20/10/18

The morning is darkness and mist and my bleary-eyed reflection in the kitchen window. It’s desperate sips of tea and wet hair against my neck. It’s toast and make-up, butterflies and tickets, more butterflies and a backpack filled with things I may or may not need. It’s Bournemouth station in a navy dawn and goosebumps, breaths that steam and smiles all round as the coach doors open. It’s a sunrise over the New Forest and fog puddles between orangey trees. It’s reading a book and trying to sleep, nibbling chocolate and pins and needles.

Oxford is bright and bustling and grand under a big blue sky. It’s Dr Martens and markets and bicycles that ring-a-ling. It’s pigeons that fly right at me, pigeons that stare at me, pigeons that hobble and hop and look unwell and that break my messy heart. Note to self: they don’t let unwell, or even completely well, pigeons on coaches. Note to self, note to self, note to self. No pigeons.

The Ashmolean is stone running up, up, up into the sky and banners that sway in an autumn breeze. It is Spellbound: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft. It’s glass and steps and museum maps, echoing voices, crumpled tickets and a big big door that leads into a magical dark.

Behind the big big door, I fumble for my notebook and struggle for my pen. I read and scribble, shuffle from cabinet to cabinet, ooh and aah inside my head. Backpacks bump, coats rustle, boots tap tap tap.

Witch in a bottle. Zodiac man. Nativity horoscope. Moon blood. Devil through the ears. Demon Astaroth. Love locks. Certificate of innocence. Lent doll. Poppet curse. Skeleton carriage.

A thousand lightbulbs flicker and pop in my head.

I exit through the gift shop.

The afternoon is wandering and wondering, lost. It’s dreaming spires and falling leaves, crowds and cameras. It’s the Oxford Botanic Gardens and a strange peace burning in my chest. It’s warm conservatories and brick walls with pretty gates, dying petals and glittering trees, skittering squirrels and a man falling from a punt. It’s splashes, laughs, and smiles. It’s a pot of tea and a slice of cake and buying stationery I don’t need. More Dr Martens, more pigeons.

Dreaming spires of Oxford. Autumn view from the Oxford Botanic Garden.
Fairytale view from the Oxford Botanic Gardens.
Gateway in the Oxford Botanic Garden.
Gate goals.

Leaves, wall and path in the Oxford Botanic Gardens. Autumn in Oxford.

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The evening is Google Maps and eyes glued to my phone. It’s relief as things look familiar and tired legs grateful for a seat. It’s fortune telling fish that predict I will fall in love and it’s confusion because that doesn’t sound like me. It’s my head pressed against a window and a bright three-quarters moon, eyes closed and music. It’s messages, ping ping ping, and deciding to go out and get drunk with friends even though it’s late. It’s realising I’m not a proper grown-up.

The night is rum and giggles and stars.

20/10/18

It’s a date I won’t forget.

Reads – The Gallows Pole

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers is based on the true story of the Cragg Vale Coiners in 1760s Yorkshire. It follows the fates of “King” David Hartley and his gang as they exploit the close-knit and secluded location of the Upper Calder Valley to clip real coins and forge new ones – an activity that got so out of hand it threatened to destabilise the economy and meant death by hanging for anyone found guilty of it.

In my head, it played out like a cross between Poldark and Peaky Blinders, only set in Yorkshire and much more grisly.

Book review of The Gallows Pole
The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers

I had very mixed feelings about it.

I want to say that I love it, but I don’t so I won’t.

I respect it and admire it and marvel at it, though. #awkward

Here are some of my main takeaways…

Sections of the book are written phonetically – from David Hartley’s point of view – and for the first half of the book it kind of drove me up the wall. I’d see the itallics and a little piece of me would shrivel up and die inside. It just felt so painful to read, so slow, so laboured. But, somewhere along the line, I had an upiffanee. It’s not that it became easier to read, it just somehow – unexpectedly and weirdly – became a joy to read. David Hartley is mad and delusional, yet brilliant in his own horrible way. The phonetic writing is the same and the book would lose something without it. So I can forgive Benjamin Myers the fingernails-on-blackboard pain it initially induced in my brain. *pats self on back for moral goodness*

The other thing that was a joy to read, though this time throughout the whole book, was the writing about the landscape. It lives and breathes and sets the page alight. There’s lots of rain, lots of clouds, lots of fields, hills, and mud. Endless skies and knotted trees. Wild wind in your hair and fresh air in your lungs.

The descriptions are intense and vivid.

‘Finally the sky was free of clouds and stars cut through the night like smashed quartz sprinkled and thrown aloft to stick there.’

Well, holy moly is that one lovely sentence. One of many.

‘The night came in like a bruise of purples and blues and then finally gripped so tight that the sky was black and broken by the weight of time impressing upon it.’

(Just a heads up here: the description of the landscape is intense and so too is the description of brutal, sick violence. It hurt to read. If you can’t stand that kind of thing in a book, this absolutely isn’t the one for you.)

Ultimately, there was only one thing that deep-down bothered me about the book.

Maybe this is a totally unfair criticism, but I hated the fact there wasn’t really any character to root for, that there was no-one to give you a sense of hope. I personally found it hard to read a book where I didn’t feel tethered to at least one character’s soul, even in a little, teeny-tiny way. I did enjoy the moral conflict between law and order and the “clip a coin, fuck the crown” spirit – because how exactly do you live freely and fairly when the weight of the law is always stacked against you, when people can pick you up and move you on, lock you up, kick you when you’re already down on a whim? – but I just wish there had been someone in the book that I felt less than 90% negatively about.

Everybody – and I solemnly swear this – is up to no good.

It wore me down.

Like I say, maybe that’s unfair. But it’s how I feel. So there. *sticks out tongue*

It’s a beautiful and bleak, brilliant and frustrating, intriguing and unnerving story. I loved it in a way, and hated it too for making me feel kind of miserable. If I were a star-giver, I’d give it four out of five. Four for its rugged beauty; the fifth being held back because it made me grumpy. (Or perhaps just grumpier.)

So, yeah. Feelings all over the place for this one.

I can see how that’s not really helpful. But it’s how I feel.

So there.

At The Castle

The castle looms like it always does, a tangling mess of steely grey rock studded into tufted grass.

I try to ignore my hands as they turn redder and redder, try not to worry about the purple blotches growing in amongst the red.

I collect a ticket and hand it back in a minute later, after the bridge, after the wobbly entrance arch, after getting attached to it and feeling like I don’t want to hand it in (the hoarder in me wants to keep it, as if not keeping it will mean I have never been).

Beyond the entrance, there are stocks to the left. A memory of sticking my head and hands in it years ago flurries round my head. My lungs remember how much my sister and I laughed that day.

Up, up, up goes the path, and I follow.

More paths, more steps.

The views are beautiful. Fields and trees and hills and tantalizing sunbeams falling far away.

Heart slowing, lungs calming, I stop with one hand pressed against a towering chunk of wall that’s angled very unhow a wall should be angled. The picture of it crumbling, the feel of it giving way, floods my head. Maybe it’s best to move on.

Walk, slip, trip.

Broken hallways hiss with icy gusts of wind. Walls are painted green with veils of moss and drip with sticky rain. Elsewhere, they are blotchy with lichen, a mix of grubby white and sickly yellow that blurs into the grey.

The sound of children playing on their lunchbreak twinkles all around the air, filling it with echoes of playful happiness. The sound of traffic buzzes like it buzzes almost everywhere. I wish I could eavesdrop on the sounds of five hundred years ago and five hundred years from now, wish I could know who’s stood here before and who’ll stand here one day.

I take a turn. It leads to a dead end. I head back, try to refind the main path. I attempt to take a shortcut and slide inelegantly between a rock and a hard place. I pray there are no cameras to record my momentary wedgedness between aforementioned rock and hard place. I wonder if walking/shuffling through (getting slightly stuck in) a wall makes me some sort of ghost. I worry I might’ve just frightened someone in the fifteenth century.

Soggy steps lead downwards.

I look up as the sun bubbles through a patch of clouds. It’s framed by one of the many derelict windows and I try to take a nice photo, but, no matter how many I take, none of them look better, none of them shine brighter, than the real-time thing. Away goes the phone.

I head back down the hill, trying not to slide down the cobblestones, trying not to surf down the grass.

The castle looks smaller than it feels in my head when I look back up, and I’m not sure if I’ve imagined it big or my eyes have tricked it small.

I came here looking for something. I don’t know what exactly. I don’t even know if I found it. I hope so.

I do feel better, lighter, clearer.

Colder, redder, and purpler, too.

Corfe Castle on a cloudy, rainy day in January. English castle ruins. Gothic style photograph effect.
Corfe Castle, Dorset, January 2018.

Bluebell Time of Year

Spring is bluebell time of year in England.

Woods and gardens bubble over with purple-blue droplets, speckled against a background of the brightest green.

English bluebells in a bluebell wood on the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset, England.
Bluebells on the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset.

There are those who say it is dangerous to walk amongst the bluebells. They say some never return from their wanderings, snatched away by fairies.

And if you hear the bluebells ring, it is said, you’ll die before the next morning.

I say, I’m willing to take my chances…

What I’m Reading: The Buried Giant

I read The Buried Giant without having read any of Kazuo Ishiguro’s other books, which – from looking through some of the reactions to its release last year – I feel might have been a blessing. I had no particular expectations or ideas as to what I would find.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. Photograph of The Buried Giant book cover. Thoughts, book review, opinion.

I’ve enjoyed it. It’s not my favourite book in the whole wide world, but it is engaging and interesting, and I feel like it might be one of those stories that stays simmering away quietly in the back of my head for a while.

The story follows Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who set off to a nearby village in search of their son. Their relationship is intriguing – close, but with a sense of underlying trouble. On their journey, they meet a Saxon warrior, a boy bitten by a dragon, and an elderly Sir Gawain (King Arthur’s nephew).

I was interested that so many complaints I saw for The Buried Giant centred around it being fantasy. It certainly is – you know straight away that you’re in a land of mist, ogres, dragons and pixies – but I found it to be uncomplicated and matter-of-fact. A sort of gentle otherworldliness. There just are ogres and pixies and a strange mist that affects everybody’s memory. But the genre a book belongs to does not determine how good or bad a story is.

My only real complaint would be the dialogue, which I thought was quite dull and strangely formal. There were a few times when it actually became quite irritating. But that could just be me!

I’d be really interested to know what others thought of The Buried Giant. Did anyone else find the dialogue frustrating? Or does having read Ishiguro’s other books make this one harder to like?

Late Winter Magic

I love this time of year.

Days slowly getting longer. Brave flowers peeping up out of the cool ground. Promising warmth in golden sunshine.

It’s a happy mix of the perks of winter – the cosy evenings in front of the fire, a pair of cold hands kept warm by a mug of hot chocolate, rosy red cheeks from frosty air – whilst knowing that spring and summer, with all their greenness and sunniness and loveliness, are on the way.

A late winter magic.

Pink camellia flower head, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset.
Camellia flower head in the woods at Kingston Lacy, Dorset.

I try to spend as much time as possible outside at this point in the year, soaking in some much needed sun rays and enjoying all the bursts of bright colour in amongst the greens and browns.

It makes me happy, hopeful, and energised.

Here’s to a good week ahead!