Friday, December 31, 2010


Clementines, in a box made from shaved poplar wood, a blue stained band around its top, the leaves and stalks curling and growing matt and dull, that last-colour-in-the-paint-pots green.   Swearing off chocolate, just for today, but then for tomorrow too, and even, so far, for the next day, you pass the time gorging on them and on roasted chestnuts.  It was foggy and dank outside, the fire, which you didn't really need that much but which was to cheer the day, smoked and sulked.  Chestnuts are a chancey way to feast; split them with teeth and nails at the pointed end, and, with luck, you might see, and smell, if they're black and bad inside, but then there's always the risk they'll fall between the bars of the grate and into the ash pit, from where it is rarely possible to retrieve them, whether with the poker or the bamboo tongs. Then they may burn.

But when they are good, and come through ...  The crack of the brown scorched shell, perhaps just caught alight in a thin, glowing red line, smouldering like incense, the furry paper inside husk and the steaming kernel, its hard raw starches turned to chewy sugars.  You roast them one at a time, alternating eating them with the clementines, so that your fingertips go from charcoal and ash and hot to the cool and fragrant oils and juices in the skin and flesh of the citrus fruit.  Then you burn the husks and shells, the peel and the crackled drying leaves with their scent of petitgrain on the fire.  An afternoon can pass this way, with a much-loved book, and tea, and nowhere much to go and no one much to see.


Yet for all this idyll of indolence, I am prey to anxiety at this time.  I look forward to the lull, to being momentarily free of obligations, I envision a time of timelessness and dreaming, of serene emptiness, but also that somehow I will accomplish many useful tasks of restoring order in neglected corners, and still do something original and creative, and that I'll catch up on all the worthy and serious reading I've been setting aside.  In addition I see us taking long and healthy walks, as well as having the odd bit of contact with other people now and then ...

It's a lot to ask of a week or so holiday, and at a low-ebb time of year, of course, and I am inevitably stalked by a sense of failure; that I have left undone those things which I ought to have done, and done those things which I ought not to have done and there is no health in me.  Even the well-loved book seems questionable in its familiarity - why am I still hanging out with Celia and Sir James and Mrs Cadwallader and Camden Farebrother (for they are the ones I really love, more than the rather tiresome idealists and their disappointments), shouldn't I be getting out more, meeting some new and more exotic and exacting literary company?   My own drive to make anything is hampered and beset by a creeping sense of its own pointlessness, by the numberless crowds of other things there are yet to learn about, and the knowledge that other people have made things so much better already; idleness and the presence of too much of the kind of food and drink I've been getting better at avoiding bring about a creeping heaviness of body - one of the six hard-worn-away kilos back already - and spirit.  Abundance confounds me, and the weather has been dismal for walking and taking photos.

I bewail all this to Tom. Heaven forfend, he agrees, that we should actually relax and please ourselves this week.


I take out the tin of pastel pencils I bought when I went to England, and make myself draw a clementine and a chestnut, though the tin contains no colour orange.


We go to visit my new friend.  She quizzes Tom on St John of the Cross; I don't know if he passes muster better than I do but they seem quite taken with each other.  She has set up her pottery figures with the paperwhite narcissus bulb I brought last time, so that I can take a photograph.


Today,  we walk in the fog, Molly and I, further than we have done lately.  The countryside is, as it so often seems to be at this time,  sodden and dull, reduced to earth and grey and grudging green, the last colours in the paint pots once again.  Sullen heaps of manure lowering  along the field edges provide some of the few discernible forms in the landscape. The fog has hung heavy water drops on the trees, which are almost bare except that the early cold seems to have prompted the oaks to hang on more stubbornly to their rust brown and ochre leaves.  There is an occasional breeze, despite the foggy pall, and walking under them, they throw water at me in a tetchy imitation of rain.

It is so difficult not to be affected by light, or its absence, but reason tells me that this milder, damp weather is really something I should be thankful for.  Crystalline wintry high pressure, beautiful as it is, is a worry when it comes to driving, and getting up on endlessly dark mornings to go to work, as I must again from Monday.  And the globules of dew which the fog leaves, while they don't glitter and sparkle and delight, have their own reluctant glow and grace.  For Molly too, the crushed and dampened earth, the broken vegetation and moisture laden air filled with the smells of the winter-driven wild creatures, are sweet delight, she is lively and especially interested in the world around her.  I realise that for her these days, the world as I perceive it today - visually obscure, colourless, its shapes unclear, with muffled sounds from uncertain quarters pressing on the outside of the foggy curtain - is perfectly normal.  So I enjoy the walk more through her eyes, or rather nose.

The light is always still there, it will be back.


I dreamed of my sister last night.  There were the usual incongruities and inexplicable elements of most dreams, but in essence we were back to a time before she died, but I knew what was going to happen.  There was a melée of distractions and problematical activity going on around us, but suddenly I knew the important thing was to go and put my arms round her and tell her I loved her, and I did.

I am not much for New Year, never have been.   The celebrations always seemed  forced, and usually left me feeling miserable; New  Year resolutions are a dubious tradition.  The change of date from one year to the next is necessary but arbitrary; time and change go their own way regardless of how we choose to mark them out.  But mark it we do, and that tends to lead to reflection and a taking of stock.  In a personal and family sense, 2010 will always be marked as a year of great  loss and sadness, but not one of darkness.  I resolved this year to live as well as I could, against timidity and sloth and my own limitations, as a promise to someone who showed me how.  As with any worthwhile resolve, making and keeping it is a work in progress, I fail over and over and have to renew the resolve time and again.  Resolutions, promises, commitments, aren't one-off events, announced therefore accomplished, but need perpetual review and maintenance, if they mean anything at all.


Tonight we'll watch Cate Blanchett Elizabeth the first the second and her amazing CGI Spanish Armada, and sundry other fibs and anomalies, in a spirit of why-not, which will take us past midnight here, otherwise we wouldn't bother staying up.  Lunch at friends' tomorrow, that's fine. 

Happy New Year.


herhimnbryn said...

Clementines and chestnuts. You have taken me back to my childhood!
My Mum woud open the drawer to a desk in the sitting room and fill it with the glorious orange fruit. It looked like a modern day cornucopia. We used to pile chestnuts onto the metal ash pan and place it on the coals of the fire...

I understand the mix of emotions at this time of the year. All I can say is follow your own path. I will email you the video I sent to family and friends this year.

Zhoen said...

May your new year smell good.

Nice scritches to Moll.

Dale said...

I still want to be Farebrother when I grow up, though the probability of succeeding grows fainter with each passing year :-)

Lucy, your words and pictures are very dear to me, a warmth in the cold and a light in the dark. I'd gainsay you: I don't think anyone makes these things better than you.

marja-leena said...

We don't do much with New Year's either unless we get together some years with dear friends at either of our homes. Tonight I think we'll just watch a film too. We just did a video chat with our family in the UK, sharing an early toast to the New Year. As one who never makes resolutions, I do always have to fight procrastination and laziness in meeting goals I set for myself in my work.

I wish to thank you for your always pleasurable writing and lovely photos, and to wish you and Tom a very Happy, Healthy and Creative New Year! And many happy walks for Mol!

Rouchswalwe said...

Sauerkraut for tomorrow is in the oven and the place smells like it should, but I know what you mean about reflecting and the movement of time. In Japan, we would sleep through the midnight hour and then celebrate by watching the sun come up the next morning. It wasn't until then that folks would wish each other a happy new year. And I cannot agree more when you point out the need for perpetual review and maintenance of those commitments and promises we make to each other. A sweet responsibility for certain.

You and Tom and Molly have a good movie night! Sending hugs!

Fire Bird said...

well done you xx

Catalyst said...

Lucy, for Christmas I gave the BRD a plaque which states boldly: "I would give up chocolate . . . but I'm no quitter!"

The "festivities" of New Year's Eve are long in our past. A quiet evening is our way of doing it these days. No sin. No loss. I hope you have a great new year.

Roderick Robinson said...

You worry about being pointless and in the very act of articulating that worry you drive away the threat. Writing, grown-up-style, switching from the abstract to the particular, from description to reflection, is a worthwhile endeavour and in your case passes the final test by being appreciated. True you don't eat, drink, sit on or smear on toast the end-product but you enact the metaphor of radio: you oscillate, amplify, and transmit electromagnetic radiation which is picked up by receivers tuned to your transmission frequency, amplified and used to drive a loudspeaker. At which point the metaphor breaks down. For it seems you broadcast on a multiplicity of frequencies to a whole slew of differently turned radios and different messages emerge as congenial sound. Or perhaps I should have stuck to the chestnut-roasting metaphor you were starting to develop then dropped - like a hot chestnut. Radio Lucy, FM, 90.2 - 94.3 Mhz, for all your spiritual and entertainment needs.

Unknown said...

It strikes me that cheerfulness ultimately resides even in moments of self-doubt and fleeting depression. It springs up in the way you write and the way you draw, the things you surrounds yourself with, and the satisfaction of defined thoughts developed and articulated. BB seems to have touched on a melancholy note in Works Well but the sun has come through in it as it does in your photograph. My resolution to be cheerful doesn't mean to be cheery, oh no! Rather it means to look at things and speak of them clearly precisely as you do today, and having looked to be of good cheer, because, my goodness, there is much to cheer about, as you demonstrate. Cheers to you and Tom.

Lucy said...

Thanks all, you are lovely.

I shouldn't succumb to this kind of self-pity and fishing; the key to doing something is to do it, not moan about how you can't. And once I started to post I started to feel better about it.

We gave up on the film - the combination of torture and flagrant historical inaccuracy was too much - and went to bed before midnight.

HHB - I loved that video, what an amazing person! The clementines in the bureau drawer are a vivid and quaint image.

Z - yes, nice smells are important. And I shall take a leaf from your book and dance more too. Moll appreciates the scritches!

Dale - ah, Farebrother. But then he doesn't get the girl, but loses her to that feckless wastrel Fred, one of the most outrageous and true-to-life injustices in all classic fiction perhaps... GE was too easy on feckless and self-indulgent young men, I reckon. I'd be quite happy to be Mrs Cadwallader myself, but again, the chances are fading of my growing adequate quick wit and self-assurance. Alack. I raise your gainsay: you make things better than I, but I don't mind a bit, because you make the world better by it.

ML - I hope you had a lovely evening anyway. I think unless one is painfully driven, working on one's own in any form, setting one's own goals is bound to be difficult. Even with outside deadlines, I find I can't really get the most out of time until it becomes more compressed! Though sometimes the wool-gathering stage can have its uses. Wisdom to know the difference. It certainly doesn't hinder you making marvellous things!

R - Thank you for your friendship and hand held out this year, very much. Do you know, I have never eaten sauerkraut, not even as choucroute! Wishing happy NY on the morning of the day itself is a good idea.

FB - and you, my old friend.

Cat - all good wishes to you to, thanks for being around. I still have the really choice chocs saved up; I do love chocolate still, but wish there wasn't so much of it about at this time. I find I'm eating it when I don't really want to, and it doesn't always agree with me, but still, mustn't grumble! BRD certainly looks very good on it anyway!

BB - 'in the very act of articulating that worry you drive away the threat'
Indeed, but better still to do whatever in the face of the sense of pointlessness and not bother to articulate it! Thank you so much for all your kindness and wit, wild and wise words and flights of fancy, for making me smile very often and paying me more compliments than I deserve!

Plutarch - you are always and ever a guiding light and an inspiration. I understand about cheerfulness as a way of looking at the world, and as a much deeper, often more difficult thing than mere cheeriness, as a discipline, a contemplation and a balm; you show me how. Much love.

Dick said...

Not self-pity, Lucy - a kind of melancholy with which I'm very familiar and that seems more appropriate at this time than the witless shouting in each other's faces that passes for letting go of one year and greeting the next. You experienced a mighty loss in 2010; in a different way, so did I. The impact of such events informs everything. We're due our moment or two of sober reflection. 'All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better'.

I think that of late we've not mutually visited as much as once we did. But what you write and how you write it and what you see and how you record it give me as much pleasure as ever. So in 2011, as Arnie has it, I'll be back!

Kelly said...

I would like to start with a message from the malcontent for you Lucy.

Have a not angry, not sad, not miserable New Years. If you don't feel like being happy the be who you are and who cares what everyone else thinks if they are in disagreement with how you fell today.

Every time I read your blog, it makes me see a part of myself that sometimes I am not willing to acknowledge or in some cases didn't even know existed. The depth or your emotions and your eye for detail combined with the way you manipulate the language always allows me to leave your blog a little better person than when I should up. Forever forward my only resolution is to be the best me I can be. That removes any burden or promise or commitment from it and allows me to try to do better but to not get down if I miss the mark.

Thanks for all of the support you provide me when I actually get around to writing something and for checking on me when I get involved into extended research into the subject of procrastination. Happy New Year and may this year bring you all the good things the universe has to offer.

HKatz said...

I've always liked Mary Garth more than Dorothea Brooke.

the key to doing something is to do it, not moan about how you can't. And once I started to post I started to feel better about it.

That's usually how these things turn out. Whatever you work on offline, I hope it takes on the best qualities of your blog posts with their clarity, beauty, and honesty. Have a productive and creative year to come.

YourFireAnt said...

Loss and great sadness. That's for sure. We skipped Ch'mas this year, not having the heart for it.

Next year, though.


and I have always felt that the new year begins on Sept. 1st.

20th Century Woman said...

Ah, Lucy, you paint so well with the paint pots and the words. I think you capture the universal discomfort of mid-winter sloth and shivers. And just look at the beauty you have generated!

Spring is on the way.

May this new year be happier than the old one.

the polish chick said...

i, too, am not much for new year's celebrations, and i let no new year's resolution come anywhere near my house. still, your line "to live as well as I could, against timidity and sloth and my own limitations" made me cringe at the vast swathes of time i have wasted in the last several years, irretrievably lost in my own indolence and fear.

happy new year, dear lucy, although belated the wishes are true. i will try, like you, to live as well as i can.