Back home from my holidays … and getting myself moving again – hard to get out of that post-holiday lazing-along rut, sometimes. We went to Spain, one of my most-favourite places, and on the one rainy day we drove into Valencia for a bit of an explore. We’d planned just to go to the old town and amble round a bit, but on our way in we spotted a signpost for the ‘Ciudad de les Arts i  les Ciences’ – the City of Art & Science? How could we pass it up?

What a treat! HUGE and fabulous modern architecture set in parkland, beautiful and at stark contrast with the apartment blocks surrounding it, it caught the eye and the imagination as soon as we saw it. We didn’t get time to explore the whole complex, and to be honest struggled to know what mysterious purpose all these buildings served. The first place we saw, above, looked like an ocean liner sailing through an ocean of greenery – I think it was the art museum, but I’m far too lazy to do any proper research.

But as we came around the front of it, it looked less like an ocean liner, and something more futuristic, more streamlined and alien, though, set against the azure of the surrounding pools, it also reminded me of some strange deep-sea creature brought to the surface.

We walked on, drawn along the pathways into the complex:

Something quite threatening about this structure – the way it looms out of the water, like a half-submerged beast waiting to swallow you up.

And on through the pools along the walkways … people seemed too small-scale to fit properly here, amongst these vast concrete spars and ribs – made me feel shipwrecked … and what was that blue monster beyond?

The photo doesn’t really do justice to the SCALE of this thing … it dominated its surroundings, silent and shimmering blue – had it just emerged from the depths, or descended from the heavens? What does it want?

We were following along the path … and descended into Oceanographic:

So claustrophic walking between those walls, especially with water cascading down on the left hand side ….

I could quite happily have gawped at buildings all day, letting my imagination run riot, interviewing them as story locations …. the things that could happen in those places, if they existed in other times, other dimensions ……

But the children insisted that they get their share, so we explored Oceanographic instead – a sealife centre with the emphasis firmly on conservation, from the sculptures made from waste pulled from the sea in the entrance hall, to the information about each and every exhibit. It was massive – we were there a good five hours and didn’t see all of it – so many different zones, and each one enormous – from the sharks swimming in lazy circles above the glass tunnel:

(and that’s about as close to these fellows as I ever want to get)

to the loggerhead turtle in the mediterranean zone examining all the visitors with at least as much interest as they were examining him:

to the sad-looking beluga whale in the arctic zone – I felt sorry for it – it looked as if it was aware it was trapped in this place, and wanted to get out:

A spectacular day out …. and all the better because it was so unexpected. Next time, we’ll try to visit the Science Museum and the Art Museum (if we can work out which buildings they’re in – although, if either are in that big blue building, I’ll be waiting outside – gave me the shivers, it did). It’s so rare to find a day out that everyone in the family enjoys, but this was one of them – though I’m not sure how much of the environmental message got through to the children – the next day, we caught Rumpus in the act of throwing a plastic bag into the sea. Sigh).


Ways with Words


I was due to go to the Daily Telegraph ‘Ways with Words’ literary festival  at Dartington Hall in Devon over the weekend … I’d been looking forward to it for a while, but, as with many things, plans never quite go as anticipated.

We made it down to Devon and my parent’s house on Friday evening without too much trouble – the train was busy, and it did rather irk me that not one person offered me their seat – or more accurately, offered Bella their seat. I think there’s something terribly wrong when people are looking (and tutting) at an exhausted three year old curled up on the floor of a train corridor but not prepared to do anything about it, but that’s a rant for a different day. The train emptied out enough after half an hour that we were able to sit down, and the rest of the journey went smoothly.

Saturday morning, however, brought trouble of a more serious and frightening nature – my Dad had a (fortunately minor) stroke in the early hours of Saturday morning, so we spent all day in that dreadful limbo of not-knowing – firstly, not-knowing what had happened, and then not-knowing how serious it was and what sort of outlook we could expect. It looks like he (and we) were lucky this time – no lasting or significant damage done, and he’s being discharged from hospital today.

I did manage to make two of the Sunday morning sessions – at my Mum’s insistence – and despite my misgivings about going off gallivanting at a time of crisis (even though the immediate crisis was over), I did very much enjoy the two speakers I saw, and although I was exhausted, I was glad I went.

The first speaker was supposed to be A C Grayling, but due to the recent furore over his plans for a private university, he withdrew. Shame … I was looking forward to hearing his views, and it’s starting to feel like I’m never going to hear him speak – last time I was at WWW we had tickets to hear him speak, and he had to withdraw due to illness. It’s frustrating that someone who advocates free speech should have his freedom to express himself restricted. Still, I bought a copy of ‘The Good Book’ an am looking forward to reading it. I’m not quite sure where it should go on the bookshelf, though!!

Instead, he was replaced by Johnny West, talking about his book ‘Karama – Journeys through the Arab Spring’. Originally a journalist, he’s currently an advisor to the UN on public policy and the oil industry, having spent many years living and working in the Middle East. I wasn’t too disappointed by the change – having lived most of my childhood in the Middle East, it’s a big part of my life and I keep a keen eye on what’s happening there, so it was an exciting prospect to hear the thoughts of such a respected arabist on the current uprisings across the region.

He gave us an immensely knowledgeable tour of the uprising, adding value to conventional journalism by steering clear of the large central protests capturing the headlines and travelling back streets and small towns across Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to bring to life the stories of the people who sparked the Arab Spring, and how it affects them and how they see their future. I found his explanation of the triggers (or ‘sparks’ as he described them) fascinating and compelling, tracing them back over the course of the last year to the explosive climax in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in January this year. His analysis of the influences of social networking (or digital technology in general), political islam and social justice on the uprisings made for interesting listening, and I completely agreed with his view that these popular movements are ‘the worst thing that could have happened to Al-Quaeda’ – these are forward looking movements eager to open up to the rest of the world, rather than backward-looking attempts to close down or to preserve an impossible state of stasis. But there was, too, an acknowledgement that religion is a part of life in the region in a way it no longer is in our secular western democracies, which raises interesting questions about how these movements will play out, and fit into the world order (or change it, in time). Of course, the optimism of the spring is slightly muted, as corresponding movements in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria falter in the face of repression and western political impotence, but there is still hope there that change will, eventually, come. I am very much looking forward to reading the book.

A brief interlude, and then it was on to Julian Baggini, discussing his new book ‘The Ego Trick’

I’ve heard him speak before, and now, as then, he is immensely engaging and makes philosophy completely accessible by using clear, witty examples to lead us down the path of his choosing, taking us in small steps, agreeing with the ‘bleeding obvious’ until we arrive at a conclusion that seems absurd, but is, in fact, perfectly logical. At this time, an exploration of our sense of self. Drawing on Locke and Hume, modern brain science, and ancient buddhist traditions, he asks whether we are indeed a ‘cultured pearl’ sitting in the centre of a body, surrounded by thoughts, memories, connections, intentions – a soul, an unchanging core – and suggests that we might, rather be a ‘bundle’ of sensations, thoughts, intentions, memories and desires that fluctuate and change over time, and that there is no central ‘I’ that governs these. That he supports his theory with case studies taking in the changes from childhood to adulthood to old age, the effects  of personal transformation such as gender reassignment, the impact of changing mental states such as dementia helps to make it convincing – on the surface – though I have to say it’s like seeing a map of the world drawn upside down and to a different scale – it doesn’t look quite right, and is a little bit disturbing. I’ll have to read the book before I make my mind up, I think.


I really shouldn’t be allowed into bookshops unaccompanied … but then it is *almost* my birthday, so why shouldn’t I treat myself to a little something that I fancy? OK, I’ll come clean … I can’t help it. It’s a serious character flaw, and I feel properly ashamed of myself afterwards.


I think I just about have enough to cover my holiday reading needs, now? Reviews will doubtless follow in due course 🙂

I went to see Sylvie Guillem at Sadlers Wells last night. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years now, and after last year’s Eonnagata  left me in tears, it was with huge expectation that I sat down in the theatre. I wasn’t disappointed.

Rehearsal pictures, courtesy of Sadlers Wells

The first piece, Rearray, choreographed by William Forsythe, was set to a bare, stripped back composition by David Morrow. Fascinating and challenging, it explores the relationship between contemporary and classical ballet, subverting the latter tradition by corrupting the steps, making them stutter and falter at one moment, switching the balance between legs and arms, sudden shifts of pace and direction – at times moving so fast that arms were just blurs of perfect movement – and fades to black. Guillem is partnered by Nicolas Le Riche, and after the first sequence I was anxious – he didn’t look a strong enough dancer to complement her – she was amazing, powerful but with a fluid grace that made her precision look effortless. But as the piece progressed, his presence grew – never overshadowing her, but providing the perfect foil for the questions asked within the piece, and his solos were wonderful. I have to say that my mum didn’t like this piece – she didn’t feel a connection, and at the end said she was disappointed, that she felt is was just posturing – beautifully danced, but still just posturing, without any deeper meaning. I disagree – for me, there was a relationship between Guillem and Le Riche that resonated – the choreography translated into a relationship between two people under review, under discussion, with all the old standards, codes and norms up for renegotiation, backed up by the stilted nature of the piece – it stopped, it started, it returned and revisited, like a conversation between two people trying to understand how and why their relationship has changed, and even if there is a relationship any more – moments of anger, or blocking – like the little sequence where she blocks and ducks every attempt he makes to hold her particularly struck me. Maybe not a piece that had a hard-hitting emotional impact – it was too subtle for that, but it was a clever, thought-provoking, almost intellectual exploration that was a pleasure to watch.

The second piece, Kylian’s 2002 piece for Nederlands Dans Theater 27’52” set to a new composition, was danced by Aurelie Cayla & Kenta Kojiri. When I saw this in the programme, I was disappointed – it was billed as an evening with Sylvie Guillem, but that disappointment soon faded. This was a stunning piece, that picked up where Rearray left off, exploring the dynamics of a relationship – maybe – a questioning of how the desires of one person can override the rights of another, in a connection that was ambiguous from the start – was it a relationship, or was it two strangers? I’m not sure. At the start, Cayla is strong and dynamic, her power reinforced by the strong shadow she cast, that dominated Kojiri’s smaller presence and diminished shadow. But as the piece progressed, he dominated her more and more, reducing her movements to tiny, frantic, almost OCD hand movements restricted and confined, building up to two huge physical jolts that threw her across the stage. And from then on, the boundaries between desire and consent became more and more blurred as the balance of power shifted from her to him. Sinister and disturbing in equal measures, but still with that intense level of precision and control, it was spellbinding.

But the prize for the evening has to go to the concluding piece, ‘Bye’, choreographed by Mats Ek and set to Beethovens piano sonata no 32 (op 111). Guillem dances solo, on a stage bare except for a door-like screen. From the opening, when we see Guillem peering through the screen in extreme close-up, watching us watching her, it was wonderful. A middle-aged woman escaping through a magical door, way into a space of her own, where she can be herself, free of the scrutiny and demands of family and friends, kicking of restricting shoes and socks and dowdy cardigan and expressing herself … but not taking herself too seriously – the precision, strength and eloquence of the dancing bringing order out of what could be chaos, and optimism where there could be regret that the demands of life so trammel self-expression. It was how my head wishes my body would move when I’m dancing in my living room, away from everyone’s scrutiny (and no, I’m not so delusional that I even begin to think I come anywhere close to Guillem) – it felt spontaneous and free, with moments of classical purity interspersed with more contemporary tyle linking steps. The music and choreography perfectly complemented each other – it amazed me how fresh and modern a piece of music that must be almost 200 years old sounded in this context. But it is, nonetheless, poignant and painful when the screen fills with people, and Guillem is called out of the space she owns, where she is alive and vibrant and colourful, to the black-and-white ordinariness of life outside that space, setting herself aside.

I do hope that ‘Bye’ doesn’t become a farewell piece … I’m hoping to be able to carry on watching this amazing dancer for a few more years yet.

Beyond reason


My fingers are cramped and inkstained, I’m a little bit shaky and delirious, and I’m running short on sleep.

No, not some weird addiction. Actually, yes, it is a weird addiction.

I’m writing again.

Or, to be more precise, I’m editing. I’ve spent the last few months (off and on) wading through Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course, spending lot of time on analysis and on planning the changes that needed to be made to the Anneth story.

Finally, I’m putting the changes into place.

It’s all a bit dramatic – there’s a lot of red pen, characters have gone, other characters have changed sex, a couple of characters have even merged into a single being. And I’ve fundamentally changed the underlying premise of the novel … which is making it all very interesting.

But it’s all good. I’ve hit the point where I can’t help myself – I’ve got to work on this. The story is burning me up, just as it did the first time I wrote it (about 10 years ago). And despite my best intentions of pacing myself, not killing myself or driving myself insane over this, I’ve gone beyond reason. Anything – and I mean anything – that interrupts this rewrite kills me … I’m inclined to resent all the real-life interruptions that mean I can’t work on the story. Children, house, husband – all are getting short shrift. Poor Bella ended up watching TV all Friday afternoon so I could write. I even cut short one of my runs to squeeze in some extra writing.

And when I’m not writing, the story is loose in my head, rolling on, with fresh insights and the meaning of the changes filling in the bare-bones details of all those notes and little index cards. I get shaky when I think about it, anxious and uptight when I can’t work on it. My head is permanently in the story, so that I can’t do anything else without my thoughts wandering off back to it. It’s a bit like being in love, in those first few heady days of irrational obsession and all-consuming passion. I feel like a shambolic, staring-eyed, frazzle-headed madwoman. I’m surprised I’m not actually foaming at the mouth, or at least drooling.

I’m exhausted, but I’m having an absolute ball. I’d forgotten what a rush this was.

There’s nothing quite like a little cat-nap ….

I envy teh kitteh’s ability to sleep, even with all the uproar that is normal for our house, going on all around. I like this photo – the contrast of the textures, but all in those rich brown tones. And, of course, the splendid markings on our ginormous British Shorthair, officially named Rapley’s Reward, known to everyone as Brian. (and, occasionally, el gordo).

A little bit of playing around with embedding from … my latest fun thing 😉
12k trail run

12k trail run

Created 03.04.11 by Ellsea

with hills

I didn’t make my Wednesday run because of an event at school, so I was raring to go by this morning. Almost perfect conditions – it hasn’t rained for about a week, and the sun was just about coming out, but still only a couple of degrees.

Should’ve been a blast.

But no. It was one of *those* days when nothing is right. For the first km my thermal vest kept riding up, to the point I had to stop and take the stupid thing off – it was pretty bracing up on Sheets Heath. I don’t think I’ll be bothering with that again, no matter how cold it is – I was tempted just to abandon it trailside, but decided against littering 😉

And for the first 2km I had no lungs and no legs and it was a pure mental battle to keep myself going and not disappear down one of the many shortcuts home. The body went through the full range of aching ankles … ignore it, keep going. Oh, now my calves are aching. Stop whining and get on with it. Argh! Cramp! Thighs! I’m not listening la la la. Yuk. Puddle! Now my trainers are full of water. OFFS, stop being such a bloomin’ princess. I’m going to have to adjust my heart-rate monitor upwards, because the sound of the wretched thing beeping at me was driving me mental today, and made it even harder to keep on pushing myself. I felt like I was running like an old lady … of course, I am an old lady, but that’s no excuse 😉

I was trying to change my technique, as well, to suit the new shoes on the harder bits of trail – landing more further forward on my foot. When I got it right, I could feel the difference and it was good … but it’s going to take some working on to get used to and practicising – especially when I got tired, I lapsed back to the old way. And running is much easier when you’re not thinking about what you’re doing – I found that if I was thinking about my feet, I started looking down, and then my shoulders came up, and it was all terrible. GAH!

It doesn’t help that round here the runs offer 2 choices: uphill out/downhill back or vice versa. This one is uphill out – a long slow climb up to the 5km alongside the Basingstoke canal, with a brutal but short incline up onto the Curzon Bridges and then another climb up to the 5.5km mark. Thankfully, the good weather helped me along, and by the time I got to the 3km mark, everything had loosened up and the running was easy – I had glorious moments of just feeling like I could do this ALL DAY and enjoy it 🙂

Of course, coming back wasn’t quite downhill all the way … still some hills to deal with, but by that point I was a happy bunny and didn’t care much, even with the masochistic 1/2 km steep hill at 11km.

Really rubbish time at 1:37, but I’m counting it a win that I got round it, given my appalling mental state.

I got me some new trainers!

Whilst there are precious few mountains round these parts, there are plenty of trails along the public footpaths, bridleways and along the Basingstoke Canal, and these byways are my running routes of preference – they beat pounding tarmac and inhaling traffic fumes every day of the week, hands down. So when my old trainers finally disintegrated completely, it was time or a new pair. We’re lucky to have an excellent ‘Sweat Shop’ specialist runningsShop close by, so it was a real treat to get a good pair of trainers fitted by staff who really know their stuff. Because I have a wide foot (good for balance and dancing, rubbish for shoe-buying) my choice was pretty restricted, but I was pleased that I was steered towards a pair of INOV8 trainers specifically or trail running, rather than the more expensive ‘premium brand’ equivalents. The only caution that I got was that I really, really wouldn’t be able to run on tarmac AT ALL in these running shoes.

We’ve been out for a few runs now, and are back up to my 10-15km average distance. I’m really pleased with these trainers … they are perfect for trail running.

It wasn’t an instant love.

These are all about the grip, and there’s very little in the way of cushioning or support in them, so it took a few runs to get used to the lack of ‘spring’ that helps you along with normal trainers, so my runs are making me work that bit harder. The compensation, of course, is that there’s no skipping around the slippery bits of mud, watching your step on the  sandy/shingle sections of heathland and being wary on the rubble of farm tracks. I made the mistake, too, on the first run, of doing a little road-work in the middle of the run, and it was pure torture. Like running on soccer boots, every step jolted through my joints and my shins complained for a good couple of days afterwards. I suspect that when summer comes and the tracks are baked rock-hard (I live in hope) that I might need to get another pair with a little more cushioning in them, but we shall see when the time comes.

What they hey, lesson learned, and a quick review of the ordnance survey map of our area to tweak the runs to take them completely off road, and we were flying. Today we made a great 12km yomp all around the commons and MOD land, and although parts of it was a total mudfest, the shoes were perfect, even in ankle deep mud. I’m not saying that it was all joy … I defy anyone to convince that there is anything pleasant about a shoe full of squelching, freezing, muddy water, or that there is anything happy at that 9k mark when you’re staring up a long hill, freezing cold and soaked to the bone, but knowing the only way home is forward for another 5k.

But the shoes were good …. even if they did look like this when we got home:

 I think I might have voided my 30-day money-back guarantee.

But that’s OK.

I’m keeping these trainers.



I wrote last year that I felt like my world was contracting, and that feeling has carried on into the new year. It’s changed, though, so that it doesn’t feel like a negative experience, and has figured a lot in my thinking about the year ahead.

Last year, and pretty much every year before that, I went charging in with a huge list of goals and targets that became unmanageable around about the mid-year mark, and ultimately defeated me.

This year is different.

I try to pick a word every year that is kind of the headline for my thinking for the year. There have been all sorts of words over the years, but this year’s is a bit of a strange one.


On the surface, not terribly sexy, but it’s speaking to me in all sorts of ways and on all sorts of levels – on a personal level, at a domestic level, and in terms of my writing and sewing as well.

It’s about bringing everything together into a single, combined, united whole.

It’s about streamlining what I do have – discarding the useless and unwanted, and organising what’s left into something stronger, more coherent.

It’s about strengthening and improving my control, my techniques, focussing on what I enjoy doing and letting the rest go, avoiding distractions.

It’s about acknowledging the firm foundations I have built in terms of writing and sewing and in my routines and family life – and in terms of the changes and realisations I’ve had on a personal level – and making sure they’re strong enough for me to build on.

It’s about making the most of what I already have and know and cherishing that, appreciating the good it does me, and how good it actually is.

So there are no goals or targets this year … just a continuing on down the line, and seeing where it takes me.

 We’ve ben missing out on the snow hitting what seems like the rest of the UK (much to the children’s disgust) but it’s been unremittingly grey and bitter …. so what joy for sunlight this morning!

The light over Pirbright Common is always fabulous on winter mornings, so I took my camera on the school run, and wasn’t disappointed. The sunlight on the frosted silver birch saplings made them look as ethereal as mist in the coppery early-morning sunlight.

The spiders have made an early start on the Christmas decorations …

And the last of the autumn colours are so vivid on mornings like these.

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters, in the end

Ursula Le Guin

Something I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to teach myself, and failing to learn … stuck in an eternal eddy going round in ever-increasingly stressful circles.

It’s November.



Without fail, *always* my worst month of the year, and this one has been a doozy by any standards. It kicked off with a week of flu, and was swiftly followed by a week of frozen trapezius muscle and total agony of neck and shoulder … both of which have combined to leave me on a really low ebb, with little energy and a feeling of minor panic, as the approaching end of another year overwhelms with the list of incompleted ambitions.

In the midst of all the physical misery, I threw myself a pity party, and wallowed properly in the mire, feeling as though I might as well give it all away, because nothing and no-one was doing me any good. It wasn’t good. I felt rotten. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t sew, the children were almost feral, my husband was grumpy, and the house looked like a bombsite. I just wanted to hide in bed and have someone take care of it all for me.

The trouble is, once you’re a grown-up, that’s not an option. In the middle of it all, I realised that if I wasn’t going to look after myself, then no-one was going to do it for me.

It’s been a long haul back up from there, but it’s been good that I’ve been able to call on all the learnings of the past few years to give myself some handholds – the crash still happened, but it hasn’t lasted as long or got as bad as it has done in previous years.

Even some simple stuff – like the flylady routines – have helped me get back in control of things. Just being able to pick that back up, and work my way through day by day, so that day by day one job, then another, then another gets done … and the house is back in order, chaos retreating – and amazingly quickly, too – clutter hotspots cleared makes a huge difference to inner stress, vacuumed and mopped floors means tidy floors, dusted surfaces are also clean and clear … and hey presto, job done. And with physical clutter cleared away, mental clutter is too. Space and time for the children, and finding that by going with my instincts and treating Rumpus as if he has ADHD his behaviour has improved, and without him causing chaos, things are better for and with the girls, too. And with the household calm, my husband is less grumpy too … and it probably helps that I’m calmer and functioning, too.

And so I’m going gently with the flow, not pushing myself, and not letting myself get caught up in anxiety over the things I “ought” or “should” be doing. I’m sewing again … working on Christmas presents and projects for myself, the children, the house, and I’m happy that those are my priorities, and I’m comfortable with the level that I’m working at. I’m not pushing myself, and I’m not forcing myself to stick to strict timetables and routines.

I’m not writing.

But I know I will, and soon. I’m starting to get the itch to get back to it, and after such a long break I’m looking forward to starting it up again. The intention remains, and that is enough for me right now. It might not be until the new year, but that’s OK.

It’s good to be in a place where I feel that I can accept that everything will happen in its own time, in its own season, and I can let things pass me by without needing to worry about them – if they’re important enough, then I’ll catch them in time, and if they’re not important enough, then letting them go doesn’t cost me anything.

I’m just going with the flow, and letting myself enjoy the journey. I don’t know where I’ll end up – but I figure that by concentrating on the things I love best, that the destination will be worth it when we get there.