Sunday Post: Beginning of February

A gloved hand holding a grey stone in which there are the remains of two ammonite fossils although they are almost worn away
Ghostly ammonites

Life

My last week of being forty-two. I took a day off work and went for a very long walk along a local beach which is covered in fossils. My favourite find was this stone with two ghostly ammonites that have been worn away by the sea.

Yesterday, we went for another long walk, this time beside the river that runs through the city where we live. It was a beautiful day and we saw a lot of birds, including grey wagtails, wrens, tree creepers, coal tits, goosanders and a very elegant heron.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, mostly from Anna Jones’s book, The Modern Cook’s Year. I made the chard, lentil and bay gratin, the golden miso potato salad and pomelo and peanut winter noodles with carrot and coconut dressing. All were very good.

Unfortunately, I did have a cooking-related mishap and dropped boiling water on my foot, so now I have a large blister. My partner says I should be in a health and safety video about what not to do.

TV

We’re on a bit of a costume drama kick at the moment. We watched the Andrew Davies Sense and Sensibility from 2008. I don’t think it’s very good. It rips off the Emma Thompson movie something shocking and both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby are horribly miscast, but Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan are excellent as Marianne and Elinor and that makes it watchable.

Then we watched the 1996 adaptation of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with Tara Fitzgerald and very young Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens. Overall, I think this is excellent, but it’s so relentlessly serious and grim, it’s not an easy watch. I do think the adaptation lacks a warmth that Bronte brings to the novel.

Reading

I finished Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I had issues with a couple of things, but it was a very enjoyable read. Proper post to follow.

The poem of the week is ‘Cellular’ by Lizzie Harris

Life, in even the simplest form, has always
been a matter of finding the energy.

Music

I love ‘Melyn’ (2018) by the Welsh feminist band, Adwaith. It’s gorgeous, atmospheric indie rock and I’m really excited to see what they’re going to do next.

I’ve also been listening to Cassandra Wilson’s album of Billie Holiday covers Coming Forth by Day (2015). It’s a fantastic album and my song of the week is her version of ‘Good Morning Heartache’.

End of Year Life Round-Up

Life in General

It’s been an extremely busy year. I’ve taken on two additional projects at work and my job has had me travelling around to London, Liverpool and all over Wales. We moved house in the summer, which was worthwhile, but stressful. We didn’t get time for a proper holiday and that’s left us both feeling rather burned out at the end of the year.

Highlights were moving to a nicer flat in a more convenient area, and spending time developing new hobbies like fossil-hunting and bird-watching. I saw kingfishers and green woodpeckers for the first time, which was magical.

Lowlights were the mouse infestation at our old flat (horrific!), and my tooth breaking. That was very painful and cost me a small fortune in dentistry.

I’ve been doing quite well in relation to mental and physical health. I’ve taken up yoga and have worked regular, moderate exercise into my routine. I find this very helpful, especially for my mental health. My eating disorder has been a lot better this year, so that’s great too. The bouts of difficult emotions and negative thoughts, that have plagued me since 2017, have also visited less often this year, although I’m still struggling with a sense of meaninglessness and lack of purpose.

Books & Music

I read 48 books in 2019. I suppose I could push myself to finish a couple more before New Year and make it a nice round 50, but I don’t think I can be bothered. I read a lot more poetry, which was one of my main reading goals for this year, but I’m embarrassed by the lack of diversity in the authors I read and want to do better on that in 2020.

I didn’t listen to as much music as usual, mainly due to moving and everything being in boxes. My top albums were By the Way I Forgive You, by Brandi Carlisle, Possible Dust Clouds by Kristin Hersh, Negative Capability by Marianne Faithful and Small World Turning by Thea Gilmore.

We went to a few good gigs. A local folk festival turned out better than we expected and introduced us to some great bands. We saw Kristin Hersh (electric trio) in March – we take every opportunity to catch her live – and Thea Gilmore, which was fantastic because I’ve been wanting to see her live for years.

Stage

The cultural highlight of the year has to be seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre. It was just a wonderful, innovative, joyous production and I’m so glad we made the effort to go. I also saw a production of Romeo and Juliet which was okay, but didn’t quite take off.

I went to a couple of musicals, Avenue Q which is fun and Les Miserables, which I’d never seen before and wanted to experience.

Film

I didn’t see many films this year and feel pretty out of loop. I disliked The Favourite. Everyone else seemed to love it, but I found it a horrible film on almost every level, though I concede that the performances were amazing and it’s worth seeing just for that.

I enjoyed Captain Marvel, despite not being much of a Marvel fan.  I also loved seeing Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor again in Terminator: Dark Fate. It really was so empowering to see a woman in her sixties who actually looks her age being a total baddass. However, I didn’t think the film overall was up to the standard of Terminators 1 and 2, which was a shame.

Television

The most memorable thing was binge-watching the entirely of the BBC Great British Bake Off on Netflix, which tells you a lot about what this year has been like. As an added bonus, I can now engage with my colleagues in debates about ‘bin gate’.

Next Year

I definitely need to improve the old work/life balance. I enjoy my job, for the most part, but I’m getting exhausted too often and very resentful about the lack of energy I have for other things that I want to do.  I really need to make more space for creativity outside my job.

Mental health will be an ongoing focus. The last two years have given me quite a bad scare honestly; I had no idea how fragile my mental health was until it really came under fire in 2017, but if there’s anything positive to be taken from this, I feel that I have a far more realistic assessment of my situation and therefore a place to at least work from.

I also want to do some longer-term planning in terms of my career, housing and financial situation. We’ve spent so long veering from crisis- to crisis that we haven’t had much of a chance to focus on the longer-term. Now that things are reasonably stable (fingers crossed), we may be able to think longer-term.

I’m going to re-vamp my blog and social media presence in January to see if I can get it all working better for me – and more reflective of where I’m at now – so there will be some changes.

2019 Mixtape

Here are the tracks I had on repeat during 2019.

Anna Calvi & David Byrne, ‘Strange Weather’ (live)

This song is just so melodramatic and the live version with choir takes it to new heights. I love it!

Wake up slowly, there are blue skies
Cutting white lines in black matter
I see them shinin’ through your drunken eyes
Carving silver in strange weather

Marianne Faithful (Feat. Nick Cave), The Gypsy Faerie Queen

A beautiful song. I get chills when Nick Cave joins the chorus.

And I follow, follow, follow
The gypsy faerie queen
We exist, exist, exist
In the twilight in-between

First Aid Kit, Wolf

This is one of my favourite tracks of the last couple of years and I’m still not tired of hearing it.

Wolf-father, at the door
You don’t smile anymore
You’re a drifter, shape-shifter
Let me see you run, hey-ya hey-ya

Thea Gilmore, Grandam Gold

I could have picked several songs from Thea Gilmore’s lovely album, ‘Small World Turning’, but I think this delicate melody with tough words is my top track.

Like those who before us full well understood
We’re told that the poison is for our own good
While they dry up the seas and set valleys on fire
The coins on the hill pile higher and higher

VRi, Cob Maltreath

Absolutely beautiful Welsh folk music.

Anna Calvi, Wish

The second Anna Calvi track to make the list. Sexy and slightly menacing.

I got one more wish before I die
So please don’t you stop me
No don’t you stop me
I got one more wish before I die
So please don’t you stop me
No don’t you stop me

Veruca Salt, Alternica

I love the way this builds to a huge musical climax.

This is Alternica
Desert and the plains
And the ocean waves
Oh brave Alternica
Remember what you know
And you’re not alone

‘The Body Electric’ is a powerful song for our times, as well as a brilliant response to Johnny Cash-style murder ballads.

He shot her down, he put her body in the river
He covered her up, but I went to get her
And I said, “My girl, what happened to you now?”
I said, “My girl, we gotta stop it somehow”

Melanie Safka, Dust in the Wind

I’ve done a lot of reflecting on meaning and loss this year, sometimes accompanied by ‘Dust in the Wind’.

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

The Albums that Made Me #6 – Kate Bush, ‘The Dreaming’ (1982)

Album cover is a sepia-toned photograph of Kate Bush. She is holding the head of a man who is facing her and she seems to be leaning in to kiss him, but her eyes are looking away to the left. There is a chain and padlock on the man's shoulder.

I’ve written about The Dreaming before, so this is a bit of a repeat post, but I just had to include it on my ‘Albums that Made Me’ list.

I can’t overestimate the influence The Dreaming has had on my taste in music and, possibly, in shaping aspects of my personality. I must have been around six years-old when I started listening to it. My Dad was a Kate Bush fan and we always had her albums around the house.

The Dreaming is probably the album that first sparked something in me which could be called a sense of “taste” in music. I loved it, but I was also quite terrified by songs like ‘Get Out of My House‘. I was fascinated by the soundscape and the way Kate Bush manipulated her vocals on different tracks. I was slightly outraged that a woman could sound like that! In summary, it got me to start thinking about music.

I would play it in the kitchen and dance madly to ‘Night of the Swallow‘, ‘Sat in your lap‘ and ‘The Dreaming‘. That’s what I mainly remember. Dancing, dancing, dancing until I was exhausted. One time, I ran up and down the room so wildly, I winded myself on the kitchen sink.

As an adult, my favourite Kate Bush album is Hounds of Love, but I still have a very special place in my heart for The Dreaming.

Thea Gilmore Live & New Album

The cover of 'Small World Turning' which features a painting of a face in profile, with splashes a vivid colour for hair, against a black background.

I first heard of Thea Gilmore sometime back around 2003 when my friends were sharing round a copy of The Lipstick Conspiracies (2000). I didn’t really get into her music until I heard the album, Rules for Jokers (2001), which I loved. Since then, she’s been putting out consistently excellent albums.

Thea Gilmore has a beautiful voice and writes catchy, melodic, socially aware folk/rock songs in the tradition of people like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny and Billy Bragg, but with very much her own distinctive sound.

There’s been quite a lot of buzz about her new album, Small World Turning and I finally got to see her play live last week. The gig was as good as I expected. New songs featured heavily, with ‘Cuttleslowe Walls’, ‘Glory’, ‘Don’t Dim Your Light for Anyone’, ‘Grandam Gold’, and ‘The Revisionist’ all being highlights. She also played ‘Saviours and All’ and ‘This Girl is Taking Bets’ from Rules for Jokers, and ‘Old Soul’ from Liejacker. There was a lovely cover of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and a great song I hadn’t heard before, ‘The New Tin Drum’.

I’ve listened to Small World Turning a few times since the gig and I think it’s one of her best albums, a gorgeous collection of songs for our time. This is even more of an achievement when you realise that Gilmore did almost all of the work herself after three record companies pulled out.

Here’s to another seventeen albums!