four years

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My blog turned four on Valentine’s day, and even though that was quite a while ago now I still wanted to (belatedly) mark the occasion. So, in honour of four happy blogging years I thought it would be nice to focus on four – pretty random – things that I’ve been loving and that have been making me happy this February…

engagement pancakes. One of my brothers recently got engaged. I got the date for pancake day wrong by two whole weeks. Those two things combined meant our celebratory family meal ended up being fajitas, with pancakes and ice cream for pudding (plus lots of prosecco). My mum has decided that engagement pancakes are now, officially, a family tradition. And I’m very much okay with that.

netflix. A heady mix of Storm Ciara, rain, more rain, Storm Dennis, feeling unwell, the trailer for The Witcher, a holiday week from work to use up, and a reading slump *shock, horror* meant I finally gave in and signed even more of my life and money away up for Netflix. So far, I have no regrets and a massive crush on Henry Cavill.

new recipes. As well as revolutionising the culinary world by inventing engagement pancakes, I’ve been busy revolutionising my taste buds by trying out new recipes. Three favourites from these baking forays are passion cake; chocolate hazelnut cake; and banana, chocolate & cardamom cake (originally from the River Cottage cookbook Fruit).

taking leaps. I’ve just put a deposit on a new (to me) car and, for someone whose blood is basically made up of neat cortisol, this has obviously involved unrelenting stomach butterflies, heart-juddering waves of panic, and hours of lying awake listing all the things that could go wrong. Things definitely could go wrong – cars will be cars will be cars – but they could also not (hopefully, please and thank you universe). Leaps of faith – in whatever form – are how we grow. They make life interesting. They go wrong and they go right. You just have to jump and see what happens. *tries to look wise and zen*

Here’s to the next four years of blogging!

Winter Warmers

The weather outside this December has been frightful.

And as much as the fire has been delightful, sometimes keeping warm and cosy and happy in winter means more than just a temperature change.

I find these winter months difficult. I don’t like short days. I don’t like unrelentingly grey skies. I don’t like my skin turning a weird purple, red, blue colour when I misjudge how many layers I need to wear. I don’t like how easily the dreary darkness of outside creeps inside my mind. And I don’t like de-icing my car. (I really, really don’t like forgetting that I’m going to need to de-ice my car and the five minutes of panic that follows as I desperately try and make it so I can see out of the windscreen and actually get to work on time.)

So, yeah. Not a massive winter fan.

But winter is happening here in the Northern hemisphere whether I’m a fan of it or not (rude, right?) so I figured this year I’d at least try to be a bit more enthusiastic about it.

Here are some of my winter warmers:

cuppas. Cups of tea are an integral part of my life all year round, but cold weather definitely ups the cuppa stakes. Plus, winter is the perfect excuse for a cheeky hot chocolate (maybe with a splash of Bailey’s thrown in too).

people. Spending time with the people that make your heart happy is pretty much the answer to all of life’s problems, always.

stories. In whatever format – whether it’s a TV series, a film, or a book – being swept off to galaxies far, far away; parallel worlds; seventies California, etc. puts a rainy English winter in its little old place. At the moment, I’m watching and loving the adaptation of His Dark Materials on the BBC, reading and loving Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and I’m so so looking forward to the new Star Wars film.

DJ&TSBook

twinkle, twinkle. Sparkly lights, sparkly tops, sparkly eye-shadow, sparkly hairspray, sparkly hopes and dreams, sparkly and wonderful people – sparkling, shimmering, shining, glittering stuff keeps the cold, grey darkness of December days at bay. Sparkle up your life. Jingle all the way. Let it glow let it glow let it glow.

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jack frost. Frosty mornings are pretty to look at, even if they do mean I have to de-ice my car. *supresses eye twitch* I don’t know why a little layer of ice makes the world seem magical and fairytale-esque, but it somehow does. And anything that makes the world seem more magical is worth celebrating.

furry friends. Cuddling a cat (or any pet) is one of the best medicines for curing the winter blues.

knitwear. Cocooning myself in layers of knitwear, snug as a bug in a rug, is one of my favourite things about winter and is pretty much the only thing I miss about it when it’s summer time. It’s one of life’s top comforts for me, physically and mentally. I feel safe (100% aware of how silly that sounds) as well as cosy when I’m swamped in an XXL men’s jumper.

eat, drink, be merry. Life is too short to worry about the calorie content of mince pies and mulled wine. Way, way too short. This year, I’m all in.

planning ahead/adventures. Having things to look forward to and adventures to go on – whether they’re big or teeny-tiny small – are nice distractions from the symptoms of cabin fever that can creep in at this time of year. They’re like stepping stones of hope leading all the way to spring.

Driving in Cornwall in the rain. Roadtrip to Cornwall.

starry, starry night. Winter offers some of the best night skies of the year and staring at the stars is always a good idea.

creating. Write an epic poem. Sew a shopper bag. Knit a Dr Who length scarf. Make a Christmas decoration. Bake a massive cake. Concoct a new cocktail. Build a bookshelf. Play an instrument. Invent a new board game. Paint a picture. Paint a wall. Being stuck inside is one of the best excuses to make something/catch up with projects we would all be too busy skipping dreamily through sun-drenched meadows of buttercups and daisies to get around to otherwise.

something new. Trying new things is always good for the soul, even if it’s simply testing out a new cookie recipe or reading a different genre of book – getting those little grey cells going helps keep those big grey clouds from taking over.

*stops and stares morosely at the darkness outside*

*sighs*

I think it’s definitely time for that mince pie and glass of mulled wine.

♦ What’s your favourite time of year? What are your favourite things about winter? ♦ Have you got any book/film/TV recommendations to distract from the cold weather? ♦

colourful and moon lit

The last few weeks, I’ve been going stir, stir, stir crazy – stuck between going down with a cold that hijacked my entire body and being busy at work and being busy with random life stuff and the weather being unbelievably rubbish. But on Monday – finally *cries melodramatically* – I was able to get out and enjoy some autumn sunshine in the grounds of a local National Trust property.

In one of the outbuildings of the property, there was a pretty display with the question: what does autumn mean to you? and little paper leaves for people to write their answers on.

I stood in front of the display for a good couple of minutes – tapping a mini pencil against my chin, rolling a paper leaf backwards and forwards between my fingers – and thought very seriously (seriously over thought) what does autumn mean to me?

A million and one clichés came to my mind, but, dammit, I wanted something original to write, so I waited a little longer.

And waited.

Tapping, rolling. Tapping, rolling.

Apple crumble soaked in cream and sitting in front of the woodburner and too much night and not enough day and Bailey’s hot chocolate and oh my goodness golly gosh Christmas is coming and oh my goodness golly gosh my car’s MOT and ah god holy crap will it actually pass its MOT and ah god holy crap how much will it end up costing and wait you’re supposed to be thinking about autumn. *takes a deep breath* Chestnuts roasted on an open fire (ahem, in a microwave) and gold, grey, sepia and I LOVE SCARVES and baking yummy food and eating too much food and I REALLY LOVE SCARVES and making plans for the New Year and fighting off the blues.

Footsteps approached.

I panicked about how embarrassingly uncool and serious I was being and then double panicked because there were about to be people to witness my uncool seriousness, so I gave up trying to be original and clever and smug and just scribbled something about walking and crunchy, golden leaves, and tied it up to the display. I took a quick look at some of the others as I did. They all made me smile, but one in particular caught my eye.

Colourful and moon lit.

(I’m guessing it was written by a child, so I’m more than happy to ignore the spelling/grammar issues.)

Colourful and moon lit, I mused all philosophically as I shuffled back out into the sunshine, trying to look cool and unserious and like I hadn’t just spent five whole minutes thinking about what autumn meant to me as I passed the other walkers, that is exactly what autumn is.

It is full of colour. Whether it’s the glittering golds and sulky silvers of nature, or the garish, flashing rainbows of mankind, there is colour everywhere at this time of year. Sometimes you have to look a little harder, sometimes it’s literally fifty shades of grey (clouds, clouds everywhere), but there’s always colour lurking somewhere. And although autumn is also full of darkness, that darkness is made a little lighter, a little more bearable, by the moon. Sometimes that moonlight is brighter than bright, sometimes it’s fainter than faint – but it is always there.

Four words turned three weeks of stir crazy on its head.

I hope all your autumns are full of colour and moonlight.

autumn leaves in Dorset, England, November 2019.
trees of gold
paper leaves
what does autumn mean to you? leaves (‘colourful and moon lit’ leaf is in the top left corner)
November full moon and tree silhouettes.
glow in the dark

Camera Shy

Like a lot of people, I’m not a huge fan of having my photo taken.

The sight of a camera lens pointing in my direction is enough to send a juggernaut of hyper self-conscious panic right through my heart. The words “say cheeeeeeese” are enough to make me want to sink into the ground and be eaten by worms. And opening the camera on my phone only to find my confused, freckly, selfie-unready face blinking back at me? Well, that’s enough to make me want to throw my phone into the sea pour les poissons*.

I’m both fascinated and completely repulsed by myself in photos. (Me, me, me, I, I, I, self, self, self. Sorry.)

For about ten years I barely let anyone take a photo of me. Photographic evidence of my existence in that time is minimal. As minimal as I could get away with. And the evidence that does exist is pained and reluctant, through gritted teenage teeth. I think everyone goes through a stage like this, long or short. (I’m kind of curious whether people felt like this way back in the day, sitting for a family painting? If someone could pleeeease invent time travel, because I’d like to go back and ask. Pretty please.) My stage just happened to be a very very very long stage.

So imagine my surprise when I found a photo from that time, taken a few weeks after my fourteenth birthday, where I looked… relaxed. At peace with the lens. Zen with the flash. Okay with the camera.

Granted, that’s probably because I thought the photo had already been taken and that the danger had passed.

But I’m taking it as a small victory anyway.

For me, the best things about the photo are the memories that come with it. Memories so so clear and sparkly. Devon. July. Running. Laughing. Brothers, sister, mother. Twinkling lights and a shushing, shiny sea.

I can walk right back into the blue and feel it all the way through my veins.

But there is one thing about the photo that I would change, even if that wish to change it is futile.

I would stick two fingers right-royally up at the voice hiding behind my forehead that told me I was all wrong, the voice that told me (tells me) I was (that I am) hideous, disgusting, fat, ugly, gross.

I wasn’t. I’m not.

Nobody is.

And none of that stuff matters anyway.

We are all so so so much more than our bodies and our faces, no matter what those bodies or faces happen to look like.

We are all so so so worthy of having our pictures taken and not giving a flying fuck of how we appear in that split second.

So please. If you’re out there and camera shy like me, stick up those metaphorical fingers and tell that voice to piss the fuck off. Smile and grin and laugh and don’t care. Be at peace with the flash. Stare right down the barrel of the lens. Challenge that camera to a duel.

And in the wise, wise words of Moominpappa (I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself):

‘The world is full of great and wonderful things for those who are ready for them.’

Don’t let that voice make you think you aren’t worthy, whether it’s worthy of a photo or worthy of a life well lived.

Be ready.

Because life is alway saying cheeeeeeese.

blurry

*there’s a story behind “pour les poissons” involving a ten euro note, a gust of wind, and a sweet but matter-of-fact elderly French man in Collioure. I promise I’m not just being pretentious à la Fawlty Towers.

Unfrequently Asked Questions

Did you know that random question generators totally exist?

Because I didn’t until last week.

But it turns out that they totally – like actually totally – do and they’re quite a lot of fun, even if it’s purely for the novelty factor. I discovered their actual and total existence via the lovely blog Chrikaru Reads, and thought it would be nice to do a slightly less bookish post for what feels like the first time in a while.

There’s still a picture of a book along the way, though. Of course there is.

Here goes.

What is the first thing you notice when meeting someone new? Their eyes. I’m one of those creepy lock n’ stare types, don’t know why, just am (and I’d like to take this moment to apologise to anyone I might have freaked out with my eyeball-centric focus upon meeting them). Clichéd though it is, I really do believe that eyes are teeny-tiny windows to the soul that just happen to also come in a lovely array of colours. And what’s not to like about multicoloured teeny-tiny soul windows?

What is your favourite thing about winter? The moments when your hands are so cold you just have to put them on a loved ones face to let them experience the temperature for themselves. Don’t worry, I get as well as I give (equal and opposite reaction and all that universe karma jazz).

What is something that makes you smile? Maybe it’s childish, but drawing hearts in condensation makes me smile. No mirror/window/cardoor/condensation-coated-surface is safe.

heart drawn in condensation with hand shadow

How did you get your name? Do you know the meaning behind it? Pippin is the nickname given to me by my mum – it’s after the blossom of an apple tree, not the hobbit (although I would be more than happy to be named after a hobbit). I have very fair and freckly skin, so in spring and summer I was mostly found in the shade under the trees in our garden.

LittlePippin

What was the last book you read? Ah, there had to be a book. I recently finished Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon. It’s such a scarily, refreshingly, and brutally honest book about a subject that I think is closer to a lot of people’s hearts than many realise. It’s certainly close to my heart (and head) and I wish I wish I wish I could have read it years ago. Currently, I’m reading and loving How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

What drink do you usually order with your food? You’ve probably realised by now that I’m not a very sophisticated and grown-up lady, so it’s more likely to be a vodka and cola than wine, or a gin and tonic if I’m feeling a bit more fancy.

What is the last dream you remember? I’m not great with dreams. They escape from me, spill out of my ears and nose and eyes and mouth as soon as I wake and leave me to fend for myself in cold, stark reality. I don’t remember them, don’t remember their colours, the people that filled them, or the feelings they invoked. All I tend to remember come morning is the back of my eyelids and the certainty that my alarm has gone off way way way too soon. So the last dream I remember with any clarity is from back in January. I dreamed there was a new room in my house – a very brightly lit bathroom with book-lined walls (of course) and a freshly run, steaming bath. I just stood at the doorway trying to understand how it had got there, afraid and sure something bad was going to happen. I walked round to the old room that the new room should have encroached on, but it was the same shape inside (because obviously dream-rooms don’t have to obey the annoying and kinda cumbersome laws of physics). I went and sat where the new room should have been and listened as someone – who, for some reason, I knew was my mum’s dad (he died twenty-two years before I was born) – climbed the stairs. And then I woke up, scared and sweaty (nice, I know), as the door to the room opened. WEIRD.

It still spooks me and it’s been ten months.

Do you like to sing out loud when no-one else is around? (operatically): YE-ES! *clears throat* Excuse me, sorry. But yes, yes I do. So much. It’s an awful, strange, and kind of alarming noise, but at least it’s only my ears that get hurt.

Do you believe in love at first sight? No, I believe in attraction at first sight.

What is your favourite candy? This is the one question in the universe I can answer with absolute certainty, and it’s also the most boring and predictable answer in the universe. Chocolate. I love it. Dairy Milk is my favourite, but pretty much anything goes (I am aware of how sad and hopeless this makes me sound) so long as it doesn’t have orange in it. Who would be so evil as to put orange in chocolate?

Phew. So there you have it. Random answers to random questions the internet asked me. God, I love the internet.

I used this generator if you want to have a go.

Happy questioning!

Memory Books

It’s funny how some things bring back very specific memories.

I get it, maybe weirdly, with shampoo. If I go back to using a shampoo after months/years (basically, whenever discounts and empty bottles align) the smell on the first couple of washes will always send a flood of memories rushing through my head from around the time I was using it before.

It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to time travel – which is kinda disappointing, but you have to work with what you’ve got I guess.

I got this whole memory-time-travel thing again the other day, except this time it was triggered by a book cover. I didn’t travel back in time very far – ahem, March – but in the middle of the longest heatwave of my lifetime it does feel a little like another world away.

And there were a couple of others that brought back some unusually clear memories.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton book cover.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton – the book that started it all. The cover took me straight back to the “beast from the East” at the beginning of March. Two days curled up in front of the woodburner, cocooned in giant woolly jumpers, the world outside made quiet with thick snow and freezing rain. The book was brilliant but claustrophobic by the end, just like the weather.

Old boots in ice and snow. The beast from the East, March 2018.
Cold toes in old boots.

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry – my first driving lesson, May 2017. Sat in the garden, sunshine falling on my back, and waves of scaredy-cat butterflies blooming in my belly. Focussing on this book basically stopped me from ringing my instructor to call the whole me + driving thing off. And it’s a good thing I didn’t ring to cancel, because it turns out that driving is actually quite useful. Who even knew?

The Essex Serpent book cover
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien – 2003 Easter holidays, Spain. Aged 10, lounging on the tiles of a balcony on a blue-grey Mediterranean day, the sound of the sea lulling in the background. I was a bit unsure what was going on plot-wise but pretty darn sure I would at least finish the book before the final film came out at Christmas. I decided afterwards it was best to wait a few years before attempting The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. (Now I want to read them all over again.)

TROTKbook
The return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Most books bring back hazy memories from around the time I read them, but these ones just seemed to bring back strangely strong ones. Maybe ones that don’t trigger anything now will in the future? Brains are definitely weird and full of surprises.

Is it just me, or do you get memories popping out of your head like a bright lightbulb moment with some books too? I’d love to know what they are if you do.

The Light Circus

Roll up, roll up!

Come and walk where the trees burn with rainbows! Join us in a land of magic and wonder, where colours bleed into the sky and claw their way towards the stars, where darkness is made bright! Ladies and gentlemen, follow us to a place where the air is so cold your lungs will turn it white, a place so cold your skin will bump with gooses!

Roll up, roll up, and keep your eyes wide open!

And please, ladies and gentlemen, remember to stay with us on the paths!

For we cannot help you beyond the lights. We cannot help you in the dark.

And who knows what’s waiting for you there?

Christmas lights in Dorset. Colourful illuminated trees in December. Rainbow colours. Christmas illumination in a country garden, England.

Morning Rain

The sound of rain outisde my window early this morning made me happy.

The drips and drops and thousand tiny splashes humming on paving slabs and freshly unfurled leaves made me want to run outside and stay there until my skin became only a half-skin, the rest of it made up of water and sky.

Once I’d got up, once I’d made a cup of tea, once I’d cuddled one cat, two cats, three cats, I stood at the doorway in my pyjamas and listened to the garden echo with rain and birdsong. My toes got wet as they gripped the doorstep. My lungs got clean as they filtered soggy air. My heart got heavy as it realised I wasn’t brave enough to step out into this soaking, squelchy, drowning world because my head had decided it was a silly thing to do.

It was silly. Totally silly. Silly through and through.

It’s natural to want to bask in sunshine, but to want to bask in rain?

Not. Sensible.

That, though, had been the point.

I’ve spent the rest of the day trying to make up for my lack of bravery, but being kitted out with boots and a raincoat kind of takes the magic away.

So tomorrow, I hope it’s raining when I wake up.

If it is, you’ll find me in the garden in my pj’s, clutching a cup of overflowing-diluted-rainy tea, being completely and utterly ridiculous.

Come join me!