Monthly Archives: October 2014

Word of the week: London

This week, Arthur and I have been hanging out in London. We were going to be up for the weekends anyway, with two family birthdays to celebrate, and as Leigh had a big exam this week and I had lots of friends to catch up with it made sense to stay in between. It was a little bit daunting – my parents were around last weekend, but after they headed back to Devon on Monday it was just me and the toddler. It turns out I needn’t have worried at all – we’ve had a brilliant week, and Arthur has taken everything in his stride.

We’ve traversed the city to touch base with some of my oldest and bestest friends, meeting new babies and hanging out with growing toddlers. Arthur has really impressed me by his ability to share and play nicely, and he’s enjoyed the journeys as much as anything – there have been lots of trains and tubes and buses and escalators to ride.

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Possibly his favourite place has been the London Transport Museum, where he marvelled excitedly at the wide range of vehicles to admire and play with – more on that to come!

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We’ve made the most of all the different cuisines available to us, managing to fit in Vietnamese, Spanish tapas, dim sum and Italian – and sushi on the South Bank before Arthur’s first cinema experience.

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There’s been other culture too – architecture and street art and busking. I’ve missed the vibrancy of London, the sense that there’s going to be something new and exciting to see every time you turn the corner.

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We haven’t entirely avoided the shopping, though I suspect on the whole I’ve enjoyed that more than Arthur. But he’s valiantly offered to carry my bags. And we did brave Hamleys, which wasn’t actually as bad as I feared.

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Arthur hasn’t got to play outside as much as he normally would, but we did have fun embracing autumn (and trees) in Hyde park, and found a brilliant play area yesterday where he could let off some steam.

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Although we’ve really enjoyed each other’s company, there’s no doubt Arthur’s missed his daddy too. He’s kept up with him through photos and hilariously surreal conversations on the iPad.

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It hasn’t been quite the same though, and Arthur was very excited when he got to see him in the flesh last night. We both were.

We’ve got one more day in London, and by tomorrow I think we’ll be more than ready to head home. There’s lots to love about the buzz of the big city, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing the sea.

 

The Reading Residence

 

X is for Xampanyet

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A tiny tapas bar in the Born area of Barcelona, near the Picasso museum: a little slice of history where locals and tourists alike gather to soak up the atmosphere, the food and the cava.

It’s never easy to get a table, but once you do, shuffling along benches and perching on stools to squeeze everyone in, you’re always in for a treat. From the ubiquitous pan con tomate to plates piled high with melt-in-the-mouth ham, from little red peppers stuffed with cheese to fresh and vinegary anchovies. We always eat too much, and it always costs a fraction of what we think it will. And it’s always washed down with copious amounts of house cava – served in vintage saucers and strangely refreshing despite being a little too sweet.

As I’m writing this I realise I haven’t actually been there for ages. For a while, after one of my best friends relocated out there with her family, Barcelona became my second home. But then I moved out of London, and Arthur came along, and suddenly popping over for the weekend became somewhat more challenging. We did make it back to the city this summer, but like many places in Barcelona this little tapas bar was closed for the holidays. I guess I’ll just need to book another trip to savour its flavours again.

X is for Xampanyet.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.

A sense of place

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My editing process is undergoing something of an enforced hiatus at the moment. After a very difficult week last week Arthur and I are now in London, drawn by two family birthdays and some important new babies to meet!

I packed very optimistically, bringing everything I needed to pick up where I’d left off last Tuesday. But away from the structures and the solitude of our life in Brixham it seems unlikely that I’m actually going to get much done.

But that might not be altogether a bad thing…

I’m ahead of where I thought I’d be by now, my planned one chapter a day having galloped into two then three and sometimes even four as the story drew me back in. In fact I’ve only got two chapters to rework before I’m at the end of the novel – at which point I’m planning on one last sweep through (for now) to pick up anything I’ve missed and add in some bursts of narrative from a different perspective.

And in the meantime, whilst I’m traversing London to catch up with different friends and give Arthur a flavour of the capital, I’m going to open myself up to London’s spirit. I’m going to let its essence infuse my bones once again, remind myself of the multitude of tiny ways it differs from Devon. Because Grace’s story unfolds on these streets, streets which once were so achingly familiar to me but which seem so far away when I’m sitting at my desk staring at the sea.

I may not be able to do much work whilst I’m here, but when I’m finally able to sit back down at that desk next Monday morning I will hopefully be carrying with me those all-important details that will enhance my novel’s sense of place. And the fact that I get to immerse myself once more in London life whilst I’m gathering them is all part of the fun.

 

 

Writing Bubble

London leaves

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I love where I live, but as autumn encircles the UK I’ve felt a little envious of people further North. We’ve had hints of orange in our leaves, and they’re beginning to desert their branches for the ground, but all in all it’s a pretty poor show in comparison to the explosions of colour I’ve seen in photos from elsewhere.

I remember last year still being surrounded by green whilst rust coloured leaves fluttered across my Facebook feed, and we did get our turn eventually – fiery foliage hanging on long after other trees had turned to winter skeletons.

So I know that autumn will embrace Torbay eventually, but in the meantime I figured I should take advantage of our week in London to show Arthur what all the fuss is about.

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It was this tree that caught my eye first, defiantly resplendent in yellow, despite being flanked in green. Arthur ran smiling across the mottled grass, picking up leaves to examine more closely along the way.

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At one point he declared he wanted to climb a tree – I think he was inspired by the squirrels. I was impressed by his determination as he tried to work out how he could get purchase on the trunk, but actually in the end a hug seemed much more appropriate.

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We continued on across the park, entranced by the increasingly rich pallet of colours surrounding us.

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They are beautiful, those lovely London leaves. And an injection of colour was just what my autumn needed.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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Word of the week: family

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This has been a sad week for us. We’ve said goodbye to two of the oldest members of our extended family, and Arthur has had his first experiences of the bittersweetness that comes with family funerals.

On Wednesday we travelled to Cardiff, where most of my Dad’s family are based, to attend the memorial service for my Great Aunty Gwen. She was ninety one when she died, and right to the end exuded a glamour reminiscent of times gone by. She was a wonderful musician, and though her natural home was in the classical world she still very much appreciated the more modern sound of my brother’s band and offered her advice as they readied themselves to release their music to the world.

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Aunty Gwen never married, but as the sister of my late Granny she has always been a part of our family. She was a very private person, but in recent years, particularly around the time of my wedding, she began to talk of her lost love and the flame she still carried for him. I found it hard not to feel sad for her, often sitting alone at family gatherings. But as well as having the support of our extended family – particularly my Aunt and Uncle who still live in Cardiff – her memorial service brought home the important place she held in her local church and community.

I will miss her gentle, softly spoken manner, and the twinkle in her eye whenever she was reminded of her youth.

Then on Thursday we headed to The Lizard, the furthest reaches of Cornwall where most of my Mum’s family live. There we were to celebrate the incredible eighty five years lived by my Nanny, Dora, and to say our final goodbyes.

Even as we were travelling down it was clear this was going to be hard. I’m finding it difficult to know what to type now as the words keep catching in my throat and I feel tears pricking behind my eyes. She has been such an important presence in my life, so immensely inspiring in the strength and determination that saw her through some terrible tragedies and yet so calm and comforting too. Her pride in each and every one of her grandchildren was palpable, and I am so glad that Arthur got to meet her several times too over the past two years. Watching her sit with him on her knee was so magical – he seemed to ignite yet another side of her that I’d never seen before.

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I read the eulogy at her funeral, and was astounded again at the life she lived. Looking round the packed church (they even had speakers outside for those who could not squeeze in) it was clear that she’d touched and inspired so many. I’m not going to retell her whole story here, but I am very, very grateful to the strangers who pushed a teenage Dora out of the path of a flying bomb in wartime Walthamstow.

My mum was so brave through it all, sharing a poem which urged us to focus on her legacy, on living our lives rather than dwelling on the passing of hers, and on doing so with love and happiness.

And my resounding memories of this week are of family coming together, solidarity in the face of sadness, with laughs as well as tears.

Sitting in my Grampa’s house with all the history it holds, watching Arthur weave between the legs of his aunts and uncles and my aunts and uncles and high-fiving his great grandfather when it was eventually time to leave.

Poring over all the incredible images my Mum’s brother had collected of their mother’s life, capturing so many family gatherings over the years. One of my favourites shows Nanny surrounded by the eldest of her many grandchildren, cousins proud as we said hello to the newest addition to our family. We’re all in our thirties now, and we were all there in that little Cornish village to say farewell to the grandmother we shared.

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I know that I am very lucky to have such a wonderful extended family. And I’ve never been more grateful for my immediate family either, my parents, and my brothers, the women who’ve chosen to spend their lives with them and of course the gorgeous man who chose me, and our beautiful son.

We all gathered at my parents’ house on Wednesday evening, had a late supper and raised toasts to those who are no longer with us.

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There was something magical in the air that night, and I think it is what people call love.

Goodbye Aunty Gwen, and goodbye dear Nanny. Thank you for the lives you lived. We will do our very best to live ours in a way that will continue to make you feel proud.

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The Reading Residence

W is for winter

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I might not be terribly find of the thought of the nights drawing in or the prospect of endless grey drizzle, but there are actually lots of things about winter days I love.

Snow in particular has a strange power over me. One of my best friends is Canadian, and she thinks I’m mad. But then I’ve never had to deal with the drudgery of it – the blackouts, the snow ploughs, the military precision required just to leave the house. For me snow is magical: transforming city and countryside scenes alike as it deadens sounds and amplifies the light.

I love what it does to people – to total strangers. This picture was taken in London Fields, in one of the particularly impressive bouts of snow we’ve had in recent years. Everyone seemed to be transported back to their childhood, real or imagined, as they built snowmen, made angels with their arms or pelted each other with the white stuff till they collapsed giggling into it. And all of this in what seemed like silence under the branches of trees heavy with their own liberal dusting.

We’re much less likely to get snow in Brixham – being by the sea tends to ward off the coldest of the winter weather, which is one of the the only things I don’t like so much about living here. You don’t need to go too far inland to find it though: frozen ponds and crystallised leaves, delicate icicles and impenetrable frosty ground.

I think it reminds me of the fairy kingdoms I liked to inhabit when I was growing up, the supreme delicacy of the patterns in the ice and the way it makes everything sparkle. There’s something humbling about those moments when nature reminds you of its presence, too: the way it transforms the landscapes we work so hard to control and makes everyday life just that little bit more difficult.

W is for winter.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.