Love and the city

I haven’t known what to write, lately. Mainly because I’ve been finding life challenging on a personal level and haven’t felt justified in talking about any of that against the backdrop of what is going on in the world at large. However, I decided to share this experience of a pre-Christmas trip to Birmingham because, well, I’ve never experienced love in quite this way before, and love just demands to be shared.  At the end of a particularly difficult week during which, in a ‘final straw’ moment, I had discovered to my horror that my hair was noticeably thinning on the crown, I could barely summon the will to make the journey - but I’m so glad I did as, aside from the joy of spending time with dear friends, I came away filled with a knowing, a felt understanding of the love that saturates everything, in spite of everything, and defying everything. The outlines of people shimmer behind the fogged-up windows of the little coffee shop. Pushing open the door feels like pulling back a stage curtain, mingling with [...]

By |2024-01-08T20:46:59+00:00January 8, 2024|Comfort Reads, Musings|6 Comments

Raggedy Ash

One of the many scything tongues of Storm Babet is slicing at the windowpane, rain lashing down, her hacking cough echoing down the chimney flue. Bella, my elderly dog, sighs on the sofa, coiled atop a cushion like a furry limpet. Snailed snugly in my reading chair, knees curled up to my chin, head bent over a book, I contemplate paying an elemental visit to my favourite tree, who lives up the hill, down in the bottom corner of the playing field where they used to hold the local annual music festival. Before the pandemic. Now, it is a big, rectangular almost-silence down there, save for ripples of wind and birdsong. Ah yes, the emerging wild woman in me loves the idea of a good, unmitigated drenching - unlike Bella who, despite not having peed for twelve hours, refused to navigate the inch-deep puddle outside the back door this morning until I fetched the big brolly and tramped outside with her in my dressing gown. Mmmm… cold rain on my face, rats’ tails of hair plastered to my scalp, the [...]

By |2023-11-07T17:30:22+00:00November 7, 2023|Comfort Reads|6 Comments

Coming apart at the seams

Nearly June. Already! The wild patch is rowdy with weeds. Capped with gossipy blossoms, they are sprouting with abandon, boisterously green, drunk on photosynthesis. All is jaunty chaos. All is splendid. Except for the disconcerting gleam of their foliage, glazed with sap from the aphid-riddled tree above. A rash of greenfly appeared on my t-shirt when I pruned off a couple of branches, lest they spread to my beech hedge. Creepy how they materialised, like a sleight of hand. Still. They’re an all-you-can-eat buffet for the birds. On the patio, I have placed an angular rock behind my favourite, ailing weed, grown too tall and thin. Its stem is anaemic, its flower buds parched, wrinkled. Is this ridiculous, propping up a weed? Dad, for one, would look at me askance. As he did that time we were in a dinghy on a loch somewhere in Scotland and I saved a fly from drowning. My insect-rescuing reflex. Sopping wet, the fly was struggling to unpeel its wings. When you are that small, water must have the weight of treacle. I placed it [...]

By |2023-06-13T13:00:19+00:00May 28, 2023|Comfort Reads, Musings|2 Comments

Bluebells

The bluebells are ringing in my garden! I have one naturalised clump of them, nestled beneath the beech hedge, and they are now in full bloom. The upright Spanish variety, rather than the drooping English bluebells of childhood memory, they nonetheless transport me back in time… Until I was nine years old, we lived in an unprepossessing 1960s semi at the end of a cul-de-sac.  How I LOVED that house. My heart expands as I think of it now. The garden backed onto the sprawling woodland in which I spent most of my days; these were the 1970s and, as long as we were back for lunch and dinner, we were left to roam freely. Those woods were our domain, from the roly-poly tree just over the wall (so-named because of one low-set branch that was the perfect height for forward rolls) to the strangeness of the remote bomb hole around which a halo of gnarly trees stood sentry. This grassy bowl was blasted out, the grown-ups told us, during World War II. By the time it had become our [...]

By |2023-04-20T08:59:07+00:00April 16, 2023|Comfort Reads|6 Comments

Hello, little weed…

... You look like you're in a listening mood, though actually you're just wedged, stuck in a crack between the patio stones. Much as I love spring, in tandem with the sap rising I can feel an anxiety beginning to put out tendrils from my belly. It is now that the garden messily awakens from its slumber, and I feel dismayed by the extra labour involved in tending to it. How on earth will I keep on top of it? My garden is a rather unruly muddle of foliage. When the neighbours aren’t outside with the radio on, it is also a place of profound calm. Sitting here now, the only sounds I can hear are birdsong and the distant mumble of traffic. I think the birds are catching up with the day’s gossip before bed, because they're particularly chatty. I feel a bit silly, cross-legged on the ground, muttering into my phone. I'm talking quietly in case the neighbours are within earshot, but my dictation software can’t hear me properly. I said vociferous a moment ago and Dragon recorded that as syphilis. After [...]

By |2023-04-04T12:54:46+00:00April 3, 2023|Comfort Reads, Musings|6 Comments

Santa Claus and the Salmon

So, here we are. January 1, and Christmas, in our house at least, has been stashed back in the attic. These days, I don’t much enjoy Christmas. Hardly a bauble-shattering revelation - and tempered, of course, by the acknowledgement that the festive period is a truly difficult time of year for countless people, putting my own mild discomfort into perspective. Festive spirit seems to have eluded more of us than usual this year, which is hardly surprising, with everything that’s going on in the world. I expected to feel pure relief as I packed away our affectionately-named ‘Crap 70s Yellow Tree’ (it cost a tenner from Argos but looks cheaper than that), yet I was actually a little wistful. Perhaps this was a ghost of Christmasses long-past, when the dismantling of what was then the most magical time of the year caused genuine dismay. We had a silver tinsel tree, back in the actual 1970s. Oh, how it filled me with pure joy! It was the prettiest, sparkliest tree in the world, bedecked with starlight and jewels. And then, of [...]

By |2023-01-07T19:13:21+00:00January 2, 2023|Comfort Reads|10 Comments

Comma, full stop.

I'm sitting in a clearing, in the woods at the top of the hill. Other than a flash of white or grey among the branches, I can’t see the birds, but I can certainly hear them. Birdsong forms an arc around me. There is no breeze, and it is unseasonably warm. An almost balmy day in mid-November. What a treat! Albeit a guilty one: it’s not okay for it to be this warm on the cusp of winter. As a human with utility bills to pay, my perspective is tinged with relief at being able to delay putting the central heating on. It’s becoming a cliché to talk about that, isn’t it? I'm so fortunate to not have to choose between heating and eating. But still, most of us must tighten our purse strings. These are such difficult times. As I picked my way along the meandering path to the clearing, an insect bumped right into my cheek. I imagine it was startled to encounter a face on its flight path. Not many people walk this way, although there are [...]

By |2023-01-03T12:42:16+00:00November 28, 2022|Comfort Reads|4 Comments

Swimming

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash When my physiotherapist first suggested that swimming would be the best exercise for me, I shrugged, and sighed. “Yeah, I know, but I really hate swimming.” At that point, I wasn’t desperate enough to submit to all the attendant unpleasantness: the cold shudder as buttocks meet water when you get into the pool, strangers’ hairs crawling over slimy tiles in the showers, the baffling ineffectualness of towels in a changing room environment, leaving your skin so sticky that you have to crowbar yourself back into your jeans… Some months down the line, however, I was feeling so sludgy and lacklustre from lack of exercise that swimming seemed like… not the worst idea. Particularly when a dear friend offered to go with me one day a week. After one session, I was hooked. Now, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, shortly after 8am, you will find me at the Splash leisure centre. I saunter in with the air of entitlement that befits a direct debit-paying member, nonchalantly swipe my card through the turnstile, drop [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:25:51+00:00October 19, 2022|Comfort Reads|8 Comments

The bearable lightness of being

I am sitting in my living room, on a hot August day, with the window wide open to let in the morning air before the heat becomes chewy and oppressive. Stretched out on her side at my feet, my dog is softly snoring. Every minute or two, somebody walks past, and I catch snippets of conversation, or simply observe their gait. There goes a muscular young man in a tight gym vest, singing to himself, loose-limbed, swaggering with a barely-contained energy that could erupt into dance at any moment. Here comes a rangy, shirted office worker, shoulders hunched, head down, propelling himself forward with jerky, angular movements. At least, I assume he is heading off to work, with his laptop-sized backpack. There's the occasional grumble of an engine, the clanging of a manhole cover as the wheels pass over. I revel in the gentle, tepid breeze on my face and arms. Flinch at the harsh rasp of a moped. Bella snores through it all. A wood pigeon calls from the top of a chimney. The song of other birds filters [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:27:06+00:00August 12, 2022|Comfort Reads|10 Comments

Grandma’s bowl

  Grandma’s bowl is a deep, rosy pink. Exuberant yellow, mauve, and blue crocus flowers adorn the rim and the hollow. On its bottom is the maker’s stamp, Maling, Newcastle on Tyne - which means nothing to me. What captivates me about Grandma’s bowl is its opaline lustre. Its surface is alive with reflected light. And memories. It was by far the prettiest object in my grandparents’ rather spartan, sepia-toned living room, where its colours were jarring against the palette of brown, beige, and nicotine stains. Grandma used to keep her keys and bits and bobs in it – amongst which, if I rummaged, I could usually locate a sticky mint humbug or two. In the same way as the scent of Pear’s soap, Grandma’s bowl conjures up not her ghost, but her flesh-on-bones presence; if I gaze into it, I can give myself over to believing that all four-feet-ten-inches of her are standing right there beside me. Grandma… Why do the words dart away from me like speckled, cunning fish when I try to describe her? How could I [...]

By |2023-08-05T10:26:46+00:00May 24, 2022|Comfort Reads|4 Comments
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