Day 132.

First walk with young Murphy and ancient Lilli; so many ways it could have gone terribly wrong… but didn’t.

He’s ready to go in this picture, he can see the ‘harness that promises good things’ in my hands and is wondering why am I taking pictures AGAIN!.. instead of getting on with it…

“C’mon, already”

Our walk took us in a big(ish) loop around the Sherborne Estate and it was an easy to follow and varied route. Only 2.5 miles, but just enough for either dog, each one at opposite ends of their walking life.

There is something so enjoyable about walking with a dog… maybe it’s their enthusiasm, their absolute joy in random running up and down… I don’t know, but it almost gives more of a purpose to the walk, just in case you need one and ‘walking’ per se it’s not enough.

I think it also helps in making you look around more and not get too lost in your thoughts that you stop noticing all the beauty you’re surrounded by. They’re grounding.

… and then they crash when you get back home allowing you to do the same!

(Perhaps not on the floor…)

As a treat here is a lovely poem about a dog called Luke (by Mary Oliver)

LUKE

I had a dog
  who loved flowers.
    Briskly she went
        through the fields, 

yet paused
  for the honeysuckle
    or the rose,
        her dark head 

and her wet nose
  touching
    the face
         of every one 

with its petals
  of silk,
    with its fragrance
         rising 

into the air
  where the bees,
    their bodies
        heavy with pollen, 

hovered—
  and easily
     she adored
        every blossom, 

not in the serious,
  careful way
    that we choose
        this blossom or that blossom— 

the way we praise or don’t praise—
  the way we love
     or don’t love—
        but the way 

we long to be—
  that happy
    in the heaven of earth—
        that wild, that loving.

There’s a new little girl in our square, which is lovely and it made me think how your own children are all grown up and hairy now and how cute they were when in their little onesies, gurgling away in their prams… their chubby feet and fluffy hair…. Time has a funny way to make you forget the insane tiredness, the constant sour milk smell on your clothes, the constant nappy changing… which is just as well or humanity would have gone extinct eons ago.

Her name is Isabella Rose, which is so lovely it’s almost too much and it definitively deserved a gentle, pink quilt, don’t you think?

I should have taken a photo of the whole thing, but I had no spare help and was too keen to hand it over to her new owner… but you get the idea… And it was so nice to do something girlie for a change! The square are 6″ and the whole quilt is 5 squares by 7 squares. I find it’s a good size to use as a floor mat, or a lap quilt, or to wrap a child up on the sofa when they’re older.

(Also, incidentally, why do I keep using fabric from the stash and the stash never diminishes? and no I haven’t bought any fabric either. So weird)

The Sunday walk is becoming quite the routine around here; it’s usually just the husband and I but one lives in hope that one of the offspring might feel ‘generous’ and grace us with their presence sooner or later. Of course it hasn’t happened yet, and to be frank, living with grown up(ish) teenagers is like running a guest house with added laundry facilities. My only consolation is karma… if it exists they will have children just like them and then we’ll talk! (how I will laugh inside…)

Anyway, this week’s talk had a touch of literature and history to spice it up: the walk began in the village of Adlestrop, near Stow on the Wold; the poet Edward Thomas wrote a beautiful poem after his train stopped at its station on a hot summer’s day:

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

… through field…

… under big skies and big spaces…

and flowers…

Here the husband was trying to decide if to eat the peas looking things in the field. He did. Whatever they were, they weren’t poisonous…

We then arrived at Chastleton House, a gorgeous National Trust property, well worth a visit, when it re-opens. A lot of history and full of the original furnitures and objects.

Last time we were here the local Scout group were serving delicious home made cakes in the church grounds.

Then back to open views…

We also passed an Iron Age circular barrow (not much to photograph, but interesting) dated between 400 and 800 BC.

And then we were back to Adlestrop, which is a gorgeous village by the way… shame the post-office/shop was closed, could have done with an ice cream…

And then back home for Sunday roast…

Day 126.

The gyms are opening. Don’t feel confident it’s the right thing to do… new cases are still going up so I’m staying put. With a crazy dog and my books (and a pile or ironing… but we don’t talk about such matters here), and a weekly walk with the husband exploring the local countryside.

And talking of books and walking: The Old Ways is a wonderful book.

I first heard of Robert Macfarlane when, a few months ago we watched the movie ‘Mountains‘ (more a documentary/love story of mountains), stunning words and photography and Willem Dafoe is the voiceover, what’s not to like? Anyway, if you love mountains like me check it out, it’s such a lyrical ode to the mountains that it’ll make you want to pack your boots and go. (Blasted Covid19… Mr M and I were going to spend the long weekend of my birthday on the Dolomites – the best mountains in world, don’t even try to argue with me on this one -.. but obviously it wasn’t possible).

I’m digressing, I knew I wanted to read more of his words and given it was a little painful to read about mountains when unable to go, I chose his 2012 book The Old Ways because it’s all about walking mostly in England, and THAT we can most certainly do (and have been doing).

The book it’s all about paths, what they mean, how they’ve been made. It’s about the connection between walking/the land and people.

Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own…Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people

I love how it references the poet Edward Thomas as his inspiration because that it exactly how I re-discovered walking, through Thomas’s writing and poems after studying his work last year at College and discovering that he lived around here for a while (near Robert Frost, another one of my favourite poets). Thomas walked everywhere, he walked to get out of himself and his depression but also to find himself, he wrote beautifully about nature and what it meant for him. I love how Macfarlane writes that paths not only connect places to each other, but people too, and the past to the present.

I find it fascinating and must have underlined hundreds of quotes (and checked the dictionary hundreds of time… and there’s me thinking I’ve mastered the English language… ahem)..

“We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places — retreated to most often when we are most remote from them — are among the most important landscapes we possess.” 

I am always intrigued by how people perceived the sense of the place they inhabit, why some people ‘feel at home’, and more and more by how people interact with the place they live in. I’ve discovered so much about my town, and my area since being unable travel to far away places, since I’ve been forced to slow down. Walking has done that so if you do like the slow, one step at a time, experience you would like this book.

I’ve also realised how utterly ignorant I am about trees and flowers and birds and clouds… you name it… (I’m like ‘oh what a nice… pink flower! what a big tree… sigh…) .. and I bought myself a couple of books on trees and wild flowers!

Thought, like memory, inhabits external things as much as the inner regions of the human brain. When the physical correspondents of thought disappear, then thought, or its possibility, is also lost. When woods and trees are destroyed — incidentally, deliberately — imagination and memory go with them. W.H. Auden knew this. ‘A culture,’ he wrote warningly in 1953, ‘is no better than its woods.

And it really made me want to go walking more and more, further and further.

Another Sunday, another walk.

I can’t wait to be able bring Murphy on our walks… I know he’ll love them and will be a joy to watch.

This time we started at the Village of Brimpsfield. The husband and I.

… where a castle used to be, but is no more… so we played with the water in a trough…

… and climbed many stiles… and looked up and admired the empty countryside…

… instead there were beautiful trees, and ponds, and easy paths…

… and flowers and gates to magical kingdoms…

… and big skies to breath in…

Day 120.

This year I’ve turned 50. It’s a bit of a weird one… on one side… well let’s face it… it makes no difference to the traffic of everyday life. Maybe I’m not as supple, yes I have grey hair… but I’m still me and I don’t get why so much fuss should be made by everybody else about it. It’s not that I made it to this out of effort and volition… it kind of just happened!

On the other hand… hey I am fifty and there’s a certain gravitas and self-assurance about having made it so far without completely messing it up, limbs intact (… although dodgy back, currently), good BMI, lovely family and friends and on my way to a second degree.

Whatever, let’s talk books. Two years – yes TWO YEARS – ago I had started this thing about reading 48 books in a year, each from a different year, from 1970 onward. I tried to read books I had already whenever possible and had attacked the challenge with gusto.. but then it all went to pot and I got totally sidetracked. For two years. College… the more you read books the more you read about books and the more books you buy… and on and on. Not good.

Now I think it’s time to bring the whole challenge back, don’t you? Let’s tie it to the number 50 because it has a better ring… 50 books from 50 years!

This is where I currently stand:

2020   A thousands Moons (Sebastian Barry)

2019   Domonicanah (Angie Cruz)

2018   The mermaid and Mrs Hancock

2017 – Magari domain resto (Lorenzo Maroni)

2016 – Upstream (Mary Oliver)

2015   -Reasons to stay alive (Matt Haig)

2014 – Annihilation (Jeff VanderMeer)

2013 – Careless people (Sarah Churchwell)

2012 – Wonder (RJ Palacia)

2011 – The Paris Wife (Paula McLain)

2010 – Visit from the Goon Squad

2009 – Let the great world spin (Colum McCann)

2008 – The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga)

2007  The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

2006  Out Stealing Horses (Per Petterson

2005 – Never let me go (Kazuo Ishiguro)

2004 – American Gods (Nail Gainman)

2003   

2002 – Everything is illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer)

2001  –  Refugee Boy (BenJamin Zephaniah)

2000 – Coram Boy (Jamila Gavin)

1999

1998 – Amy and Isabelle (Elizabeth Strout)

1997 – Under Storm’s wings – (Helen Thomas)

1996 – Wilfred and Eileen (Jonathan Smith)

1995 –  The Seville Communion (Arturo Perez Reverte)

1994

1993 – The Giver (Lois Lowry)

1992 – The daughters of the house (Michele Roberts)

1991- Regeneration (Pat Barker)

1990 – Darkness visible (William Styron)

1989 – Like water for chocolate (Laura Esquivel)

1988

1987  

1986

1985­ – Oranges are not the only fruit (Jeanette Winterson)

1984  – Hotel du Lac (Anita Brookner)

1983 –  Heartburn (Nora Ephron)

1982  – The colour purple (Alice Walker)

1981 

1980 – Emmeline (Judith Rossiter)

1979 – The bloody chamber (Angela Carter)

1978

1977   The passion of New Eve (Angela Carter)

1976

1975 –  First love, last rites – (Ian McEwan)

1974 –  If Beale Street could talk (James Baldwin)

1973 –  the honorary consul (Graham Greene)

197

1971  – Reunion (Fred Uhlman)

1970  – A slipping down life (Anne Tyler)

Ten more books to go. I think that’s do-able before my next birthday… I might even be able to find one or two in the many piles of ‘to-be-read-next’ books disguised around the house…

Any suggestions are much appreciated of course.

Day 117.

I think I have another favourite writer.

Last year I read If Beale street could talk and loved it. If you can say that about a book so raw and powerful, that I chickened out from watching the movie adaptation. Then recently, Baldwin keeps appearing everywhere, interviews, talks, articles and essays… and I really began to think it was the universe that was trying to tell me something.

I don’t know why I chose this particular novel… and I’ve been sitting on it since finishing because I don’t even know where to start talking about it.

Heartbreaking.

On so many levels.

The story is simple, the protagonist in an American living in Paris, he’s engaged and while his fiancé is away travelling in Spain he begins a passionate love affair with Giovanni… she returns, and his choices will have tragic consequences. It’s a story about love, about finding out who we are, about society, about fear, about mistakes and accepting and deceiving ourselves.

It’s a long poem. Every sentence so full of meaning and subtlety and piercingly accurate observation on feelings and what is it that makes us who we are or who we want to be, on what it was like to be gay or bisexual when it was still considered immoral and was still illegal to be so.

And it’s sad. Heartbreakingly sad. You want to reach into the pages and shout ‘it’s ok, who you are it’s ok, it’s more than ok’…

The fact it was written in 1956, when homosexuality was a crime in many countries, is also astonishing. And it’s also interesting that the author is black and writes about white characters, given the debate raging these days about the ‘appropriateness’ or the capacity of an author to really being able to do that. Personally I don’t see any issues of this in the novel at all. James Baldwin left the US at the age of 24 and moved to France because he wanted to be seen as more than simply an Afro-American writer, which is what he was seen as in the US; he was a poet, a political activist, an essayist… he left behind him so many powerful words.

I urge you to read it. It will leave you richer… and a little heartbroken too.

Day 113.

Living with a puppy is a little like having a baby again. They want to play constantly, they look at you as a source of entertainment and food, and need to be taken out often to learn not to soil indoors (dog-nappy, anyone?). It’s also a good idea to lift everything up high because puppies like to chew… and I knew that, I’ve had a puppy before… but I had forgotten quite ‘how much’ they chew… indiscriminately… tea-towels, tassels and socks, cushions, shoes, ankles. Plastic tubs, sticks, leaves, baskets. Fingers, trousers legs, their own tail.

Half way through sewing this the pedal of my sewing machine got chewed right through, I could have sworn he was on the other side of the room the just a split second earlier…

I was trying to make the backing for a beautiful sashiko sampler cloth that mum had embroidered in order to turn it into a table runner type thing. My brother, a missionary in South Sudan, wants it for the altar in their church. The African fabric came from three shirts that were donated to my boys when they were little. So cute.

I love the contrast between the Japanese front and the South Sudanese fabric in the back. The rich, contrasting colour looks great together too.

Luckily for me we had an electrician doing some work in the garden and he managed to temporarily fix the cable for me.

Next job? Face masks… they’re finally becoming compulsory in shops in 10 days’ time and I need to get sewing!

Day 111.

Yep still counting, it’s slightly dramatic but it helps me remember there was a before and now there is now.

Let’s talk about walking. Do you like it? I had forgotten how much I do like it actually and I feel very foolish thinking about the years I’ve wasted (I tried running on many an occasion, but I feel those days are behind me now… I get quite bored, there, I said it. And i know it’s not cool to say it, the ‘lockdown’ seems to have turned everyone into a runner… but me? I’ve always like doing the opposite. Also, running when it’s cold it’s not fun at all, trust me. So now I walk. And you have the time to see so much more when walking. And think. You have time to think, or not to think, and listen to music or podcasts, or audio books. But mostly I like the silence and the noise of what’s around me, I like the rhythm of the steps, I like the smile and shy ‘good morning’ when you meet some one else out like you before the world is awake.

At first, I walked to get out of the house on the allowed ‘one exercise’ a day (as if normal people would do more??), and find some space that was mine alone. (Mine and all the other lycra clad new-joggers… cabin fever is and was real, people!)… Then I began walking to explore the streets around where we live, and believe me when I tell you I walked them all. Frankly, who knew that urban streets could be so interesting? I could be a taxi driver, or a local guide: I discovered lanes, and back streets, shortcuts and dead ends. I discovered cool graffitis, interesting architecture, little brooks and hidden parks. New houses, old houses, bike lanes, underpasses, disused railways lines. And then… I bought a couple of books and realised there is literally a whole world out there waiting to be explored within a few miles radius… after all, everything is walking distance if you have the time.

I walked alone and I walked with friends, with the boys and with family.

I bought a new rucksack, one with lots of strange pockets and hooks and a chest strap and a waist strap. I’m considering walking poles (which I used years ago on the Dolomites and I know they really help)… but don’t tell the boys just yet.

I bought books and walking guides.

I’m anxiously waiting for the puppy to be able to come with me (it’ll be months… sigh).

This morning, the husband and I left the boys (and a friend, a girlfriend and two dogs) and went for a walk around Bourton-on-the-Water. We were following one of the routes in this book:

which is brilliant and I highly recommend it, the directions are clear and the maps make sense.

We left the village and immediately we were in a different world. The path took us along the many carp lakes and the sun shimmering on the water was so welcoming and calming…

For quite a while we strolled along the river Windrush… small river, slow flowing, shallow and crystal clear…

… through copses, and woodlands, amongst flowers and hundreds of butterflies… through fields of freshly mowed hay and bright green wheat…

It was a five mile circular walk back to the town and there may have been an impromptu fish and chips for lunch… maybe… I’m not saying… what goes on tour stays on tour…

And it was good. I’m grateful.