My love of stationery has continued to thrive in 2018 and I have been lucky enough to be able to use my fountain pens and lovely notebooks even more as I have gone through the year. In February I took part in InCoWriMo for the second year and totally sucked at it! I will do it again in 2019 and I’m determined to succeed in sending out 28 letters this time. I’ve corresponded with some lovely and interesting people doing this challenge and it is well worth it.
I didn’t increase my store of fountain pens during the year, and I don’t have any intention of doing so in 2019. I did receive two lovely new bottles of ink as Christmas gifts. These are from Lamy’s new Crystal ink range and they are both simply gorgeous. I feel rather ho-hum about Lamy’s standard inks so wasn’t sure if this higher-end range would inspire me, but I am very impressed with the initial try-out. Although they aren’t huge bottles (30ml compared to 75ml in a bottle from Graf von Faber-Castell), this keeps the price at a point where you can comfortably put it on a gift list. (I am a normal person some of the time and I can completely understand that people who don’t use fountain pens might baulk at shelling out £23-£29 for a bottle of ink from lines like Graf von Faber-Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.)
I am still a sucker for a pretty, or simple but incredibly well-made, notebook. In fact, I choose my handbags based on how easily I can fit an A5 notebook and pen into it. On that front, I received a further very thoughtful gift at Christmas, a leather case to carry three pens which is proving to be such a good item to take in and out of your bag.
Chapter 7 – being a fan
A huge part of this year for me has been about being a fan, primarily of Blake’s 7, but also of Dr. Who, Kojak, Alias Smith and Jones, and the hundred other little flames I keep burning across the years. Being a fan brings me so much pleasure and it is a joy that I share with my grandson which is even better than experiencing it alone.
This year was a happy one as we went about celebrating 40 years since the first showing of Blake’s 7, and we pushed the boat out with a weekend convention where I met loads of lovely people: fans, crew and cast members. I am still smiling with pleasure every time I think about it. It was sad, too, as the inimitable Jacqueline “Servalan” Pearce passed away; a tiny, but larger than life lady who leaves behind the most marvellous memories with all who met her, however fleetingly.
I know it has also been a tough year for Ian Kubiak who organises the Cygnus Alpha conventions and I just want to ackowledge how much poorer my life would be if I had not stumbled upon his web page in 2016 and reignited my love of Blake’s 7. Ian, his family and all who help out at the conventions have earned a very special place in my affections.
Chapter 8 – word of the year
I am not keen on New Year’s Resolutions, but for a few years now I have chosen a ‘word of the year’ to give me something to focus on. These have been “Return” (2016); “Flexibility (2017); “Home” (2018). Whilst I didn’t really manage to be terribly flexible in any way at all during 2017, I think keeping home in mind through 2018 helped me a lot and it was very successful. I have always been very much a homebody – it is where I feel happy and free to be creative. For me, there is nothing better than shutting the door and knowing that nothing needs to intrude unless I will it. Except, of course, for those lovely people I don’t actually know who like to spread joy by phoning me from foreign climes to suggest that my broadband will be disconnected unless I give them control of my computer.
For 2019 I have chosen “Establish” as my word of the year and this is to help me focus on getting things onto a firm footing through 2019 whilst trying to be more the person I want to be and less the person that convention suggests I should be. I am looking forward to seeing how this works through the upcoming year.
Chapter 9 – visitors on WordPress
I have loved writing my blog this past few months, but I think even more than the writing, I enjoy seeing all the countries where visitors have logged in to view my posts. In 2018 these have been (from lowest number of visits to highest number):
Switzerland – Thailand – Philippines – Netherlands – Austria – Japan – United Arab Emirates – New Zealand – Ukraine – France – Portugal – Egypt – Russia – Croatia – Indonesia – Sweden – Hong Kong – Finland – China – South Africa – Australia – Romania – India – Ireland – Germany – Canada – United States – United Kingdom.
So, if you are the person who visited from Switzerland today and read my Quote of the Week from Bob Dylan, thank you, I hope you enjoyed your trip. And, of course, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has come to look at my tiny plot on the internet and has enjoyed what they have read here.
Whew, this is a mammoth blog entry. I would like to end it by wishing everyone all the best for the coming year.
To set the scene, Grey Rabbit lives with her friends, Squirrel and Hare and the story concerns their preparations for Christmas, sledging in the snow, and a visit to their neighbour Mole.
When the three got near Mole’s house they saw something glittering. A lighted tree grew by the path, like a burning beacon.
“Oh dear! Something’s on fire!” cried Hare. “Let’s put it out. Climb up and blow it out, Squirrel!”
“Hush, whispered Grey Rabbit. “It’s a magical tree, a tree from Fairyland growing in our wood!”
On every branch of the little fir-tree candles wavered their tongues of flame. Little red and gold fruits hung from the tips of the boughs. On the ground under the branches were bowls of hazel nuts, round loaves of barley bread, piles of wheaten cakes, small sacks of corn, and platters of berries. There were jars of honey, as big as thimbles, and bottles of heather-ale, as big as acorns. Icicles and hailstones shone like diamonds among the branches, brightly coloured feathers and shells were fastened to the bark, and chains of frozen water-drops swung to and fro, reflecting the candle-light.
Through the tip-top of this wonderful tree gleamed the Christmas Star.
If I were ever to eschew my lovely tree decorations collected over the years, and (horror of horrors!) do a “themed” Christmas tree, this passage describes what I would aim for.
If you have never read Alison Uttley’s lovely Christmas tale (or any of the other tales of Little Grey Rabbit), please consider it. It is such a lovely, cosy, story and perfect for the pausing space on dark winter evenings as you hunker down in firelight, or candlelight, or treelight. Better still, read it out loud to your children, or your partner, or yourself. I think we under-estimate the joy of reading out loud.
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.
MacNeice is one of my favourite poets and made it into my 10 favourite books list earlier this year. His poems are so rhythmic and lyrical that he is among the very few poets that I can read without getting irritated by the sparse use of punctuation. He’s lovely to read aloud for those same reasons. I strongly recommend you read some of his work.