Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Points of View

In some ways, since I changed jobs last, nothing has changed - and at the same time, everything has changed. Not only am I in the same building as I was when I was in the Cabinet Office, I am in the same room, only 2 floors above. What a difference those two floors make though! There is a meeting room next to the office, and when I look out of the window there, my view is a higgledy piggledy hotch potch of roof tops - and I love it.

It even looked beautiful today, with a veil of rain drawn over it. The part of the building that office is in is the old part of the building, the part built in the 1930s. One of the other offices I work in is in the new part of the building (my team is split over several offices) and it is all steel and glass. Normally I don't find the newer part of the building pleasing to look at, but in the glass lift up to the fourth floor, you get a great view of the city, all the way to the hill where my little-library-on-a-hill is planted.

The roof is also glass in that part of the building, and as I stepped out of the lift, I could see the big fat rain drops splattering heavily against the glass, and caught the merest hint of the scent of rain in the air. The village on the hill looked smudgy and blurred from all the rain.

Not a good day to be outside - but a beautiful day to be inside, and observing it from that point of view.

Now I am home again, and it is blissful to be here. I have continued my decluttering - this evening I did my bedside table. There is so, so much to do, and yet with every little area that I tick off, I feel so much better - almost lighter.

I have a charity shop bag that I am steadily filling, and recycle what is not good enough to go to the charity shop. I was meant to be at a boot sale with a dear friend at the weekend just gone, but a family matter kept me away. Part of me is thinking of continuing to add to my boot sale pile, but I made the happy discovery that you can trade in some books with amazon - so I need to see which of the books I have ready to go I can do that with. It looks really straight forward - you find the book on amazon, it offers you a trade in price, you type in the isbn number to confirm it is the same book, and then they give you a postage paid address label to print. You send off your book(s) and then they credit your account with an amazon gift card to the agreed amount. Lets hope it is a simple in practise as it is in theory!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

What Matters...

Pretty Nostalgic is one of my favourite magazines, and I love it so much that I can't read an issue in one sitting. It only comes out every other month, which I actually really love - I would so much rather read one really good issue less frequently, than have a poorer issue more often. The quality of the writing and articles is really good, and they catch my interest. Added to that the great design, the gorgeous heavy matte paper they print it on - and it really is a delight of a magazine.

Issue 8 was no exception - I still haven't got quite to the end of it, but am savouring it slowly, and have loved what I have read so far. They have started the 'Pretty Nostalgic Pledge' which reads 'Spend Wisely...Waste Less...Appreciate More' - wise words to live by, indeed.

But it was an article about Josephine Tey which has really given me much to think about this month. As soon as I saw her name, my interest was peaked, as I read a fictional murder mystery featuring Josephine Tey, who was a real-life mystery author. A moment later, I spotted that the article was by Nicola Upson, who wrote that very book - and so I refilled my teacup, and read on.

As interesting as it was to learn a bit more about her writing, and Josephine Tey, it was this passage which interested me:

"My partner, Mandy, had a friend called Irene who died recently, a few days short of her 100th birthday. Mandy and I would often visit her at her Plantagenet cottage where she'd lived since she got married in 1935. Irene was an amazing woman who told remarkable stories, and her home was full of everything that had mattered to her over those long years, so being with her was like walking straight into the world I write about..."

...her home was full of everything that had mattered to her... - that is what got me thinking. I have been thinking about decluttering recently, and have been starting to work through the Brocante Home Trash It or Treasure It programme - but I haven't really got very far so far. But that phrase, those words...if someone walked into my home now, would they see the things that mattered to me? I am lucky enough to have a lot of things that do matter to me, but equally, there are magazines that I have read, and wouldn't miss if I gave them away or recycled them. Gifts where the intention was more precious perhaps than the physical expression of it. Books that I have read, but is time to set free. If someone was to walk in and think that all of what they could see were the things that mattered most to me...well what would that say?

And so, inspired by that, and a dose of Little House on the Prairie (how I long to live in a log cabin sometimes!) I decided it was time to stop thinking, and just start. And whilst there would be a good argument for starting with the most cluttered area, instead, I decided to start with one of the more neglected areas - our airing cupboard. I have just come back from a trip to the charity shop where I have donated two sets of really good towels, a bedding set, several aprons, and a few other bits and bobs. The truth was, lucky though I was to have lots of really nice towels, I don't need four different sets. And somehow, by having less, it feels like having more. The airing cupboard is now a lot less full, and it is easy to see what we have got, and to get to it. Knowing that someone else is going to get use out of the things we have given away feels good, too. And the things that are left - well, it sounds silly to say 'the towels matter' - but they do. One set is a very good set which Mum bought for us when we moved in together. She works in a shop which sells them, and as she gets a staff discount, we were able to have something much nicer than we would otherwise have been able to afford. And there is something about feeling like you are getting a hug from your Mum when you use a towel that she gave you, and you remember using the same kind of towels at home.

Rather than hunting for wherever the clean tea-towels ended up, they are neatly stacked all together. I have put the duvet cover, sheet, and pillow case from our other bedding set into the remaining pillowcase, so it is all neatly kept together.

A curious thought, that less feels more abundant than more. But perhaps having more than you need, can actually be quite draining on the soul?

I have a long way to go, I know. I want this to be a very thorough process, and that will take time. I want to do it all at once, but I don't have the luxury of the time all in one block to do it. So I am going to try and satisfy myself with doing bit by bit, drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf, but doing it really well. Setting things free to find new homes. Making space in my life to appreciate what we have, and hopefully to make space in our lives for new adventures.

So, looking around, is what you see what matters to you? Or like me, are those things being drowned out slightly by other things, things it is time to set free?

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Where Were You When You Heard The News?

In my little corner of England, summer has swept in and is dazzling us with plenty of sunshine. Monday was hot and still, one of the hottest days that I can remember. I was working from home during the day, and sat with my feet in a bucket of cold water, just to keep cool enough to concentrate on my work.

In heat like this, it is hard even to sleep. The nights seem slightly restless, and even when you do finally doze off, there is a part of you that seems to stay awake, murmuring gently and slightly plaintively that it is so, so hot. When it is time to get up, our radio switches on to the Today programme on Radio 4, and it seems that rather than wake up straight away, I slowly become conscious of listening to the news, and then realising I must be awake.

So it was Monday morning. And one of the first things I heard, was the news that there had been so much speculation about - that the Duchess of Cambridge had gone to hospital to have her baby. During the day, from time to time, I checked the news, but nothing. And then, in the early evening, we left to visit a friend, where we had the most magical evening, and delicious dinner imaginable.

We sat in her courtyard garden at the back of her lovely little cottage, surrounded by sweet peas and blooming plants. Her husband-to-be lit tiny tealights which glimmered away as the gloaming slipped quietly into the twilight, and then they cooked us dinner. They made paella, in a paella pan, on a little camp stove, right in the middle of the table. It was such a relaxed and delightful way to have dinner cooked - we all took it in turns to stir from time to time, and it was just heavenly and relaxing.

We normally see each other quite often, but as we get nearer and nearer to their wedding, understandably they have more demands on their time - and so we chatted and chatted and chatted, until a fat drop of rain splashed down, and heralded more to come. So we hurried and scurried and swept everything inside, and then sat down with a cup of tea. All of a sudden, we remembered that we hadn't checked the news for ages - and so Carl did - and we heard that Prince George Alexander Louis had been born late in the afternoon.

I remember being at secondary school, when apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as president - and one of my teachers saying 'you will always remember where you were when you heard this news'. This is the first time an heir to the throne has been born while I have been old enough to be aware of it (there are a few months difference in age between me and Prince William) which feels quite momentous - and as if that perfect, magical evening spent with friends wasn't enough, I will always remember it for the extra reason, that it is where I was when I heard that the new baby Prince had been born.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Howard's End Is On The Landing

While I am on my sabbatical from libraries, I find that I have to put a little more effort into finding things to read. When you are surrounded by books all day long, especially books that are constantly being borrowed, returned, packed up to be sent off to another branch, or unpacked, or displayed, it is so, so, easy to always have a list as long as your arm that you want to read.

I have my Persephone Project to work on (I have just re-ordered the very first title in the series to read - I started it last time, and it was reserved by another reader, so I had to return it) but I like to have at least one book on the go, and another lined up. I can of course still visit the library, and I often do, but in all the years I worked in libraries, I have rarely browsed as a reader normally would, and I am not very good at it.

Part of the problem is that it is hard to browse in a library you have worked in. You are slightly too familiar with the stock, and never lose the urge to tidy up a display, or reshelve something that is in the wrong place. So on Saturday, we took a little drive to the newly opened library in Springfield. It does feel good to work for an authority that is opening libraries, rather than shutting them, and this one is being run with the assitance of volunteers. It isn't a large library, but has the feeling of space and airiness in it which is lovely. And most heavenly of all, all the books are new. I have often thought that libraries are like the most wonderful bookshops where you don't have to pay, but never has this felt more real than browsing in that library (it is Springfield Library, should you like to visit it yourself). Being smaller, I wasn't quite as overwhlemed with the choice available as I sometimes am at larger branches. I came away with several craft books, a novel or two, and the feeling of utter luxury and abundnace.

Part of my desire to visit the library came from having driven past it the night before, on my way to book club. I had seen the architects plans when it was in the earliest stages of planning, and I was delighted by how much the library looked like the plans. Book club was at the home of the lovely Agnes, and when she pressed into my hands a brand new Kirstie Allsopp craft book that she had got from Springfield Library only that day, I was resolved that I needed to visit!

I wish I could take you to Agnes' home. It is a real reflection of her, and you leave feeling...better. Such is the same as spending time with Agnes. Always, you feel better. Her home is simple but lovely, filled with her paintings, and the conservatory opens into a garden filled with lush blooms. I am sure a lot of work goes into it, but she makes everything seem effortless. We drank tea from Denby teacups, and ate homemade fruit cake, and discussed Howard's End Is On The Landing by Susan Hill. Have you read it? If you haven't, rush out to your library, and borrow it now. I am willing to wager that you will love it enough to want to buy it.

I think it is fair to say at the start, that as much as I love Susan Hill, and as much as I love this book, if she wasn't Susan Hill, I could imagine this being a blog project rather than a book. But I am so glad that it is a book! Whilst looking for her copy of Howard's End, Susan Hill realised that she has many books that she either hand't read at all, or wanted to re-read, and so resolved to spend a year 'reading from home' - that is, only reading what she already owned.

If this book were only about that, it would be lovely in itself, but it is more than that. She muses on the fonts that are used in books, how we arrange and organize our books, why we don't read some books, ponders on poetry, talks about travelogues, discusses diaries...she evokes the atmosphere of the London Library so well that I am determined to buy myself a subscription just as soon as I can afford one, and relates all manner of meetings with writers such as T.S. Eliot and Edith Sitwell.

I know it is said you should never judge a book by its cover (although publishers know that we do, and spend a great deal of money on this!) but the cover of this book appealed to me enoromously - it shows the spines of some old bound books, close up - one with the title of the book itself, and the author's name, and the other with the subtitle. It reminded me of a notebook that my Mum bought for me several years ago, when I got the job at my little library on the hill. It is a hardcover notebook, only a bit smaller than Howard's End Is On The Landing, and the cover is the spines of old books, lined up on a bookshelf. I had resisted writing in it until now, because I knew that it was meant for something special, and that I needed to wait and find out what that was. Well, this is it. I using it as I read Howards End Is On The Landing to make notes of the books and authors that she recommends that I want to read for myself. And when I read my next book, I will do the same. I so often come across a lovely phrase that I want to pin down on the page to savour, or a word to look up, or else any number of other things to look up. A piece of music or poetry mentioned, or a map of just where a particular place is, or so many other things. From now on, they will all go down in here....a kind of reading journal, but more.

When I read the following passage, it resounded deeply in me. It is that feeling of reading someone elses words, and seeing how eloquently they have captured something that you yourself feel, but either didn't know it until that moment, or could never have dreamed of articulating so well:

Books help to form us. If you cut me open, you will find volume after volume, page after page, the contents of every one I have ever read, somehow transmuted and transformed into me. Alice in Wonderland. the Magic Faraway Tree. The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Book of Job. Bleak House. Wuthering Heights. The Complete Poems of W H Auden. The Tale of Mr Tod. Howard''s End. What a strange person I must be. But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books and only the same books as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA.”

As well as giving me plenty of ideas for what to read next, it has made me realise that my own bookshelves need some attention. It has been in the back of my mind for some time now to design my own book plate, and take off all the books, one by one, decide if they still need to live with me, or be set free to find a new home. To rearrange them, and hopefully discover some treasures I had forgotten I have...to find old friends, and fall in love with my books once more.

This is a comforting, cosy read. It feels almost like having free reign to rummage through someone's bookshelves to get to know them better. I now have the first in her detective series on order from the library, and a list of other books to order. This is definitley the kind of book to settle down with, notepad and pen next to you, and a full pot of tea to hand, and with an air of happy expectation, open the cover, and begin. How could you resist a book which starts:

The journey began one early autumn afternoon, in the old farmhouse where i live, surrounded by the genly rising hills and graceful trees, the ploughed and planted fields, the hedgerows and flower borders and orchards and old stone walls, the deer and birds and hedgehogs and rabbits, the foxes and badgers and moths and bees of Gloucestershire. I climbed two flights of elm-wood staris to the top landing in search of a book, and found myself embarked on a year of travelling through the books of a lifetime....

Monday, 22 July 2013

Summer Days

At last, at last, summer is here. And not only the sunshine, but the feeling of summer. I have been so busy with work, and several side projects that when I looked at my calendar at the weekend, I had to blink in surprise. I knew it was July...I knew it was mid July...but suddenly it seems it is late July! And only two weeks until my summer holiday!

I can hardly wait - we are going back to Aldeburgh, to stay with our friends in a darling little cottage not a five minute wander from the sea. There is something magical and tranquil and restful about Aldeburgh, getting there is like a long drink of cool water on a hot summer day, or a long slow sigh, followed by a deep breath of fresh air. I wonder what it says about me though, that my first thought, on realising how soon our holiday will be here, wasn't to plan what to pack, but what to read, and make!

I am working on a simple crochet granny square blanket in the moment, in lovely shades of moss green. Rather than being made up of lots of little granny squares, the whole blanket is, in effect, one giant granny square. Although having said that, a bit of me would rather like to take my ripple stitch blanket to work on, which is inspired by the seaside, although this time, the pleasures of Lyme Regis.

No trip to Aldeburgh is complete without a visit to the bookshop, but I shall take a book with me at least - and I have ordered one of the Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron - Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron. I can't wait for it to arrive!

As far as what to pack clothes-wise, then it will be lots of summer dresses and swimming costumes, so I can go swimming in the sea in the morning as often as possible. I shall take my big pink hat with me too - last year, when I walked along the coast to the next village wearing it, I was recognised in the post office the next day!

I suddenly feel refreshed, too. As much as it is lovely to have summer, September will soon be here, with it's newly-sharpened-pencil scent and days full of promise of new starts and learning. I have started a notebook, jotting down books I want to read, to make my own reading list. It is so long since I came home from school with one of those! I have started to think about the things I would like to learn, and how I want to learn them. Such a lovely, promising time of year. Adventures to be had in the sun, memories to be made to last us through the cooler days....