• Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward

    Looking Glass Sound Book Review 4/5

    From the publisher: “Writers are monsters. We eat everything we see… In a windswept cottage overlooking the sea, Wilder Harlow begins the last book he will ever write. It is the story of his childhood companions and the shadowy figure of the Daggerman, who stalked the New England town where they spent their summers. Of a horror that has followed Wilder through the decades. And of Sky, Wilder’s one-time friend, who stole his unfinished memoir and turned it into a lurid bestselling novel, The Sound and the Dagger. This book will be Wilder’s revenge on Sky, who betrayed his trust and died without ever telling him why. But as he writes, Wilder begins to find notes written in Sky’s signature green ink, and events in his manuscript start to chime eerily with the present. Is Sky haunting him? And who is the dark-haired woman drowning in the cove, whom no one else can see? No longer able to trust his own eyes, Wilder feels his grip on reality slipping. And he begins to fear that this will not only be his last book, but the last thing he ever does. Discover the new dark thriller from the bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street.”

    A book that you will want to read in one sitting – page-turning, addictive, and thoroughly unsettling.

    Wilder’s parents inherit a cottage in laid back Whistler Bay. Spending a summer there, he meets Harper and Nat, building a close friendship over the following months – set against the unsettling background of local legends, specifically a killer named the Daggerman. What seems to start as an idyllic teenage summer starts to become something more, and events come to a head with a gruesome discovery. Years later, Wilder returns to Whistler Bay to complete his book about the events of that summer, and to make sense of the events that changed his life. However, things were not – are not – what they seemed.

    This truly is a book of two halves. I was drawn further and further into the story, but towards the end I was wondering just what was going on! Safe to say, nothing is as it seemed – I absolutely did not see the end coming, at all. The story flits between timelines and characters, giving an uneasy feel which is apt, but makes for a confusing read. I’m still not too sure what actually happened in the build up to the final revelation, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that – I love a storyline with twists and turns, however this one left me spinning! I’d have liked to spend more time with the events towards the end of the book – maybe a slower reveal, as the final fast pace was a contrast to the slow build up. I wanted more richness, I wanted to explore the events further, I wanted to understand and spend time in those delicious dark details.

    This is my first Catriona Ward book, and from reading other reviews the twists and turns seem to be a hallmark of Ward’s style – I’m so tempted to re-read and get a better purchase on the events that transpired in Whistler Bay. One thing is for sure though – it’s quite dark and very, very twisty, although I wouldn’t call it a horror. I honestly found the last few chapters hard to follow, but I also enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that had me thinking “did that actually just happen?!” at multiple points – I loved the way the story suddenly seemed to drop off a cliff and transform into something altogether more sinister, but it was very close to the line of possibly being too twisty for me – I’m still undecided. Although it’s made me want to seek out more books by Catriona Ward, so that can only be a good thing!

    Looking Glass Sound was published on 20th April 2023.

    Thank you to Netgalley from the ARC of this novel!

    Previous book review: The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

     

  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut

    The Maniac by Benjamín Labatut Book Review 5/5

    Cover of The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut. The cover is black and white and depicts and mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb.

    From the publisher:

    John von Neumann was a titan of science. A Hungarian wunderkind who revolutionized every field he touched, his mathematical powers were so exceptional that Hans Bethe – a Nobel Prize-winning physicist – thought he might represent the next step in human evolution.

    After seeking the foundations of mathematics during his youth in Germany, von Neumann emigrated to the United States, where he became entangled in the power games of the Cold War; he designed the world’s first programmable computer, invented game theory, pioneered AI and digital life, and helped create the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was the darling of the military industrial complex, but when illness unmoored his mind, his work pushed further into areas beyond human comprehension and control.

    The MANIAC places von Neumann at the center of a literary triptych about the dark foundations of our modern world and the nascent era of AI. It begins with Paul Ehrenfest, an Austrian physicist and close friend of Einstein, who fell into despair when he saw science and technology become tyrannical forces; it ends a hundred years later, in the showdown between the South Korean Go Master, Lee Sedol, and the AI program AlphaGo.

    Braiding fact with fiction, Benjamín Labatut takes us on a journey to the frontiers of rational thought, where invention outpaces human understanding and offers godlike power, but takes us to the brink of Armageddon.


    Review contains spoilers.

    The Maniac…hints at a darkness present at the limits of knowledge…the transmutation of that knowledge into ultimate power…

    Labatut’s first novel, ‘When we Cease to understand the World’, absolutely knocked me sideways. I’d never read anything like it – a heady, manic mash up of truth, fiction, and something almost in between the two. It’s a book that’s stayed in my mind ever since I first read it, and now, with The Maniac, Labatut is back and I’m glad to report it absolutely doesn’t disappoint.

    The Maniac tells the story of mathematical genius Janus (John) von Neumann, from the points of view of those surrounding him, following his journey from precocious childhood, his achievements in physics and mathematics, and his work on the atomic bomb. The Maniac is hard reading in places, with Labatut’s skilful weaving of fact and fiction painting a devastating picture of the interplay between genius and callousness. Particularly hard hitting is von Neumann’s calculations of the exact height from which to drop the bombs for maximum devastation and his abstinence in signing a joint letter to President Eisenhower, in which a group of nuclear physicists hope that the bombs they developed are never used.

    The main section of the book, concerning von Neumann, is told by those who work and live alongside him – school friends, colleagues, spouses. The overall picture is chilling, detailed and ultimately devastating. I found Labatut’s writing to show a sort of ease with which horrific weapons can be developed in the name of scientific advancement, and an apparent casualness in the work of some of the most intelligent minds employed to work on those weapons. The Maniac differs in tone from Labatut’s previous book – although the commentary concerning von Neumann’s seeming lack of morality may touch on similar concepts. At what point does genius become madness? The Maniac, however, hints at a darkness present at the limits of knowledge – not madness, individually, but the transmutation of that knowledge into ultimate power and the consequences that follow.

    The Maniac begins, and ends, with separate sections which seem to be mostly factual, although there is no indication as to which parts may or may not be fictionalised – and as someone unversed in the intricacies of chess tournaments, I would have no idea! The book begins with an account of Paul Ehrenfest, a physicist, becoming increasingly disillusioned by developments in the field and overwhelmed by societal implications for his disabled son. Terribly, Ehrenfest kills his son and commits suicide immediately afterwards. For me, this opening chapter has echoes of When We Cease To Understand The World – the tipping point between genius and madness. After von Neumann’s death, the book ends with a detailed account of the development of artificial intelligence, specifically relating to chess and the game Go, and the ability to defeat human players. As we enter this new world of AI and unknown power, we need to remember the consequences that may follow when pushing the limits of knowledge. A full 5 stars – I loved this.

    Thank you to #Netgalley for the ARC 🙂


     

    The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut cover, showing a mushroom cloud in sepia colours.

  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: Sisters Under the Rising Sun by Heather Morris

    Sisters Under the Rising Sun by Heather Morris Book Review 4/5

    From the publisher:

    In the midst of WWII, an English musician, Norah Chambers, places her eight-year-old daughter Sally on a ship leaving Singapore, desperate to keep her safe as the island falls to the Japanese Army.

    Sisters under the rising sun book cover.

    Australian nurse Nesta James has enlisted to tend to Allied troops. But as Japanese troops overrun the island she joins the terrified cargo of people, including the heartbroken Norah, crammed aboard the Vyner Brooke merchant ship. Only two days later, they are bombarded from the air off the coast of Indonesia, and in a matter of hours, the Vyner Brooke has sunk.

    After surviving 24 hours in the sea, Nesta and Norah reach the beaches of a remote island, only to be captured and held in one of the notorious Japanese POW camps. The camps are places of starvation and brutality, where disease runs rampant.

    But even here joy can be found, in music, where Norah’s ‘voice orchestra’ has the power to transport the internees out of the squalor and into the light. Sisters in arms, Norah and Nesta devote themselves to the women’s survival while discovering their own extraordinary reserves of courage, love and strength.

    Sisters under the Rising Sun is a story of women in war: a novel of sisterhood, bravery and friendship in the darkest of circumstances, from the multimillion-copy bestselling author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey and Three Sisters.


    We glimpse the pain of death, the worry of tropical disease and the horrific violence from the camp guards, but the story carries on, and the women carry on, as they must.

    Sisters Under the Rising Sun is based on the true accounts of a group of women captured during WW2 and interred in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. We learn of a group of Australian nurses, serving with the Australian Army, and meet others who are also taken prisoner.

    The story is mainly told by Nesta James, a nurse, and Norah Chambers, a musician from England. Once captured, the women are sent to a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia. Sisters Under the Rising Sun tells of their experiences in the 3 years and 7 months that they were incarcerated in the camps. The women were often split up and moved to different locations, and subjected to starvation, unsanitary conditions and hard labour. This is a hard-hitting read, but written in a style that somehow sets the reader away from the terrible things happening to the women. For me, it took a while to get used to the writing – I loved Morris’s previous books The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey immediately, but this wasn’t an instant connection. However, as I progressed through the book, the writing style took on a different meaning for me.

    For me, I initially felt the writing style a little saccharine in the description of the nurses, a little lacking in depth – short paragraphs and a lack of detail beyond the dialogue. However, this began to evoke a sort of disconnection from the horrific experiences of the nurses during their incarceration in the camps. The nurses are stoic, practical and the deep camaraderie and sisterhood between the women is obviously a source of strength between the group, when conditions, supplies and willpower are slowly eroded away in the camps. It made me wonder that the lack of much emotion in the writing reflected the trauma and damage that these women must have experienced. The factual recounting of deaths as camp conditions deteriorated and illness took over, the brutal punishments endured by some of the women described in just a few sentences, and the way that hierarchy shaped the way they managed to survive in the camp – we are there, but not quite there. As I got used to this, and imagined this grim form of survival, the lack of emotion actually made it more real, somehow.

    Having witnessed massacres of their colleagues and friends, a shipwreck and the loss of children and partners, the women find strength in hierarchy and assigning meaning to their days. The division of labour, the meaning given to certain tasks, the grim humour in the face of starvation. Sorting weevils from the rice rations, finding solace in song and music. The focus of the writing on the details of the connection between the women and the strength they found in each other, rather than the horrific experiences they were sharing, showcases the importance of the bond between the group. Kind words and support between each other are given precedence. Individual experiences and acts of solidarity are detailed, with the harrowing events of every day camp life being described in an almost factual way by the women. We glimpse the pain of death, the worry of tropical disease and the horrific violence from the camp guards, but the story carries on, and the women carry on, as they must.

    Morris details the real-life stories of the women at the end of the book, and that reminder that these events happened to real people makes the book even more hard hitting. Their stories are truly important, and should not be forgotten. A difficult read, but one that is so worth it.

    Thank you #Netgalley for the ARC 🙂


     

    Sisters under the rising sun Book cover for Pinterest.

  • Blog,  Day to Day

    October Review and Reset

    October Review and Reset

    October is almost over. The brighter days turn to grey and mist, to dark evenings and the brief flare of red, gold and brown autumnal leaves. It’s the time to reflect, to look back over the past year and take stock of all that has happened.

    In the wheel of the year, the end of October (or around the end of April in the Southern hemisphere), Samhain is seen as the end of the harvest season, and the start of winter. I feel that natural winding down of the energy of summer is a perfect time to review, and take the time to plant new ideas, new seeds to nestle down in the dark of winter, waiting to come to fruition in the spring. I find the January new year quite jarring – a forced push, in the middle of winter here in the Northern hemisphere, when all else is resting. It’s nice to align with a different timeline, one that fits me, that follows the ebb and flow of the natural world.

    You don’t have to follow a particular calendar, to celebrate a certain festival, to begin to wind down and review around this time. It’s the perfect time to take stock of where you are before January, to re-prioritise if needed, to let go or take on board. If you’d like to give it a go, here’s what I do – you can do what feels right for you, but it might give you a few ideas.

    Ideas for your October Review and Reset
    Creating a theme

    I have one theme for the year, rather than resolutions. I think of all the ways I can bring this theme into my life, and the things I particularly want to work on throughout the year. I used to have 3 themes, but eventually realised this didn’t fit well with me – it might work well for you! I decided that having one overarching thing for the year lets me give it more space. Once I have my theme, I think of things that I want to work on that relate to it.

    A still life of a wilver metal pen lying on a notebook with birds and flowers on the cover. There is also a usb lava lamp, a white mug with a blue letter 'S' on, and a green malachite stone.

    So, as an example, my theme last year was ‘regeneration’. I’d had a bit of a weird time over the last few years, in addition to a close family bereavement the previous month. I wanted to begin to re-root myself in place, to start sustainable systems for food, for nature, and for my mind, and to work on coming back to myself – a regeneration of sorts. I wanted to find a solid sense of self – after years bending and changing to fit in, I wanted a breather and to build some solidity and understanding into my soul! So, for me, the theme of regeneration gave me time to stop and process, to put things I’ve learned from therapy, and from experience, into place to help me re-build a life more true to myself, whoever this self turns out to be.

    Reviewing last year’s theme

    I’m not a very specific sort of person, and find it very hard (and boring) to plan goals and how to achieve them. If my brain isn’t interested, it’s basically impossible. After years of fighting that, I now give myself the freedom to bend and change with how I approach my theme. I will start things, stop things, go on a diversion, get really into something for a while, then forget all about it. So in my review, I’ll look over the last 12 months as a whole, rather than wondering if I should have achieved a specific thing or not. Did I generally align myself with my theme? Where there some months that were better than others? What have I done over the year that reflected this theme?

    The key is finding ways that work for you. Most people I know find it really motivating to set a goal and work out how to achieve it, and if this is you, do that! Whatever works for you, that’s the right way.

    Over the last year, I’ve managed to let the garden go wilder (regeneration for nature), begin to process my neurodiversity and find ways to understand my brain more (regeneration for self). I’ve leaned into using my skills learned from my job to benefit my study at university (regeneration of skills) and learnt how to make a small animation from a course I went on (regeneration of skills and self!). Through this, I’ve begun to find confidence in myself, and am starting to find a more solid ‘me’. Did I plan how to do any of these things? No. But generally, I felt I managed to incorporate my theme into my actions. There were a few areas I didn’t focus on (health, movement) but looking back, I give myself space for the things I was experiencing at the time. It wasn’t the right time for those things – whereas now, that baseline work has given me a stronger platform to start to incorporate those for the next year. It’s all very gentle, but true to what I needed in those moments. Sometimes, change isn’t about putting a lot of energy into a project or goal. Sometimes it’s the lack of energy that allows something the space to settle itself.

    October Review and Reset: looking back month by month

    I use my photo app to jog my memory as to what I was doing each month – usually I look in 3-month (ish) chunks (again with the non-specifics!) and write down any things that happened, and think about how this affected me. Would I want to have acted differently? Did I learn anything? Could I use those learnings to inform my theme for this year? Is there anything I’d like to build on? You could also use a journal to remind you, look at your posts on social media, or review a news site – I often find I remember where I was in relation to big news stories.

    I remember things I loved from the last year, holidays, good walks, moments of learning, connection, nature. Wild swims and good laughs. I also remember the more painful times – worrying events in the news, new understanding, grief, loss, sadness. I find this cathartic – the re-living of those moments, knowing you’re here, on the other side (or still journeying through, as the process changes over time). Sometimes I take a few days for this part. Be gentle with yourself, and remember the joy with the pain. It all goes to make you who you are, and is all part of your journey.

    I look at what comes out of this process – would I like to use any learnings to inform my theme for this year? In my case, this year, I want to build on my new understanding of my brain and start to work with it, not against it. I want to let go of stress with the garden and provide more places for the beings that share the land alongside us. I want to create resilience for times of unexpected occurrences – building my foraging knowledge, creating plans, starting to use my body again. I want to work more on my spiritual path, to be in nature more, make more time for creativity. Begin to build a plan for after I finish university (which is this blog!). I have no specifics, but I know these things all encompass similarities in the intention behind them. Recognising these similarities starts to help me pin down my theme for the coming year.

    Incorporate other tools

    You can incorporate other things into your October review and reset. I like to do a tarot spread looking back over the year, along my theme. I look at learnings and where I can build in the future – I find it gives me another perspective to look both behind me and to the path ahead. A meditation would also be a nice action, or a walk in nature to a special spot. I give myself a few days to do my review, usually leading up to Samhain on the 31st, so have a few days disconnected from the world, intentionally creating this sort of temporal space in which to look back and look forwards. I tidy, I bake, I wander in nature, and feel very contemplative!

    Planting seeds

    I like the gentle easing into the next 12 months. I think of a theme, I think of some vague ideas, I leave them to rest in my mind. There’s no pressure to HIT THE GYM or GO ON A DIET or SUDDENLY CHANGE YOUR ENTIRE BEING or DO EVERYTHING STRAIGHT AWAY or ACHIEVE ALL OF YOUR RESOLUTIONS (I think January has a very ‘capitalised’ vibe when it comes to new year’s resolutions!).
    Winter is the dark time, the time when everything comes to stillness. We need this rest, this conservation of energy – we are beings like all else. The bulb planted deep needs frost to germinate anew in the spring. The energy of the earth quietens, and with it, we, and the ideas we plant in our review, quieten too. It gives us time to settle and contemplate just where we are going to go, when the days start to lengthen once more. How will we use the coming rise of energy, those long summer days? When the leaves start to unfurl, which of our ideas will unfurl along with them?

    In summary

    October, the year-end of the wheel of the year, is a perfect time to take stock, review your past year, and to set intentions for the year ahead. The darker winter months allow your ideas or goals to mellow and rest, and in spring, it is time to act of some of these little idea-seeds that have been waiting for you.

    My ‘theme’ for this year is strengthening.

    What will yours be?

    Pinterest pin October review and reset

  • Blog,  Community,  Home

    Ideals and Purpose

    Ideals and Purpose

    I struggle with starting. Mainly, because I’m great at imagining the wonderful, perfect end result. I get so overwhelmed by that, that I can’t see where to begin! The pressure to make anything I do into something absolutely perfect is intense, and so, usually, I just don’t start at all.

    A girl with brown hair sat on the edge of a rocky outcrop, with a cloudy forest stretched out in front of here. There is a hat on the rock beside her and she wears a white and red checked shirt.

    The problem is, the end result I’m imagining is so HUGE and full of THINGS and very probably the end result of at least a decade of hard work. In letting myself colour in that end result, I miss out on the filling in, on the journey of getting there. All I can see is a huge wall, with this shiny thing at the very top and no way to get up there. I’ve done this with a lot of things, and one of those things is this here little blog.

    The Blog and Perfectionism

    Ahhhh, this blog! I registered it back in 2021, and I can’t believe how fast that time has gone. I’ve dithered about and just got so overwhelmed with the possibility, with the ideas, with trying to figure out just what to write about that I’ve basically done nothing, save a few occasional posts – and thank you if you’ve read any of them! Cutting myself a little slack, it’s been a wibbly few years, and I think this small internet space has reflected that – wibbly for sure!

    I wanted it to be perfect, straight away. But I’m actually coming around to realise, there is no end result. There is no ‘finished’. It’s a reflection of me, wibbliness and all – and that in itself is perfect, right now. I need this space to come to, to dust off the virtual cobwebs hanging around the pages, to just take a breath and read a bit and chat a bit and drink tea and think. And I hope that’s what it will offer for you, too.

    The re-re-re-introduction

    a girl is sipping a steaming cup of tea, partly illuminated by a low sun shining through a window.

    A place of tea, cushions and cobwebs. A cosy, welcoming escape from the hubbub and shoutiness of the internet. Cats, birds, and the occasional guinea pig. Cake! Of course cake. Seasons and planting and feet in the mud. The plan is no plan, the plan is realignment, the plan is settling into ourselves. Acceptance and biscuits. Existence. Breathing out. Room for all.

    Dare I say a plan?

    This year is writing this blog into existence. I’m quite hoping that as the words become more solid, a bit of me will, too. Lofty expectations! But a sneaking suspicion that that might just be the right way to go. A bit of fun along the way. A lot of cake crumbs. Here’s to daring! Slowly. With tea.

    Sal x


    Pinterest image. Text reads Ideals, purpose and a reintroduction. Image is of green mountains stretching into the distance.

  • Blog,  The Pond,  Wild Garden,  Wildlife

    Early signs of Spring

    It’s March now, somewhat unbelievably. 2022 seems to have sped by so quickly, January and February feel so distant, like I missed them somehow. It’s been a quiet time, hiding from the news, watching and waiting and trying to make some sense of it all, and all that has happened in the last few years.

     

    Against this backdrop of big, unsettling thoughts, I can notice our little garden and the changes that emerge. The light still returns, the shoots still emerge, the world still spins on and on. And in that there is comfort, for me at least.

     

    Equinox is approaching, finally that tip into the lighter half of the year. Impatient, I see pictures from those further South, of bulbs flowering and finishing before ours are even above the soil. I know, though, that soon the leaves will bud and the insects will return. The early signs of spring are showing – slowly now, but I can’t wait for that heady rush when the season tumbles into life, changing day by day, with vibrance and energy and that riot of life.

     

    Life in the pond

     

    In the pond, leaves are growing and ripples start to twitch the surface, evidence of movement in the mud underneath. Yesterday, a frog popped its head above the surface for a few seconds, caught in a sunbeam. I felt a rush of relief that they have survived the winter. I check my Biotime diary – this time in 2020 there was spawn in the pond. Things are a little later this year, for sure.

     

    The pond is overgrown, roots and duckweed all tangled together in clumps. Leaves from the holly tree above have fallen in copious amounts over winter. Now the frogs are up and about, I will wait for a warm day to clear it out and tidy up a little, before spawning. I usually find a few grumpy frogs still hiding in the mud at the bottom.

     

    a small overgrown pond showing early signs of spring. Made from a black liner, there are pot pipes around the edge and a brick for wildlife to climb out. The pond is filled with duckweed and overgrown pond lillies.

    Along with the mud, they spend a few moments in a bucket, before mud, plus frogs, are tipped back in. It’s good to keep a nice layer at the bottom for them to hide in, and to keep a good dose of microbes there. The pond has established over a few years now, with clear water and healthy plants. I don’t want to clear all of that away, just give the inhabitants a little more room to move.

     

    Every year I put a few handfuls of barley straw in a bit of chicken wire. As the straw rots it keeps the water clear (through some magic of science!) and provides a place for snails, larvae and the occasional frog to hide in.

     

    Bulbs and birds

     

    On Christmas Eve we planted bulbs in the lawn – crocuses and tulips – and they are pushing up through the moss now. At one side the crocuses are flowering, nestled underneath the Birch, tiny happy colours hinting at what’s to come. The snowdrops have finished for the year and daffodils are waiting for that perfect time to pop into bloom – not just yet, they say.

     

    I feel that a little myself. That waiting, through the winter. It’s not time for action, just yet. Nurture those seeds planted, physically and mentally, in this world and in others. I always feel a disconnect with the whole ‘new year’ push. In the dead of winter, it is time to reflect, to hibernate a little. I used to push against this, but falling back into the rhythm of the seasons over the years has helped me to go with the tide some more. It’s ok to slow, to wait out the dark. We are still animals, part of that huge, glorious interconnected web. We still feel the pull of the earth.

     

    Back in the garden, the birds are busy singing for mates, gathering twigs, filling up on seed before the still-cold nights. The hedgehog has happily returned, wandering past our wildlife camera in the dead of night, snuffling for nourishment after waking from a long sleep. It’s a noticeable shift – something has changed. That rising anticipation for warmer days and the sumptuous joy of those long, light nights. I know soon that the bees will return – I miss their background hum during winter.

     

    We’ve planted our first seeds in a propagator – it’s our first year of having one and wow! The difference! In a few days, shoots were exploding with life. I’ll write a post about the propagator in the future. It’s brilliant so far. I worry for the potting on and transferring of those small plants to outdoor life, but it will happen as it will – I’m sure we will manage.

     

    As the light returns, I feel myself starting to wake a little more with the longer days. Planting, moving, creativity.

     

    A few sparks signalling a shift in me, too.

     

    A small patch of yellow and white crocuses grow out of a mossy lawn

    a black and white tuxedo cat, Agatha, leans against a Hebe bush with light shining on her fur

  • Blog,  Day to Day,  Home

    Snowdrops and the return of Spring

    Amidst the wild winds of Storm Malik this weekend, I glanced out of the window to see the first little snowdrops of the season dancing their heads in the gales. Small delicate white petals nodding this way and that as the wind whipped over the low stone wall beside them.

     

    Amidst the storm, a reminder that soon the days will lengthen, the sun will warm us, the endless UK grey will give way to bluer skies and louder birdsong. I do not mind so much the days before winter solstice. The darkening and quieting of all, as we settle down to winter. It is the drawn out waiting of January, February and into March – that all pervading greyness, the damp cold, the washed out colours and brown twiggy borders. The trees that seem to take forever to bud, the waiting, waiting for those promised spring days that are always just around the corner. My mood settles with the grey. That something just out of reach.

     

    I am impatient, as always. I want summer, with the heat and 11pm light and heady scents of honeysuckle in the dusk. I thrive with that rush of energy. My soul stretches out to fill those long, bright days. Here, still in winter, I feel small, drab, as if those days will never come. But they will, I know, and even now signs of change are popping up, however small.

     

    A small group of snowdrops with the sun hitting their petals grow from a messy winter flowerbed

    The snowdrops are accompanied by the sun peeking back over the top of the valley in mid-January, shining into the windows to the back of the house, even just for a few minutes each day. I rush upstairs and throw the windows open, close my eyes and bask my face in the weak rays, the pale golden light.

     

    Bulbs planted in Autumn begin to poke tentative leaves above ground – tulips, daffodils, crocuses – bringing the promise of colour and flower and those insects that love to feed on their pollen.

     

    I miss the busy buzz of bees in the background, that soundtrack of spring and summer. Soon the tree bees will return (hopefully) to the attic, buzzing around the stone roof, whizzing around the garden, mating in piles of legs, wings and fuzz.

     

    It is time, too, to begin to move myself. It is all too easy to sink into stasis when everything around you is deep in winter slumber. Although yes, stasis is needed. Winter of the soul. Balance in all, the ever-turning spiral. Now, along with the slowly awakening land, it is time for me to awaken, too. To fall back in love with the area I live in. To take those little sparks of energy, when they appear, and direct them into a life, into enjoyment, laying bases for things to come. Like the turn of the earth, to wax and wane with the seasons.

     

    Now the snowdrops are here, spring will turn ever quicker, a reminder that even when all seems silent on the surface, inside little bulbs life is continuing to thrive. Even in the frozen dead of winter, deep down under the soil, plants and animals still feel the change of the days and ready themselves. I hope I can do the same.

     

    With that, I re-fill my mug with tea and pull on an old jumper. I head outside, in search of more signs of spring.

    A small group of snowdrops are growing from a January flowerbed. The bottom of the plants is in shadow but the petals are in warm sunlight.

  • Blog,  Garden Projects,  Wild Garden

    The Garden Project: Beginning

    The Garden Project: Beginning

    We’ve lived in our cottage for a decade this year. When we moved in our garden was clipped and manicured and mown, and we promptly set about doing absolutely nothing to keep it like that. As we learned more about the decimation of wildlife by the overuse of pesticides and the loss of habitat (Dave Goulson’s ‘The Garden Jungle‘ is a great read about this), we made a conscious choice to stop fighting to keep things ‘perfect’, and in a way, created our own kind of perfect. A collection of plant pots in January. There are some plants with no leaves, and some plastic flower ornaments sticking out of a large terracotta pot. In the background there is a black railing.

    The garden has really started to relax into itself once more. Clover began to grow through the gravel driveway. Couch grass is taking over. The lawn grows wild, mown maybe twice a year. About three years ago, we noticed the insect population was flourishing – more ladybirds, moths, beetles, flying things and crawling things were returning.

    Frogs croak away to each other in the pond. Wasps lived in the attic for a year and we left them to it (although slightly regrettable, as we are still finding bits of them in the water tank). The next year, and every year since, tree bumblebees have lived in the other side. Bats flit around in summer and mice live in the garden walls.

    It’s been amazing and rewarding to see nature coming back. We haven’t used a pesticide for years now, and seeing the return of insects, followed by bigger animals – hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, a cheeky squirrel – is one of the best feelings. We have an ongoing large housing development being built right next to the garden, and although it has been silent since the start of lockdown, building will recommence imminently. I worry for the animals that have made their homes in the abandoned site -shrews, voles, the badgers, even a herd of deer – so want to make our little patch of land as wildlife-friendly as possible.

    A lot of people would call our garden a mess. There are piles of stones and logs, leaves everywhere, grasses left long through the winter, mining bees nesting in mud. However, wandering round with a brew in my hand, I’d say it’s more ‘interesting’. There’s always something to look at, even now in January. A messy corner of a garden. There is couch grass everywhere, and a pile of rubble to the right against a stone house wall. To the left there is a pile of wood and blue plastic tube leaning against an old green shed with peeling paint.

    However, we do want to make some changes this year. The couch grass is running rampant, and we have a pile for the skip that has been home to some spiders for the last few years – but the bags of rubble and old pipework really need to disappear. I’m also excited to grow more flowers, sort out a shady area, and maximise the sunny spots. This bit by the shed has become a dumping ground for the remnant of all the house DIY we have been doing.

    Believe it or not, under the grass is a gravel driveway! This area gets really boggy since the new building behind us has stripped all the natural drainage away from the field. The plan is to plant ferns, foxgloves, hostas and other shady plants as this area only gets sun in June around midsummer. We will probably re-gravel the driveway due to the poor drainage.

    I love all the piles of logs we have dotted around. Something definitely lives in here, but I didn’t want to disturb whatever it is! We’ve heard it snuffling a few times. Maybe it’s the hedgehog? A pile of logs with long dead grass outside.

    A thin strip of ‘field’ we have adjoins houses in front, and still has our hastily erected fence, consisting of a few bits of wood and some straggly hornbeams. This means there is hardly any privacy, and I don’t like going in that part of the garden. We will re-fence this and open it up to the rest of the garden, increasing space.

    The veg patch has been okay for the last few years but not overly productive. We dug up the existing crazy paving, however we discovered an old road underneath which meant we had to make it into a raised bed. We’ve been filling it with compost for the last few years and this year we’re going to increase the height, too.

    We made the edges from old sleepers we found hanging round the garden (there were lots of exciting things left when we moved in). We’ve found that there are a few things that grow well, mainly potatoes and field beans, but the amount of slugs and super-snails means a lot gets eaten. You name it, we’ve tried it. Copper, fluff, garlic spray… Last year we had beer traps, which seemed the most effective thing so far… An unkempt cottage garden with a raised veg patch and lots of overgrown grass. There is a rose bush and a privet hedge, and a shed painted light blue with a large window.

    Here you can see where the couch grass is really taking over. Everywhere! It’s fine but means other plants can’t really get started. Next to the veg patch is self-sown marjoram which the bees absolutely love, so we’ll keep those there (plus it’s useful for cooking). I half-heartedly started putting cardboard down for the weeds but gave up after two bits, so excuse those! I’ll finish it off soon I’m sure!

    This part of the garden is very windy and exposed as we’re on the side of a valley, plus in the summer it’s sunny, getting heat and light from mid morning right through to sunset. Self-seeded borage grows at the edge or the raised bed which keeps the wind off a little, and feeds the bees! There is both blue and white borage, no idea where it came from, but it is welcome, if a little thuggish.

    Our plan is to have a nice area for sitting out that’s more private, as the houses in front look straight into the garden. We would also like to have even more insect-friendly flowers and a better veg-growing season! We’re going to plant more of the things we know will grow, and maybe try some containers. Any tips appreciated, especially friendly slug-busting tips! Even the hedgehog and frogs can’t keep them at bay.

    So this is the beginning of the garden project plans for this year – I will update regularly as we plod along, tidying up whilst making room for wildlife to thrive, and hopefully growing some flowers and food, too.

    A patch of wild strawberries growing next to an old greenhouse

    A small tuxedo cat, Agatha, is standing on a mossy stone wall next to a steep lawn. There is a bare apple tree in a planter, and an area with dormant honesty plants behind her.

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more