Quote of the Week – Us Two

24-06-19 Two
“Us Two” by A A Milne, from the collection “Now We Are Six”

Yes, it’s a Quote of the Week this Monday, rather than a Word of the Week. Why? Who knows? Just felt like it.

In fact, I was reciting this to myself as I carried out a reconnaissance mission on Saturday to find the office I will be working at for the next month. As I was walking along on my own, it might not seem the most apt poem to be thinking of, and this is emphasised by the fact that I don’t entirely agree with the sentiment that it isn’t much fun for one because an awful lot of things are very pleasant to do on your own. Of course, in the context of the poem it makes much more sense, because Pooh has been doing something he wasn’t keen on (looking for dragons, finding dragons, saying “Boo” to dragons, etc) and it is always better if you have an ally when you are doing something that worries you. That ally doesn’t have to be a real person, and even if they are real, they don’t have to be standing beside you in your moment of need. Most of us have people in our hearts who we are confident would cheer us on if they knew we were feeling trepidation, and knowing that is enough to enourage us.

So, if you come across dragons this Monday morning, think of your allies and then remember to shout “Boo! Silly old dragons!” and it will probably turn out that they are only geese.

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When one notebook closes…

01-03-19 back page
The very last page of my old notebook – where I doodle intestines apparently!

You know the old saying that goes “When one door closes, another opens”, well I’ve had that experience with my general notebook. Having finished a journal and started a new one earlier in the week, I am finally on the last page of my current Mark and Fold A5 notebook. I’ve been using this for my general notes for the past eleven months and I have already mentioned the possibility of moving into an exercise “rough book” format. Well, good old Mark and Fold have come to my rescue as their quarterly subscription box arrived today and inside was a like-for-like replacement for my existing notebook. Yipee!

I thought you might be interested in a little pictorial ‘unboxing’ so you can see how the subscription looks as I unwrap it. I have always been really pleased with it. As well as the notebook, this quarter I received two Thank You cards and a gift voucher to use in their online shop.

Unfortunately, this marks (not to mention folds!) the end of my subscription and the cash isn’t there to renew it at the present time, but I can honestly say the past two years using their products have been a joy and I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who loves high-quality stationery with a minimal design.

So, to the unboxing.

Friday is usually my Quote of the Week day and I haven’t got one to hand, so I will just include the snippet I wrote in my notebook on 17th September 2018 and call that a quote:

Me? I think we’re all born with broken hearts, and life itself is just an exercise in damage limitation.

Not the cheeriest bit of creative writing in the universe, but it worked in the context I was thinking of at the time.


I hope your week has been good, or at least is almost over. Have you come to the end of anything and started something fresh? Any doors opening or closing?


 

Need inspiration?

11-02-19 Inpiration
Do you have an inspiration board?

I’ve been working recently on re-composing my inspiration board. The board itself is marvellous with a lovely summery beaches-and-boats fabric. When I was a little girl I had a dress with a sailboat print, and I keep looking every summer to see if anyone manufactures anything similar to bedeck the more mature me. Until that day, the board is going some way towards meeting my need for yachts.

At the moment the board mainly represents my ideal office space, with one photo of a real office I worked in in the mid-1990s and the other my fantasy office at Manhattan South (courtesy of Kojak). Both of these images remind me of the kind of space that I am happiest in; there is technology, but there is paper too.

Today, though, I’m really taken with the quote “Smite the sounding furrows” on its happy yellow background. This is my ‘get up and go!’ quote and it chimes better with me than many of the popular so-called boss-girl quotes which abound on the internet. It is a line, from Ulysses by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, about setting off on a voyage and not being sure of the destination, but with a determination that knows no bounds. I believe it holds us accountable to our own potential. This is no easy voyage, indeed “it may be that the gulfs will wash us down”; we need to work hard to get to our destination.

For those not too familiar with nautical terms, the phrase means to take a reading of the depth of water, particularly useful when navigating close to the shore, leaving or coming into harbour. In this case, the sailors will know they are on their way as the readings show the water deepening. There is a similar need with the things we choose to do when we are on land – we have to take regular readings to see how we are progressing.

With my inspiration board, I am currently under sail, but not nearing my destination. I think that next it needs something aspirational on the fibre/fashion side of things which I am looking forward to researching, and by research I mean pootling about looking at magazines, knitting books, and doubtless digging out my copy of Chic Simple Women’s Wardrobe which will remind me just how much I want some of the outfits in it.


 

The ultimate outsiders

25-01-19 door

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.

The Listeners

“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.


 

Best poem for Christmas Eve

Christmas Tree
My Christmas tree, 2018

 

There is no better poem for Christmas Eve than the marvellous “King John’s Christmas” by A. A. Milne. Here it is in its entirety for you to enjoy. You can check out some other popular Christmas poems at Pan MacMillan.

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air –
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR –
F. CHRISTMAS IN PARTICULAR.”
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow –
The first I’ve had in years.”

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell the waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife –
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all…
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

AND OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM A BIG, RED
INDIA-RUBBER BALL!


It just remains for me to wish you all a joyful and peaceful Christmas, however and wherever you celebrate it.


 

Quote of the Week – Little Grey Rabbit

Treelight
From the brilliant children’s author, Alison Uttley, I am bringing you an excerpt from her festive story, Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas.

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.


 

Quote of the week – Snow by Macneice

Window.jpg

 

A wintery poem by Louis MacNeice.

Snow

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.


 

Quote of the Week – G K Chesterton

Snow in Costessey
After sledging, Costessey, 1980s

 

Here is the first of the Christmas quotes from A Child of the Snows by G K Chesterton.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That in the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth is a star.

 


Credit is due to my daughter, the lovely Miranda, for reminding me yesterday about snowy days at our old family home in Costessey.


 

Quote of the week – He had a sort of look

Norwich street
The city I call home

Here’s a random shot of a Norwich alley to accompany a random quote; they only go together in so much as I took the photo yesterday and was reading the poem this morning in the bath.

Tomorrow I will start my December reading of a book of poems called “Christmas Please” and the next four weeks will be devoted to Christmas or winter quotes. I thought today I would keep it fun and appeal to the inner six-year-old in each of us. From A A Milne’s “Now We Are Six”, part of the poem “Forgiven” – Christopher Robin’s nanny has accidentally opened the matchbox wherein Alexander Beetle was living and Alexander cannot be found…

We went to all the places which a beetle might be near,
And we made the sort of noises which a beetle likes to hear,
And I saw a kind of something, and I gave a sort of shout:
“A beetle-house and Alexander Beetle coming out!”
It was Alexander Beetle, I’m as certain as can be,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought it must be Me,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought he ought to say:
“I’m very very sorry that I tried to run away.”


Are you still six? Do you own A A Milne’s poetry books? If not, why not?


 

Quote of the week – Robert Frost

Norwich Wall
In Norwich we resort to sticking our ancient walls together with plenty of cement and adding a few bricks for good measure

 

I was recently reminded of a line by the American poet Robert Frost, ‘Good fences make good neighbours’, then I had to go and search out the poem which is, of course, the marvellous “Mending Wall”. I am pretty sure I first read this poem at school.

My favourite part is:

He only says “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself.

I find the inclusion of the “Elves” is deliciously random in a poem that is mainly rather down-to-earth and it is often little touches such as that which make a poem, or a passage in a novel, memorable.