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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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! :)

Saturday 9 November 2013

NaBloPoMo 2013: Day 9. Lighting up the world

You will probably know by now, if you have been reading my blog for any time at all, that I inherited something of a moth-and-magpie gene.  We don’t know there it came from, but I am inexplicably drawn to twinkly lights and sparkly things.  One of my favourite bits about Christmas is to unwrap the strings of lights from their summer resting places and string them around the tree and around anything else I can possibly manage, before sitting back and enjoying the tiny glowing filaments softly lighting the room and bathing it in a Christmas glow.

I have been meaning to do something like this for a while because I always think that it is a shame that we don’t tend to have twinkly lights at other times of the year.  Last year I strung a set around the stairs, which are on almost all the time, and which really do liven the place up.  I’ve seen a few of these hearts-with-lights on the internet and I thought that I could improve on them to better suit my needs.  Today, whilst perusing the shops on Steep Hill in Lincoln, I came across a shop selling  heart-shaped willow card/photograph holders.  They’re plenty big enough to make an impact and have the added benefit of being able to hold Christmas cards in winter and postcards/photographs in summer.  Perfect!

So I bought a couple of strings of lights.  The first, a very fine warm-white seed LED string set (they had to be battery operated and only LEDs last for any length of time with batteries) and another, interesting filigree metal string.  The filigree metal lights cast the most interesting shadows, whilst the tiny seed LEDs cast a warm, pinkish-golden glow.  When all was finished, I was ridiculously happy with the results and could not stop smiling because it looks so good (and my inner moth was calling me to appreciate the lights!).  All in all, a very good day, full of light.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Finding my way through the streets at dusk

Now that the nights have drawn in, the clocks changed from BST to GMT once again and the cloak of night now falls that much earlier, it seems fitting to enjoy these first, early days of Winter.  For indeed, that is what we are in the midst of now.  Autumn was warm and yellow and bright, but after the  storm of St Jude, we have been feeling the nip of cold and the crystalisation of winter in the world around us.  Scarves, hats and gloves have become the norm again and I slip into this season as I slip into my sheepskin slippers: with an unnoticed ease.

I thought that as our new-found but much-remembered early nightfall is upon us once again, it would be fitting to capture Cambridge at dusk.  I personally needed to get some air; needed to fill my lungs with the chill air, until I could really feel it.  On my way round, I found this church which now houses a full restaurant.  During the day, one passes these windows without a second glance, but come dusk and evening (and because it was still open at this early time) the lights were on and these windows shone with gold.

They reminded me of the little stained-glass lanterns we used to make as children with coloured cellophane sweet-wrappers and card.  These windows are extraordinarily beautiful and provide a juxtaposition between the call of god and the call of commerce, whose windows – just down the road –  are startlingly bright and glitzy.

The town really comes alive at this time, as people leave their offices, colleges and shops for the evening.  This is the old bit of the city, a mish-mash of the very old with the Georgian and the Victorian all jostling for attention.  I imagine how this curving street, Rose Crescent, would have looked with gas lamps flickering; and before that even, when Cambridge was just a proto-town, full of academics and not much else.

By just a slightly different angle and aperture setting, the street is modernised, with bright lights and shop fronts urging you to consume.  People mill, some with a purpose some without, here and there; some homeward-bound, others out intentionally to become the nightlife that they seek.  A slight sensation on the air, I can feel it, that Christmas is not far off, that November is just beginning and the month of mists and mellow fruitfulness is no more.

There are lots of streets that look just like these, in different parts of the city and the country.  I happen to rather like Georgian architecture with their occasional Mansard roofs and sure, square assemblages.

It is not often that you will come across original street signage, but I would hazard a guess that this is at least 100 years old, but probably more.

Looking down the street to St John’s College, I notice that the lighting comes from so many different sources, each with a different quality that gives all of the different architectural styles their own magic.  Uplighting, downlighting, passive lighting; the church tower catching the last of the natural light.

Skylines in cities are fascinating to me.  It all stems from the painting at the start of Mary Poppins (a film I watched so many times I wore out the VHS tape!) by artist Peter Ellenshaw that really began my fascination with all things skyline.  Chubby Jacobean chimney stacks sit cheek-by-jowl with church spires, which sit next to square, sturdy Georgian buildings.

I rather like this photo.  In times to come, when I am old, I will come back here and probably nothing will have changed.  Pale blue sky, chequer-pattern brickwork on a sleeping college and very old windows, lit up from within, full of busy-ness.

The air was still, for the first time in a few days, and the tourists had already gone home for the most part.  I felt incredibly self-conscious, as I was the only one with her DSLR camera snapping away.  On any other day, I would’ve been but one of many.  The night turned out to be a very chilly one indeed.

Buildings lit up from within is another thing that fascinated me very much.  I built a wonderful Christmas scene one year, with industrial quantities of card, glue, glitter, plastic snow-scene figures and a lot of fairy lights.  It was rather wonderful and very magical, if a tad naive-looking!  There is something inherently magical about windows shining into darkness that I cannot put my finger on.  I am by far not the only one who finds illuminated windows beautiful.  In the run up to Christmas, you can find a plethora of little houses and buildings illuminated with tea-lights or fairy lights.  Even our Scandinavian neighbours like them, as they have the year-round zinkhus.

Another thing about Cambridge is bicycles.  Everywhere.  Chained to railings, some missing wheels and handlebars, some chained up high, some chained to someone else’s bike.  But bikes there are in abundance.  And posters, mentioning the newest play in town or a new opera or band coming to play.  Organ recitals sit cheek-by-jowl with Shakespeare and Bill Bailey posters in the same way that our higgledy-piggledy buildings sit next to one another, almost in concentric historical circles, moving outwards as the city has grown and expanded.

My last photo from the evening because it was getting quite chilly and I was due to meet up with Mr VP for coffee.  A huge horse-chestnut tree, denuded apart from a couple of leaves, a guardian over the war memorial nearby.

Friday 16 November 2012

NaBloPoMo 2012: Day 16. Lights.

I saw these lights on my way to do an errand.  At £2.50, they were less than the price of an eggnog latté and will give me hours of pleasure looking at their multi-coloured splendour.

Yes, it is that time of year.  Lights twinkle, trees look festive and the magic of Christmas (with its attendant consumerism) begins in earnest.

This Christmas it will be a homely affair; simple yet really cosy and shared with the family that I want to be around me.  I have been dreaming of what I can serve as appetisers; what the Christmas tree will smell like when it is warmed throughout with fairy lights.  I have dreamt of turkeys and crackers and the very magic of the run-up to the Big Day.  I honestly cannot wait.  Until then – the time when I can legitimately listen to Christmas music and seriously start talking turkey prep – I have the lights.

Oh and the lights!  I am like a child in a sweet shop.  I cannot get enough – there are not enough twinkling lights out there!  I love them.  If we were in our ‘usual’ place, living in Northumberland, in the middle of November I would get our Christmas boxes down from the loft, dust them off and check the lights for missing bulbs, place an order for spares and store them in the spare room until the time came for a whole lot of tree decorating!

This year it’s a little different, but orders have been placed with Noma for their bulbs and I can rest assured that our free-range Bronze turkey is being loved by the Waitrose farmers.

Monday 13 December 2010

The ljushus

Stroll past almost any Swedish home furnishing shop (or my favourite shop in Gamla stan, Affären) and you’ll see some sort of lamp, intricate lampshade or candle holder.  The Swedes love lights.  Be they candles, LED strings or designer lamp creations.  They love lights.  You can see why, when the winters are long, cold and dark, that ambient lighting is important.  Having lived in Northumberland when, from November to February, the amount of daylight is minimal, you learn just how important the lights we have at home can be.

From glaring LEDs to flickering candles, each light sets a mood and creates ambience.  One of my favourite types of lighting (Ikea *cough*nextyearplease*cough*), introduced to me on our trip to Stockholm, is the Ljushus (literally “light house”).  Sometimes called zinkhus (particularly in Denmark, I’m told) these little houses are often made out of punched zinc (hence the name) and hold ljuslyktor (votive candles).  I haven’t seen any in the shops over here.  Of course we have various candle holders in England, many many many of them, but none so delicate and beautiful as the ones they have over there.

One of the best makers of these delightful little light-houses is Walther & Co. of Denmark, whose designs are gorgeous.  I am not the only person to find them gorgeous.

I am smitten, of course.  When perusing John Lewis the other day, we were suitably pleased when we came across a fudge-filled ljushus candle holder.  It wasn’t anywhere near as lovely as the Swedish and Danish ljushus, but it was almost as good.

With a simple candle inside these ljushus are striking indeed (<– one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen this Christmas!).  Perfect for the long, dark winter nights.

Saturday 6 November 2010

NaBloPoMo Day 6: Random thoughts as they pass through my head

I’m tired.

My head aches.  It’s been a long but pleasant day.

I don’t have much to say – I think I overdid the talking when Mr. VP and I argued over Cartesian Dualism and whether it matters to humanity if we find out if we’re in “the matrix” (for lack of a better example) or not (which, by the way it does; if we are just heads in jars and our lives are controlled externally by someone else, it pretty much negates our reason for living).

I also had my first eggnog latté of the season – what a joy they are.  Thank goodness Starbucks haven’t changed them – and let’s hope that they don’t have a gingerbread and eggnog latté shortage like they did in Newcastle last year!

I have a lot of reading to do before Monday.  Dry history books about Charles I and some more philosopy.  Having covered epistemology (ask me about justified true belief, go on – I can draw venn diagrams to illustrate…) and a (tiny) little bit of political philosophy (Plato rocks, btw, his beliefs about so-called perfect statesmen are spot-on), we are now mired in the depths of Metaphysics – the branch of philosophy to do with reality, the world around us and what we perceive.  It is both the most frustrating and most incomprehensible branch I’ve yet had to deal with (prove to me that you exist, go on).  I take issue with Descartes and his rationalism (using reason rather than the senses to perceive and vouch for the world around us), I’m not a wholehearted empiricist (using our senses to learn about the world, they can be fooled!) but I’m more empirical than I am rationalist – and don’t even get me started on solipcism (I can only vouch for my own existence – therefore you are all figments of my imagination)!  You can tell it’s a subject I am passionate about.

I spent a part of this morning looking around one of my favourite shops, John Lewis.  Though their displays were as wonderful as ever, I was disappointed about their small Christmas decoration selection.

I was awed, however, by these.  I have searched high and low for cone lights in the UK.  Historically we in the UK preferred the smaller bulbs, whereas America has a love affair with the large-bulb festoons.  With the sickening amount of (unecologically-friendly) LED lights on sale (and the apparent phasing-out of incandescent bulbs), incandescent strings are becoming a rare thing indeed.  Nothing says Christmas like incandescent bulbs.  Really.

Speaking of Christmas, I have moved all of my (large) music collection from my old computer to my laptop.  I counted 7 Away In A Mangers, 13 versions of The Christmas Song, 12 lots of Do You Hear What I Hear? and a staggering 20 Silent Nights.  Or as Mr. VP said, Not-So-Silent-Nights.  If you were to play my “Christmas” playlist from beginning to end, it would span 30 hours and 30 mins.  539 songs in total.  I heard this version of one of my favourite Christmas songs the other day.  I fell in love, bought the song and have played it on loop ever since.

I am now off to bed.  A little more tired, a little more sated and a little more festive.  Night.

Thursday 4 November 2010

NaBloPoMo Day 4: Swedish stars

We can hardly escape the fact that Christmas is just around the corner.  Whilst we were visiting Sweden, though most shops weren’t selling masses of Christmas goods, the beginnings of Christmas were in the air.  Subtle signs begun to appear, even in the short time we were there.  One of my favourite shops in Stockholm was Affären, on one of my favourite streets in Gamla stan, the beautiful Stora Nygatan.  On almost every street corner there were amazing shops selling such beautiful lights.  Perhaps lights are important because Sweden sees so little light during the dark winter months.

If you know me personally, you’ll know I’m like a child at Christmas whenever I find a lamp shop.  Lights of all sorts (except LEDs, I don’t like them much) fill me with wide-eyed wonder.  Take me to IKEA and I head straight to the light department like a moth to a flame.  I savour the wonder of the sparkling, twinkling, shadow-causing orbs of light.  Silly but true.

Either way, this was by far the prettiest shop; in every window it had lit paper stars (a traditional Swedish Christmas decoration).  We had to bring one home.  Despite our minimal luggage allowance, we managed it (just).  As soon as we got it home, I found a pygmy bulb (this baby looks best with 15w bulbs) and waited until nightfall.  When lit the room filled with a muted light and from every angle tiny stars filled the walls and ceiling.  I am glad that I am able to take pleasure from such small things.  However stressed I may be, I’ll see a tree lit from within by its autumnal leaves, or an autumnal sunset and suddenly for a short while, all is right again.  The simplest things make me the happiest.

Without fail each night we light the lamp and fondly remember Stockholm.  I hate to mention it – but there are less than 50 sleeps until Christmas.  Lest the state of world affairs, such as they are, fool you into thinking otherwise.

Now playing: Vaughan Williams – Philharmonia Orchestra – Bloomsbury Square on a November Afternoon – 2nd movement from A London Symphony (1913)