Spring’s blue hour

I’ve been thinking a lot about the arrival of spring. It’s just about here, but not quite.

There’s a moment every year when I open the window, and take a breath and . . . there it is. Not with a whimper, but with a bang, and suddenly someone’s fired the biological starting-gun and we’re off! You can almost hear the green shoots racing. No time to lose.

In one of my favourite books, A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler, the anti-hero Barney (who has a very promising past) describes how he likes the point early in the morning, just before dawn when suddenly ‘loom!’ the new day comes in.
Film-maker Eric Roehmer shows this moment too, a tricky thing to snatch on film, in his Quatre Aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle, a series of stories about two girls of about 18. One of them suggests getting up early in the quiet to watch ‘L’heure Bleue’ or the blue hour and we watch them, and the hour as the new day dawns. Guerlain have even tried to capture this in a scent named after that moment.

For me though, it’s not really something you can put in a bottle. You have to be there. So at the moment, every morning when I wake up I’m putting my nose to the crack in the window and breathing in long and deep.

It hasn’t happened yet. At the moment we’re enjoying the year’s blue hour.

But soon.

One for the women


Today is International Women’s Day. You know, we’re always having a day for this and a day for that and a day for a bit of the other . . . It get a bit tedious. So I celebrated International Women’s Day in a low-key kind of way. I got up at the time I usually get up at, made my breakfast, fed the cat and took myself out on a hike. Packed the bare minimum: bottle of water, phone, enough money to buy a sarnie, book for the train journey out to Chingford.


I hiked about nine miles through Epping Forest without a map and didn’t get lost (always a source of satisfaction). It was busy today, being the first sunny Sunday of spring. I saw loads of people, riding horses, bikes, walking dogs, walking children, walking themselves. I saw at least two dozen groups of people hiking together, including some groups of schoolchildren with maps who were clearly trying orienteering.


I stopped at the tea hut at High Beach and had tea and a sarnie and cake. I admired the view. The tea hut is popular with cyclists and there were loads of them, also walkers like me, people who’d driven up to park their car and look at the view, people of all ages. Families with toddlers in buggies, small fry on pink scooters, hardened hikers with sticks and gear . . .

Then I came home and had a hot bath and fed the cat again.

So you think this isn’t about International Women’s Day? You’re wrong.

I woke up this morning in my flat, in my bed, bought with my money from my job. I decided what I wanted to do today and did it. I took the tube/train journey on my own and read a book of my choosing, and got off at Chingford and walked nine miles on my own. I didn’t feel unsafe at any point. I said hello to people and felt safe doing so. I encountered groups of people of all types. I gave directions to a group of girls of about 14 or 15 out on their own orienteering. I gave directions to two women with dogs, who wanted the pub. I saw single women out running, walking or cycling.

The fact that I’m free to do all this is partly down to me: I’m independent and like doing stuff on my own. It’s also partly down to living in a country and a society where women are educated, where they have choices, where they have careers if they want them. Even in our society some women don’t have those choices and it’s time they did. It’s up to the rest of us to support them in that. Often, we don’t remember how lucky we are. Today’s a good day to remind ourselves.

Seven things I learned at Winchester Writers’ Festival

Bloomsbury Bluestocking

Writers relax outside Winchester Writers' Festival Writers relax outside Winchester Writers’ Festival

This was my first writers’ festival and I came home fizzing with ideas. For anyone who didn’t manage to get there, here are my top lessons from the best brains in writing and publishing.

1: Madeleine Milburn, literary agent, on pitching: Get your pitch right, and get it in the cover letter. This is your one chance to grab the agent’s attention. Terrifyingly, Madeleine Milburn gets 80 or more submissions a day. Unless your cover letter is spot-on, your carefully crafted chapters are likely to go unread.

2: Orna Ross, author and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, on author publishing: Approach it as a business, with a team. You are the creative director, but a good editor is indispensable. You’ll also need a designer for the cover and must be prepared to spend a significant amount of your time on…

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Cat Wars


My remaining cat, Charlie, is about 15 years old. Since his brother went to the vet last year and didn’t come back, Charlie has undergone a personality change. I wasn’ expecting this, to be honest: I had always said that Charlie would be very happy as an only cat. In fact he’s got lonely and clingy, and has lost of lot of his confidence. Comes of not having another cat to boss around, I suppose.

The latest change is that he’s become very picky about food. When he had another cat to compete with for food, he was like a feline vacuum cleaner. I actually had to put him on a diet at one point, which was difficult because if I fed them less, it was Percy who lost weight.

First he stopped eating the jelly off tinned food in jelly so I bought him food in gravy, and lots of different flavours of food. This worked for a while, but for the past week the pickiness has become acute. I always thought people who complained their cat wouldn’t eat this and wouldn’t eat that were simply spoiling the cat. No more. Yesterday, I opened a tin of Whiskas with chicken and ducky in gravy, which used to be a favourite, and he got within a foot of it, sniffed, backed off, and crouched there, waiting for a miracle. It was clearly not a tooth problem: he didn’t actually set a tooth in it. He just smelled what was on offer and acted as though I’d put a salad in his bowl.

I let him get on with it. I spent most of the day fending off cat nags for food, and in the evening chucked out the uneaten food (I think he’d had some of it) and replaced it with fresh from the same tin.

Charlie kept nagging for more food.

I picked him up, carried him  into the kitchen and put him down next to the bowl. ‘Fish!’ I said helpfully (this is our word for wet food, his favourite. Dried food is ‘yummies’. Look, it works for us, OK?).

He looked at me with loathing, reached over and took one mouthful.

I left him to it, went back in the sitting-room, sat down on the sofa and Charlie jumped up next  to me.

I screamed faintly and chased him into the kitchen again.

That was last night.

This morning I put fresh food (same tin) in his bowl. He continued to pester to be fed. I had my bath got out, dressed and went in the sitting-room.

Someone had upchucked on the sofa. Well it wasn’t me, so guess who?


Cat’s revenge.

Went out to the kitchen and in the hallway was another pool of vomit.


Sighing I perused the cat food stock and chose a tin of lamb in jelly, which he doesn’t like much at the best of times. Put this into a second bowl and stood back. He did like the dog in the advert, sniffed the first bowl, pulled a face, moved to the second bowl and started to eat. I haven’t looked to see how much he’s eaten, but he has eaten.

If he continues not to eat his usual food, I am going to have to move upmarket to very expensive ‘gourmet’ cat foods.

I wonder who told him that?

Cats always win.

It’s another new year!

New year’s resolutions are made to be broken they say. For that reason I am not making particularly taxing ones this year. More chance of keeping to them. Though I doubt I will. Here they are, if you’re looking for inspiration:

1. I will shut the bathroom door in the morning so that the cat cannot come in and rub his cold wet sticky nose on my bare leg while I’m having a pee. This happens EVERY morning.
2. I will remember to water my plants before the hibiscus goes floppy.
3. I will not indulge in a toastfest more than once a week.
4. I will buy enough bras of light colours to ensure I do not have to spend the whole day wearing a jumper so that you can’t see I’m wearing a black bra under a pastel shirt.
5. I will not leave the ironing pile for more than two weeks at a time and when I do the ironing pile I will not decide that I don’t need to iron things because once I’ve been wearing them for ten minutes it won’t show. It will show.
6. I will not leave the washing up for more than 48 hours or until it starts to look like primordial soup.
7. I will not get into a rage as a result of comments made to me on internet forums and go off and eat chocolate or drink gin.
8. I will not call toast and a glass of wine supper on days when I don’t feel like cooking or can’t be arsed to wash up (see no. 6 for details).
9. I will get up early enough on Thursdays to put out the recycling even if the Thursday is a day when I’m not at work (for example New Year’s Day 2014 but that doesn’t count because I was asleep and anyway I’ve only just thought of it as a resolution).
10. I will not post snarky comments about other people’s spelling or grammar on Twitter unless I’m in a really bad mood.

Good luck with that, huh?

Happy New Year!

The absent blogger

People keep following my blog, I get a dinky little email when they do. It makes me feel so guilty, because I haven’t blogged for months.

This is in part because I’ve been Out of Sorts. You don’t want to hear about that, really couple of colds and an operation about which I could write tomes. I have got unfit. I cannot walk far at all at the moment.

But wait! Despair not. I have ordered a new pair of VERY snazzy hiking boots online. I needed UK size 8.5 in this particular boots, the sizing of which is rather small, and this is a half size bigger than they come in the UK, so I’ve had to order them online from the States. I always thought the legend of Bigfoot was a spoof, but now I see it’s a lady hiker. They’re being delivered to me at work for complicated reasons that I suspect are connected with the privatisation of the Royal Mail, and I expect them to arrive some time next week. They’d better arrive before my trip to Cornwall in early December, as I plan to do a fair amount of walking then.

So, new boots. I’ve also bought a new waterproof that I can do up, just, but not if I put a jumper under it so I need to lose some weight.

Oh yes, that. Don’t ask. Please, just don’t. If you’re not well for four months, things can get complicated.

I’m giving thanks we don’t do Thanksgiving here. There’s only Christmas to contend with.