Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Sunday 24 September 2017

Autumn solstice

I am sitting at our dining room table and the light is dull, a sort of warm grey as the light filters through the clouds. The greens at the bottom of the garden, the huge expanse of blue-green pine and yellow-green ash and hawthorn are not as bright as they were even a month ago; the hawthorn is well on the turn, now a sallow yellow colour, and beginning to drop its leaves, while the ornamental cherry I love so much is beginning to smoulder before it bursts into full flame.

I thought as I was walking yesterday, out in the fresh air, about time and how we perceive it as we age. How a week would seem to take a lifetime and how long weekends would take to come around. Time is such a luxury now, time to enjoy and savour, even the little moments. There is not enough of it, there’s not enough time and I feel that all the coffee spoons (or teaspoons in my case) are being lined up too quickly. I perpetually feel like I’m chasing my tail and not making the most of the time I have, even though I’m trying to be better.

There is a plate of apples and pears on the table in front of me. It’s that time of year for wonderful British varieties. The current lot are Lord Lambourne, a tad disappointing on the flavour front but pleasingly tart; the last lot were Red Windsor and were some of my favourite. They had the most wonderful, fragrant flavour (thanks to the Cox’s Orange Pippin in their heritage) and a lush red skin. The next lot are ‘Santana’, which smell so strongly of pineapple and which fizz in the mouth.  I remember this wonderful day and I am sad that we don’t have any PYO orchards in Northumberland.  It’s just not a very apple-y place up here.

I’ve been focusing on rhythms recently, trying to sort things out in my head and also in our house. It all started with me reading Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up. Whilst I’m not fully on board with all of her thoughts about tidying up and some of the more esoteric elements of it, I get that her particular method is effective, and going through my clothes I found it easier to ‘thank’ the clothes and let them go. It almost felt like I was freeing myself from this weighty burden of guilt.  I managed to get rid of 6 large bags of clothing that I’d been carrying around through multiple house moves. Old clothes, trinkets, boxes and bags of stuff that I knew I wouldn’t use again, or didn’t like or kept just because I felt obligated to. Sadly, this is just a drop in the ocean and I’ve still got the rest of the house to declutter but it does feel good seeing us lightening the load.

The autumn solstice was yesterday, though I’ve been noticing the leaves and the smell for a while now. Summer has been a bit of an odd one for us. I don’t know about you, but the weather all summer has been a splendidly mixed bag of torrential rain and mild, warm days, then wind and more rain. I don’t think we’ve had a ‘hot’ day since May/ early June. Not that I minded the cooler weather, in fact I quite liked it. There were enough long langurous sunny days to allow us to spend them on the beach. I think I’ve rockpooled more this summer than I have for many, many a year. It has been a summer of buckets and spades, jellyfish, crabs and plennys; walks in the woods and the odd weekend picnic.

The shops are now full of pumpkins and the odd Christmas display. Soon it will be Halloween and bonfire night and then the rush into Christmas. The beech leaves are beginning to turn orangey brown before they curl, some hanging on until spring, some falling almost immediately. We went for a walk, just Little VP and I, around a lake that we’ve grown to know and love. It’s a good walk, about a mile around, and we do it slooooowly but have a good laugh as we do. The smell of the leaves and the honking of the geese, the odd hiss of the swans and the wing beats of the birds flying over the water, the sound of beech mast or conkers hitting foliage as they fall to the ground and the fascinating chats we have as we make our way round.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Autumn, wearing her finest colours

I think you can tell from the photos above and below, we found autumn in all of her splendour.  Despite the temperature – 3ºC; it was Baltic as they say around these parts – we wrapped BabyVP (and ourselves) up well in many, many layers and ventured out for a walk. Most of the trees are bare, but not the beeches.

We walked and took photos here and there of leaves on the floor, chattering all the time to BabyVP about the birds flitting around us; from blackbirds and blue tits to the robins that suddenly appear in such large numbers around now. We came around a corner and were struck silent by this one, lone beech tree.

It was photographic perfection; all black-line branches and yellow-orange-brown leaves. So different to the pines, oaks, horse chestnuts and yews around it. Not that the oaks and chestnuts don’t have beautiful leaves – they do – but unlike all of the beech’s deciduous neighbours whose leaves were long gone, this tree was still clothed in the most wonderful golden coat.

I wonder what BabyVP made of all of this; she must have wondered what on earth her mother was getting so excited about.  I hope to pass this pure adoration of nature on to her; and I see it in the way she points out birds and trees.

I have had a reason to go out with camera in hand. This last week I have been taking part in an online photography course that was free. It’s only 4 weeks, only takes 3 hours a week of taking part in ‘webinars’. I have really enjoyed reconnecting with my camera and its myriad of functions.

We all had a good time, cold hands and rosy cheeks and all.

This week’s lesson was on aperture priority. This is all stuff I knew already but I am learning tips as we go, too. Aperture priority is what gives you amazing bokeh as well as certain lenses (usually the older analogue ones); it controls focus in the same way that scrunching your eyes up allows you to focus a bit better on certain things.

Photography courses aside, when the sun was shining and the birds were singing and BabyVP was cuddled up in her many layers, it really was the perfect day to be outside.  The sun, when it did shine, was almost warm enough to make you forget the icy chill. Almost.

Gosh we were glad to get back into the warmth of the cafe and have a bite to eat. Then home, with a very sleepy BabyVP in the back of the car, who nodded off to sleep shortly after we set off. Those colours though! Those colours…

Tuesday 15 November 2016

An acorn in the yard (and other moments)

The jays that otherwise-invisibly inhabit the woods behind the house have been more active in the last few weeks. I sometimes see a magpie-shaped bird flying out of the trees, with a pinky, buff-coloured chest and know it is not a magpie or a wood pigeon but one of their majestic blue-flecked cousins. Often heard but seldom seen, except now. Coming out of the house the other day, with a well-coated toddler in one arm and a changing bag in the other, I looked down to see an acorn. Quite odd, given that most of the trees around us are ash or Scot’s pine.  I knew who’d left this precious little arboreal offering. It reminded me of reading that jays are responsible for planting more oak trees than squirrels.  A couple of days later, I saw one flying right over our house.  I knew a jay had dropped it, just for us.

Another day I was driving in the tail-end of the afternoon and already it was starting to get dark; to soon, too early.  I was driving to run some errands, baby and husband esconced in the warmth of the house, playing on the floor. I drove a while and noticed that in the valley nearby, the fog was starting to form. It was as yet confined, the sides of the hill keeping it contained. Thick, grey wisps moving slowly, hanging low in the air.

A little further in my errands, I came around a corner and the view was lovely; very wintry, very familiar, very hygge (a new word in our collective lexicon for something I’ve been trying to do for as long as I can remember). A row of old Victorian terrace houses in silhouette, with chimneys peeping out, some of them smoking, the ladders of smoke climbing heavenward. Behind them the sky, almost dark, held the remnants of the day’s sun; lemon-yellow with a teeny bit of blue, edged with grey clouds. The church in the distance with its castellated tower watched regally from its promontory, back-lit by the same lemon sky.

A different day, this time grey and wet, with the first really cold chill on the breeze. Driving down into a little valley with a river at the bottom – it sounds like we live somewhere hilly, but we don’t, just a few river valleys – we pass under a canopy of trees. High enough so that the branches just skirt tall double-decker buses and thick enough so that it’s quite dark at the bottom. As it was windy, the trees were blowing and it looked for all the world like we were driving into a snowstorm, except these were yellow and brown ash leaves fluttering down before us. I called to Baby VP in the back of the car and told her to look at the leaves falling. I watched BabyVP in the mirror looking around her with a smile, before going back to the song we were singing.

I found a new classical piece, or rather, new to me thanks to ClassicFM. The piece is Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch. The ending, the last two minutes, is something quite magical.

Today we went for a walk around our local town. After a coffee with granny and sorting a few necessities, we all headed off for a walk in the park. Most of the trees are now bare, the leaves thick and yellow-green, red and brown at our feet. Soon to become soggy and slippery. We stopped by the swings so that Baby VP could get her fill of laughter and we could revel for a moment in her joy. A robin came to sit on a nearby hedge, watching us intently. He flitted from branch to branch, eager to see if we would drop something or reveal a tasty grub in the leaflitter. As we moved around the park, he followed too; his bright red chest and quiet, subdued tweets mingling with the human giggles and goosanders and ducks nearby.  A cormorant swooped through the trees above. I’m always surprised to see a cormorant so close to trees and town, but he has become a bit of a regular face. No rough seas or isolated lakes for him! Sensible bird.

It never fails to surprise me that so quickly the nights can get so long and the days so short. You’d think that by now, in my 31st year, I would have learnt the seasonal changes, but each year I am stumped at how quickly November becomes dark, December darker, and January icy-cold and grey and dark. And equally, how February starts to bring the first hints at the longer days to come. How quickly it all comes and goes; how quickly now, with a baby, life is flying and time is not an endless stretch any more, but sand that slips away before I can catch it. Breathe and appreciate every single moment.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Old Year: 2014 in Review

You’ll have to excuse me while I panic at the thought of 2014 being over – I was just getting into the swing of things, and last I heard, it was September!  Time it is a-flying.  It has been such a lovely, if challenging year.  It started by joining a gym and taking up swimming again, which I really enjoyed.  I took a lot of power-walks along the rivers of Cambridgeshire, we had an amazing weekend in Southwold at the beginning of March, and then we were thrust into the rush of packing up and moving in March/April.  Before we knew what was happening we had found a delightful rental house, moved, Mr VP had changed jobs and we were ‘back’ into our new and exciting life in Northumberland.  We arrived just as the last of the blossoms in Cambridgeshire were fading and the first of the cherry and hawthorn blossoms were beginning to flower up here – we had the longest, most luxurious spring in my memory.

Summer was a holiday for both of us, and just what we needed after a stressful move.  We visited Coquet Island and saw puffins and seals, we spent our wedding anniversary picking strawberries, we walked for many miles along our favourite beaches old and new, and we made the most of every spare moment we could.  At the beginning of September, we began the mammoth task of house renovation.  This turned out to be not only extremely stressful and difficult, but also very educational and I know a lot more about things I didn’t even know existed (like building regulations and how best to choose decent workmen).  After three months, we moved in to an almost-finished house and that’s where we are now.  We’re still mostly living out of boxes as we’re still waiting for the floor to be laid, but with the lights on, candles lit and the fire going, it is very homely indeed.

If 2014 was about movement, then 2015 will, I hope, be about growth.  Moving house twice in seven months is unbelievably stressful and having to pack-up one house and oversee works in the other is tear-your-hair-out worthy, so I would like to settle down in 2015, yet still grow and develop. At some point I plan to return to my studies, either this year or next, and I would like to increase the time I spend doing good and useful things.  It sounds obtuse, but it means me taking on more challenges and making more committments to myself and the life I would like to create.

I always have a bit of a panic at the end of the year, as I worry about the future and what is to come.  I suppose it’s the not-knowingness that New Year represents that worries me the most, but each year I keep trying to let that worry go a bit more and spend a little bit more living as in-the-moment as I can.  I have had such a glorious year in 2014 that I am eager to see how 2015 will pan out and how we’ll grow and change to meet the year.

So that’s it for 2014.  Here we sit watching Guardians of the Galaxy (Mr VP’s pick), having nibbled at some of the buffet food I’ve made (the homemade sausage rolls and olive palmiers have gone down a treat!) and toasting ourselves in front of a warm fire.  We might not be awake come midnight, but we’ll usually be woken long enough to welcome the new year by the fireworks going off around and about!

To all the lovely blog readers who stop by, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015 for you and yours.  Thanks for reading and see you in 2015! :)

Monday 13 October 2014

Autumn Morning

Saturday was sunny and glorious, so we found ourselves off for our weekend potter around Hexham once more.  Instead of our usual trip to a café for coffee, we decided to get ours ‘to go’ and headed off to the park for a stroll and a chance (at long last!) to get the camera out.  I have struggled to do anything creative, which I blame on the stress of the house renovation, but I know that in a couple of months it’ll all be over and all will be settled down once more.  It was nice to sit and chat on the cold park bench, whilst the dew dripped off the beech tree above us.  Coos of pigeons and darting blackbirds filled the park and the quarters were marked by the bell of Hexham Abbey, as they have for many, many years.  Best of all, I finally found autumn colours shining through in the bright red of the ivy and the yellows and browns of the sessile oaks.

Saturday 11 October 2014

The Beginning of October

It seems that as September has faded into memory, mistral winds have blown a cooler, wetter October into being. Suddenly, trees that were green up until a few days ago have suddenly lost their vitality and are a blaze of gold and red; each leaving a trail of fallen, crunchy leaves in its stead.  Knowing that the weather is prone to be quite changeable, I have to make the most of the good weather as and when it appears (in-between overseeing builders, quotes and planning visits).  One afternoon, I was feeling the weight of the renovation and so I went for a solitary ramble around the woods.  This seemed like the salve I needed to be able to get myself over some of the hurdles that cropped up last week.  While I did some ruminating on the walk, I got time to photograph some reflections of the literal variety, too.

The sun was shining at such a level as to be quite difficult to walk in, not that I can complain about the sun.  Any days of sun we get from here on in are precious interludes, breaking up the grey, wet and cold days to come.  But the sun’s low slant on the horizon was setting the plants on the woodland floor alight.  Bracken with its fronds of pea-green satin were illuminated by these glorious rays.  So too were the cobwebs and lower branches.  I caught the rainbow shimmering through the radial spokes of the cobweb – can you see?  Mushrooms were beginning to pop up on old tree ends; but they aren’t the hairy curtain crust funguses of Lincolnshire, they’re something else similar yet different.  I have seen an abundance of antler fungus growing on fallen trees nearby, something that I didn’t ever see down south, as well as a glorious orange-red beefsteak fungus growing on an oak tree.  Just as the sights and scents of the woods changed as I walked further, I was aware of the constant back-chatter of birds.  Coal tits, robins, jackdaws and crows, as well as blackbirds and the high, happy call of the buzzards swooping overhead.  It was such a lovely afternoon of giddyness and distraction: just what I needed.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

If I Have Seen Further it is by Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

One of the things on this year’s to-do list was walk the rang of hills known as Simonside.  We last did this in July 2009, when the wind and rain was pelting us from all directions and we managed just over a quarter of the distance.  On Sunday, the wind was calmer, the weather bright but slightly overcast and the temperature a blissful 17ºC, so I deemed it to be The Day that we would climb (some of) Simonside’s peaks.

This is a demanding walk and it isn’t even technically that steep as hills go (certainly not a patch on the Cheviots or the other hills and mountains that the British Isles has to offer), but the views from the top make the aching limbs and pounding heart worth it, because when you reach the first peak, then the second, nothing could be greater in the world.

Simonside is a ridge of hills, and there are different ways to approach the peaks.  We set off up the steep and fairly rocky side, which is the way we know best; from there, we ascend until we reach a peak and then descend a little, before ascending a peak double the height again.  This continues until you’re absolutely knackered until you’ve reached the top. We didn’t make it all the way to the top, not because of the height, but because of the distance (it’s a long walk as well as a steep one), and knowing that our knees would have to make it down again – over very rocky and unstable terrain.  Hill-sheep we are not!  This is a fairly low part of the path, which starts out stepped and then deteriorates the further up you go.

This is the view from not-very-far up the hill and it is already stunning.  Those hills you can see in the distance are the Cheviots; Northumberland’s version of mountains, though they escape that formal moniker by a small way.  To me, they’re mountains and they’re beautiful.  I hope to one day climb each summit.  Simonside is a good place to start, I think!

Near the beginning of the walk, we encountered some of the hill’s inhabitants, who eyed us warily.

Most of the heather had gone over due to the exceptionally warm and dry weather we have been having.  But here and there amongst the browning flowers, there would be bright splashes of pink and fuschia.

The last time we visited, I took my exceptionally-heavy and very temperamental 35mm film camera out with me.  I took almost all of the photos on film, taking a photo almost identical to this.  It became one of my favourite photos ever.

Simonside is supposed to derive its name from the Norse and Teutonic sagas, from Sigemund of Beowulf fame, which is perhaps why I like it so much.  I spent a good deal of time studying Early and Middle English literature and these early tales held me captivated.  The whole area around Simonside is ancient, as ancient as it gets, with markings made by pre-historic peoples, some of the earliest in fact.  I think of their huts, the indentations from which can still be seen in the hills, and I wonder how bleak it must have been with no light and little warmth.

This is what the path was like for the most part: broken stones and heather.  It certainly made for a challenging ascent (and descent for that matter!)

Can you see the view getting better and better?

We reached the top of the first ridge and felt elated.  This was as far as we got last time, and we did it much faster this time.  Last time, we perched on these very rocks and ate a picnic in the windiest conditions; almost losing our coffee and sandwiches as we did so.  This time it wasn’t quite as windy, but it still blew the cobwebs away.


The hills are full of wildlife, too.  On our walk we saw many, many red grouse (click the link and listen to the sound they make – it made us laugh every time!), butterflies, fox moth caterpillars and lots of very fit sheep!  Isn’t he a handsome (if highly comical) fellow?

We finally reached the summit of the middle peak at around lunchtime and decided that we would have a rest, soak in the view and then turn back.  What a view, eh?  The whole of Northumberland was laid out for us, in the distance to one side the coast; in the other, the Cheviots and Scotland.

I love this rugged landscape.  Each time I visit, I forget how wonderful it is.  I will make sure that I visit as often as I can.

At the second peak, there are four pine trees.  They aren’t very old or tall, but they are there and because there aren’t any other trees, they stand out like ghostly evergreen sentinels, watching over everything.

I think this is a fox moth caterpillar.  There were lots of them and they seemed to really like the heather.

This is one of the rocks at the second summit.  The rocks here are ancient – some of the oldest in the UK – and are full of life.  At the main summit there are also caves and I spent some of the walk wondering what the landscape must have looked like then, when those caves were used, and who used them.

The last photo I took, almost back at the car park.  Joyous that I had managed the walk and relieved that I was back at the car and could sit down, as the descent turned my legs to jelly!  What a day.

*The title is a much-beloved quote from Isaac Newton.

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