oh hello, word // just a little post

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The other night at dinner, I used the word ‘anomaly’ and was rather pleased with myself for it. 

‘I know those two hot summers we had a few years ago were a bit of an anomaly,’ I said, cutting up a sprig* of broccoli while staring out at the rain slushing against the window. ‘But I’ve come to expect heat in the summer because of them, and now feel a bit cheated.’

Anomaly. I know it isn’t a particularly fancy word. But I forgot that I knew it, and was surprised (in a happy sort of way) when it just tripped off my tongue like I’d been planning to use it.

A few of my favourite things include: golden hour light, the fact I now like coriander and lime and ginger and mushrooms and tomatoes when I used to loathe the lot of them (my altered taste buds make me feel saintly as fussiness is a real bugbear of mine), getting so lost inside a good story that I become rather feverish**, white basmati rice cooked just right, days when writing feels like flowing water (as opposed to the days where it feels like trying to do a synchronised swimming routine in a pool full of tar), and cafes with twinkle lights in them. 

I can also add ‘using an interesting word that I forgot I knew until it’s out my mouth’ to that happy list. Hooray.


It’s been a while since my last post, and I’ve been doing that thing where I keep putting off writing anything new because it’s been such a while. I start to feel like the next thing I write needs to be goodness-me-that-was-beautiful worthy. And that kind of pressure is always a sure way to give words stage-fright. 

So here's a very tiny little self-referential post to say "hello" and fill the gap and take the pressure off... and then I’ll get back to writing on here more regularly again. (The break in writing on here has actually been because writing of the novel has been going well. Hurrah.) 



*sprig is not the right word. It should be ‘floret’, right? (Right?) But I like the bounce in the word sprig – so I’m just going to use it. 

**I feel this way about the ITV drama Victoria right now. I don't really care whether it's historically accurate or not. It's just quite beautiful (so far at least). 

Also, ps. Please tell me this is the correct use of 'anomaly'? Otherwise I'll look a bit silly. I have a habit of being pleased with myself about various things and later finding out that I have no reason to be. 

Picture by: Saar Manche.

Dear July, nine // gather ye buttercups while ye may

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Dear July

So I came home for the weekend and don’t seem to have made it back to Glasgow yet*... On Saturday my Mum made the tastiest of dinners: aubergine parmigiana with salad, home-made Caesar dressing, warm ciabatta bread sticks with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping, red wine, olives. Delicious. While we were eating, my Dad looked out at the greying sky and said, ‘Do you think it’s getting too dark to cut the grass now...?’

He’d been to-ing and fro-ing about when to cut it all day. My Mum looked out the window. ‘Mm, I say get up early and do it tomorrow morning,' she said. 'It’s best to do the jobs you least want to do at the start of the day...’

Very true words. (And ones I’m trying to take to heart this week. I'm trying to just get up and get on with what needs done – hair askew, eyes like a panda-bear – rather than dragging it out over the whole day, or avoiding it till late-late-later so I end up walking around with guilt thundering over me like a one-man rain cloud).

Anyway ... I was quite pleased he didn’t cut the grass because it was full of little wildflowers (or pretty looking weeds at least). Buttercups and clovers and – here my flower-name knowledge ends – purple ones and little white ones and so on. Before all those colours could get churned up by lawn mower blades, I ran outside with a pair of scissors* to pick a few of them for the vase on my desk. I’m going to try and keep this little study full of flowers to cheer me on (cheer me up) as I type away until the work is done

I can do this. I can do it.


A word on flower picking. 

Here is a nugget of wisdom for you: when gathering flowers, it’s advisable not to wear a maxi dress ...because insects resting on the petals are likely to climb up your legs – looking for some shade from the sun most likely – and it’s not 'til you go to the bathroom a little while later that you discover them – white with feathery wings – sitting casually on the spot of skin just above your knee and you end up getting a fright and shouting ‘OH!’ loudly to yourself – the syllable echoing around the bowl of the sink – much to the bewilderment of people in the next room.

I speak from experience. This happened to me. Not this time but back in June during my recent trip to the States. There was a lovely afternoon where Christi – the sweet friend that I’d gone over to visit – pulled in by the side of the road so we could pick some wild flowers for our table at night. Like everything in America, the flowers were bigger (bigger, at least, than these teeny ones on my desk now). There were daisies, and Queen Ann’s lace and other types – pretty ones with little white faces and purple ones with whiskery petals – of unknown name. Gathering them up, the cars whizzing past us (on the wrong side of the road), the sun on our shoulders, was one of my favourite small moments from our trip. Even in spite of the large white bug.



*The lease on my flat is almost up and I think I’m sort of trying to mentally re-transition into life at home. I’ll be moving back here again in a few weeks time (funding running out soon, rent money not growing on trees, needing to just get my head down and finish the PhD, seems like the sensible thing to do for now, etc.). It's been a difficult decision, but - loving this place and these people as much as I do - I think it will be okay. This isn't failing. It's just necessary for now. All will be well. 

*I should point out that I didn't actually 'run' with a pair of scissors. That would be lunacy. I walked carefully. Of course. Safety first. (On that note, watch this: from Fraiser).

Dear July, eight // sister at the wedding, pt.1

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

With the world continuing to collapse in on itself – such horrible news kept flashing onto my screen over the course of this weekend – it seems as good a time as ever to be reminded of the importance of connection. And so: enter the picture-based post of wedding photographs. (Different from the kind of thing I normally post on here, but I figure you'll enjoy to look at them because I always like to look at other people's weddings. Even though these pictures are technically pre-wedding).

If I haven’t mentioned it already, Emilie – my elder (and only) sister – got married back in April. In the weeks after, people kept on asking me: ‘How was the wedding?’ and – hand on heart – I was able to say: ‘Quite genuinely: one of the best days of my life so far.’ Such a happy day (one where everything felt so softened round the edges. One that spilled light into the whole of the week after). All of it was beautiful (most especially her) and I’ll write more about it later, perhaps, and post some pictures the official photographer took because they are gorgeous and I kind of want his job... But for now, I'll just leave you with some pictures I took over the course of the morning before the ceremony.

My Mum and I stayed overnight with Emilie in the Grosvenor Hilton Hotel before the wedding and one of my favourite parts of the wedding day was that morning, right at the start of it all, when it was just the three of us. We woke up early (Emilie was too excited to sleep any later) and just lay in bed chatting and laughing about something or other, feeling relieved that the wedding dress didn’t smell too much like a chip shop (the night before, I’d been a bit hungry, as per usual. So Emilie and I had run along Byres Road at almost-midnight to buy a fish supper which we brought back to the room and shared between the three of us, sitting in pyjamas on the bed. ‘I’m not sure if this is really a recommended pre-wedding meal...’ ‘Tastes good though...’). 

We took our time getting ready as, one by one, all the other girls arrived...  

Emilie’s oldest friend, Stef, came to help her with hair before hurrying home to get ready herself; the florist – a lovely lady with lilac hair from Floral Menagerie – knocked on the door next to drop off the bouquet and give her a hug; and then the other bridesmaids (two of Emilie's close nurse-friends, and our wee cousins, Hannah and Grace) came along soon after to get ready with us. Such a lovely chilled out morning – no make-up artists or hairstylists or anything. Just ourselves, helping each other get ready and maybe crying a bit as Emilie got into her (many buttoned) dress and turned round to smile at us ('I'm so excited,' she kept saying the whole morning. 'I'm so excited').

(Evan - our brother - came for a little moment to say hello and gaze, ruefully, at himself at the mirror before he went to meet Jamie and the Best Man. He wasn't too excited about needing to wear a kilt...)

When you're the person behind the camera, that does mean you don't end up in too many of the pictures. But my Mum kindly took this one while I was doing my make-up, and I quite like it. (A word on make-up: Goodness me. I admire people that understand how to work it. Contouring. Highlighting. What-have-you-ing. I am not one of those people. Nor can I seem to muster enough energy to be. Not that kind of girl woman. 'Does this powder go here?' *wafts cheeks with brush a few times* 'Do these colours even work together?' *dabs brush around eyelids and hopes for the best*.)

I love these pictures of my Mum helping Emilie get into the dress:

And also these ones of the first time my Dad saw her (we're not a particularly weepy family - but everyone was crying).

Ahh, lovely. Quite nice to play at being a photographer for the morning. Anyway - back I get to writing (I'll post a pt.2 with some pictures the photographer took at some point later this month. But here's a nice one my Dad caught of Emilie and Jamie post-ceremony.) 

Nice, huh? Some more actual 'letter' type posts will come soon... once I finish this chapter. 


Dear July, seven // from the cutting room floor

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Because it's been a while, I thought I'd type out some recent 'noticings' from my writing-notebook. (I've written about keeping an observational notebook a few times before on this blog, but specifically: here. Basically, I am a bit nosy but use the excuse of ‘I’m a writer’ to legitimise writing down interesting things strangers are doing in a little notebook. 'For the novel. It's for the novel'):

One // as seen from the library window

Two bald business men in lilac shirts are eating fish and chips in the company car. They’ve opened the doors – wide. And rolled down the windows – all the way. They’ve flicked their ties and lanyards over their shoulders. The larger of the two men smooths a white napkin across the lap of his black suit trousers before tucking in. And so it goes: the rain coming down outside, and the two of them - the air con blowing goose-bumps up their arms - eating chips on a Wednesday afternoon. Life is good.

Update 10 minutes later: It looks as though the larger gentleman also has a packed lunch with him, because he’s just finished eating a banana and a yogurt – the carton of which he’s just crushed in his fist – and there are crusts (from a recently consumed sandwich, one can only assume) sitting in little right-angles in the Tupperware dish he’s just put up on the dashboard. I suspect he’s eating this second lunch to smother suspicion when he returns home because he is, after all, meant to be on that diet ('Did you eat your fruit, Arnold?'). That’s why the windows are open, why the AC is causing an autumnal gust inside. (‘We can get chips if you like, Graham. But Marjorie must never find out...’

Two // trying to describe a man I keep seeing about town

He’s the kind of man who tuts to himself while going about life. Tutting at the laptop screen, rolling his eyes at emails, mentally shaking a fist at the heavens whenever the rain comes on. He’s the kind of man who wears a blazer with his blue plaid shirts (always those plaid shirts. ‘Every day the plaid shirts’). The blazer and the plaid shirt and the jeans, and that hair on top of head like Fezzik from the Princess Bride. 

Three // on the baristas in a coffee shop one morning

I’m writing in a coffee shop today, sitting beside the door to the kitchen marked ‘private’. Staff members keep walking in and out with cups and mugs, so the dishwasher must be in there too. The girl with the messy ponytail who served me peppermint tea has just walked past with a tray full of dirty saucers. 

‘It’s a busy day,’ she’d said earlier, her eyes tired. ‘I'm feeling a bit stressed.’ 

As she got closer to the door – ‘Private’ in gold letters – her colleague – bearded, happy eyes – bounded up the stairs towards her, almost skipping. 

‘Hey!’ he said, coming towards her. 

‘Hi,’ she’d said, her voice quiet, shifting her arms under the tray to balance the weight. 

She leant against the door with her back to push it open and at the same moment he reached out to help her – his hand on the door so near her head that his arm was almost touching her cheek – following her round with the movement of it. She breathed in. As the door swung closed and I heard the clatter of the tray being put down, and I did wonder whether he was going to kiss her in there. She came back out about 10 seconds later, her fingers touching her lips...

(Pictures from an evening walk along the canal last week with a nice friend...) 

Dear July, six // let it be known

Monday, 11 July 2016

*Note: this was actually written yesterday afternoon when there was no Wi-Fi*

Dear July,

As I type this, I’m drinking peppermint tea outside a café in Hyndland, sitting under the awnings, waiting for my sister to come pick me up. It’s raining - fine, heavy rain - but it's also warm enough to be able to sit out here without my coat buttoned up.

The  view from here: a mini sunflower glowing in a pot on the table, a girl under a pink umbrella hurrying further up the street, car tyres splashing against pot-hole-puddles, a woman in a tie-dye purple poncho stopping across the road to shake a stone out her shoe, the sound of rain pattering on the awnings above me and dripping down onto the tables behind me, the flap of wings as a flock of pigeons fly from the roof of one building to the next, the swish of newspaper pages turning as the woman opposite me reads about ‘Chilcot: the Aftermath’ - ‘you don’t mind if I smoke, do you, honey?’ ‘No, no. not at all’ (though, actually: yes, a wee bit because the smell sort of ruins the whole fresh-air-vibes we’ve got out here. But: hey. It’s a free country) - the curl of smoke from her cigarette, the sky a bright light white even though it’s wet.


Catching snatches of headlines from the lady’s newspaper, it’s hard not to despair at the world right now. It all feels very grim, like humanity has given up on itself, forgetting that there's merit in things like: kindness, and empathy*, and tolerance, and actually telling the truth rather than just trying to win at the game. All the stories of hate-crimes, and shootings, and explosions, and ‘many feared dead’. All the back-stabbing, and fear-stirring, and fact-manipulating, and speeches laced with homo- or xeno- or some other o- phobia. The general, all round mess that the UK has got itself into (and the wince of living in a country that has just shown itself to be less open-minded, less forward-thinking than I believed it was a few weeks ago). 

I feel so ignorant and small in the face of it all – all this bad news. And it’s hard to know whether this kind of writing – eyes wide open, pay attention to the ‘ordinary’ kind of writing – has any place, or point, or relevance when the roof seems to be falling down. I’m reminded again, though, of Natalie Goldberg’s words about the importance of writing nevertheless:
"We are important," she writes, "and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter [...] Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter [...] We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.” 
~ from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones


‘Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important.’ Yes.



*On empathy: I came across this video recently (on Oh Joy’s blog) and thought I’d share it here. Brené Brown is generally full of wisdom, and I loved the way this has been animated: 

Dear July, five // something you might like to eat

Friday, 8 July 2016

Dear July,

As a small break from my usual pontifications, here are some pictures from my birthday on Tuesday (featuring: a birthday breakfast, a walk round Finlaystone Country Estate, my mother smelling a rose, some sun on my face, salad assembling, a strawberry shortcake, the feet of my family, and the beauty that is the view from our sea-view home). Stay tuned for some strong opinions on salad and a 'recipe' for how we made it...

Quite a lovely day with some of my favourite people.

[Some thoughts on salad and a summer salad recipe]

In my family, salads always have lots of ingredients (though: no raw red onion, please #badbreathforamonth). And all of those ingredients, including the leaves, should be chopped very small (to prevent chokey-ness and looking-like-a-rabbit-ness). To all the restaurants that call a bowl of iceberg lettuce with half a slimy tomato and a chunk cucumber ‘A Side Salad’: I have only this (<-- click that word) to say to you.

I'm a hungry person, and quite like to hear about what other people are eating, so – if you're much the same and are keen to know – here’s what we had in The Delicious Birthday Salad:

Baby-leaf salad leaves . cucumber (chopped up small) . little tomatoes (chopped up small) . avocado (chopped up small) . sugar snap peas (chopped up small) . strawberries (chopped up small) . crumbled goats cheese . toasted pecans (scattered on top) 
The dressing was a basic vinaigrette from Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine - very easy to make because you just add everything into a jar, then put the lid on and sh-sh-sh-shake it up baby: 
1 tbsp Dijon mustard . 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar . 1/4 tsp salt . a few twists of black pepper . 1/2 cup olive oil
We ate it with a warm, buttered ‘trio of olive bloomer’ from Tesco, and some Italian herb marinated chicken cooked on the barbeque. And red wine. Delicious.


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