Monday, March 28, 2016


Amy Judd

Yes, I'm already bored of and feeling trapped by the doing, reading, listening format - I really don't do well with blog series, as you can tell by the half a dozen that have fizzled out over the years and I can tell by the many many more that have never made it out of my head. 

So, instead, Things.

Things this week;


- we moved house. Almost a year to the day from leaving France. We now live 200ft down the road from the house my mum built (not by hand, because apparently that needs clarified for some people. My mum is pretty handy but she's not building a house handy) when I was 15. She sold it five or so years later and every time I walk past I'm all 'who the fuck are you and what are you doing in my house? By the way your daffodils look great.' at the people sitting in the kitchen window. Silently and inwardly, because I'm not a total lunatic.

- I'm maybe in the midst of applying to go back to college. Maybe. Shhh, let's say nothing more of it for now.

- I went to work last week, to take photos of a 3D printing workshop. I'm going to write more about it when the photos are done but hell, was it good to spend a day taking pictures again. I miss that.

- I'm considering spending £60 on a hairbrush (BIRTHDAY MONEY, I'm not spunking half of our weekly food budget on fripperies, much as the urge takes me sometimes). I don't know if this is a sign that I'm losing my mind or that I'm creeping ever closer to living my best life.


- Last week I came extremely close to throwing out everything I've written over the last three months. I haven't been working on it much because of the aforementioned moving and when I came back to it it looked terrible, awful, horrible. But a very wise friend said to me - when I was screaming into my fist and questioning what the point was -

'THE POINT. The point is to practise, The point is to get to a point where your writing aligns with your standards for good writing. The point is to write enough that you can revise it down to something you don't hate. The point is to show up and think the thoughts and do the work. That is the point.  
The point is not to be magically good. The point is to scrub your step until it shines.  
You CAN write. But the point isn't whether you can write. The POINT is to DO IT. You weren't good at marriage at first or pooping in the pot at first or being a grown up at first or drawing at first either, I bet. It took time. It takes time.  
Scrub your step, gal.  
Scrub it good.' 

I love that friend.  And the apps that allow friends who live far apart and in different time zones and in areas without mobile phone reception to exchange words sharp and fast and in real time. And internets that allow them to meet in the first place.


I bought a whole load of books this week. I don't have any money, but. None of them were the poetry books I mentioned last week which I feel a bit ashamed of. The books in question were;

For me

- Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Because I realised that I listened to one of the podcasts and completely loved it and felt invigorated and inspired by it and then forgot to listen to the rest. I'm not saying that I don't do the exact same thing with books but I'm more likely (I think, I hope) to stick with something that I can hold and read and see and feel. Also, the cover is gorgeous.

- Help, Thanks, Wow and Stitches, by Anne Lamott. Because I'm feeling a bit lost, and few books have ever un-lost me like hers.

- Breaking Clean, by Judy Blunt. I can't remember where I read about this but the passage that was quoted in it was desperately beautiful. It's a memoir (so research, innit?) about a woman taking her three children and leaving the homesteading community that her and her husband grew up and were deeply entrenched in. I've only read 20 pages but it's beautiful.

- The Art of Memoir and Lit, by Mary Karr. I found these via Laura's Pinterest page and I had to have them, for the same parenthesised reason mentioned above - research. Not because spending money I don't have comforts me when I'm feeling the aforementioned lost, no sir, not at all.

- A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. Um, well, yeah. I'm absolutely not going to leave all of those inspiring, life improving books deposited around the house like forgotten rabbit droppings as soon as this next GOT instalment arrives. Not one single bit.

For the Girls -

In My Heart, A Book of Feelings, by Jo Witek. Which isn't to say that the girls struggle with their feelings but SWEET JESUS, do five year olds struggle with their feelings. It's a beautiful book and we've only read it once but it taught us all some stuff about the things our hearts feel.

*Links do not generate me any cash. Not because I'm virtuous or not that into money, I just don't know how to do that 'earning' thing*


- the couples who talk about their poo are the happiest couples of all. It's always nice when a perfectly unqualified stranger on the internet confirms that you and your husband are golden. Although, actually, my husband would like it to be known that I talk, he just listens, a lot. (Emphasis his.)

- period tracking, are you into it? do you do it? would you place a bluetooth enabled device up your fnuh? (the answers in my case are yes, yes, you must be kidding.)

- this article about Brewdog was really interesting to me. The desire to label anyone who comes up with something innovative and is exceptionally good at marketing it a 'pretentious hipster wanker' seems like a particularly British, and a particularly obnoxious British tendency to me. (For what it's worth; I've met the Brewdog guy, I have an extremely low pretension tolerance, I liked him.)

- Connor Stefanison's goat and sheep portraits are everything. This guy knows what I'm all about.

Monday, March 21, 2016

poetry and staying alive

'If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.' Emily Dickinson

Happy World Poetry Day people. 

I love poetry, I have done since I was seventeen and walked into a bookshop, drifted past shelves and over tables and was arrested by a beautiful face staring out at me from the cover of an anthology that promised a lot. Staying Alive – real poems for unreal times quickly became my bible, my gospel, my helpmate. I poured over its pages, reading and re-reading and marking and remembering. I copied poems into my sketchbooks alongside my first moody attempts at black and white photography, I stayed up late into the night reading 'just one more' for hours and hours, I carried it with me in backpacks and suitcases and pinned handwritten copies of my favourites to the wall next to my bed, alongside photos of home and the people I loved.

I cried heavy salty tears into poems that spoke of death and depression and miscarriage and war and I held my breath through dizzying pages dedicated to love and sex and birth and joy. I found reassuring glimpses of feelings I recognised and tasted the smallest but most intense morsels of ones I hadn't even come close to experiencing. I learned that love and death could be the most mundane things and that a bulb pushing through the winter earth or a toad sitting on a river bank could be almost transcendent. I learned about being, and staying, alive. 

Before I bought this book I knew no more about poetry than anyone who had just completed high school English, I was not and still am not knowledgeable about it and find myself embarrassed and mute around friends who know Poetry. I do not know Poetry and I likely never will but I know this book and I know a handful of poems from it and I know that my life is all the richer for it.
When I was eighteen I bought Staying Alive for a friend who was studying English at university. He went on to study poetry and many years later went on again to have his first collection Moontide published by Bloodaxe, that same publisher who brought me my bible. Inside Moontide is a poem dedicated to my girls, to Ella and Ammie, and when I read it I found myself crying tears into a poem for the first time in many many years. I think they call that 'full circle'.
Moontide went on to win a shit tonne of prestigious prizes and you should buy it immediately, because it's excellent. You should also read this interview in Poetry Spotlight where he talks about poetry its relevance and fatherhood  and his new collection which is coming out at the end of the year.
I don't read a lot of poetry any more. In the last few years I've read Niall's book and the Emma PressAnthology of Motherhood, which I recently bought for myself and a friend - partly because poetry and motherhood are dear to my heart, partly because it's a bloody beautiful book - and that's it. It's fairly pitiful. But I'm tired and my kids ate my brain and I don't have a lot of time for reading anything any more. I have deeply loved listening to Dominique Christina's poetry, particularly her Period Poem, which should be required listening for every single person who has ever had a period or been born as the result of someone else's period (everyone, in case you didn't get that.)
I still carry Staying Alive and its sequel Being Alive everywhere with me, they were the first things I carried into our new home and placed onto the mantelpiece and when I'm feeling lost but still capable of reading I delve into them, searching for answers I've already found but forgotten or for ones that have as of yet escaped me - because I still haven't read every poem in those books, am still capable of finding something new. I haven't bought the third book in the Staying Alive trilogy - Being Human - because I know I can not read it, can not do it justice, can not love it the way that I loved that first one. Being Alive has never quite kindled the passion I feel for it's predecessor. Maybe one day I will be ready for it but these words from Niall's interview ring true and comforting to me;

'The dynamic between a reader and a poetry collection is completely different [to that of a novel] – there is much more ‘investment’ by the reader in a poetry collection – there is a reason poetry has never been accused of being escapism! I think that if you have ‘found’ yourself, or a space that might be yours, in a poetry collection then it would be a peculiar madness that would quickly put this aside to begin the search anew.'


I will leave you on this World Poetry Day with two of my favourites from Staying Alive and a shopping list of books that I have, that I love, that I want - starting points for current and future lovers of poetry. 
Thoughts After Ruskin by Elma Mitchell and What Every Woman Should Carry, by Maura Dooley are the poems I have copied and carried and reread the most, they lie within two pages of each other in a 500 page book and it is under them that the spine is creased the deepest. 

Thoughts After Ruskin, by Elma Mitchell 

Women reminded him of lilies and roses.
Me they remind rather of blood and soap,
Armed with a warm rag, assaulting noses,
Ears, neck, mouth and all the secret places:

Armed with a sharp knife, cutting up liver,
Holding hearts to bleed under a running tap,
Gutting and stuffing, pickling and preserving,
Scalding, blanching, broiling, pulverising,
- All the terrible chemistry of their kitchens. 

Their distant husbands lean across mahogany
And delicately manipulate the market,
While safe at home, the tender and gentle
Are killing tiny mice, dead snap by the neck,
Asphyxiating flies, evicting spiders,
Scrubbing, scouring aloud, disturbing cupboards,
Committing things to dustbins, twisting, wringing,
Wrists red and knuckles white and fingers puckered,
Pulpy, tepid. Steering screaming cleaners
Around the snags of furniture, they straighten
And haul out sheets from under the incontinent
And heavy old, stoop to importunate young,
Tugging, folding, tucking, zipping, buttoning,
Spooning in food, encouraging excretion,
Mopping up vomit, stabbing cloth with needles,
Contorting wool around their knitting needles,
Creating snug and comfy on their needles. 

Their huge hands! their everywhere eyes! their voices
Raised to convey across the hullabaloo,
Their massive thighs and breasts dispensing comfort,
Their bloody passages and hairy crannies,
Their wombs that pocket a man upside down! 

And when all's over, off with overalls,
Quickly consulting clocks, they go upstairs,
Sit and sigh a little, brushing hair,
And somehow find, in mirrors, colours, odours,
Their essences of lilies and of roses.

What Every Woman Should Carry, by Maura Dooley

My mother gave me the prayer to Saint Theresa.
I added a used tube ticket, kleenex,
several Polo mints (furry), a tampon, pesetas, 
a florin. Not wishing to be presumptuous, 
not trusting you either, a pack of 3. 
I have a pen. There is space for my guardian
angel, she has to fold her wings. Passport. 
A key. Anguish, at what I said/didn't say
when once you needed/didn't need me. Anadin. 
A credit card. His face the last time, 
my impatience, my useless youth. 
That empty sack, my heart. A box of matches. 

A poetry shopping list, for you, for me, for friends; 

Being Human, all edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe

Moontide, by Niall Campbell

Her Birth, Rebecca Goss

The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm; A Coloured Girl's Hymnal

Sound Barrier
Life Under Water, both by Maura Dooley

The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood, edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright
The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood, edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright

Further Reading; this buzzfeed list of twelve British poets sharing their favourite poems is wonderful and full of launching pads to the discovery of new poems and poets. 

Happy World Poetry day lovers. I would love to hear about any poetry books you are reading / thinking of reading / once read a long time ago but still remember in the comments and you can find more of my favourite poems that I've blogged here by clicking the poetry tag below. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Doing, Reading, Listening

Doing; This week has been mostly hanging out with friends who came to visit from Glasgow, I'm loving how Uist is attracting friends, despite the epic ballache that is getting here. We did beaches and exploring and then I got sick and did a lot of sleeping while they walked my dog, cooked me dinner and entertained my children, it was pretty Grade A Friending on their part. Visitors who don't mind when you check out and go to bed and tell them to entertain themselves are the best kind of visitors.

I wrote no words for my big project this week, it's getting embarrassing. I did write this thing about Ammie though which I really love. I haven't written much about my kids or parenting over the last couple of years and it felt a special kind of lovely to celebrate my infuriating, exhausting offspring in words and pictures. 

Instead of writing I have been working on my newest project which is to get my etsy shop off the ground again. It's getting there and I'm really excited about making and selling again.

Reading {paper} I finished Game of Thrones. It was terrible. I can't wait to read the next one.  I started Christopher Brookmyre's One FineDay In The Middle Of The Night a couple of days ago. I love his writing – it's grim, profanity laden, hilarious Scottish crime and he's one of the few writers who can reliably make me laugh out loud. Even his lesser works have lines that make me snorlf;

'St Michael’s RC secondary sat on a promontory overlooking the town of Auchenlea. The choice of site was an indirect consequence of a past mistake in vocational guidance, leading someone who had a pathological hatred of children into town planning, rather than the more traditional field of teaching.' Christopher Brookmyre, 

Reading {internets}This piece in The Pool by Lauren Laverne on finding the meaning in your work even if your work doesn't happen to involve saving lives or creating Great Works Of Art. As someone who has recently realised that perhaps I don't want as noble a career as I once imagined, I found it extremely comforting;

'People started to get in touch. I got to know my regular listeners and I began to understand that, sometimes, a bit of silliness can save your life. Some days, a five-minute distraction is the only thing that gets you through' Lauren Laverne, The Pool

This on the environmental and moral implications of the leather trade convinced me very quickly that I need to think harder and longer about the leather purchases I make. I have always thought of leather as a by-product of the meat industry and I continued to buy and wear it throughout the two decades that I was a militant vegetarian. I haven't bought any leather for 18 months (passively – I've been too broke for shoes and bags) and I think it's going to be a good long time before I do it again.

'Nearly half of the global leather trade is carried out in developing countries – from Ethiopia to Cambodia and Vietnam – where, despite a backdrop of exploitation of animals and humans and the extraordinary level of pollution caused by unregulated tanneries and processors, the pressure is on to produce more.'

And at the other end of the scale entertainment-wise; reddit readers sum up their first sexual encounters with a safe-for-work gif. Their choices are genius.

Listening; the two most recent episodes of Death, Sex and Money – the one with the couple who have been together for 20 years and had three children whilst being raging heroin addicts. That one was gruelling with an ending that had me 'WTF?'-ing out loud, out on the moors (the moors are my go-to podcast walk now, each time I think of that episode of Girls where Hannah lay down in the woods, unable to keep up with her fitter friends, and hugged her This American Life-playing iphone). After that episode I listened to the previous one, an interview with comedian Michael Ian Black, who I had never heard of but really enjoyed. It was wonderful to listen to a middle aged man be deeply neurotic and anxious and hilarious about his weight, a blessed and almost shocking change from the standard 'middle aged (or any aged) woman talks about her body and the neurosis she has about it'

Watching; we are almost finished FridayNight Lights and although I'm sad about reaching the end (again) we are looking forward to to new series of Better Call Saul, which we both preferred to Breaking Bad. As I've been working I've been watching Rupaul's Drag Race which I am loving, LOVING. As a family we've been watching a lot of David Attenborough, which is how my five year old came to ask me 'what is a sperm sack and why is the cuttlefish putting it in the other cuttlefish's mouth?' (cuttlefish are filthy.)  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Five, Ammie.

She pins me down, a weight that still takes me by surprise. Five, how did she become five? How did they become five? They have ten years between them, nobody counts parenting in accumulative terms but they should - I have parented ten years of childhood and yet I'm no less clueless than when I started.

Curled into a ball in my lap she radiates into me, she is my hot water bottle, my lap dog, my ballast. She is both boulder and kitten - skull crashing against my cheekbone, elbows jabbing hard into my tits, silken golden strands tickling my face and silvery down catching the light from the setting sun. Just as I find a way to balance her weight so that the nerve that's been trapped in my hip for weeks doesn't thrum at too high a frequency, she shifts. From curled like a sleeping puppy she stretches, legs sliding forth and draping one either side of mine, t-shirt riding up and exposing a belly as soft and warm as risen dough, head lolling like a bowling ball against my chest. It will be a maximum of three minutes before she rearranges herself again; wriggling, squirming, shifting, constant flux and motion, a lava lamp of a child.

Which is as it has always been, she started kicking the shit out of me as soon as she was big enough to kick. Implanted higher she punched and kicked and rolled against my stomach, then my ribs and finally my lungs. Her sister - desperate for her own space - turned away from her at the first chance she got, nuzzled her head into my pelvis and stayed still and quiet, weathering the punches and biding her time. Once born we had to tie her up to get her to sleep (they call it swaddling but it is what it is), arms and legs bound to tiny body to stop them from thrashing the whole night long. It was with bitter reluctance that we stopped wrapping her, many months later than recommended. The desire to bind her tightly in fabric so that she would just stay still lurked in the guilty corners of my brain until . . . well sometimes it still creeps over me.

She doesn't let me hold her much any more. She is five, she is busy and she needs to be sick before she crawls into my lap, sweating and sniffing and sighing and clutching that same ugly little rabbit she has been carrying around for years. Little Bunny has become more vocal of late; before we left London he was pretty quiet, living mainly in her bed, going unmentioned from morning until night, but since we started dragging our children hither and yon he has had quite a lot to say - for a stuffed animal. His birthdays come twice weekly, he learned French and then Gaelic but decided that he'd rather speak Nonsense. His tastes in food blossomed and shrunk, as contrary as well, a five year old. 'It wasn't me, it was Little Bun' has become the most common explanation for something becoming mysteriously broken or lost, or for when Quiet Time has become distinctly un-quiet.

She has five year of life under her belt, she is learning to read and write and live in this world without her parents there at every step, and yet when her hair (recently hacked off at school in a fit of annoyance) is swept back from her face, her eyes closed and lashes resting on rounded cheeks, she is the same boulder-headed baby she was five years ago, exactly the same, and seeing how little she has changed since she was just brand new to this world my heart aches and grows and throbs. She is my baby, my girl, that tiny scrap who kicked and fought so hard, from conception right the damn way through. May that never change. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

Doing, Reading, Listening

IT'S GODDAMN MARCH PEOPLE! Thank. The. Sweet. Baby. Jesus. 

I wrote that thing after Christmas about January and how great and restorative and blah blah blah it is and yeah, it was fine, but February, man February was a total downer. That it is the shortest month is literally all it has going for it and knocking back vitamin D tablets like they were tic tacs, counting down the days until friends visited at the end of the month and spending long (really long, interminable) evenings in the bath with the lights turned off was the only way through it.

But it's over! Yay! A weight, a 28 29 day weight has lifted and I am feeling sparklings of what's that? Optimism? Woo! 

Doing: this week in Doing I have been writing but not as rigidly as I was. I have worked on my big thing and I've worked on a few shorter things and for the first time it has been enjoyable. I have also been doing a lot of thinking about my What Next? and if that is getting a job or going back to college or throwing myself into starting a new business. None of those things are imminently achievable but neither are they petrifying, like they were a month ago.

Reading {paper}; still Game of Thrones, the first book. It's terrible, I can't stop. Also The Official DVSA Guide To Driving 2015 (the technique changes annually, who knew?). 

Reading {the internet}; Aside from the dresses I couldn't give two shits about the Oscars but I enjoyed this piece in  The Pool on Disney-esque dressing, whether would be be as interested in watching if the women involved didn't dress like celluloid princesses and if there a princess gene that makes some kids want to dress in mountains of pastel satin while others would rather go naked than wear a princess dress? From my small study group of two, I would say that she might be on to something there. 

Do I think Alicia Vikander and Cate Blanchett wanted to look like Disney characters? Do I think that two highly intelligent and accomplished women woke up and asked their stylists to make them into fairytale princesses for kicks? In terms of a brief, “just do whatever it takes for me to avoid the worst-dressed lists, so that I can block the sexist, racist farrago that is the Oscars out of my mind for another 364 days” is more likely. 
The Disney princess analogy, and our willingness to invoke it, says far more about us than it does about any individual actress. All they’re doing is playing the game. They know that if they dress up nicely, Hollywood will reward them for playing their part in a pageant which, let us not mince words, feels as dated as most things that originated in 1929. Laura Craik, The Pool.

Also on the Oscars and fashion and women and feminism, these pieces in the Guardian and again, The Pool about Jenny Beavan, the genius costume designer behind Mad Max who deigned, deigned to turn up to the Oscars in jeans and a leather jacket, with unbrushed hair and NO MAKE UP (how very dare she) and the frankly horrifying reactions of the fuckwits, I mean men, who she walked past to get to the stage.
Alejandro Iñárritu glowered as if a woman in a leather jacket was somehow more repulsive than DiCaprio chomping down a raw bison liver. One man, bless his heart, all but leapt into the arms of his companion as she sauntered past, in the same manner that a housewife in a 1950s cartoon would if a mouse suddenly crawled out from under the skirting board. Stuart Heritage, The Guardian. 

c. VW Golf advert

Reading {the internets} cont. 

Everything by Emma Lindsay, whose piece about what she learned from dating rape victims went viral last week but who is interesting and articulate and moving on many issues.

There’s another annoying thing that often comes up when I date people who aren’t down with their bodies: I often end up feeling like shit about mine. My ex and I got in this fight once where I said “Do you feel like I accept your body? Because I don’t feel like you accept mine.” She was shocked, and told me she did feel like I accepted her body and was upset that it didn’t feel reciprocated. And I asked her, with all the negative things she said about herself, how could I ever feel safe? She was clearly capable of putting her own body through a fucking ruthless judgement, why would I expect she wasn’t judging mine just as harshly? Emma Linday, Medium. 

This interview with John Irving, who I continue to adore, despite it being years and years since he's written anything I enjoyed reading, because he wrote two of my favourite books ever, a handful more of my almost-favourite books ever and knows how to wrestle a bear.

The bear is almost blind but one thing he will see is your eyes,” he says, in best shiver-making, frontiersman-mode. “So you must never make direct eye contact. Avert your gaze.” He suddenly transforms into a cringing courtier and adds: “Retreat slowly from the bear and allow him gangway. Above all, don’t run. A bear will outrun a horse over a short distance. They chase and kill deer. Look at the way they’re built, with a powerful upper body, like a sprinter’s.” Somehow you can’t imagine picking up hard-won backwoods tips like these from Julian Barnes. Stephen Smith, The Guardian. 

The Pool (again) is running a series on Motherhood, Sali Hughes on Post Natal Depression (but really on all depression) is wonderful.

'I wasn’t exaggerating. I genuinely felt insane. Since the birth of my much-wanted baby, and the death of my father a few weeks later, my life had felt like an interminable movie I was watching from behind a thick sheet of tracing paper' Sali Hughes, The Pool. 

Listening; I haven't been doing a lot of listening, I've been adoring silence where I can get it, but yesterday Lyra and I walked into the moors and I listened to the latest episode of This American Life, it was heartbreaking, and a stern lesson in believing people when they tell you stuff, even if they are not telling you stuff in the way you think they should tell you stuff. 

There are two songs playing in my head constantly (three if you include that godawful Adele one that won't get off my radio); Hozier's WorkSong which is absurdly beautiful and Lukas Graham's 7 Years, which also won't get off my radio and which I can't decide if I actually like or if it's just catchy like flu.

What doeth, readeth and listeneth you this week?

Thursday, March 03, 2016

The Bandit Rabbit and the Homicidal Hipster.

Happy World Book Day. 

She became a much happier lumberjack once the tickly beard was removed and an untickly one painted on. Now I await their return from school and the indignant clamour of 'the other kids were dressed as superheroes, you said superheroes DIDN'T COUNT. *I* wanted to be a superhero too.' 

One day they'll appreciate my push for them to be creative, literary, individual, right? Right?