Salty plains

I always got my best ideas at bedtime, drifting in and out of sleep, the membrane between my conscious mind and the dark and salty plains of my undermind grown thin and permeable. In my industry, pictures shaped stories, and pictures were my jumping off point. I closed my eyes and waited for colours that had no name to splash into shapes on my inner eyelids, forming images that would become the panels. But I couldn’t fall into that deep green swampland of near sleep…

An early passage from Joshilyn Jackson’s “The Almost Sisters

A socialist who is interested in lust

“When I had nearly finished lunch, a serious-looking young couple, a man and a girl, cane in and sat at the bar and ordered a drink. Then they changed their minds and carried their drinks to the table next to mine. As he was fitting her chair in under her, the man said, evidently continuing their conversation, “All right, if you must have a definition I am a Socialist who is interested in lust.” I was fascinated, but he sat down and his voice dropped with him, and I heard nothing more from him until their lunch had been served, and then he said in a loud voice, as if he were astonished “The potatoes are very good here.” Another disappointing man, I thought…”

Maeve Brennan’s “The Long-Winded Lady”

Against fuzzy thinking

You might not recognise this woman, although you might also think she looks like a cross between Agatha Christie and Katharine Hepburn and is therefore somewhat familiar. She’s actually the author who took the pen name Rebecca West and covered the Nuremberg trials, wrote the first novel about shell shock (whilst WW1 was still going on), and later the definitive history of the Balkans in English.


She also taught herself Finnish because she thought she might want to write about Finland, and a biography of St Augustine because at the time there also wasn’t one in English and she wanted to read one.

In her 80s she was interviewed for the Paris Review by Marina Warner, And was as sharp, and sometimes dismissive, as ever. If you can’t find that interview directly, then this summary of it, and more broadly of West’s intellectual clarity, is excellent – and a good introduction to a blog worth reading for itself too.

Vast distances

Vast distances in my heart

I cross all day. I go home at night

and wait for you. Loneliness now

has a shape, a purpose.

I think of train stations, domed

ceilings, pigeons, old houses. Places where time

has been emptied.

Sue Sinclair “Love Poem III”

this knife, this fork

How much better is silence: the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary seabird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself bring myself.

Virginia Woolf – The Waves. For those feeling the overwhelm.

Crumbs confettied the tablecloth

“She tore the rolls down the middle and crumbs confettied the tablecloth. She smeared on parsley butter. The bread was oven-warm against her lips. The butter’s sweetness melted into the salt of the bread. Something in her uncoiled as her teeth sunk into its embrace. So the next date she asked for two, and the next date and the one after that. The crusts were always crisp and the centres always soft.”

“Gluten” by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan – a short story available for free on the internet via “At The Table”. 

It made me sad to leave the galley-proofs

It was when Martin York was especially upset that he would call me up to his office to talk to him. It made me sad to leave the galley-proofs of a novel by Cocteau or a new edition of Tender is the Night folder on my desk. Many of the Ullswater Press books were so good, so rare.

A far cry from Kensington – Muriel Spark. With the same postwar atmosphere (refugees having sweet cakes and lemon tea after the Oratory and before their lecture circuits; Kensington boarding houses and a woman of 28 as a war widow) as The Girls of Slender Means but even more moral detachment, and an unexpected happiness at the end. As calming as lemon tea.

Reading club


Time for a round up of things that have caught my eye recently, including some features from old favourites:

From Cup of Jo, these pieces on eating out with kids (love the tip that until the food comes you’re 100% with the kids, but once they fall into their food you can have an adult conversation then) and navigating life in a house with teenage boys

Talking of teenagers, here’s an incredibly touching article about a mother being able to see a new side to her daughter through Instagram. The story was so different from what I’d expected via the headline in an entirely good way.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus getting angry, and colleagues reassessing her career path in the light of social changes of the last 30 years. Interesting to see in a long career what gets picked out as it’s theme, and I think it says so much about the contemporary commentator.

Practical philanthropy (clearing “lay away” debt, meeting school meal payment debts, charities like The Beauty Banks or Refuaid) etc all get my vote and here two women cleared medical tuition fee debt for those who would otherwise never have paid off their costs of training.

Photo by the amazing Georgia Rose Hardy, who also came up with these: