The Daily Walk Continues

This is going to be mostly pictures because my right hand gets really sore when I type at the moment. Bloody rubbish for a writer.

Sunday’s Walk

On Sunday we broke with tradition and, instead of our usual tramp up Gallow Hill we went to the nature reserve. Actually it’s two nature reserves: one belongs to the Wildlife Club, and is very pretty and neat, the other is the Community Nature Reserve, and is somewhat wilder. But they are side by side, and the Wildlife Club has two of its members on the board of the other, so they’re almost the same thing. The lichen covered bench in the header image is just on the WC side of this:

At some point as we walked briskly along we saw a hare flash past. Later we heard a stock dove (the Husband saw it too, but I didn’t have my glasses on so it just looked like a fuzzy pigeon), apparently they’re quite rare in these parts.

On the way home we dropped into our local supermarket for supplies. We were almost out of milk, our fruit-bowl contained only two wizened oranges, and the Marmite jar was empty. How often is too often to go out to get food? I mean what is a good balance between hoarding and going out? At the moment we’re almost managing to last two weeks between shopping trips, but it’s my birthday next week and I’d quite like to be able to get something nice to cook. And maybe some cream to eat with the cake I plan to make. And maybe a bottle of something that sparkles. Would that be risking lives for my own selfish pleasure seeking?

Anyway, back to the walks!

On Monday we did go up the hill, but only to go over the top and out the back gate into a field, past some sheep, through another gate, and out onto a track. We could have gone left, into a forest (unnatural plantation, like a tree factory) but turned right and came to this rather nice spot.

On Tuesday we did the same thing, only at the track we turned left into the forest. We walked through that for a bit, then climbed over a fence (barbed wire and everything!) and out into a bog. It was a very bouncy walk. And then we came to this:

I do like a cleavage.

This was our longest walk yet, we normally do about four kilometres, but this was over six. By the time we got home I thought my hips were going to seize up so, rather than encourage that by sitting down, I made scones. It worked, after pottering about in the kitchen for half an hour they loosened up, and no stiffening occurred.

Wednesday we bypassed the hill, again, and took in Jenny’s view:

and a forest of larch trees with tiny, neon green buds dotting branches still garlanded with cones. We inadvertently disturbed a raven who started flying about madly and calling its warning. They are nesting at the moment, so we didn’t hang around too long.

The Husband was not amused at this tree’s having been newly cut down. That blob of twigs is a nest that will no longer be able to home the bird who built it.
The view of Moffat so beloved of Jenny.
Contender for door of the year.
Granddaughter, Charlotte (nearly 7!), was delighted to be ‘April Fooled’ by this photo I sent via WhatsApp.

Thursday was too windy for me so we didn’t go out for our daily exercise. Instead I tried to grind cacao nibs finely enough to flavour a cake. It didn’t work.

Today we are going to try something entirely different, walk-wise; if I can still function afterwards I’ll at least share some photos.


PS: Having been utterly unable to buy any paracetamol since this crisis took hold, I searched online and found a supply, it arrived the next day, in a plain card box. We now have enough for one person for five days, I’m hoping that will get us through.

Lockdown

As I said in my last post I seem to be having trouble concentrating on anything and am, thus, feeling a bit useless. My routine, which I prize amongst all things, isn’t serving its purpose. Or should I say, I’m not serving its purpose? I still get up at six, make coffee, and come straight to my work-room where I pick up my notebook and pencil, but the usual exciting spillage of ideas onto the pages isn’t happening. Instead I jot down something about the latest news and then sit and stare until my coffee goes cold.

I’m rather hoping that now we’re in lockdown in Scotland, with all non-essential movement prohibited, I’ll settle. Not because the prohibition of movement is something I’ve been longing for, but because knowing what I can and can’t do usually anchors me. I can make decisions when I know where I am, even if that’s a really bad place. I suspect that goes for most people: it’s not knowing; not knowing what you can and can’t do; not knowing what’s coming; not knowing what’s next and if it’s going to hurt or not, that drives us nuts and makes us act out of character. I think last week I was grieving for my normal, now I know it’s gone for the foreseeable future I actually feel better. I can make some plans, even if those plans are only what to have for supper.

Wild Garlic and Spaghetti image and recipe here.

As one walk (or cycle or run) for daily exercise is allowed Husband and I decided to add ‘daily walk’ to our routine*. Normally we exercise separately: he by donning waders and going fishing, me by jumping up and down on a trampoline for an hour. But, as it means being out of the house for most of the day, we assume fishing is off limits now. So walking together up Gallow Hill feels like a good compromise, and we’re hoping it will allow us to experience the arrival and development of spring to the full.

This is the bottom of the field beside the Rooty Path that leads up to the hill, I love that wood pile.

We had our first foray yesterday, it was freezing at the top, freezing and windy, but we saw buzzards displaying, and a pair of ravens flying overhead. We haven’t seen ravens over Gallow Hill before so are hoping they’re nesting nearby and we’ll see a whole family of them this summer.

We also saw a dunnock, a wren, and heard a coal tit singing. Today we saw jays and heard a chiffchaff (our first migrant of the season), and wandered down to Tank Wood on our way home to pick wild garlic. So we not only got a good bit of exercise, we also got dinner, and we only saw two other couples and a lone dog walker, all of whom were way more than the recommended two meters away. I think this is the way forward.


*Which also includes watching an episode of The Good Place every morning, in bed, with coffee, once Husband’s awake.

Header image: John Salvino on Unsplash

I Need a Haircut & Other Whinges

So, here we are then, all stuck inside waiting for the beast to sniff us out and come knocking on the door disguised as a friendly neighbour or lost delivery guy. We get a lot of lost delivery guys (both male and female) round here, hoping someone will know where the final package in the boot of their hatchback belongs. So it’s only a matter of time. Two people in this region have been bitten already, and now the predator is here I expect it’ll hang around until it’s done as much damage as possible. The thing is, what to do in the meantime?

Image: Bailey Torres on Unsplash

Since the start of the year I’ve been happily ensconced in my workroom working on the basics of my craft. To help me I have a stack of books: my old and much thumbed Oxford Thesaurus of English; an Oxford English Dictionary; a 2011 Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (much recommended!); Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage (ditto!); an Oxford Modern English Grammar; and the international edition (10th) of A Glossary of Literary Terms by MH Abrams and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. Every morning, in the light of one or several of these books, from six til ten, I examine sentence construction, both by looking at the sentences of favourite writers/books, and by making up my own. I’ve been having a ball.

Where I feel I am when I sit with a pile of books working on cleft constructions (image:  Clay Banks on Unsplash)

Last week I was in schools teaching imaginative writing to five-thirteen year olds for four days, but I still worked on those sentences before having to go out. I set my alarm for five in order to do so. By the time I got home each afternoon (fourish) I was so tired all I could do was stare at my feet till bed time. But I couldn’t imagine not doing a couple of hours of my own work every morning, it was more important than eating breakfast. This week, however, things have changed. This week, now it’s become eye-wateringly clear that the monster is here and it’s going to get us, and we’re all being advised to self-isolate to ‘flatten the curve,’ I can’t concentrate on determinatives or positive paucal indefinite pronouns.

Yesterday we went out and stocked up on frozen vegetables and tinned sardines, and it felt like the last time I’d be able to leave the house for some time. As I rarely leave the house you’d think this wouldn’t be a problem, but it seems it is, I don’t quite know why. I like my own company; I like sitting here all day trying to solve the problem of getting a minor character from one place to another; I like idly picking up a book and losing hours trying to decide which is the Head Phrase in a Kafka sentence. But I can’t seem to do any of those things right now.

Image: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Right now I feel oddly compelled to stay informed – which means I’m losing hours trawling Twitter and Facebook leaving little hearts on community minded posts – and to bake. If I had all the ingredients, instead of doing this, I’d be making lemon polenta cake, or chocolate cream pie, or something with apricots and brandy and bitter almonds. Or plums:

Or up in Glasgow getting a haircut. ‘I badly need a haircut’ is something I say at most twice a year, and only then if I need to go somewhere where people are. The last time was early December when I had to go to London for my aunt’s funeral, and I realised just in time that I’d probably offend all my relatives if I turned up looking like that! Generally my personal appearance has ceased to be a priority.* But at the moment the length of my hair is driving me nuts, it feels not just too long, but too wide, it keeps getting in my face. I keep fantasising about a Claire Underwood crop.

Image: Pinterest

I think I may be reverting to stereotype…

But how are you? What are you doing to fill the time between now and the vaccine?


Header image:  engin akyurt on Unsplash

*as long as my weight stays where I like it, when that goes up I become freakish!

It’s Arrived!

It’s difficult to know quite how to greet 2020, on the one hand I had a great 2019 which makes me excited for the new decade, on the other the human race seems to be committing mass suicide, which makes me anxious. Australia is burning; it feels like fascism has gripped the world like a gigantic leach; the UK is self aborting. It almost feels selfish and self indulgent to keep on trying to write my ridiculous stories. But what else can I do?

Bugger, this was meant to be a cheery Happy New Year post, and I do wish happiness on all of us. Maybe self-indulging in creative activity is the best way to centre one’s self and, therefore, not fall apart. Maybe not falling apart is about as much as one can do at the moment. Maybe writing stories, which is really a form of problem solving, is the way I’ll get to be of some use in the future. Who knows? But as it’s the method by which I work things out it’s probably my best hope.

Do you have any plans for this new decade?


Header image:  yukari harada on Unsplash

Merry Christmas to You!

Dave and I have taken ourselves off to the Isle of Whithorn this year, it’s marvellously bleak, and we’re in a very cosy little chalet surrounded by the sea. We arrived yesterday, and today we went walking to St. Ninian’s cave. Here are a few photos:

Wishing you all the best possible festive season, many delightful gifts, and the ability to eat richly without feeling nauseous!

On Doubt

I have no idea what’s going on, England has just given a man who seems like evil incarnate a mandate to do whatever he wants. Figures seem to show that child poverty is rising; that more and more homeless people are dying; and that the Tory policy of austerity is demonising our most vulnerable. Yet, yesterday, the people of England and Wales voted overwhelmingly to give the Tories a mandate to keep at it. To keep selling off bits of the NHS; to keep marginalising the disabled; to keep hoarding resources for the very rich by stealing them from the very poor. To keep distancing us from our neighbours and friends in Europe. Have I missed some crucial piece of information? Or misunderstood some fundamental point? None of this makes sense to me, I mean, why is more horror what zillions of people want?

I can’t help wondering if I’m evil? Is my wanting a fully functioning welfare system a sign, not of compassion, but of cruel egotism? Is my ideology of an inclusive society of equals, no matter who you are or where you come from, not the way to achieve eudaimonia, but the way to destroy the human race? Have I spent the last fifty plus years living the wrong life?

Questions, questions. I probably sound absurdly melodramatic, but fuck me, I’m totally confused.


Header image: close-up of an interesting section of Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey: Turner, taken by me at a recent visit to the National Gallery in London. You can see their image of it here.

Pennsylvania Dreaming – part 5

Too lazy to write a post about this, I thought I’d share this, by my husband, instead…

Dave Dick

So…its getting cold back here in bonny Scotland…the leaves are all falling, the salmon are wearing their “tartan coats”, geese and whooper swans are flying in from the far north and flocks of thrushes are chacking and squeaking in the riverside trees. Time to think back to the New York heat!

Young mothers chatting over a coffee at the rivers edge.. it wasnt always so quiet round there

An old factory building, a reminder of the waterside industrial area of the quite recent past

Modern river traffic of a very different type is continuous but its still the highway into the centre of the city.

..and in the middle of all this, where there were once dockyards and warehouses – a brand new children’s playpark.

The conversion of old industrial into new leisure areas is happening all over New York – one of the real highlights of our visit was…

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American Takeout

We’ve been back almost two weeks, and I’m still reeling from my American experience. So much so I can’t seem to clear my head enough to write about it. So I’ve decided to write about food instead.

Anyone who remembers my Kitchen Bitch blog of old will know I love to cook, but (not so) recent happenings created the perfect environment to throw me off. I fell in love with someone who doesn’t eat meat or fish, or quite a few other things that made up my active culinary repertoire, and struggled to find much common ground between his taste and mine; I left my perfect* kitchen and moved into a house that doesn’t really have one (it’s a carpeted room with a few kitchen staples at one end); and I went freelance as a writer, so have bugger all money. The result was I stopped cooking much at all. And then America happened.

My meat-free husband and I found tons of common foodie ground. In Pittsburgh, we had Japanese okonomiyaki (a kind of filled, savoury pancake that is truly delicious) at Teppanyaki Kyoto; unbelievably good Peruvian burritos at Chicken Latino; labneh, amongst many other very palate delighting things, at Legume; the best egg sandwiches you can imagine at Pear and the Pickle; the best pizza imaginable at Driftwood Oven; wonderful filled crepes at Crepes Parisienne; fantastic meze at B52; not to mention the gorgeous things the children cooked for us in their cosy, fully functioning kitchen**.

And that’s just Pittsburgh. In New York we had brilliant bagels; marvellous Mexican (oh my goodness, tostadas!); gorgeous Gujarati… In West Chester and environs we ate in a splendid array of diners, including one attached to a brewery, and the delightful Jaco’s Juice & Taco bar, where we were introduced to the Thursday breakfast club (and I was given a book recommendation I really must follow up soonest).

Anyway, all this to say I’ve returned with my cook’s mojo, as if it had run away to a more interesting place but decided to give me a second chance. I’m ready to experiment with flesh-free dishes, inspired by the raft of choices I found at every turn, and by the way the kids (Bob and Reg) approach cooking and eating (with unhesitating joy). And by Samin Nosrat whose book, and the tv series based on it, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat everyone I met raved about. I read parts of it in quiet moments on Bob’s couch, and now have my own copy:

And a new mini oven (again inspired by the children who made such good use of theirs)

in which to bake; roast; grill; toast reheat; and, interestingly, slow-cook.

Last night I made a slightly rubbish pizza

tomorrow I’ll make a sourdough starter so next time it will be less rubbish.

We have Dave’s nephew, also called Dave, coming to stay tonight, I’m planning a Mexican feast. I bought masa harina to make corn tortillas (and a variety of fillings), and hope to make horchata (a divine Mexican rice drink) to go with it. Not sure about pudding, not sure at all how any of it will turn out. But I’m going to just treat it all as an experiment, if everything goes horribly wrong there’s always the chippy.


*To me: it was small but I built it myself and had it organised exactly the way I needed it.

**I know I’ve missed loads of places – Geppetto Cafe (with its wonderful ceiling, and French toast to die for)!

Brooklyn Morning

It’s six-o-five, still dark, and I am sitting by an open window at the dining table of our New York apartment. The city is waking, cars, which never quite stop moving, are gathering force, a man walks by with a small backpack on. Across the street is a school advertising ‘college access for all’ in which I see ghostly figures moving past its many windows. A garbage truck hisses to a stop at the end of the street and someone honks. We arrived!

Which in itself is a miracle.

Our flight was at nine-forty on Saturday morning. We wanted to be at the airport at seven-forty, it’s an hour and a half drive from our house, and we had to park in a long-stay, so planned to leave at five-thirty. I set the alarm for four. I usually don’t sleep much the night before a trip, so I was rather surprised when I heard Dave say, ‘Eryl… I think we over-slept,’ and looked at the time to find it was six-thirty-eight. We had overslept by two-and-a-half hours. I seriously doubted we’d make it, but jumped into action anyway to wash, dress, and pack the last few remaining things. We drove away at about seven.

And then everything went incredibly smoothly. We found the car-park without a problem, parked, got on the shuttle, checked in – there was no queue – and had time for coffee and a bun. The flight was an hour late, but we arrived in Newark at the exact time we were meant to. I was a bit nervous about entering the US as a brown person, but the two customs officials we engaged with were as friendly as the were efficient, and suddenly our suitcase was on the carousel, and suddenly my son was standing in front of me, smiling.

An accident on one of the bridges meant our Uber had to take a much longer route to our apartment. The result? We got a tour of the city. There was the New York Times building; there was the new World Trade Centre; there was the Empire State. Then the river; then Brooklyn; then four flights of stairs and our book-filled apartment. I haven’t taken any pictures of it yet, but here are some of the things we’ve experienced so far:

A building called Katherine.
School busses like in the movies.
The Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument in Fort Greene Park; the bird is a red tailed hawk.

I wrote this post over a week ago. Since then we’ve been to the met to see the Cézannes; walked over the Brooklyn bridge; eaten the best Indian food imaginable at Vatan; walked through Central park; moved on to West Chester, a small town just west of Philadelphia, where we stayed with my son’s in-laws for three days; and arrived in Pittsburgh where we’ll stay for the next two weeks.

Yesterday we saw a chipmunk, and ate the best Pizza ever at Driftwood; but I’ll leave all that for another post.

One More Sleep

I should be packing – which means finishing the ironing I began yesterday.
I should be cleaning the house so our return won’t be too gruesome.
I should be going to the Post Office to bank the cheque that arrived this morning, so I have money when I get back.
I should be at least thinking about what to make for supper tonight.
I should be doing the last load of laundry, so I can pack my dressing gown and pyjamas before the day is out.
We leave the house tomorrow at five-thirty AM, and it will be a much nicer awakening if all I have left to do is throw my wash-bag into the case, zip it up, and go.

Image via Pinterest

But, instead, I’m still in my pyjamas, though I’ve been up for six hours, doing this.

In a minute I’ll put some old clothes on, fire up the iron, and get on. I’ve only got ten hours left of the day, but surely it’s enough. Maybe ironing now is bonkers, everything will get crushed in the case and have to be done again? Anyway, regardless of all that, my next post will come from somewhere in America.

See you there.


Header image: Pinterest

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