Wednesday, 31 December 2008

I hate New Year.

Not for any good reason, really. Lots of bad ones. The most acceptable being the pressure to party and the general post-Christmas blues being incompatible. Less acceptable reasons include aforementioned objections to the passing of time, which as has been pointed out to me are just very pessimistic ways of looking at time. I might indulge, though. We'll see. For an upbeat beginning, the picture was taken on the Garret Hostel Lane bridge, with Trinity Hall and Clare on the left, and the Clare bridge in front. This was about half past 5 yesterday, but it was BITTERLY cold - I assume that the two punters were staff members of some sort taking boats from one end of the river to the other, because nobody ELSE would be punting along the Cam in the dark and the icy cold for fun. They came up as perfect silhouettes though, I was quite pleased, and the river went glassy in the photographs. I like the colours, too, not that they existed in real life. You could call it slightly over-exposed, since this was full dark, and the purples weren't there and the glow on the wall on the left came from a streetlamp on the path on the right, and wasn't nearly that bright. I was pleased though - been a while since I took a picture that I thought was even slightly interesting. I like winter light though, it does nice things to ordinary views. I took some on the beach on Boxing Day which were rendered a little more engaging by the light. They need some editing though to really make them fun. Even the one above needs some cropping - there's too much wall on the left, and I could bring the trees and the bridge into better focus by making them more central and so on. I'm going to have to invest in Photoshop for the Mac. At £600 though, I'm going to bribe a student who doesn't need it to buy it for me, I think... Gah. Or make more of an effort to learn the Gimp. Need time. Never have time.

I appear to be on the downward trend of whatever mood swing I've been on the hyper side of for the last month. It's been nice to have a few days off work and a change of scene and everything, but it's probably the whole having space thing that has dropped me off the end of whatever high I was on. I'm fine, just sleeping less and staying in bed a lot more, due to wanting to sleep more, and all of that. But Eleanor came up yesterday and we had a lovely drift-around-Cambridge day, and then I went to London today and had lunch with Hugh and I did a bit more shopping and stuff and it was nice. I did actually go to London for a reason, which I completely failed to follow through due to being a wimp, so I'm feeling bad about that, but it WAS nice to see Hugh and I DID get a jumper like I've needed for a while, but all the same. I was enjoying the high. I was feeling the get-up-and-go and it was keeping me going. Grr. Will have to find ways to get it back. And it is for this reason I'm about to go to a party with Carl and a lot of people I either know very vaguely or not at all. I wouldn't be if I wasn't most of the way down a bottle of cider. I wouldn't be if I didn't feel the need to go and mix with a whole different selection of people to the ones that I'd be with tonight if I could hand pick them all (if you're reading this, you're one of the people I'd pick, no worries...). I just hope I can be well behaved and nice to them, and stay awake until midnight - this is usually a problem I face at New Year, too. Anyway. Right. Bravery. Need to put on clothes that aren't tracksuit. Gah. I can put on my NEW clothes. Gah. Wish me luck...

P.S. Nearly finish Sexing the Cherry but not quite - more soon...

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Sexing the Cherry

More Jeanette Winterson. I loved Fingersmith but it doesn't have the same quotability that the Winterson books do. And I haven't even finished Sexing the Cherry yet. Just to be going on with, and to stop myself waking up at night reminding myself I needed to write it down, here's part of the preface, if two passages as long as the one below can count as a preface.

'The Hopi, an Indian tribe, have a language as sophisticated as ours, but no tenses for past, present and future. The division does not exist. What does this say about time?'

Preface to Sexing the Cherry, Jeanette Winterson, published by Vintage (2001), first published in 1989

This intrigues me. I wonder if it's true? I would get very lost without a secure sense that things that have happened happened before, and things that are going on now happen now and things that will happen in the future haven't happened yet. I find it quite comforting to know that things that happened in the past cannot be changed by what happened now, no matter what perception does to them. They happened to somebody else - and that is important to me. Their happening changed who I was, to becoming more who I am now. Of course it doesn't work like that. The way that one's perception of the past changes means that events that happened in the past can have new effects on the person you are now, and hence things that happened in the past still have power now. They aren't dead, much as it is comforting to imagine them so. Winterson examines history a bit in Oranges, saying that 'History is a hammock for swinging and a game for playing. A cat's cradle.' But it is more than that - one can reform history, but in its reforming one can change oneself - since history is a part of oneself.

I need to finish the book, and I'm tired and don't have time. But I haven't finished this rather incoherent thought.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Never entirely fictional, but don't over-read.

Oil Slick

You coalesced; slid together like oil -
so subtle, I never saw it happen.
When I glanced about you were everywhere
slick across the world, a slippery lens
before my vision, tinting slight pastels
technicolour, gifting movement to still
life, skittering light into dim hollows
unnoticed in previous pallidness.

Half dazzled by you, I pushed my eyes shut -
Only for a moment! - and your blaze seared
electric stripe against a greyed-out soul.
Gasping, I let tensed eyelids snap open:

Pictures clarified, new colour shaded;
the kaleidoscope had sudden faded.

Christmas mania.

I love it and all, but Jeez I'm tired now. Lots of cooking things and pet time and singing. It's been fun. I suspect I'm mostly sleepy because I seem to be intent on reading ALL night. This is an error, even if the book is brilliant.

I found another old diary of mine the other day, one I'd forgotten I had. It's probably the darkest of all of them, from my last year at school. NOT a particularly happy time. Odd to read about Ellie and Katy and Angharad and Steve and the way we were. Things were already changing then, and I was doing self-destructive things. I read it all the way through (it's quite a short one). I've been reading through my other diaries a bit piecemeal. The ones from my earlier teens are less important. The ones from uni are long-winded. The one from my last year at school is concise and made me squirm because it is so direct and unfettered. I had to struggle to remember some of the events - they aren't things that come back to me with great ease.

I'm not sure why it was so unpleasant, really. Change had a lot to do with it. I'm not very good at change. There was the whole 'we've bought a house in Cornwall' thing, but that's a different story. But everyone was growing up, and where we'd all promised one another that things between us would never change, that we'd love one another for ever, things were already changing. Of course, we all made new friends and were fine, but I still slightly regret the loss of the four I mentioned in particular. One made a conscious effort to shed the friendship, one I found had drifted and two became so wrapped up in one another that there was no longer space for me. I don't begrudge the last two their happiness, but I did feel sad to lose them; I was upset that one didn't feel that our friendship was worth the effort of keeping (but this one I look back at differently in hindsight - if we had carried on being as close as we were, we would have reached a cracking point); I was and probably still am angry with the first one for the way she found it acceptable to behave (to herself, to me, to others). None of these feelings is all that intense anymore - I have new people around me who mean a lot - but they are not non-existent.

Maybe other people don't feel the desire I do to hold on to that kind of friendship in the same way. People who have known you a long time and been through a lot with you are important; they keep you grounded and they remind you that who you were is part of, and responsible for, who you are. They give you continuity - they prevent a fragmentation of self and a disintegration of history. I do have that, still, with a few people. Eleanor, mostly. She and I know so much about one another, about how the other one thinks and sees the world. Those ways are so different, and I'm pretty sure that we don't necessarily understand one another's point of view all the time, but we do know it. In some ways we're not close at all, but familiarity makes us so. I mean that, were we to meet one another now, I'm not sure we'd be drawn to one another in the way we were when we were 11. I think that's partly why there were patches of time at school where I avoided her (for which I'm sorry). I appreciate her now. At the beginning, we were the clever weird ones. Then I tried to join some sort of Popular clan, and things were weird. And then I got more used to my own skin, I guess.

Blah. This is the sort of reason I don't like this time of year - this kind of maudlin reflection creeps up on me. I think I'd do better without any sort of anniversaries (birthdays and New Year in particular), they always bring about too much dwelling on time and its passing, with which I am already too much obsessed.

I have half a sonnet written. In fact I have several half-sonnets written, but only one that I might finish. I like the structure of sonnets, because they provide an easy framework with which to force words into a tight linguistic structure, but I think this particular piece of writing would be better if I allowed myself to be a bit more free and was a bit more inventive with the versification. But that requires more thinking, or at least thinking of a different sort. Out of practice.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Life for Living.

I wish that someone had sat me down and shaken me three years ago. Time lost. Lost opportunity has always been something I regret. So many more things I could have got from my degree if I had sat down and worked out what I wanted from it and taken more responsibility for myself. The almost-essay in my last post is something I'd have loved to discuss with some of my tutors – Michael Hurley because he would know exactly where else that conversation goes, and Alison Hennegan because she knows about Adrienne Rich and the relationship between art and feminist activism in that era. And not just my degree. Parts of my mind have been crying out to be listened to for years. I have been going through the motions of living without doing so, and this means I have barely scratched the surfaces of so many of the things that have happened. There is no excuse for being alive if not to live, and I almost feel as though I haven't been. Maybe I made a conscious decision merely to exist for a while when I graduated. I think I did. I needed to recover from a lot of things that had happened over the preceding years. The deaths of two people I was close to, my own cracking, the actual degree itself. I regret I never sat down and made myself space for some of that at the time it happened; I might have had this wake-up call so much earlier. The explosion at the beginning of my second year should have led to this conversation. Maybe it has – maybe it took until now.

I want to fill every minute of my life with experience. And experience can be this – reflection on experience. Analysis of living. Coming to a better understanding of how to be. Of myself. Of how things are.

I'm sitting here now wondering whether I can ever regain some of the lost time – does going extra-fast now mean I can play catch up? Or do I merely have to agree with myself never to live less than fully again? Is that reconciliation enough?

This doesn't negate anything that has happened this year – anything that generated any true feeling in me must have been impressive indeed.

Adrienne Rich and the Social Function of Art

I was curious about Adrienne Rich after I posted the poem 'November 1968' the other day, and had a look on Wikipedia today, while I was avoiding the statistics textbook that is my work downtime activity. You can read the wiki article for yourself – it's not long. She sounds an intriguing woman, though a bit unbending and extreme for my (English?) tastes. I will reserve judgement until I find some more of her poetry. But I found that she had rejected the American 'National Medal for the Arts' in 1997 on the grounds that 'the very meaning of incompatible with the cynical politics of [the Clinton] administration'. A bit more trawling led me to an article called 'Why I refused the National Medal for the Arts', which she published in the Los Angeles Times Book Section on 3rd August of that year. A lot of the politics she expresses in the article I can't comment on, because they are of their time and place, and I don't know enough about either. She does, however, make a number of assertions for and about art that I'm better equipped to think about.

Parts of the article act as a manifesto for Art, with a capital letter, in the modern world:

'And what about art? Mistrusted, adored, pietized, condemned, dismissed as entertainment, auctioned at Sotheby's, purchased by investment-seeking celebrities, it dies into the “art object” of a thousand museum basements. It's also reborn hourly in prisons, women's shelters, small-town garages, community college workshops, halfway house - wherever someone picks up a pencil, a wood-burning tool, a copy of “The Tempest”, a tag-sale camera, a whittling knife, a stick of charcoal, a pawnshop horn, a video of “Citizen Kane”, whatever lets you know again that this deeply instictual (sic) yet self-conscious expressive language, this regenerative process, could help you save your life. “If there were no poetry on any day in the world,” the poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.” In an essay on the Caribbean poet Aime Cesaire, Clayton Eshleman names this hunger as “the desire, the need, for a more profound and ensouled world.” There is a continuing dynamic between art repressed and art reborn, between the relentless marketing of the superficial and the “spectral and vivid reality that employs all means” (Rukseyer again) to reach through armoring, resistances, resignation, to recall us to desire.'

This is a subscription to a view of art as higher truth that seems to place it as a sort of substitute for religion. That's a connection other people have made – there is a distinct thread in modern literary theory that addresses the idea of the critic as priest. I'll dig up the reference when I'm next in the relevant loft with that set of files. Art has very often been used to interpret religion, and it might be argued that all that has happened is that art has become the thing in itself, with its own priest-critics doling it out to the masses. I have no problem with that necessarily. Rich herself, however, in the list of adjectives at the start of the quotation, suggests that 'pietising' art will reduce it to the dead 'art object'. So what is art? It is created out of the reaching for a 'more profound and ensouled world', but it is not to be understood or venerated merely as the means to such an end? In the text of Rich's letter to the National Endowment for the Arts published at the end of the article, she states, 'I believe in art's social presence – as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright.' The idea of 'belief', in this form, is more usually associated with religious faith, and it is almost a godly position in which she places art. It is anthropomorphised into something powerful and active in the lives of the disadvantaged. The idea that art might be the right of all humanity links also with the idea of God as accessible to all. I can't help but feel this claims a great deal for art – it is a product of humanity, rather than something external as any deitic figure is. For myself, I need there to be greater distinction here. It IS still a symptom of the consciousness of society, and its interpretation a tool for social change. Oscar Wilde's useless art is not useless, only useless to those who want to see a concrete result. There are distinctions between use, function and purpose. The preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, I think, attempts to look at a few of these definitions, but in a typically Wildean coded way, requiring the reader to interrogate the words and their response. That's my dissertation. Let me know if you're interested.

Later in the article, art is 'our most powerful means of access to our own and another's experience and imaginative life.' It is part of the connection between people, then, a means of affirming membership with a group and sharing history and so on. This I thoroughly agree with, but it begs questions about inclusion and participation – does every human being need to connect with art in some form in order to be a true part of civilisation? Does a lack of artistic interest or sensibility inherently prevent integration? It is here that Rich makes one of her most interesting connections, which suggests that art serves a democratic function:

'In continually rediscovering and recovering the humanity of human beings, art is crucial to the democratic vision. A government tending further and further away from the search of democracy will see less and less “use” in encouraging artists.'

Rich, like Wilde, dismisses any overt 'use' for art, but she does imply here that a truly democratic government will find art a worthwhile thing to support. The connections that are created through art have a direct effect on the workings of democracy – as a result of nurturing mutual understanding. This I think is part of what Wilde is trying to get at in insisting that art is useless; he, like Rich, sees that there art has a function, but that it has no tangible use. A sympathetic, and Rich would claim democratic, government will understand its function and support artistic endeavour; a government more focused on commercial gain will believe that it has no 'use'. Here, then, is a purpose for art for those of us that demand it.

There is more to this, though. Rich asks the Marxist question at one stage 'What is social wealth?', implying that the answer might well be 'art'. So is art the symptom of a 'wealthy' society? Or perhaps 'healthy' is an implied synonym here. Several times through the article she draws a link between art and adversity – she points out that 'there is a continuing dynamic between art repressed and art reborn', and later she states that she is writing about 'the inseparability of art from acute social crisis'. So no, art isn't the symptom of a truly 'healthy' society, since in an ideal (and indeed Marxist, as I understand it) society, all would be equal and a great many sources of adversity would be removed. A truly healthy society, then, would have no need of art? Human suffering in one form or another is without doubt a constant, but the concepts of 'repression' and 'social crisis' do not refer to mundane pain or even natural disasters, or any other form of ill except that perpetrated by one person upon another. So, is art impossible in a society where all are equal? I appreciate that such a state of affairs is unlikely to ever come to pass, so perhaps I am worrying needlessly, but it is surely an indictment of art that it can only be produced by suffering and can only accrete as a pearl around the dirt of civilisation. Is art produced in an excess of joy less valuable? I'm sure Rich would agree that art can be produced in such a way, and that such art can indeed be valuable. Beautiful music written to be shared in moments of true happiness is art. I take that on faith. Perhaps there is an argument that says that the art of joy is produced by those who have gone through suffering and thereby know the difference. That's an argument trotted out as a reason that an all-powerful God put suffering in the world. It reduces joy, sadness, art and God though, to suggest that good things only have power in balance with bad things. Or does it? Perhaps we should take a more Buddhist position, that all things have their opposite, and accept that the ideal is a balanced path. But on Rich's reasoning, the middle way would never produce great art. The Wordsworthian 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings...remembered in tranquillity' would never come to pass, because the excess would not exist in the first place.

So, art serves an educational purpose, adding to the store of society's shared experience and hence allowing us to act as a cohesive whole. But at the same time, art is produced of repression within society, acting as the opposition pole to the establishment by giving a voice 'to those whose voices are disregarded'. This is Edward Said's position (in Culture and Imperialism...? Will have to check.). But I can't help feeling a little like Oscar Wilde again when he says, 'We can forgive a man making a useful thing so long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admire it intensely. All art is quite useless.' Limiting art to being made for a purpose is exactly that - a limit. Art can be used for many purposes, but ultimately it must amount to more than these – it must amount to uselessness. It must be able to fulfil all of these positions, and sit easily in none of them. Art requires a complexity that allows it to transcend anybody's agenda. Excerpts can be used in illustration, but there must be internal conflict. It must slip away from facile interpretation. Any such must be recognised as a reduction. And anything that is not a well of questions is not art. At least for me. At least today.

Monday, 22 December 2008


"Hazel, you're SO cool," said Alice to me today. She said it with a laugh. Her job title calls her 'intern', but she's just a junior just-out-of-school version of Jenny and me, which means they get to pay her less. I'd been discussing my plans to take music to Cornwall to play with a Real Piano and my intention to sit in front of the telly (new Wallace and Gromit AND Doctor Who on Christmas Day!!) with my crochet. She clarified my coolness as 'in a retro sort of way'. In a mad maiden aunt kind of way is what she meant. I have no problem with this; it's definitely the direction I picked for myself without really thinking about it at some stage. I aim to be my brothers' children's favourite aunt. I'll add it to the ambitions list. I'm quite looking forward to the idea.

Is it bad that I was thrilled to be called cool? I've never really imagined anyone thought I was cool, especially a popular and chatty 18 year old - even when I WAS one. Well, when I was a chatty 18 year old anyway. I was always too weird to be popular. I had friends - a few very close ones and a big circle of people I could talk to - but I was never 'popular'. Which is a hard concept to break down, because it isn't really about how many friends you have, though that's part of it. It's about being looked up to by other girls. Boys aren't so much a feature, but the popular girl needs to have a few about - picking the cream of the crop and leaving a the leftovers for her posse. She's probably sporty, that's always acceptable, whatever level of society. In my school, everything else was a bit dependant. I think the most popular girls were sporty, but didn't really stick out in other things. As a school we weren't good enough at drama for that to matter much, though some people did become popular that way. Music was a good wheeze, if it was in the right way. There are different sorts of being musical. Not too academic, but not the bottom of the class. Enough money. Able to go out at weekends. Boys, but not too many. There's a difference between popular and a slut, at least at a north London independent school for Nice Girls. Being pretty, or a certain sort of pretty, is important too. Who am I thinking of? Dani, I guess (her surname escapes me...that's bad, I spent an awful lot of time with her - she played lacrosse). And Ellena Spyrides, in a different way. Others. Jenny Aylard had a coterie, too. Laura Harding? Never quite got it polished properly. Chloe Carberry had a shot, but she could put her foot in it. Vicky Leverett. She had the polished prettiness required, and the boys, and the otherwise middle of the road progress through the school.

I should say, being 'popular' isn't an indictment. I could probably have put the above in a nicer way, not that I think any of those people will ever read it - as I say, I was never popular. And if they weren't the top of the year, it was because you were rarely popular up there, and in our school, coming in the top third or so was still an achievement; it was an academic place.

'Cool' changes. I wasn't 'cool' for being weird at school, but I get to be cool for being weird now. I like that. Obsessions with choral singing, books, cooking and yarn sports makes me cool. I like that. And I don't think I'm quite the housewife those hobbies make me sound.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

I was doing so well.

I'm shattered today. Partly as a result of last night, which was fantastic. I did feel very young though - lots of young marrieds. It reminded me how little I want that life. That probably changes, but I really don't want the wedding-photos-and-dinner-parties existence. Dinner parties I could deal with (cooking dinners for close friends is one of my favourite things to do, after all), but less of the sitting around the table sort. Large amounts of good, interesting food and lots of alcohol. Not too many people, and stuff everywhere. Nothing that involves having to swap places every course. The food was fantastic and the company seemed good (a group of friends I'm not part of, but lovely nonetheless), but I need bohemianism. The food needs to be incidental to the company, unless you're with a group of foodies, at which point it's like going to an art gallery and entirely different. I don't know. That all sounds a bit harsh - it was a perfect example of its type, it really was. Just the life it seems to lead to is one with which I don't particularly want to be involved.

I got up this morning and cleaned a lot of kitchen. I failed to go to the eucharist and matins, but my hangover was a little insistent at 9am - considering I left the party still going on downstairs at about 2. I made a cake for a choir member. That particular couple have been so wonderful to me over the last year (they all have, but those two are particular friends), and I find it hard to find ways of repaying some of their kindnesses. I hope a little of that went into the cake. He seemed pleased, anyway.

I'm mostly shattered because we started rehearsing at 3 and sang through, with a brief food break until the service at 6:30. Hard work. It went very well indeed. A little bit stressful, and I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been more awake, but it really was a lovely service. 'Bethlehem Down' was particularly successful, as was Leighton's 'Lully, Lulla' (I'm very jealous of the sop soloist, still. She did it very well, but I LOVE that solo). And there was even a pretty piece by a member of the choir which was worth singing. Blah. Shame. I would have liked to have been awake to really love it, but I was just too tired.

Erk. This has become a diary entry. I did want to stop writing those. I wanted to write about noticing the stars on the way home. My cycle through Chesterton takes me along the riverside for a bit. On the other side, there's fenland for a bit and no buildings for quite a distance. That means it stays quite dark, and it feels like the country. It's really warm at the moment, and I stopped at the river for a second to look at the sky. It's nearly always busy just there - boats and people fishing and things. I need to be there at 2 in the morning or something sometime. Perhaps I'll go walking. It's so peaceful, and I want that. I love being in big, dark places on my own. It's quite a good reason for being early to choir practice - I can go and sit in a pew in the quiet and listen to the sound of a large building empty and dim. I used to go and sit in the pitch black auditorium in the Abbey Theatre when I was early for rehearsals. Nobody there to see you, and space to be.

November 1968

you're beginning to float free
up through the smoke of bushfires
and incinerators
the unleafed branches won't hold you
nor the radar aerials

You're what the autumn knew would happen
after the last collapse
of primary colour
once the last absolutes were torn to pieces
you could begin

How you broke open, what sheathed you
until this moment
I know nothing about it
my ignorance of you amazes me
now that I watch you
starting to give yourself
away to the wind

from the collection The Will to Change - poems 1968-1970 by Adrienne Rich

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Good things about today:

  • Hovering in bed, slightly hungover having spent the preceding night with a bottle of cider and engaged in tipsy texting, enjoying the fact that I was still in bed and aware that, while I had masses to do when I got up, just then I could do nothing.
  • EVERYONE being pleased to see me when I went to tend the menagerie in Royston. Ebony was delighted with food and company and followed me about and purred. The ferrets were sleepy, but came out for a cuddle and watched me to and fro from the house. The rats climbed all over me and the garage, coming straight out of the cage when I opened the doors. Even the fish were attentive, not that I gave them anything. I don't want to interrupt any fish feeding schedules (the fish are Science more than Cuddles). BUGGER. Just realised I forgot to check on the gerbils. Have texted Christian to find out if I need to go back to them... Too many animals in one house. I'm hoping they're ok, I have Christmas 2 to have!
  • An hour spent wandering around the Chinese supermarket and Al Amin's on Mill Road, looking for bits and pieces for the brothers' Christmas presents while listening to Handel's Messiah very loudly on the ipod in order to learn the bit I was singing this afternoon. Those places are Aladdin's caves, and the peculiar juxtaposition with one of the most iconic pieces of Baroque English choral music in existence made me happy.
  • Turning up at Michaelhouse to sing a service one-to-a-part, with me singing soprano - and actually pulling it off in a way I was pleased with. We did the aforementioned bit of the Messiah ('And the glory of the Lord', for those interested in such things), 'O Magnum Mysterium' by Victoria and the final chorale ('Gloria sei dir gesungen') from Bach's Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. Nothing particularly hard, though the Victoria's a bit awkward for this kind of thing - polyphonic and C16th and requiring a little bit of thought. I was really pleased with myself though - only cock up (that I count...) in the choral stuff was a bit I knew I'd fail at in the 'Alleluias' in the Victoria, which was rhythmically odd and I plain hadn't had time to get under my belt. I did accidentally start singing alto in the choir-only verse of 'O Little Town', which was embarrassing, though. I did it out of habit - almost ANY time I've sung that carol I've been singing alto in that verse, even at school because I sang that part when we did it choir only. Bah. That was silly. Fun descants and playing about though. AND Sam intimated that it might have been a money gig. Being paid for something that you'd have jumped at the chance to do anyway is the icing on the cake. It won't be much, but singing for money gives my very unstable singing self-esteem a huge boost.
  • Cycling home with the most magnificent sunset behind me all the way. I had to stop just to admire it at one point, in order to avoid getting run over as I peered over my shoulder. The sky was striped blue and pink from the towers in town to straight up above my head, and even further. Flourescent. It was amazing. The one day I didn't have my camera in my bag (I always have my camera in my bag). And it was barely visible by the time I got back to my western edge of Cambridge. It's a sort of sunset I've never seen anywhere except this little bit of the country. Something to do with the flatness and the coldness and the easterliness. Sublime, in the true sense of the word.
  • Coming back to the most amazing smell of goose and roast dinner across the whole street. Apparently, the answer to 'how does one cook roast geese for 15 in one oven' is not to, but to use next door's oven too. Martin's doing the thing properly, it's brilliant. Very impressive indeed - and I'm STARVING now, because I haven't actually eaten any of this yet. I won't know anyone tonight except my housemates, but having sat and chatted to early arrival Jen while peeling sprouts, I'm actually feeling positive about a party. Usually, I'm excited until the actual day, and then I hate the idea, hate the getting dressed and have to march myself out of the house telling myself I'll enjoy it in the end, and how can I not go by this point?
How good a day is that?! I mean, really. Busy as, and I didn't finish everything on the list of things to do, but I got most of the way there. But sometimes it's worth it in order to have a day like this one. And tomorrow looks pretty exciting, too. If I wake up in time, I have the option of singing up to twice tomorrow morning, then a break for lunch, in which I'm hoping to cook Graham-the-GSM-tenor a cake because it's his birthday, then a rehearsal, then a spend-it-in-a-coffee-shop-type break before the climax of all the carol services at 6:30. (Come, if you haven't got anything else to do - it really will be worth it. Be early though - the church will be packed!).

Friday, 19 December 2008


This is not a feeling I particularly like. In the past, it was a BAD feeling. But it doesn't seem to be today. Today I feel limited by people and place. Not for any explicable reason, just want to get beyond the life I'm living at the moment. It's not quite the same as boredom. It's feeling that things are incomplete and that something's missing. For me, that often means something about relationships not being right. But I'm not in a relationship, and I actually don't really have the desire to be right now. A certain amount of getting over the mess of the last few months is involved there. I did feel similar in the summer though - but I can find a similar excuse for that, too. And I was worrying a lot about money at that time, too. It's odd to find myself almost feeling that my life is so full that I haven't actually got space in it for a relationship even if I wanted one. Maybe the restlessness is actually ABOUT having too many things going on and needing to find space? I certainly would like to have a bit more time to myself at present. My friends are ace, choir is great and busyness is good - I don't want to stop any of those things. I just need to organise myself a bit better, I guess. And have some dinner before choir.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


I need some ambitions. I was listening to radio 4's 6:30 silliness programme yesterday, which sort of focused on the fact that the comedian hadn't achieved his (less than serious) 18-year-old self's ambitions by the age of 35. And I sat wondering whether I actually HAVE any ambitions. I guess this is a musing better suited to New Year's, but I tend to look at just the year ahead then, rather than further. And maybe I should look further. If I had something to work for, then maybe I'd feel there was a bit of a point.

Am I unusual in not knowing where to start with this? Next year I'll be 25. Ten years after that, I'll be 35. That's half way through the Bible's threescore years and ten. A bit less than that if we use today's standard 80+ life expectancy. I'd really rather be dead by 75 than deteriorate into my 90s, but that's a whole other debate for another day. What will I be doing? What do I WANT to be doing? I don't think I know. Things that I want change on a daily basis, from the every day little things like 'I want to make gnocchi today/tomorrow/when I have time), to pie-in-the-sky dreams - the 'Maybe I could do thats' and the 'Wouldn't it be cool ifs'... Most of them come to nothing, but maybe if I gave them substance by writing them down, they'd become something. Stop them evaporating purely because I don't remember them often enough. I don't have a very good memory. I used to have, but it evaporated a year or two back, possibly through lack of use since I'd started writing things down pretty religiously; the recent gaps here have mostly been covered by the paper diary. Again, side-tracked.

Well. Here's a shot at it.

  1. To start with, an anti-ambition. I don't want to be doing something 'expected'. I'm contrary. I'll always order something different from the person next to me in a restaurant. I want things to be unusual. I know that that perhaps isn't obvious in most of the way I live my life - my clothes tend to be similar to other people's, but at least they're a different colour (unless I'm forced into wearing something particularly conventional, like the damn suit or my chapel clothes at college). I haven't, until recently anyway, behaved in a way that suggested I'm anything other than the entirely unremarkable product of a slightly old fashioned, very English, privileged background. I sing in a church choir. That sounds like the height of fusty English conventionality, but in a small way it's a revolt against a judgemental culture I feel amongst the loosely Guardian-reader type world I move in - where religion is Marx's crutch to the masses and therefore sneered at. Oh this is what I tell myself. I don't believe in too many chunks of doctrine to be able to call myself Christian (let's start with believing there is a God and work up from there), but the music is powerful and a high art in itself. As well as servicing a need in myself to be singing, continuing to go is a support of the fact that I think religion, used wisely, has a place in the modern world. And that even if it doesn't, it is a beautiful idea that has generated beautiful thinking and beautiful creativity, and so shouldn't be sneered at. It's odd, more and more of the people I sang with at Robinson, who were never very pro- or anti- religious at the time seem to be leaning towards the pro- camp, though there are exceptions. Perhaps I should actually address the religion question again, one of these days. I think I know the answer, and there is a problem around opening cans of worms, but still. Again. A whole different conversation. So the anti-ambition here is not to be married with two children and a dog, living in a north London suburb and earning something over £45k sitting in front of a computer in the City. Some of those things, combined with something quirky - well fine. That would be different. And different is important. I am not going to live a boring life.
  2. I want to have lived in a different country for a while. I don't know where. This is quite a new one for me - when I came back from India, I was thoroughly decided that the UK was the place for me, where I felt at home and where I understood how things worked, and India had scared me even while I adored it. I guess the States would be good. I've never wanted to go in a serious way before, but they've just achieved a change of government, and Stephen Fry seduced me... I've begun to be bored here, and some of the other things that have happened recently have already pushed me out of my comfort zone. But the water outside the breakwater has proved less choppy than I had expected, at least so far, and now I want to see what it's like outside the bay... Leaving Cambridge will be the first tack of that trip. I LIKE Cambridge, don't get me wrong. It's got a bit awkward just recently, and I want out for a bit to clear my head and mix with some different people for a while, but that's a different thing. I would like to go somewhere bigger and more exciting while I'm young and I can. Besides, Cambridge will empty more of the people I care about in the next year or two. I just want a change. The two things I'll miss are the easy access mates, and Great St Marys - I really haven't come across a better church choir that admits women. That will be a depressing loss.
  3. I want to have had a high-powered job of some sort. I just lack the drive to go out and do this though; there is drive when it's social things I'm doing for my friends, but most of the work-for-money things I could do don't attract me at the moment. I should look harder. I want to play at being important for a bit. Deconstructing 'high-powered' is a bit of a conundrum, though. I've always enjoyed being the centre of a crazy web of people and demands, and I would like to be able to translate that into something I get paid for, which just isn't the case at the moment. What I have now, while it can be intellectually interesting, which is good, doesn't need enough from me in terms of effort and activity to keep me engaged. It might be that I'm looking in the wrong place - it's not bluechip that I'm after necessarily, just something that demands all of my time and for which I'm prepared to generate the energy to follow through. I suspect this will be an ambition I don't achieve, but we'll see.
  4. Besides, ambition 3 sort of conflicts with ambition 4. This is only recently a concrete ambition, but it's an attractive concept I've been kicking around for a while. I want to have a piece of creative writing published. I've had a few articles printed in a sort of amateur way, on occasion, and a couple of pictures online, but I want to try and write something worth actually printing on paper. Poetry, or something in prose if I work up the courage. We'll see. So I guess if it ever took off, then this would feed in to ambition 3. Million to one chance. But I'm feeling proactive about writing at the moment, as might be obvious from the quickfire posts of the last few days.
  5. In ten years' time, I want to have a long term partner. I think. I don't want that at the moment, which is novel in itself - it's really been the last 6 months, and possibly not even that, when I've really felt content with my freedom and my own company. I have the wanderlust. I want to go out and meet people and play and not be tied down to anyone or anywhere. I want to explore. But I do want to be with someone, sometime. Probably not someone particularly conventional in what they want out of life or how they look at the world - I'm pretty sure I'm not really conventional in those things in many ways. I want to be happy and relaxed and confident in what I'm doing and who I'm with, and busy and engaged with the world and what's happening in it. Those things are hardly unusual, but I think that the things that might take me there are not things that would take anyone else there.
It's kind of reassuring to know that I can put down a few things that I want from my life. It will feel crap in ten years' time when I haven't achieved those things, though. But perhaps I can say I'm allowed not to have achieved them if I can substitute them with something else? As I said before, things I want change ALL the time. I have the attention span of a kitten.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Once and for all. And spinach.

WHY, if you could have a dog, would you have children? And WHY, once you had a dog, would you WANT children?

This is something that is foxing me. My friends all seem to think that I'm someone who'll definitely have children. I suppose statistics are probably on their side. But seriously. WHY would you want them? Pets - nice, simple, adoring, funny. Children - nightmare hassle. Never. I'll be crazy aunt to my brothers' children. After all, Ed has a girl he actually seems quite keen on for once, it's all looking promising. But no. I have enough trouble running my own life without trying to run someone else's as well.

And with that, a recipe.

This is Tamsin's spinach idea, which I've tweaked a tiny bit and will continue to tweak, because it's that kind of thing.

A bag of spinach (I reckon about 100g a person, but that's a guess...)
A lump of butter, or a large splash of really good olive oil - enough to coat the bottom of a pan big enough to fit all the spinach in
A tablespoon of pine nuts per person
A clove of garlic between two people, sliced thinly
Other things - either the juice of half a lemon or a dessertspoonful of balsamic between two people, and, depending on whether it's going to go with whatever you're serving with this, a grating of parmesan
Black pepper, salt

Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan, and when lightly coloured add whichever fat you had to hand. Throw in the garlic and toss around. Turn the heat down and add the spinach. Carefully manipulate the spinach to coat it in the flavoured butter - it's quite important to get the pine nuts and the garlic off the bottom of the pan at this point or they risk burning. I always get the spinach everywhere, no pan is big enough for whatever quantity of spinach you're cooking. Turn the heat off and put the lid on the pan while you tweak whatever your main course was. Give the spinach a stir - it should be mostly wilted or on the way. If it's not, put the lid back on and put it back on a gentle heat for a minute. Just before serving, season with lemon or balsamic, black pepper, and parmesan if you fancy it. Taste - you will probably need a bit of salt, unless you're using parmesan or are having a salty main alongside.

I made the meatballs thing. I need to find another easy-to-cook, easy-to-like meal to make for random dinners. I'm quite keen on something along these lines from Smitten Kitchen but not sure it's really nice enough for a NICE dinner. Quite easy to tweak the concept for veggies though, and more or less impossible to dislike. We shall see. Will test. Probably on Carl. He suffers.

A change in outlook?

Is it bad that I now seem to view theatres as much more fun when the people on the stage are building set or plugging Stuff in than when the auditorium is full and the people on the stage are actors? It's been a very long time since I saw a play that wasn't fringe, of one sort or another. I saw Wicked a few months ago, but that's a musical, and an entirely different proposition, and ENO's Carmen before that. Again different. Actually, I've had a bit of an opera year - I saw Love and Other Demons at Glyndebourne in the summer, which was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had in a theatre. Stuff at the ADC isn't the same, either - and even then I really can't remember what the last thing I saw was. Into the Woods possibly? Been a while, and still it was a musical. None of the things I've mentioned were my idea, either. This isn't like me. I Organise. Or currently, don't, but that's a whole other story. I do adore fringe theatre, and will make an effort to get to see things of that nature - in Edinburgh, or something local if it catches my eye. But I haven't made the effort to see high drama in AGES. The last time I went to anything like that was probably to see Streetcar at school - a VERY long time ago. It was brilliant, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it could have been done on film. Doing it on stage didn't add anything to it. That's part of the love affair with fringe stuff, I suppose. By fringe I think I mean anything that isn't straight narrative drama, but there are crossover things - like Oh What a Lovely War that come into both the mainstream and the fringe cultures. So maybe that's I'm more fussy than I was.

Currently I'm too busy with other things, and the theatre isn't drawing me ENOUGH to make the effort to go and see true classic drama - things I ought to have seen but haven't. I'll go to evensongs, though. Symptomatic of my move towards music over theatre? Who knows. Part of that is to do with the fact that I'm living in the world capital of choral music, and I won't be here forever, and I want to catch it while I can. Maybe if I move to one of theatre's most famous homes (I'm talking about London at this point, though there are a few other places that would qualify), I'll see more theatre? Who knows. I'm hopefully going to go and see the Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen Waiting for Godot next year. That I AM excited about. Weird, post-modern, usually fringe-type theatre, but on a big stage with two of my heroes. Ah. So maybe I haven't lost my passion for this after all. And seeing that on a stage and not on film has to rectify a large hole in my theatrical knowledge.

Never buy an English graduate books or theatre tickets. And in most cases, films. In my case, it's fine so long as they're action films or the better sort of RomCom. Or trashy sitcoms. The lowness of my taste in films is matched only by the height of my taste in theatre, books, and choral music. Or something. Anyway. My hot chocolate is finished, and I need to go to Tescos before I head out on tonight's dinner date... Also, post is rambly and requires organisation. Maybe I will re-jig later.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A little more from 'Oranges...'

'Walls protect and walls limit. It is in the nature of walls that they should fall. That walls should fall is the consequence of blowing your own trumpet.'


'At one time or another there will be a choice: you or the wall.

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

The City of Lost Chances is full of those who chose the wall.

All the king's horses and all the king's men.

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Then is it necessary to wander unprotected through the land?

It is necessary to distinguish the chalk circle from the stone wall.

Is it necessary to live without a home?

It is necessary to distinguish physics from metaphysics.

Yet many of the principles are the same.

They are, but in the cities of the interior all things are changed.

A wall for the body, a circle for the soul.'


'I knew a woman in another place. Perhaps she would save me. But what if she were asleep? What if she sleepwalked beside me and I never knew?'

Monday, 15 December 2008


There are some people for whom it is impossible, however hard they try, ever to look elegant, or even neat. I am one of those people. I don't know why it should be. The curly hair is part of it, but even that. The suit, the shoes, the shirt - they can all be tastefulish in themselves, but on one person they will come together and look polished, and on another they will always look awkward. Like me in dresses. Me in suits, I just look like a schoolgirl. Worse, in fact, because I looked neat and polished as a schoolgirl, and could even pull of the chic slightly bedraggled old jumper look. I will put the clothes on tomorrow, and they might even be ironed by then, but I won't look anything more than functional - so I hardly see the point in ironing. The shirt is new, and fits perfectly, for once, which might be something I suppose. Mostly I think elegance is to do with looking comfortable. In which case, I ought to look most elegant and together either in old tracksuit bottoms and a fleece 4 sizes too big, or in jeans, boots and a knitted jumper. Bah.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

I have found The Answer. Twice.

The First Answer

Disclaimer: The following should not be read looking for any agenda. There isn't one. Except that I found the following very important, and wanted to share it.

'One day, a lovely woman bought the emperor a revolving circus operated by midgets.
The midgets acted all of the tragedies and many of the comedies. They acted them all at once, and it was fortunate that Tetrahedron had so many faces, otherwise he might have died of fatigue.
They acted them all at once, and the emperor, walking round his theatre, could see them all at once, if he wished.
Round and round he walked, and so learned a very valuable thing:
that no emotion is the final one.'


'I miss God. I miss the company of someone utterly loyal. I still don't think of God as my betrayer. The servants of God, yes, but servants by their very nature betray. I miss God who was my friend. I don't even know if God exists, but I do know that if God is your emotional role model, very few human relationships will match up to it. I have an idea that one day it might be possible, I thought once it had become possible, and that glimpse has set me wandering, trying to find the balance between earth and sky. If the servants hadn't rushed in and parted us, I might have been disappointed, might have snatched off the white samite to find a bowl of soup. As it is, I can't settle, I want someone who is fierce and will love me until death and know that love is strong as death, and be on my side for ever and ever. I want someone who will destroy me and be destroyed by me. There are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other's names. Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name. Romantic love has been diluted into paperback form and has sold thousands and millions of copies. Somewhere it is still in the original, written on tablets of stone. I would cross seas and suffer sunstroke and give away all I have, but not for a man, because they want to be the destroyer and never be destroyed. That is why they are unfit for romantic love. There are exceptions and I hope they are happy.

The unknownness of my needs frightens me. I do not know how huge they are, or how high they are, I only know that they are not being met. If you want to find out the circumference of an oil drop, you can use lycopodium powder. That's what I'll find. A tub of lycopodium powder, and I will sprinkle it on to my needs and find out how large they are. Then when I meet someone I can write up the experiment and show them what they have to take on. Except they might have a growth rate I can't measure, or they might mutate, or even disappear. One thing I am certain of, I do not want to be betrayed, but that's quite hard to say, casually, at the beginning of a relationship. It's not a word people use very often, which confuses me, because there are different kinds of infidelity, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it. By betrayal, I mean promising to be on your side, then being on somebody else's.'


'But history is a string full of knots, the best you can do is admire it, and maybe knot it up a bit more. History is a hammock for swinging and a game for playing. A cat's cradle. She said those sorts of feelings were dead, the feelings she had once had for me. There is a certain seductiveness about dead things. You can ill treat, alter and recolour what's dead. It won't complain.'

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, 2001, first published in Great Britain by Pandora, 1995)

The above is a book that has been on my 'to read' list for ages, though I'm glad I hadn't read it until now. She wrote it when she was 24 - my age. I wonder if I can make that an excuse for part of the way it resonates for me - there are a great many more reasons, but that is perhaps the most prosaic and the only one I'm prepared to get out in public at the moment. The lesbian elements, as well as many of the religious ones, are by the by for the most part. I think the explicit statement above about men being 'unfit for romantic love' is partisan and generalising, but it is interesting nonetheless, particularly if you substitute 'some people' for 'men', as it were. But this is almost more a philosophy than a novel, written with enormous power and huge skill. Virginia Woolf, 50 years on. I need to read more. There aren't many books that when I reach the last page, I turn back to the beginning and start again - this one I did, and I've nearly read it twice in two days (there have to be some useful things you can do sitting at the back of a cold church in a long concert, between numbers with which you are involved). I will probably need to add more extracts as I find them, reading this time.

I need to find time to write properly again, for myself. I CAN write, I know I can. I've just not found the time to pursue it properly. I want more sonnets, and maybe I'll try and write some pieces of Actual Prose. Short ones, and nothing explicitly narrative - I have no ability with plot - but something between poetry and prose. I have no time. That's the kind of thing you need to do every day to keep any sort of progression, and I'd usually write my diary, given the choice. I don't know. It's late, and I need to show you the other Answer.

The Second Answer

This is so much less serious than the above, but a record needs to be made of it nonetheless. I was in London yesterday, for an ex-Binson Christmas, with turkey, too much food and boozed up carols. (And my homemade mincemeat, with which I was very pleased.) My Secret Santa present (courtesy of Kate) was a rather lovely bag, and a bar of chocolate. Not just ANY bar of chocolate. A bar of 100% cacao from this guy. It was featured on TV earlier this year, and Kate and I had trailed around Selfridges looking for it with no luck. She found me some for Christmas! I was SO excited. I got back at 1am this morning and have since spent 6 hours in Great St Mary's, so had little time to play with it until I got back post-concert this evening. I unwrapped it and just smelled it. Even to my slightly blocked nose, it's amazing. It has an incredible perfume - rich and dark and chocolatey. Of course, it's very bitter as it is, since there's nothing in it but cacao, so if you taste it it's hard to get past that to the flavour beyond. Grate about a half a centimetre off the length of the bar into a mug's worth of milk with a dessertspoon full of runny honey, a (large, if you're me) pinch of cayenne, a small pinch of cinnamon and a grating or two of fresh nutmeg, and you have the most sublime hot chocolate you've ever tasted (the spices are pretty close to Traci's standard additions, but you could do all sorts of things - I intend to go with cardamon next time, perhaps with something blossom water, if I had it, or maybe a grating or two of orange zest...or a REALLY good vanilla extract...). Really. I've made hot chocolate many many ways, but this is really something else. And it's now a good half hour after I intended to be in bed, but I have been excited.

ETA: I neglected to factor in the high caffeine content of 100% cacao. Not had much sleep. :-(. I will have to remember this in future...