Tuesday, 24 March 2020

On watching an eagle

It was warm - very warm for late-ish March and I was lying on our terrace watching the clouds. What for a brief moment I thought was a plane, was in fact an eagle, riding the thermals and perhaps eyeing the Earth's surface with a little more clarity than a normal Saturday afternoon's atmosphere might have allowed.
I am not for a moment ignoring the terrible plight around our globe that the virus is causing, and we are in a privileged position in that we have space, a garden, family members that aren't (so far) plotting each other's demise, and we are allowed out. BUT, there is a strange feeling of slowness, a tangible noticing of the small and often overlooked stuff. And this seems too be increasing on social media - forgotten recipes being tried out, a certain make do with what you have, knitting, foraging, taking up of instruments, garden activities, reading...

                                               Foraged salad last night.

I'm sure there's also an astronomical increase in the amount of Netflix, media platforms, etc being used too but hopefully people might be looking elsewhere for inspiration. I do have a reoccurring image of the remote server buildings - whatever and wherever they actually are - as bulging and creaking sheds, smoke issuing forth. Well, they say loading up an image to Instagram is the equililant of boiling a kettle . . . Actually, to add to the problem, I'm going to ask Uncle Google about this.
(Blogger opens up new window). Nope can't find anything. Maybe I dreamt it. Anyway, a nice general statistic - the internet uses 10% of the world's electricity. Yep, that sounds possible.

So. Life in our compound. I jokingly call our house and garden the compound, but it has become just that. We are allowed out with the right paperwork, to buy food, exercise for up to an hour and within a kilometre of the house, or to see a doctor. The town is utterly dead apart from a queue (a meter between folk) at the post office when they choose to open, a small supermarket, our favourite bio shop with its new very reduced hours, and, interestingly, the wine shop...

                                                            very quiet town square

Our son is back from art college - classes closed possibly for the rest of the year, Mark off from work and me doing what I usually do - writing, organising house, garden, etc, but with added frequent phoning and texting to check all friends and family are okay.
It's a strange time, like a very elongated Christmas day without the overeating, crap TV and presents; a very personal family time of work and getting together to cook, eat, play board games, watch films and walk the dogs. Not much else. And so far, none of us have missed anything from the busier life at all.
Of course there are questions and simmering anxieties: we are in the middle of selling the house, but can't go to look at other properties. What will everything be like in two months? a month, a week, even a day? Will the entire world economy built on nothing very real, crash? Everything is changing so rapidly. Unprecedented . . . everything.
About two months ago I was having dinner with some friends and I asked our host, who lives part year here and part year in New York, where he would choose to be if there were suddenly no flights - the sort of notion that often flits around my mind . . . he looked at me as if I were slightly deranged (possible) and said something along the lines of, 'Well, that's not going to happen, is it?' I pressed him further, and he still insisted it wasn't worth thinking about. I said, 'No, go on, really, tell me' or something similar and eventually he said, 'Okay, here, then.' Unfortunately they took a flight back to New York a couple of weeks later, so the choice was made. How odd now looking back at that point and now knowing that so many of the world's planes are now sitting about on tarmac - in fact, stored as much as possible in deserts to reduce corrosion.
I try not to think too much about the domino effects caused by this micro bug; it's all a bit too huge and scary, rather like thinking about what's beyond our universe. But for sure, the world is going to change drastically, and hopefully not necessarily in a negative way. Time to consider how we can move forward; address all the climate problems that were and still are to there to be addressed. Maybe we can no longer nip off to Iceland for a mini-break, or take a cruise, or believe our governments. Maybe it's the moment for re-scaling - scaling down, teleological descent, smaller communities, shared farming projects. Maybe we've reached a summit that we shouldn't have reached and peered into a dark and frightening future chasm. Maybe, we should quietly tip-toe back a few years or even decades and rethink our role on this planet.

A quote I like by Paul Kingsnorth, author of the Wake.

‘We like to think that the fate of the Earth and the fate of human worlds are the same thing, but we’re not as important as that’.


Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Book launch in unusual times....

Londonia is a dystopian tale, albeit a relatively cheery one, but I didn't expect to be shoving it off from its moorings in quite such an extraordinary moment in time.

Having planned the event for many weeks the thought of the whole thing being called off was depressing to say the least - and I know thousands of other folks are in a similar and worse situation with far bigger events to worry about. Anyway, we did it - just in time, on Friday the 13th of March 2020.

Arrived early evening in London and headed for our favourite home-from-home cheapy hotel, St Athans, in Bloomsbury. Visited the local Indian restaurant for a plate of veg curry, returned and slept soundly.

Mad day of trawling Oxfam shops for a selection of plates, mugs, glasses etc to 'prop' the food section of the venue. (As the book is largely concerned with the heroine's profession of Finder and super scavenger, I felt an eclectic mix of old crockery would be appropriate). Also found a suitable recycled outfit for me, including a goodly hat from a clothes jumble emporium in Covent Garden, red stiletto boots from Goodge street Oxfam and a five quid Aquascutam jacket to which I added a large embroidered bird motif - added later at three o'clock in the morning when I couldn't sleep...
Took it all back to the hotel, replied to about fifty emails all concerning whether the launch was going ahead - some people being nervous, most encouraging me to do it. The venue staff were fine, my brother doing the food was fine, nearly everyone was coming, so I stopped worrying and continued writing lists.
Supper in bizarre 70s time-warp Italian restaurant on Southampton Row, where there were many suited men with tattooed bald heads, and appalling music. The food was good - after I sent it back for being undercooked.

I didn't sleep apart from about two hours during which my dreams were more chaotic than usual, so was feeling somewhat dazed. Had breakfast in a caf round the corner and earwigged lots of conversations about The VIRUS, one including the phrase: 'so does pasta and bog roll kill the virus then? Har-har-har-har...'
Went and queued up outside Waitrose along with many people peering through the glass doors to see if bog rolls had been re-stocked. Eight o'clock, the doors opened and their was a gentle, middle-class stampede for the afore-mentioned items. I was after unusual beers that I could soak the labels off and use for my own 'Stripy Horse Drinking-House beers' plus some wine box wine that could be bastardised and put into demijohns and a few cakes to alter. Paid scary bill and left it all to be collected later.
Went back to bed for a bit and stared at the ceiling. Got up and met our lovely relatives who were going to help with the event - Nick having agreed to be MC. Indian resto lunch, collected all the china, food etc and went to the venue. Gill and I went to buy a vast quantity of Indian sweets (barfi) and got lost; cab back and three hours of really mad prep. All exhausted as the venue is up three flights of stairs - but well worth it. Link below.

So. The soiree.


                                         The wonderful Shoreditch Treehouse

the Oxfam china

food table and Sid from 'The Gorecy Potatoes'


Me making 'gnole' labels

Me and my bro - Adrian who did all the magnificent food, with the help of Sophie and Terry



                                           Rosalie, Ray (publishers) and me

Nick the MC - questions and answers


                                              Me, sister in law, Katherine, and Nick



                                                                   book signing

Mark playing his 'Londonia Suite' at the close of the evening

Wonderful in every way. Ray and Rosalie from Tartarus - my publishers, appeared with incredibly heavy boxes of books (it is a big tome); Nick was brilliant as MC; his and Gill's son, Charlie wonderful as Bert-the Swagger in the introduction; my brother and team surpassed themselves with the food; intrepid and lovely friends, family, agent and new acquaintances all appeared, and Mark (husband) arrived hot-foot from the airport only a little late.
Music was provided brilliantly by Mark, Sid and Ruth - who appear in the book as the Gorecy (hot in Polish) potatoes.
I answered Nick's questions, read three sections of the book, and, yes, even though I am British, totally enjoyed being the centre of attention for an evening; to mark this personally important moment in time when a long-standing project finally came to fruition.
After Mark had played his 'Londonia suite' on the venue's magnificent Steinway, people gradually left and a mad clear up followed. Stood yawning waiting for a cab outside and back to the hotel where one of the lovely staff suggested in his slow, mesmerising Russian accent: 'I get you nice cup of tea?'
Which he did and it was nice. Very.
Good sleep but not enough.
Breakfast at the Bloomsbury coffee-house downstairs, then a long walk around Regents Park, Camden, and Euston to meet friend Claire for the Diwana Bel Poori House (wonderful vegetarian buffet) experience.

Nap, and met more friends for tea in Museum Street after which I gazed at my book in the window of Atlantis Bookshop.... Wow. Author happiness indeed. Signed books and then carried on to my favourite street in London - Cecil Court, where sits the very dangerous Storey's antique map shop. Had a browse, resisted buying a huge 1765 map of London, had a good chat with the owners then called in to Watkins and Goldsboro books to go on about my book - which they put up with charmingly.

Covent garden was scarily business as usual mass eating, drinking, self-admiration, shopping... Walked swiftly back to the hotel and out to very quiet favourite Italian restaurant called Montdello in Goodge Street which has all its 70s decoration and original owners firmly in place, praise be! Hotel. Bed.
Taxi to Liverpool St Station, Train to Stansted (we have given up flying but this was the only option for this occasion). Airport was similar to Covent Garden in its shopping frenzy-ness. We didn't partake of shop, eat and relax as we were late. Boarded three quarter-empty plane and spent most of the time gazing down at all the thousands of tiny villages and towns, wondering about each household's reaction to the eerie and rapidly changing virus advice unfolding via the various governments media teams.
Home. Dogs were fine, our lovely dog-sitter, Amy, fine; chickens, fine . . . all the madness and planning finished and end result very much enjoyed.

I'm writing this on Tuesday, back in my writing studio (bed with hot water bottles). It's Mark's birthday and we've just eaten a very fine roast lunch. Strange times, and I think I will stop at this point and make a new blog book. Feels like a fitting time. If the dystopian scenario in my novel were to come to pass . . . blog safe on paper and within cardboard . . . well, seems like a good idea.

Book can be ordered on link below, or from most bookshops/Amazon, etc.



                                               A quieter London - canal near Camden

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Gloom removers

Faced with fairly scary news, nothing better than to put on a favourite dance track and embarrass the dogs... my go to list: The Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey - a little bit of history repeating (video)

Groove Armada:  I see you shaking yer ass - Fat Boy Slim version,

Funkstars vs Bob Marley: sun is shining,

Tom Jones: Sex bomb,

Freddy Fresh: Badder Badder Schwing,

Parquet Courts: Total football, and many more...

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Nine hours

Sometimes so much can be absorbed in nine hours. The absorbing in this case was a 'weird stuff' road trip that Ezra (son) and I indulge in every so often. This blog has recorded many of them over years.
The weather was looking good - grey, damp, light rain maybe . . . After a bit of map perusal we set off in a Westerly direction to cover an area of the Ariege, previously uncharted - to us.
There is a French word - insolite, which I rather like; its meaning, odd, out of the way, unusual. These road trips usually reflect this word; sometimes intentionally - Ezra might have noticed a factory, dam, old mine or something else possibly interesting (in his mind), or it might just be a 'let's see what we happen upon' which Jane Austin might have said if she had taken part in an insolite horse and carriage road trip.

Photos from the day:

Former bureau and its doorbell sign

Part renovation on the far right side

captive taps within plane tree 

Wonderful old auberge with 15 euro menu

Their piano, bike and chair storage area

 Yes, a blue dog...

Not going anywhere...

Our route of the day highlighted in pink

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Small things of joy in a worrying world

I felt anxious for quite a lot of yesterday. It's tempting to keep glancing at the news: virus activity, Brexit stupidity, biodiversity - loss of... Today, helped by the fact it was dry and warm despite the rain announced, I planted lettuces in my chicken-proof area of the garden and made a small pond out of a yellow plastic something I had found previously at our local recycling haven. Chickens are forest  creatures by nature according to my favourite permaculture person on Youtube; they love to hang about in marshy areas under trees, roost and eat insects. Well, the small plastic pond isn't quite going to recreate that but it's a start.
Late February and the garden and all its occupants are behaving as if it's late March; why would they not though, I'm gardening in a t-shirt (and jeans ;0)) and it's about 25 degrees on the terrace . . . I've put signs out warning of being cautious re nest-building but certain birds have taken no notice - mainly our resident daft but lovely collared doves. They usually start attempting to build a nest around mid March behind one of our shutters - bizarre as the shutter open and shuts, obviously, and the few twigs become dislodged as dusk approaches and we are obliged to close up for the evening. I did hang an old basket in a tree at the edge of the terrace, even with some starter twigs inside but nope, the shutter was preferable. Eventually they flew off into one of the cypress trees and constructed their one up-one down for that nesting season.
So, the small thing of joy... this year, they have opted for a nesting site in the middle of the old conifer bush which borders the terrace. We can eat lunch/drink tea and quietly observe the comings and goings of the bloke-bird as his partner sits patiently on the rather basic, it must be said, twig platform.
Stop press: I've just observed over lunch that they take turns to nest-sit I had wondered if the male was about to bring a sort of packed lunch, but she's off to forage for her own.


Just found this image of a dove's nest behind a satellite dish, so maybe behind our shutter was not quite as odd a location as I thought.

It's early days for spring - far too early so I hope we don't get a vicious cold snap, not just for the doves' sakes; for ourselves as the wood-pile is almost gone (we had enough wood from last year due to this mild winter) and for the sakes of the early-blossoming fruit trees/vines and those who depend on their fruiting for their livelihoods. The last two years have resulted in late frosts in certain vine areas and masses of potential fruit not happening. 

Small fires lit to try and save the vines from frosting, April last year.

Other small things of joy today: Mark will probably make a cake, I will take the dogs out to a nearby lake then I'll make a fire and put aside time to read one of the many books on a teetering pile in the front room.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

The Joy of Less

Not a sequel to that famous 1970s classic, the Joy of Sex. Or maybe there is one - the Joy of Less Sex.
Anyway, the Joy of Less as in buying and using less, making do, etc in this time where increasingly I feel we won't have much choice in the relatively near future - might as well get used to it now. And it's nice; gives a great feeling of satisfaction and not being taken in by supermarkets and the like.
So. Less.
I've always been quite good at Less with regard to cooking - instilled probably during wilderness student days coupled with a slight laziness about buying ingredients. My mother was also queen of making-do, mainly as she absolutely had to. These things do get absorbed . . . my son rang me yesterday while he was preparing an evening salad! Yes!
Today: Slight glance at dust-covered recipe books . . . yawn. What 's in the cupboard/veg basket.' Oo, look, garlic, a leek, a potato, half an aubergine a few mushrooms and . . .' quick look in fridge . . . 'yep we have cheese and yogurt. That'll do.' This comes under the heading of one-pan cooking in our household. I've probably blogged about it before as it's so useful.
How to do it - serves two, or more, or less depending what else you can find/ want to leave for tomorrow's 'what's in the cupboard' gastronomic experience.
Fry garlic and leek in big frying pan, chop up mushrooms, aubergine, or whatever other veg is available, add to pan, sauté for a bit, add a layer of very thin sliced potato, bit of white wine/sherry, seasoning, put lid on and let it simmer for about ten minutes, then add dollops of yogurt and or cream, and crumbled cheese. Put lid on and go and do something else for ten minutes. Just check the pan hasn't dried out from time to time, add water/lemon juice/soy sauce if so. Ready.
Serve at the table or if you're on your own you can eat it direct from the pan. Yes, I do this sometimes, while watching a youtube about collapsology, permaculture or something appalling in French about millionaires spending habits - just for language instruction, of course.
One pan. One fork. Almost no washing up. New project! Useful, if rather thin, cookery book?


My other no-waste achievement today was to make a protecting bag for my novel when I hike around London bookshops with it. I had thought about buying one of those laptop bags but there isn't a shop locally that sells such things.
I'd wandered around the house for a while looking for a solution. Knitting one? No wool, and I can't remember how to cast on anyway.
Make one out of . . . hm. Old shirt/duvet cover? No, something thicker, more protective. At the bottom of the jumper cupboard I found a small embroidered rectangular blanket, an item that has travelled around with me forever though various moves but has never had a use. It had been, apparently, my cot blanket - crafted from a big, much-darned blanket by my grandmother. How perfect. A recycled thing I could recycle and use for my book which is largely concerned with recycling. And I found a 'I've Been to London' cloth badge in Mark's mother's old sewing box. Bit of ribbon from the wrapping box . . . done.
I might have to go and buy a cake to celebrate, however. Ah. Not needed, Mark's made one out of things he found in the cupboard.


Saturday, 1 February 2020

Suddenly a brighter day

Following on from last post . . . brighter for me anyway.
Interesting that a most magnificent rainbow had arched over our house just before the postman turned up and delivered a large blue sack containing a box within which were four copies of my novel, Londonia.

Thanks Tartarus Press. They look awesome, in the real sense of the word.

To pre-order:http://www.tartaruspress.com/hardy%2c-kate-a-londonia.html


It's a grimy, greasy day today and far from the Union-jacketed persons crowding London's streets drunken with Brexitwe've done it! hysteria, I took a walk down to the banks of the river Aude to document the havoc caused by 'natural causes' - excessive rainfall (which would have previously been snow before recent accelerating climate warming) and partial opening of a dam higher up in the mountains.

The metaphor being, destruction: uprooting and huge damage, but not by something out of our (humans) control, but by something chosen - and unfairly.
It just feels so sad. Both our poor root-revealled/fallen trees along the river, and that fact we have managed to extricate ourselves from a union which, although flawed, at its center had major human ideas of protection, trade, movement of citizens, and, crucially to guard against future happenings of which our older inhabitants remember all too well.
(See link to moving short film projected on the cliffs of Dover by the admirable 'Led By Donkeys')


So, the documentation of toppled trees, containers moved several hundred yards from their original place as part of the canoe club, and the remaining evidence of the full force of nature in its river form - huge scoured bowls full of rocks and sand.
I had stood on the old bridge during the day of the actual flood and had watched, along with many other people in a strange silent glazed state as the brown waters rose and trees cracked and broke against the ancient stonework, knowing as we all did that there was nothing that any of us puny humans could do about it.