Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Assessing April

In my eyes, April is always a hybrid and certainly more so this year as it lacked Easter. What does April have going for itself if not Easter? No day within it marks the astronomical beginning of spring; there are no bank holidays; it is bang in the middle of the non-sale season, three months after the winter sale and three months ahead of the summer sale; daffs have whithered into papery yellowness; the trees are undecided and the weather is neither good nor bad. Perhaps this last point is what has most characterised this April for me; it was foul most of the time, with only a few sparks of light and tentative springy-ness around about now. So very different from April last year, when I had started dabbing in sunny fields and I couldn't yet tack up a horse.

On the plus side, I strung in a lot of riding, despite the lashings and lashings of rain, and I started blitzing agents for my upcoming book. Well, actually, I blitzed one agent only, but I had a constructive exchange with her which has strenghtened my proposal as well as my resolve. Now I just need to find an agent that will, not only really like my topic, but also be prepared to fight for it. I cannot say to be thrilled that she decided not to be this agent, for I deeply wanted her to be The One, but I am afraid that in publishing, and in life in general, wanting in isolation isn't good enough. I cannot say that returning to my proposal is easy after this rejection, but I realise that this is the time when I must stay focused, for obstacles are those things we see when we take our eyes off our target. It would be even too easy to re-open my neat .pdf, dissect it until it is torn into shredded words and put it back together in a completely different fashion. I am all for helping oneself, you see, but I do think that cosmetic overhauls do not benefit those who do not need them. I could inject further novelty value into the proposal, I could facelift it to high Heaven until I do not recognise it any longer, yet I do not want a stilted plastic doll in place of writing that smiles, frowns, laughs and sighs at every sentence. Tonight I will return to my list, assess the non-fiction agents that already caught my eye and see who to tackle next with the proposal as-is.

Still, progress has been made on multiple levels in April, whether I like April or not. I am ready to go on my riding course next week, I have attended my first knitting workshop, which was helpful and great fun from start to finish and I have a really good proposal to send to more agents starting now. Oh and I also have a lovely hank of pure silk yarn to start a waterfall scarf with. Who says that you cannot do something of value in lousy April? I am hopeful, albeit through the sting of rejection, and ever so positive. Let's see what May brings.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Horsey Day Spa

Despite the lashing rain, I managed to treat the boy to a full-on service. Now I need to buy him some mane extentions...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Socks Have It

They all say that there is something addictive about knitting socks. Personally, I find that there is something addictive about knitting and crocheting and needles, about markers, hooks and yarns in general. As I reported below, I am far from an accomplished knitter. Or crocheter. But wherever I am at in this knitting journey, I owe it to one place that has been instrumental in my wish to get into knitting seriously, not just as a mere passer-by observing others having fun, but as a hands-on knitter. Fibre and Clay is the place responsible for this fever, one that has progressively escalated since the first time I had a look through its windows and had a peek at a world that was only a couple of hooks and needles away. It was July 2006. Even though I attended the knit gatherings on and off in that autumn, it was not until this year that I got knee-deep into knitting. I am now a Ravelrer, I have visited knit stores all the way to New York, and in fact I returned from it with an amazing stash.

Today saw my first formal knitting workshop and it was about knitting socks. Yes, they are fiddly, yes, you may be asking yourself why on earth knitting socks when you could be doing something else. I don’t ask myself that; usually, I ask myself why on earth am I filling in this spreadsheet with info that means nothing to me, instead of being at home knitting socks? But then maybe that’s just me, someone trapped in an alien world made up of batch runs, migration of data, interfaces, code drops and test environments, when my heart and my mind are consistently elsewhere. It was hard to concentrate this morning because the first air of spring wafted in through the open window after a looooong winter and because I pondered on how wonderful it would be to be doing this all the time, to have the luxury of getting up in the morning without the tyrannical schedule of a grey, soulless office inhabited by people who could not be more different from me if they tried, to go to this lovely place and knit in the company of women who are very interesting and very talented as well.

Helen run the workshop and I cannot wait to take more of her classes. I now do not feel so hopelessly finger-less when holding the tiny needles and once I’m finished here, I will go back to my lovely Regia hot pink yarn and start following a pattern. I will also try to knit in the round with circular needles and see whether that is any easier than holding three, four or even five double-pointed ones. Practice makes perfect... not that I expected perfect socks tonight but I do expect lots of practice.

The lovely Fibre and Clay.

Helen at the workshop.

My sock yarn.

For more about Helen and her work click here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Literary Superstar

I discovered Jacqueline Wilson a few years back, on a lunchbreak spent trailing Waterstone’s at the corner of Fleet Street near Blackfriars Bridge. Secrets had just come out and because you can judge a book by its cover, I decided to buy it. I was so taken, I used to sneak it under my desk so that I could read a bit further , sheltered by the open laptop and the knowledge that my manager had popped out for coffee. It is a known fact that children’s authors are particularly good in the UK, and that Jacqueline was Children’s Laureate in 2005-2007. But even among a flurry of talented authors, she remains head and shoulders above the rest. She is real, un-sentimental, comical and dramatic; her stories aren’t tear-jerkers, nor are they pointless fantasy romps with Tolkien-esque pretensions (and just as deadly tedious). She is more engaging than Lewis Carrol, her world more fascinating than over-rated Narnia, her characters so memorable I remember all of them and I never ever re-read books. I am particularly fond of Vicky Angel, an exceptional exploration of bereavement, The Illustrated Mum, a fabulous analysis of mother-daughter love, and Girls Under Pressure, a sensitive, comical analysis of thin and fat issues. My Sister Jodie which I have just finished reading and is currently still sitting on my bedside table, is another gem.

‘The teachers stood in a sober line, gripping their hymn books. Jed was there too, in an old donkey jacket because it was clearly the only dark garment he possessed. His head was bowed. He looked white and watery-eyed. He could have been grief-stricken, but then again he might simply be suffering from a hangover.’

Leaving New York Never Easy

A whole chapter of my PhD is dedicated to movies. Horror movies and super-hero movies to be precise, but movies nonetheless even though to some both of these are the epitome of dumbing down. They are not; they are socially extremely powerful. Still, a part of me wishes I could drop in references to old movies (say, Casablanca) because that is what is regarded as the intelligent thing to do, isn't it? Yet, there is one movie above all others that I could never tire of watching or playing in the background as I iron or tidy up; You’ve Got Mail. Mail is hardly Tom’s most sparkling one, yet it is clearly symptomatic of why he makes so much money and nobody minds one bit about it. Mail captivates me every time as if it were the first. Even now, its catchy soundtrack distracts me and I find my gaze wandering from this to the small window in the top corner where Meg Ryan too is sitting on a bed with her Mac on her lap and her charming online companion offers her advice from cyberspace. What I love the most is that it is set in New York, a New York very different from the one of Wall Street or American Psycho or any Woody Allen offering. No matter how many times I visit, I go on a Mail pilgrimage, hopping from Riverside Park to the endearing townhouses overlooking it, from Zabar’s to H&H Bagels, from little upper west side cafes to the ever-classic Starbucks.

When I watch Mail, I feel like I am taking a bed tour of my favourite places, like the movie was shot in my back streets. And even though I may not live in New York, it is fair to say that I have enough of an emotional attachment to it, and this movie, to call it a second home. I got married there and I met my husband online in the days when Mail was new and online dating did not exist. I hang onto a very romanticised view of New York where my life is perfect, where I haven't got a care in the world, where all I need worrying about is hopping from cab to cab and from museum to shop. I suppose that's also one of the reasons why leaving New York is never easy. Much as many people claim that we need, even crave, the regular domestic space, the regular work routine and so on, I know that, at least for me, it ain't true. I would quite happily swap my intellectually challenging working life for one of leisure. And anyway, who says that working inside the house is less challenging than working outside of it? I'd sure love to try.

Summer Beckons

This morning the sky grew darker and darker until it eventually released so much rain you’d think it hadn’t rained for years. Victoria was startled by the thunders while William ensured he was out of sight as I approached the patio doors for a couple of pics. He probably feared I would send him outside for a toilet break... As is often the case at this time of year, the day later turned into something quite different, with clouds scuttling across the sky and quite a potent sunshine. It coincided with the arrival of my food order from Northern Harvest. I know I shouldn’t insist so, for it is not July yet, but I am so enamoured with tomatoes that I try and eat them all year round, even when Summer seems far, far away still.

As it happens, these are absolutely wonderful and flavoursome. Just the sight of them, still attached to the vine, with a whiff of fruit, grass and soil sent me back to the vegetable patch that my dad was maintaining when I was a child. I used to walk around the tall plants without a care in the world, snapping peas, pulling tomatoes and eating straight from the trees. I would often spot dad, the epytome of tidiness and precision as far as I am concerned, walking around the paths, picking pea shells I had dropped behind like a Greatel sans the gingerbread or the evil old woman. I suppose I already knew then I was born to be a vegetarian. With the tomatoes, I pulled up a large bunch of asparagus; they made me squeal like caviar would a Fortnum and Mason foodie. I like mine steamed, plunged in the very classic boiled egg sprinkled with white pepper. In fact, I may as well forfeit dinner out tonight and get steaming.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hopeful Reflections

Last August my dad cut the pear tree right down, so that my garden won’t be infested with dead pears come October and my dogs wouldn’t feast on them day and night. It may seem silly, but the tree really did need a rest; it was producing a ton of conference pears, all of abysmal quality, small, hard and very often mouldy before they got ripe. After many twiglet months, life has returned to the branches and today I noticed tufts of frilly white flowers high up to the sky. It made me smile and I had to take a picture of it, especially after the right downer of a day I had at work. I was stuck in a meeting with one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever met in my life. It is indeed true that consultants are usually a bunch of asses that fly very high with the unclippable wings of self-importance, but this one beats even the most blown-up kytes I’ve encountered so far. He told a colleague to shut up; another immediately left the room in outrage. I wavered and pondered, firmly in my seat, having an out of body experience, observing my life from the top of the room, wondering why and how I ended up sharing my days with people who can be so disrespectufl towards some whom they barely know. It is not the working life I had dreamt of and certainly not the working life that my studies had even remotely hinted at. I have a degree in wonderful English literature and I am completing a PhD in cultural studies. What am I doing in a heartless, soulless technical job? Yet, I smell the so-called winds of change. I have seen the tree, fatigued and bent over by the great strain. I have seen it naked and broken, contemplating the thundering clouds and the quieter days. Something is happening in my life right now and I am clutching small flowers and curly petals.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Boot Rooms and Footmen

Today I returned home from a hack that required an immediate hot shower. We did plenty of dripping trot in lashings and lashings of rain and wind. My waxed jacket did not disappoint, but even Merv’s tack needed a good clean once I made it back. I am not too enamoured with tack-cleaning, mostly because I tend to do it at the stables and it’s usually wet and miserable there, or because if I do it at home it makes me feel hopelessly inadequate. Faced with a bridle dripping with spit, a muddy girth and encrusted riding boots, my mind raced back to the mansion at Tatton Park which I visited last weekend. Not only does the mansion have a fabulous music room and a library whose walls are lined with books up to the very tall ceiling, but it has a boot room, where staff used to clean the riding and hunting boots of the Egertons of Tatton. Oh to live in that place and to have staff that expertly works through saddles, bridles, reins, bits, boots and spurs.

If I lived at the mansion, I would not even drive a car any more, enamoured as I am with Knutsford. I would be able to get my steed out in the morning (no, actually a member of staff would bring him up to me looking like he has just come out of Horse Guards’ Parade), and I’d be able to trot all the way down to Knutsford itself, where I would then stop for breakfast (at Starbucks I’m afraid) and for a spot of yarn shopping at Fibre and Clay. I’d be able to go to church and tie Merv outside it and then we would be able to walk downhill to bottom street, and then we would stop at La Boutique D’Or, which sells lots of frumpy stuff, but also stocks fabulous Flora Kung silk dresses. And then we would be off for a canter up the fields, back home, where my footman would get my boots and they would discreetly disappear into the bowels of the mansion. I think I’ll forfeit cleaning my boots today; I forgot them in the car and it’s too miserable to even step outside and get them. Welcome back to reality really.

Tatton Park Mansion

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Creative Perfection

Today I visited Buxton for the first time and was suitably impressed by the fabulous drive there, framed by moody peaks and adorable sheep and lambs, and by the lovely ceramics of the fair at the Dome. I bought a mug which I am presently using as a vase. Nine daffs poked through the shambles that is my front garden; I am always awed by their resilieance. They were planted years ago and are pretty much suffocated by grovel, membrane and debris I am always too busy, and too little inclined, to remove. Yet every year they come up long after most daffs have finishing blooming, with a stamina I never knew flowers could display. And mine are pert, very sunny and very lovely.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Beluga Tea

I have heard of people who discovered L'Occitane while browsing in Knightsbridge and of others that never knew Crabtree and Evelyn existed until they stumbled upon one of their shops in Paris. How funny that one can discover something wonderful so far away from its motherland. I seem to be doing just that with tea. Can you believe that I had never had Mariage Freres tea until I found the black tins in Bergdorf Goodman in New York? Or that I really came to love Laduree in London, despite multiple trips to Paris? And this year I've done it again, I have fallen for a hybrid Russian/French tea (it's really Russian, but they are based in Paris) while browsing groceries in New York's Zabar's. I was taken by the beautiful tins, because, after all, everyone knows that for everything important it is style and not substance that truly matters, but as it happens with this tea, it's not just the tin that grabs you. The contents themselves are absolutely gorgeous. None of that rusk one finds in gauge-like bags, none of that mono-smell that reminds me of nothing other than stale university residences where lingering mugs are left to sprout fungi. This tea (and indeed Laduree teas and Mariage Freres tea) are something else entirely. When some of my philistine friends (and, bless them, I have got loads) feebly claim that they just 'prefer PG tips', I smile wistfully. You know what, I quite like PG tips myself, but choosing them over Kusmi is not unlike favouring trout roe over Beluga caviar.

Buy it here and read about it here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Weekend Work

For a long time, and certainly just before I started Domestic Miss, I thought that the weekend was a pretext to do work one doesn't have the time to do during the week. And you know what? I think I was, and am, right. I was recently talking to my friend Kev, he who returns home to Manchester city centre after a week spent working in the south of England, and he pretty much spends both days running errands, setting his house up so that he can leave it again at 4 am on Monday morning. What's the point in that? In fact, what's the point in MY weekend, one that is usually spent doing the washing? I don't know what it is but my washing always piles up and up and up until, around about Saturday afternoon, it seems like a good time to start. And so in go the whites. Then the blacks. Then in go the delicate nudes. After that all the colour-fast pinks and the reds. Then the horsey and the dog gear and so on until on Sunday afternoon, at about this time, I find myself with a pile of crumpled everything up the ceiling. Sorting out the dry washing is less exciting than the proverbial observation of drying paint. Much as my iron is an old wreck now incapable to spurt steam, it is always with a vague sense of satisfaction that I neatly pile up the pillowcases and duvet covers and roll them tight all together, so that I can find the whole set next time I change the bedding (also on Sundays, usually). Yet, I still resent the weekend as an excuse for different work. I wonder whether I would feel any better if I had one of those mega-powerful-all-singing-all-dancing steamers that cost £ 500? Heck, I wouldn't even have space for it. The ironing board folded in a corner of the bedroom is bad enough an omen by itself.

Spring Is Coming Part II

What is there to say really?
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