Saturday 31 January 2009


Well, goodness, what a Musings-lite January it's been!

Let's get the excuses bit out of the way first:

Huge backlog of urgent editorial work following time off with flu and prolonged bout of post-flu lethargy; dog in quarantine with kennel cough, so no incentive to march along beach taking random snaps of tbta/m/e; pathetically low (borderline zero) novel reading rate, owing to inability to stay awake in the evenings (cf post-flu lethargy above); general January-induced lack of interest in anything much at all and urge to snuggle under duvet with glass of Baileys instead of galvanising brain into coherent activity when not actually at my desk working.

Now for the apologies and thanks:

Apologies to all those who have visited Musings in recent weeks and found absolutely nothing new for ages, and most especially to those who have been kind enough to give my blog an honorable mention/link, including Martin Edwards, the Caustic Cover Critic, Leah and Rebecca, aka the Oxford Reader on Mark Thwaite's Book Depository blog - to all of whom many, many thanks.

Thanks also to all who have left comments and sent emails enquiring after my well-being and asking if/when daily offerings from the Muddy Island will resume - I have been so touched to receive your messages, which prove once again, if proof were needed, that the blogosphere is the Global Village incarnate, and full of the nicest people, and that No Woman Is An Island, even if she lives on one.

I went for a brief but hearty trudge on the beach this afternoon, in the face of the most piercing, bitter wind, and took the photos above.

So, wither Musings? For a while, I really didn't miss blogging at all - there seemed to be so many other, more important, things to worry about, both in my own life, and, more pressingly, in the lives of those around me. It's been a tough month for everyone, I fear. And earning a living, meeting deadlines for clients, and trying to dispatch finished jobs back to publishers faster than new ones arrive at my door - these are the things which have had to take priority over blogging.

But today, returning from my blustery walk, looking through my snaps, and catching up with last week's Observer (that's how far behind I am!), which was absolutely bursting with reviews of must-see films, must-read books and must-listen-to music . . . I felt a sudden whoosh of inspiration and a lifting, at last, of the old SADs. It's the last day of January. Which means that Spring is only just around the corner! (Well, almost.) And what a difference that makes.

Anyway, by way of a bit of catching up, above are a few pics from earlier in the month. I'm fascinated by the way the ebbing tide leaves such discrete, contrasting bands of colour and texture on the beach. I've no more idea of the science that lies behind this than I have of the science that lies behind anything else, and it would boggle my mind to try (I take perverse pride, even now, in having achieved an all-time low of 3% in a Physics exam when I was 14: I hope my children are not reading this!), but I delight in its aesthetic effects so much that I could happily gaze at them for hours at a time.
Also, just to prove that I have engaged with life beyond the desk and duvet, albeit very slightly, below are some photos from the London Boat Show which I hope will appeal to Chandlery Fetishists of my acquaintance.

And, finally, a compilation from Steve Tilston, whom I heard at Colchester Arts Centre a couple of weeks ago:

Monday 5 January 2009

Saturday 3 January 2009



*The beach yesterday afternoon (and the house isn't, regular readers will already have surmised, mine).

Waltzing the weekend away . . .

One step for aching, and two steps for breaking
Waltzing's for dreamers and losers in love
One step for sighing and two steps for crying
Waltzing's for dreamers and losers in love

. . . not a good song for staving off the SADs, but it's been going round and around in my head for days for no reason I can fathom (apart from being memorably beautiful).


There's still nothing quite like going 'home' over Christmas - in my case Little Sandhurst, in the small corner of Berkshire that borders both Surrey and Hampshire. My parents moved there when I was 4. I left when I was 18 and, apart from a few months in my early 20s before I moved to London, I have never lived there since. I feel little affinity for the village or its surrounding countryside, have kept in touch with few people who still live there and have never been tempted to return for good. And yet, purely because my parents are there, it is 'home', and a Christmas without a visit would seem very bleak indeed.

And for a couple who are 79 and 80 respectively, my parents still put on a remarkably good festive show. Everything is beautifully decorated, the larder and fridge are groaning with fabulous home-made food, meals are plenteous, and sherry decanters are always to hand, glinting with anticipation. The nearby woods make an excellent playground for the children, and Grandpa loves to join the expeditions.

The traditional carol singing round the piano was cancelled this year, owing to various croaking and/or lost voices (mine included), but we managed a bit of homemade music-making nevertheless. It was probably a ghastly racket and wouldn't have stood up to the scrutiny of any outsiders, but we enjoyed ourselves!

Passing the time

Well, what else is one supposed to do on a journey round the M25 which is supposed to take 2.5 hours but actually takes 4.5 (as ours did last Sunday)?

. . . so here are some pics taken at the Dartford Crossing over the Thames, from the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge as the traffic edged along painfully slowly. The long views look west towards London, where various towers, including Canary Wharf, were brightly illuminated by the low sunlight - but needless to say are not clearly visible on these fuzzy pics taken through filthy windows!

The Comfort of Saturdays

It may have been noticed that, in my Christmas Day slump on the sofa, I was a few pages into Alexander McCall Smith's latest Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Comfort of Saturdays . And I found it very bit as enjoyable as its predecessors, despite its being even smaller in its compass and concerns.

Although it deals, theoretically, as ever, with issues of life and death, this is not a novel which will appeal to those who enjoy a broad sweep of place, character or ideas. It would, indeed, be fairly baffling, I suspect, to anyone who hadn't read and appreciated the previous novels in the series. But for fans of Isabel Dalhousie, it is like taking a very pleasant stroll around Edinburgh with an agreeable companion, with some light ethical wrestling thrown in to keep the grey cells ticking over between cups of tea and visits to Cat's Deli.

The most striking aspect of this latest airing of Isabel's character for me was her increasing sense of fallibility. Despite having had a child with her much younger partner, Jamie - a musician - she feels, if not exactly unworthy of him, then constantly, naggingly disbelieving that she can possible either deserve, or hang on to, a man of such beauty, talent and, above all . . . youth. She cannot believe or quite accept her good fortune and, consequently, sees all about her tiny hints and signs that her fears are not unfounded.

Is Isabel, clear-sighted solver of other people's problems, right in her reading of the 'clues' about Jamie? This sub-plot was, for me, more arresting than the central 'mystery' in the book - a doctor consumed with guilt and shame over an accidental death he may not have caused. McCall Smith handles Isabel's desperate doubts about Jamie's fidelity with great compassion and his unusually acute insight into the female psyche. She's an intelligent woman, a philosopher, and yet she is also every woman who's ever found herself in love with a man in whom she is in awe, and she simply cannot stop herself from doubting the true depth of his affection for her.

The detailed rendering of the physical setting for Isabel's happiness, in her garden at the end of the novel, was for me faintly reminiscent of Katherine Mansfield's short story Bliss - but still too reminiscent to be entirely comfortable. Can a novel of ideas (and one in a series) embrace such perfect happiness without presaging some darkness yet to come? I have found this aspect of The Comfort of Saturdays haunting - which is not something a McCall Smith novel has ever done to me before.

The Maxi Micro

A top hit for Christmas was the fabulous Maxi Micro Scooter I bought for SD#3 from the Mersea-based Micro Scooters Ltd. SD#3 had wanted and wanted one of these, ever since having spent time last summer on her friend's Mini Micro (designed for younger children).

We were very excited when we heard that the Maxi would be available in the UK in time for Christmas. I was slightly sceptical about the 'joystick' steering method - I'd imagined that scooting along hunched over traditional handlebars would be more satisfying. But, once she got the hang of it (very quickly), SD#3 absolutely loved the skateboard-like effect of cruising along on the joystick-operated Maxi and hasn't looked back. The back wheel comes with a brake, and she is already adept at negotiating every kind of pavement, the walkway down to the beach and, indeed the woodland walks near her grandparents' home.
Robust, good-looking, extremely stable and manoeuvrable (gosh, I wish I were describing myself here, but sadly I'm not!) - the Maxi Micro is going to revolutionise the walk to school (and it will be rather tempting to ride it back myself, but I was assured by the young sales assistant when I went to collect it that I undoubtedly exceed the recommended weight limit . . . so I'd better not).

Catching up

Hello and Happy New Year!!!

I'm back from my travels, and also much recovered from the fluey virus which reduced me to a shivering wreck under a pile of blankets for a goodly number of the Days of Christmas. It was too much to hope that I would escape unscathed by the bug that had felled the rest of the family and numerous friends in recent weeks, I. And I didn't.

I've already brought you Boxing Day and the famous Mersea Swim. This post backtracks to Christmas Day itself, which started for me with Midnight Mass at the West Mersea parish church (which I'd also visited earlier on Christmas Eve with SDs 2 and 3 for the family carol service). Walked back along the silent, frosty streets (well, they grew quieter the further I walked from the pub, which was still rocking at 12.30) to find stockings hanging at the foot of the stairs, expectantly awaiting Father Christmas's visit.

And, miraculously, old FC did his stuff, and the stockings were filled by morning - hooray!
I don't know how he does it.

I was very pleased to have planned a relatively quiet Christmas Day, because (a) this afforded some useful sitting-down-and-reading-new-books time in the afternoon and (b) the fan oven gave out halfway through cooking the lunch!

Re (a) above, however, one of the problems with sitting down and reading a book after a certain age and following a certain amount of unaccustomed morning and lunchtime alcohol consumption is an irresistible tendency to fall asleep.

Re (b) above, mercifully, with a bit of juggling, the smaller, top oven coped admirably with the actual cooking, while the fading heat in the bottom oven kept things warm. The addition of a slug of brandy to each cup of coffee through the morning promoted an uncharacteristic degree of mellow calm in dealing with this slight technical hitch. Had there been a turkey to contend with, it might all have been rather more fraught. But as it was just the five of us, we had an unusual six-legged bird: a giant organic chicken with two of its own legs and four fat duck legs for good measure.
My lovely elder daughter hates having her photograph taken sooooo much that this is the closest she would allow me to get to a Christmas Day mug-shot. Proximity of MacBook, iPod, pen, notebook and medical textbook are a bit of a giveaway as to her identity, even if the posh togs are not!

SDs 2 and 3 are not so shy, and here they are showing off their new vehicles - a 4-wheel-drive. off-roading go-kart and a Maxi Micro scooter (about which I shall rhapsodise in a future blog post).